WSLS at 60
As the Roanoke Valley’s first TV station celebrates a milestone anniversary, we look back at the excitement and novelty of its black-and-white early days.
By Ralph Berrier Jr.
God did not want Roanoke to have a television station.
The day Roanoke viewers had waited for was Dec. 10, 1952. Roanoke’s first television station, WSLS, was scheduled to go on the air.
No longer would they have to watch grainy pictures from a station in Greensboro, N.C., received by antennas sprouting from Roanoke rooftops in such numbers that local leaders threatened ordinances to regulate the blasted contraptions.
An exciting evening lineup of NBC shows and syndicated programming was set.
“Robert Montgomery Presents,” featuring a live drama, sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes.
“Camel News Caravan,” anchored by the redoubtable John Cameron Swayze, sponsored by Camel cigarettes.
“The Adventures of Kit Carson,” starring Bill Williams as Kit and Don Diamond as the faithful Mexican sidekick, El Toro.
And operatic singing! Professional wrestling! Test patterns! Roanoke evenings would never be the same after WSLS went on the air – that is, “barring those bugs and quirks,” as The Roanoke Times somewhat prophetically reported.
Bugs and quirks, station engineers could handle. But not a lightning bolt from the heavens.