History of WCHS-TV, Charleston

Some pictures of WCHS radio and television are here.

This history was provided by the station.

In 1949, WCHS Radio was sold to the Tierney Company which was owned by a coal operating family of Bluefield, WV. Lewis Tierney, President of the Tierney Company built WCHS-TV in 1954. WCHS-TV signed on the air Sunday, August 15, 1954 at 6:30 p.m., with daily operating schedule of 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.

A Charleston newspaper stated, "from its gigantic tower soaring 949 feet above Charleston, West Virginia's newest television station is now beaming its signal to an estimated two million viewers. WCHS-TV will be sending out the strongest signal authorized by the FCC. Located on Nease Mountain just below Charleston on Route 35, one of the tallest man-made structures in the state will send 316,000 watts of power to Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia." WCHS-TV signed on with a preview show designed to acquaint the viewer with new programs. They sent CBS and DuMont programs to a minimum of 383,000 families in the tri-state area, using RCA cameras and other station equipment.

Howard Chernoff was the General Manager of WCHS Radio and the West Virginia Network (WCHS, Huntington's WSAZ, Clarksburg's WBLK and Parkersburg's WPAR). Even before the station was sold to the Tierney Company, John "Jack" D. Gelder, Jr. was named General Manager, when Chernoff left for the West Coast to manage other Kennedy interests. (John A. Kennedy, who died in 1987 owned the WV Network mentioned above, plus newspapers around the country.) Gelder became WCHS-TV's General Manager, with Lewis Tierney being President. When Tierney died in 1956, Hawthorne D. Battle, a Charleston attorney (who was local counsel for WCHS-TV) became the company president. He served in that office until the station was sold to Rollins Communications in 1960.

The General Managers who have served through the years are: Jack Gelder, Jr. August 15, 1954 (sign-on); William P. Dix, Jr. 1962; Phil Marella; George Diab - 1968; John Lotz - 1970; Curtis Butler - 1970; Robert O. Paxson - 1978; Dennis Adkins - 1986.

The history of the sale of the station is as follows: In 1950, John A. Kennedy sold WCHS Radio to the Tierney Company, with WCHS-TV being built in 1954. In 1960, WCHS Radio and Television were sold to Rollins Communications, Inc. In 1986, WCHS-TV, WCHS-AM and WBES-FM and other properties were sold to Heritage Communications, Inc. of Des Moines, Iowa. The two radio stations were later sold to Louisiana businessman, G. Russell Chambers.

The network affiliations were: 1954 - CBS; 1958-ABC; 1961 or 1962- CBS; June 1, 1986 - ABC.

In 1950, when the Tierney Company purchased WCHS, they selected a North Charleston site for upcoming TV station. Then in 1957 a new TV tower was erected on Coal Mountain, with tower and antenna standing at 999 feet (2049 feet above sea level). In late 1986 a new antenna, at same location was constructed (one inch taller than the previous one).

When WCHS-TV came on the air in 1954, the designated channel was 8. WCHS Radio and TV moved from the Middleburg Auditorium on Lee Street (about 100 yards east of present post office) to a renovated home, located at 1111 Virginia St., E. The home was converted to offices, with a studio built on the side of the building. On December 7, 1987, the station moved into a newly-built $2.5 million facility, located at 1301 Piedmont Road.

Many famous personalities have appeared on WCHS-TV through the years. Those include the late President John F. Kennedy, Robert and Jackie Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller, House Speaker Sam Rayburn, Averill Harriman, George Wallace, Jayne Mansfield, Harold Stassen, Astronaut Jon McBride, "Guiding Light" stars Kim Zimmer and Krista Tesreau, "Hee Haw" comedienne Roni Stoneman, Soupy Sales, Art Linkletter, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Truman and West Virginia's Congressmen.

Ex-WCHS-TV newsmen who have moved on to national positions include Neil Boggs, who went with NBC, Washington, Ed Rabel with CBS, then to NBC, Bill Eames to CBS. Eames was one of two who set up national election service for computer tabulation and projection.

Events of note that took place at the station include the Kennedy-Humphrey debate in 1960 (see further excerpt from Harry Brawley's book, Twenty Years On An Oasis in the "Vast Wasteland."

In 1958, WCHS broadcast a history-making program, that of a live Caesarean section birth of a baby, the first in the nation. Local obstetricians (led by Dr. John Crites) performed the operation, with gynecologist giving a running commentary of the procedure. The baby boy, Jeff Powers came to the station for his first birthday celebration one year later, during a Romper Room program. The station later planned to telecast an open heart operation on a young girl to correct a defect. This was after video tape recorders were acquired and the program was pre-taped. The operation was considered a success, but the child died before air time. The parents decided the program should air since it made a significant contribution to local medical history.

Four remotes in one day on West Virginia's 99th birthday may have set a record. On June 20, 1962, Channel 8 first did the Woman's Page program, hosted by Jackie Oblinger from the Capitol steps, with Mrs. Opal Barron, wife of Governor Wally Barron and other distinguished guests. Second, former President Harry Truman the special guest for the 99th birthday celebration held a press conference at 4:30 p.m., with WCHS-TV being the only television station to carry it live. Third, the official ceremonies which followed the press conference with Truman were carried live. And finally the fount remote was the 6:30 p.m. newscast, called the Esso Reporter, emanating live from the Capitol steps, with taped highlights of the preceding festivities included in that newscast.

All of the above information was assembled by Ms. Jo Corey, who has been Operations Manager at the station for the last seven years. Jo began her career at both WCHS radio and TV in the bookkeeping department, also doing free-lance commercials. She went on to WTVN, Columbus, then WKEF, Dayton where she was a Romper Room teacher, did weather shows and other programs, then to WBBH, Ft. Myers. She is now back in her hometown and working in her original station.

WCHS-TV had many live program personalities. There was Dick Reid who hosted "Lucky 8 Ranch" for children and "Dance Party" for the teenagers, WVBA's Executive Director Marilyn Fletcher who was a "Romper Room" teacher at the station 1959-62 and again from 1969-72 (also did a weather show there at one time, plus free-lance commercials after Romper Room).

Then there was the amusing lady, Katie Doonan and "Katie's Kitchen" from about 1955-59, country show "Buddy Starcher Show," personality Uncle Willie, Ms. Jackie Oblinger with "The Woman's Page," with local and national guests and features from about 1960-68.

Harry Brawley was Director of Public Affairs and Promotion, working in both radio and television. He was also a certified teacher. He began "Radio Classroom" in 1950; "TV Classroom in 1954, the forerunners of public broadcasting's educational format. He left WCHS-TV in 1965, became the first Executive Secretary of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority at that time, using his background in educational areas that he began at WCHS Radio and Television.

Excerpts from Harry Brawley's book mentioned above, highlighted the Kennedy-Humphrey debate:

...1960 was a different matter. That was the year of the Kennedy-Humphrey campaign for the Democratic nomination, and the Kennedy camp selected West Virginia as the testing ground to see if Protestants would vote for a Catholic for president. We didn't see very much of Hubert Humphrey. He came for his "News Conference" program which I emceed, and later for the famous Kennedy-Humphrey debate which helped set the stage for the Kennedy- Nixon debates during the general election campaign. Senator Humphrey's budget was pretty slim and he couldn't make numerous trips to Charleston.

However, with Senator Kennedy the story was entirely different. He and his family were at WCHS-TV so often that we practically considered them members of the staff. We recorded many spots and short programs for that campaign, and Kennedy came for "News Conference" which I emceed, and for the debate which was moderated by News Director Bill Eames. . . The "great debate" was a good program for the Democratic party, but it wasn't much of a debate. The question and answer format was used, and there was little difference between the two men so far as philosophy was concerned. However, they did succeed in giving the Republicans hell. Neither candidate "won" the debate, but Senator Kennedy polished his image as a young man to be contended with, if not in 1960, certainly later. . . The rest is history except for little detail. Senator Kennedy flew back to Charleston on primary election night when he learned he had won. He came to WCHS-TV to make his "thank you!" speech. He made a most moving and enthusiastic talk amid great cheers in the studio. When he was ready to leave he came to me, asked that I escort him around the station so he could say "good-bye" to everyone. Naturally I was delighted, and I was also surprised at his memory. He called everyone on the crew and in the control room by his first name without any prompting from me. He then asked that I take him to the back door in order that he might escape from the crowds. It was raining a downpour, and as we opened the back door and raised his umbrella we met William W. "Wally" Barron, the Democratic nominee for governor, coming in. I introduced them. Of course, Kennedy was nominated and elected, and so was Wally Barron. In 1963 President Kennedy came to West Virginia to help us celebrate our state centennial. Five months later he was killed.


Former area broadcaster dies at 78

Illinois native worked in both radio, television

This article appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Jan. 10, 2003.

"Bill Richards," an affable, always-smiling, former Charleston broadcaster, died at home Wednesday. He was 78.

The Illinois native, whose real name was William Schillings, landed in Charleston on his way to Arizona in the mid-1940s. But he stayed, bought a few suits on credit at Frankenberger's and called WGKV-radio looking for a job.

He spent eight years as a disc jockey and then program director there before joining WCHS radio and television in 1954.

He and his wife, Betty, a native of Beckley, had two daughters as Richards spent 19 years as the familiar TV weatherman for WCHS.

"I don't think I got it right more than 10 times," Richards said in a newspaper interview in 1974, after he had joined the state Chamber of Commerce as a staff assistant.

During his TV tenure, Richards "adopted" the town of Richwood, often promoting the ramp festival -- though he wouldn't eat ramps.

One of his favorite roles, however, was that of playing Santa Claus at Christmas.

A World War II veteran and member of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Schillings, is survived by his wife of 54 years, and two daughters, Lynn Schillings and Patricia Schillings, both of Charleston.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Trinity Evangelical with the Rev. Ron Schlak officiating.

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