History of WHIS-TV/WVVA-TV, Bluefield
The following is taken from The WHIS Story, by Kay Wilson.
Disproving the old adage, lightning DID strike not twice, but three time in the same places: license, terrain, space. Same song, but vastly different verses!
First, there was the matter of obtaining a federal allocation for a VHF station. When allocations of TV stations were made in 1952, Bluefield was left out of the picture. Only a UHF station to operate on Channel 43 was available for Bluefield.
The management of the Daily Telegraph Printing Company felt that an ultra high frequency station was not suitable for the mountainous terrain. It took the position that if Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and other West Virginia cities could have VHF allocations, Bluefield should have one also.
Accordingly, the management of the new station made a thorough study of the situations and the allocations, and made a proposal to the FCC which ultimately resulted in the allocation of VHF Channel 6 to Bluefield.
But it took a considerable amount of time and effort to get the change made. First it was necessary to get the zone line between Television Zone 1 and 2 changed to permit the allocation of Channel 6 to Bluefield.
The various VHF channels - there are only 12 for the entire country - are allocated in such a way that they will not interfere with each other. But the requirements in different parts of the country vary according to the zones, of which there are three. They roughly zig-zag across the nation dividing it into northern, middle and southern sections. In the middle zone 2 (in which Bluefield was originally placed) stations utilizing the same channel cannot be closer than 190 air miles. This separation is reduced to 170 air miles in Zone 1.
The first line of separation between Zones 1 and 2 ran from a point near Kenova directly across Southern West Virginia to the Virginia- North Carolina border. Being south of that border, Bluefield was in Zone 2. WHIS management petitioned the FCC to change this line to conform with the southern West Virginia boundary, and that petition was finally granted after many trips to Washington and a number of hearings were held.
The FCC was then petitioned to move Channel 6 from Beckley to Bluefield, and to give Beckley in its place Channel 4, both of which changes would fit the FCC's allocation pattern. That also was granted, but only after a fight that involved Oak Hill, Beckley, High Point, N. C., and other towns seeking VHF service. To this day, this is the only change from its original pattern that the FCC has ever permitted.
In the fight which finally brought Channel 6 to Bluefield, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Kee played a leading role. She took the position that no VHF service existed in her entire congressional district and urged correction of the situation. With Mrs. Kee's help, both petitions were eventually granted.
But still another hurdle had to be cleared. A construction permit had to be applied for, and when that time came there was opposition to the granting of the permit by a group of Beckley and Bluefield citizens who formed a company of their own to seek a permit for the station.
The contest for the construction permit went all the way to formal hearings before the FCC. Only then did the group attempting to block WHIS drop out. WHIS reimbursed them for their legal expenses. The permit was granted on October 1954, and the big task of getting the station on the air was begun.
PERMISSION to televise is one thing. . .erecting a station to actually transmit a telecast is quite another! This was before post-war Japan introduced the age of miniaturization. So first consideration had to be where to house the tons of massive equipment. Certainly the Commerce Street radio studios were inadequate.
Pat Flanagan, then engineering and administrative director, and chief engineer John Byers scouted about town, negotiated with the city fathers for the third floor "loft" of the Municipal Building. Remodeling began at once to convert the barren space into suitable studios, control rooms, film room, production booths, as well as space for a greatly expanded office staff for both radio and television activities.
On Mother's Day of that year - 1955 - Flanagan took a "breather" and went off to Claytor Lake for the weekend. Ray Brooks was peacefully spinning records on the radio when he received a call from Bill Lackey on duty at the Harry Heights transmitter. Seems Bill's car was on fire in the garage adjacent to the transmitter and Flanagan's apartment. Ray called the fire department, but being out of the city limits, it took some persuading to get them out. Meanwhile, Ray continued to play records, unaware that the fire had burned through the wires disrupting the broadcast.
Unable to reach Bill by phone, Ray went to investigate. When he arrived, passing motorists and neighbors had carefully removed EVERYTHING from Flanagan's apartment, even doors! But the transmitter and all equipment was a total loss! Only one partial cinderblock wall remained!
A hurried trip was made to WBRW, Welch, where they borrowed back the 250-watt transmitter that station had just bought from WHIS, and this was set up on the ashes by the remaining piece of wall. Meanwhile EVERYONE sifted through the still smoldering ashes searching for the tiny quartz crystal required to set the frequency and found it!
Within 44 hours of the first fire alarm, the station was back on the air. It stayed on the air by having a technician park his car as close as possible to the now exposed transmitter, and his reaching through the car window to operate it!
With radio once more under control, Pat wrestled with a bewildering assortment of problems and mysteries around the clock. Finally, WHIS-TV was ready for its air debut by July 31, 1955, when "test" programs began on a very limited basis.
Elvin C. Feltner, as RCA-TV Institute instructor and professional photographer, was imported as TV Production and Program Manager. Ray Brooks, then serving as engineer and announcer for radio, became head cameraman-artist-musician-actor for the new station. John Shott, son of Jim, the commercial manager for radio, took on the added function of TV sales manager. The first local merchant he "sold" on television advertising was Alfred Land, Jeweler, who sponsored "Camera 4," a Hollywood film presentation. O. C. Young, long a favorite on radio, made his television debut as announcer for the "Mr. District Attorney" program. Don Reed, of Ashland, Ky., was doing newscasts, and Bill Elliott, a Sunset News reporter, handled the sports news, Mel Barnett had been named manager of WHIS-Radio.
The first live entertainment group on WHIS-TV was the "Swingsters," led by Fred Pendleton, and included Don Jackson, Ray Morgan, Charlie Blankenship, Cecil Lively, Truman Pennington, Jane Meadows was featured pianist and vocalist. Another popular swing group was the "Quin-tones" Duffy Hornbeck, Bob Brannon, Bernie Dillon, Garland Bruce, with Diane Dodd as vocalist. Charlie Cassell manned the new Baldwin Orgasonic organ for Saturday night recitals.
Hollywood was battling the new medium for its life, and filmed shows suitable for telecasting were hard to come by. Good as local talent was, varied television hours were increasingly hard to fill.
How was the new station to supply sufficient programming to justify its existence? Network was the obvious answer. But, as usual, there was a hitch. There were no network common carrier facilities, and when approached on the subject, the American Telephone & Telegraph Company indicated it had no plans to put in common carrier connections between Bluefield and Roanoke, the closest city receiving network television signals.
With typical resourcefulness and determination, Jim and Hugh Shott (by now president and general manager, respectively) decided to build their own microwave relay system to bring NBC programs from Roanoke, a distance of some 70 air miles. RCA, pioneer in broadcast electronics, agreed that such a theory was sound, but had never been attempted over such terrain nor for such distances. They accepted the challenge of creating necessary equipment, but Pat Flanagan was handed the awesome assignment of planning, installing and operating the system, an entirely new and unusual job!
Pat poured over U. S. geodetic maps tediously selecting and rejecting routes and sites for relay transmitters and receivers. Eventually they settled on the first relay receiver and transmitter 13 miles west of there to a spot appropriately named Dismal Peak; and from there to the top of East River Mountain. It looked good on the map. Getting men and equipment up the rattlesnake infested, rocky mountainsides was something else! Equipped with compass, binoculars, searchlights, mirrors and snake-bite kits, Pat and his boys set out.
First, they leased space at station WDBJ to house equipment to pick up and transmit the network signals from AT&T. Then the direct line-of-sight path (the only way microwave can travel) from Roanoke to Poor Mountain was established by a man standing on top of the Mountain State and Trust Building in Roanoke reflecting sunlight with a mirror so that another man on the 13-mile distant Poor Mountain could pinpoint the originating location. This process was then repeated from that site to Dismal Peak and again to East River Mountain.
Microwave travels much as a beam of light travels. The transmitting antenna "dish" projects them as an automobile headlight reflector projects its beam of light. The pattern is slightly conical, like the beam from a powerful searchlight, four feet in diameter at the originating point. It loses power as it travels, and when picked up at the next relay point the signals brought up to full power and re-transmitted to the next point. All this by air! There are no physical wire connections. The same microwave relay system COULD carry not only television, but telephone, telegraph, radio and very likely will one day replace the maze of wires and telephone poles now dotting the horizon.
Sound and picture travel together, although they are actually two separate signals. The sound, or audio signal, is an FM (frequency modulation) radio wave. That is why Channel 6 television sound can be picked up on FM radio. The picture, or video signal, is an AM (amplitude modulation) radio wave. The two are combined into a composite beam by a diplexer at the transmitter in Roanoke, and unscrambled when the beam reaches the transmitter on East River Mountain.
If all this sound complicated, it is! To get the first equipment up the mountains and operating, point to point, voice circuits were established through telephone switchboards at towns along the way, so Pat and his boys could talk back and forth while attempting to establish their line-of-sight paths.
The towers at each relay point, designed by Flanagan and still in use, are four 50-foot creosoted telephone poles, with a large platform built on top to support antennas and external equipment and also allow room for men to service them. Ground equipment at the relay points is housed in prefab steel houses, and is remotely controlled. When the network comes on in Roanoke, it automatically starts the transmitter, which by a signal starts the next.
The WHIS-TV microwave relay system is one of the very few privately owned systems in the country. Even today, RCA (who built the equipment for a mere $70,000) brings its research and development engineer-trainees to WHIS to study the system. Meanwhile, back at the Municipal Building excitement was mounting as Pat assured his staff that completion of the microwave system was nearing.
On September 26, 1955, the Herculean task was done. At 4:00 p. m. the "Pinky Lee Show" became Channel 6's first network program. Operating on 50,000 watts from 3:30 to 10:30, the network schedule included John Cameron Swayze's "News Caravan," the popular Ray and Bob Hope alternating on Tuesdays; Wednesday offered "The Cisco Kid," "Mr. District Attorney" and "The Hunter," all locally sponsored films. Thursday was the big night, with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's "Life Is Worth Living," "Highway Patrol," "The Ford Theatre," and "Dragnet" at 9:30. On Friday, William Bendix's "Life of Riley" was the top situation comedy, followed by "The Cavalcade of Sports," limited entirely to boxing. The highlight of Saturday was "The George Gobel Show," and Sunday boasted such goodies as "Victory at Sea," "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and "Liberace."
Now that network television and Channel 6 had become a reality, there was no rest for the weary engineers. Next chore: combine WHIS-radio, still located on Commerce Street, and WHIS-TV into one facility. This move was completed in November, 1955.
The new 50,000 watt facility in the Municipal Building represented an important milestone in the growth of the community and an investment of over half a million dollars! It would be many years before Channel 6 could be expected to operate on the black side of the ledger, but once more the management of the Daily Telegraph Printing Company dedicated WHIS-AM-TV to public service to the residents of Southern West Virginia and Southwestern Virginia, bringing to the area the same education, entertainment and sports events as any major city in the nation.
In the early fifties, possession of a home television set was still a definite "status symbol." As mass production put 10-, 12-, even the fabulous 21-inch round tube sets within the financial reach of almost everyone, Channel 6's telecast schedule gradually expanded to full time by February 1956, providing continuous 16-hour day viewing. "Educating" the public on how to use their new TV sets, and what to expect from them, provided WHIS personnel with many a chuckle. Like the lady who called the station to inquire if anyone in the studio were smoking, as the smoke was filling their living room. How could she turn it down? Ray Brooks laconically advised, "Ma'am, that's easy. Unplug your set, then call the fire department - - FAST!"
During those early years of TV, network service was limited to two or three live programs an evening, making it necessary to fill with filmed shows and local programming. Even then, old movies provided the bulk of TV fare.
"Ask the Pastors," already an established radio show, was telecast on Sunday afternoons, and had the distinction of being Channel 6's first simulcast heard and seen on radio and television simultaneously. While "The Swingsters" and "The Quin-Tones" continued to fill many an interlude with pleasant dance music, dulcimers and fiddles plinking out hillbilly tunes filled more air time.
Cecil Surratt's "R. F. D. Jamboree," a daily program, was the first organized country music show. His Saturday "Hillbilly Jamboree" was a mecca for all the fiddlers and guitarists in the area - until its regular artists resented being called "hillbillies" and the name was changed to "Country Jamboree."
Bill Hickock originated "The Circle 6 Ranch," which from the first was one of the most popular shows on WHIS. After Hickock moved on, the show was taken over by "Scoop 'n Snoop," and despite various changes in title, the program itself still boasts a higher audience rating than most network shows in this area. "Scoop 'n Snoop?" In the beginning, O. C. Young "filled time by reading and commenting on items in the local newspaper between cliffhanger movie serials. Ray Brooks, cameraman often ad-libbed with him, and sarcastically dubbed Young "Scoop" O. C. was just as quick to hang the tag of "Snoop" on Ray.
With the death of Pat Flanagan in 1958, the managerial duties fell to John Shott. Like his father Jim, John had a dream, too: someday WHIS would have a home of its own!
At many time during the intervening years, the dream seemed merely that - at least to the staff and artists trudging up and down three steep stairs of steps to the "loft" in the municipal building! But it was necessary to move slowly and carefully in planning a new home for WHIS. "We wanted to be sure that we would come up with the best possible facilities that would serve our purposes for a long, long time and would be a credit to the community," Mr. Shott said.
Eventually the time was ripe and the opportunity presented itself to purchase a beautiful site in the foothills of East River Mountain, diagonally 1200 feet below transmitters towering above the mountain's top.
Plans were drawn up for the unique structure required for radio and television purposes. A contract was entered into with Corte Construction Company. Excavation began in the early Spring of 1965, and once more terrain presented a stumbling block - or stumbling stone, in this case. The combination of rock and shale made excavation difficult, lengthy and costly. It was referred to by the impatient staff as "Our $40,000 hole in the ground."
The trials and tribulations encountered in the fictional "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" sound trivial compared to the construction of a broadcast facility: Scott Shott, brother of John and senior attorney for the National Broadcasting Company's Hollywood studios, came home to help and to assume the position of manager of WHIS-TV. George Hendrick, former sales manager, had been named manager of Radio, as John succeeded "Uncle Hugh" as general manager of broadcast activities for the Daily Telegraph Printing Company.
Beneath the 13,500 square feet of floor space in the new building is a maze of miles of cable, pipes and wiring as part of the intricate electronic schematic for broadcast purposes, all engineered under the direction of Kenneth Dick, WHIS's chief engineer and his staff.
The television control room contained the most modern television production and monitoring facilities, microwave control panels, movie projectors, slide projector, and two video tape machines.
Still pioneering, Broadcast Center is believed to be the first broadcasting plant to be powered by a Total Energy System - a system by which all power is generated by gas and converted to electrical energy entirely on the premises!
There were two 250-kilowatt generators, which operate on natural gas. They operated on one week intervals, keeping one on standby at all times. These generators produced all power required for the broadcasting operations, as well as heat the building in winter; cool it in summer. It was estimated that savings on electricity, heating and air conditioning, would pay for the equipment within eight to ten years.
The radio portion of the new building was electronically ready for occupancy by late December, 1966. The physical move took place between sign off at midnight, December 26th, and sign on at 5:45 am December 27th.
On January 3, 1967, all office personnel reported for work at Broadcast Center, despite the deepest snow of the year. Again, there was one hitch: due to inclement weather and late arrival of vital equipment, it was necessary to delay actual telecasting from the new studios, leaving a small technical crew in the otherwise deserted Municipal Building "loft."
But on January 16th, again between sign off and sign on, complete operation of WHIS-AM-FM-TV at Broadcast Center became a reality. All without loss of a single minute of air time an engineering feat thought to be impossible. In the spring of 1967, WHIS-TV received shipment of two RCA TK-42 color studio cameras. These new color studio cameras completed the local colorization of WHIS-TV as the film chain and video tape machines were equipped for color.
The management of the Daily Telegraph Printing Company purchased a second station, WBTW-TV, Florence, South Carolina on April 1, 1968.
With Scott Shott on hand to supervise the broadcast facilities in Bluefield, John was free to devote most of his time to the new operation in Florence.
During the first weekend in February, 1970, WHIS-TV telecast their first "March of Dimes Telerama." It began at 11:30 pm on Saturday and featured local and area talent throughout the night continuing into and throughout Sunday ending at 5:00 PM This first Telerama also featured Linda Christal, star of NBC's "High Chaparral" along with Hal Carmack, the M. C. and Arthur Smith and his group of musicians. This 17.5 hour live telerama ended with pledges and cash contributions of slightly more than $25,000. The MOD Telerama became an annual event and became the country's Number One March of Dimes Telerama in per capita giving and in percentage of pledges collected. The 1979 WHIS-TV Telerama raised in excess of $110,000.
In April of 1975, the FCC issued a Divestiture Order, which required joint ownership of the only radio or television station, with the only newspaper in a community, to divest itself of one or the other by 1980. The Daily Telegraph Printing Company found itself included in a small group of small market joint ownerships faced with divestiture. The decision was made to sell WHIS-TV and the search for the right buyer began. After meeting with numerous interested parties, Channel 6 was sold to Quincy Newspapers, Inc. of Quincy, Illinois. On May 1, 1979 the new owners took over and established the new call letters of WVVA. The WHIS call letters were retained for the AM radio station.
WVVA has undergone a major technical and plant renovation through the mid-1980's with the purchase of new equipment in nearly every phase of the operation at an expenditure of over $1,000,000. A new transmitter has also been purchased and installed, replacing the station's transmitter that had been used since its sign-on in 1955.
The station continues to be at the forefront of important issues in Southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. WVVA continues to host the annual March of Dimes Telerama, one of the 1st totally "local" telethons in the country (1987 marked the 18th year of the event). In recent years, the telerama has been the nation's leader in pledges collected. Celebrities continue to make special appearances over the years, including Claude Akins, Irlene Mandrell, and Bruce Weitz.
WVVA remains as one of the strongest NBC affiliates in the country. The 6 pm and 11 pm news casts continually average 40 shares in the Bluefield-Beckley market.
Leading the station's operation are: Thomas A. Oakley, president; Charles Webb, vice president and general manager.
New VHF Station WHIS-TV, Bluefield, W. Va.
This article appeared in RCA Broadcast News, February 1956.
By P. T. FLANAGAN
When they spilled water from the battery on their father's beautiful living room rug, young Jim and Hugh Shott, Jr., incurred more than the Senator's momentary displeasure. They also put holes into their dream of broadcasting election returns that night in 1922, as well as their immediate plans for building a permanent radio station. Not too many years after, however, in 1925, they established the first radio broadcasting station in Bluefield, West Virginia. Today, it is one of the town's most popular stations and the "boys," now two of the most influential citizens of Bluefield, have succeeded in bringing a VHF station of 50 KW power to their thriving community.
When allocations were resumed after the freeze, Bluefield had been left out of the picture so far as VHF service is concerned since only a UHF station, which would have operated on channel 43, was assigned. Management of the Daily Telegraph Printing Company, and owners of the radio station WHIS, of which Jim H. Shott is president, and Hugh I. Shott, vice president and general manager, felt that a UHF station was not suitable for the mountainous terrain.
It was believed that only a VHF station could serve the best interests of the area, and it was pointed out that Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and other nearby cities had been allocated VHF stations and, furthermore, that two were assigned to Roanoke.
Accordingly the management of the new station made a thorough study of the situation and the allocations, then made a proposal to the FCC that ultimately resulted in the allocation of VHF channel 6 in Bluefield. It took a considerable amount of time and effort to get the change made. First, it was necessary to get the zone line between TV zones 1 and 2 changed. The original line of separation put Bluefield into zone 2. WHIS management petitioned the FCC to change the line to conform with the southern boundary of West Virginia. The petition was finally granted after many trips to Washington and after a number of hearings were held.
The FCC was then petitioned to move channel 6 from nearby Beckley to Bluefield and to give Beckley in its place channel 4, both of which changes would fit the FCC allocation pattern. After a period of litigation which involved the neighboring cities of Oak Hill and Beckley, as well as High Point, North Carolina, and other towns, this petition was also granted.
The construction permit was granted to WHIS-TV October, 1954, and the station went on the air for testing July 31, 1955.
The station has two floors in the Municipal Building in downtown Bluefield where new studios for both AM and TV operation have been built. The lower level contains reception area, AM and TV studios, film room, general offices and viewing room. The upper level contains the art department, engineering lab and workshop, viewing room and engineering store room. Figure 18 shows layout and how it is designed for smooth flow of traffic and for opening convenience.
Studio "A" for TV operation is a concrete floored area approximately 30 by 60 feet. At one end are windows of the TV control room while the other end opens into a large property room. This, in turn, opens onto a ramp that runs down to street level. By means of this ramp equipment as a large as a household moving van (tractor-trailer combination) can be driven up to the property room.
One RCA Type TK-11A Studio Camera is employed at the present time. Only a few local shows are programmed and these usually require but a few participants. As time goes on and programming increases, it is planned to add another camera.
Both sides of Studio "A" accommodate permanent sets (see Figs. 18 and 19). In addition one side has three windows for client and VIP viewing in three separate viewing areas and on two different levels.
Studio walls consist of cinder block partitions. Fixed set backgrounds used for spots, news, weather, etc., have been permanently attached to the walls. These can be covered by means of a travelling drape arrangement so that temporary sets for special shows can be put up.
The TV control room, 16 by 19 feet in size, is located several feet higher than Studio "A," hence the director has a most convenient base of operation. It contains an RCA Type TC-4A Audio-Video Switching Console. Three TM-2B Utility Monitors and one TM-6A Master Monitor are employed. Microwave control equipment for the STL is also located here. The control equipment is located directly in front of the large viewing window. Two men operate the controls: One acts as video control and the other as combination director and audio control man.
A small announce booth is located just off the TV control room. It contains utility monitor, microphone and speaker.
Studio "B" is the AM studio, which is approximately 20 by 30 feet in area. Along one side is located the viewing window of the AM control room. This studio is also designed to serve as an auxiliary TV studio. The door openings have a special "boot" at the floor which can be removed to allow a TV camera dolly access to the studio (see Fig. 5).
The TV film room is large, 22 by 19 feet, and is conveniently located adjacent to the TV control room. It is equipped with a complete RCA film system, consisting of TK-20 Iconoscope Film Camera operating into a TP-9 Multiplexer with two TP-16 Motion Picture Film Projectors and a Gray TP-3 Dual Disc Slide Projector.
An extensive film library and complete film editing facilities are accommodated in the same area.
WHIS-TV is on the air from 1 p. m. to midnight each day. Top NBC shows and local entertainment have started off WHIS telecasting. One of the local programs is a 15-minute sports show conducted by Sunset News sports editor Bill Elliott, "Sports Highlights," 6:15 p. m. Monday through Friday. Another local program is the "Jack Call Show" which is a series of Saturday evening organ recitals. For children, two daily local shows: "Circle 6 Ranch" features Wild Bill Hickok and "Serial Time" with Scoop and Snoop, popular announcers and entertainers of the WHIS-TV staff. Fifteen minutes of local and national news and weather are featured daily also. In addition a daily film show "Arm Chair Playhouse," presents top screen dramas.
Within 90 days it is expected to have full day programming. Color network operating equipment and color test equipment are being installed so that NBC color programs may be broadcast.
WHIS-TV broadcasts on channel 6, using a 10 KW RCA Transmitter Type TT-10AL with Type TTC-1B Control Console and 6-bay antenna. Since the transmitter is located two miles from the studio, an STL link using RCA Type TRR-1B Microwave Relay equipment is used to connect transmitter and studio. Four-foot reflectors are used at the terminals.
The transmitter is housed in a 2 1/2-story building, high on the side of East River Mountain, more than a thousand feet above and two miles from the city of Bluefield. The stone and asbestos shingle structure was designed and especially built for broadcast use. In addition to a commodious transmitter and control room, and maintenance areas, the building has a large apartment on the second floor that serves as living quarters for the transmitter engineer and his family.
The antenna tower is located partly down the side of the mountain rather than at the ideal location, because the state boundary line runs across the top. In order to be in West Virginia, its legal location, the WHIS-TV tower had to descend 43 feet to find a suitable foundation. Even so the tower and antenna rise 100 feet above the mountain, which has an elevation of 3750 feet, hence the total height is 3850 feet above sea level.
The Ideco tower is 100 feet high and the RCA antenna is 82 feet high. The antenna is an RCA Type TF-6BM 6-bay Superturnstile. Microwave "dishes" for both the 3-hop NBC network connection to Roanoke, Va., and the STL link, are also mounted on this tower.
The station owns 11 acres of ground in Virginia and West Virginia at the top of this mountain. A private road which is rather rough and rocky throughout its 1400-foot length leads from the highway to the transmitter.
General Manager, Hugh Shott, Jr.; Administrative and Engineering Director, P. T. Flanagan; Chief Engineer, John Byers; Commercial Manager, John C. Shott; Production Director, Elvin Feltner; Program Director, O. C. Young; Transmitter Operator-Engineers, Paul Osburn and Kenneth Dick.
The administrative director has a staff of twenty-nine people to run both stations. Ten people run the TV operation at the present time. There are two cameramen but they and everyone else have more than one job to do.
WHIS is named for Hugh Ike Shott, Sr., former congressman (1928-32) and later Senator (1941-42) representing the State of West Virginia. Hugh Ike Shott, Sr., was publisher of both local newspapers. The Sunset News is a local evening, while the Bluefield Daily Telegraph is a regional paper published mornings and Sunday. Each paper has its own staff of writers and editors, who express diverse political viewpoints. Both, however, use the same composing and printing facilities. Each has its own separate format and type face so each presents a different physical appearance.
The Shott family carries on the tradition of pioneering in mass communication with the inauguration of the newly erected TV station. Both sons, Jim and Hugh, Jr., are prominent in carrying on the activities of the radio and TV stations. One of the grandsons, John C. Shott, is commercial manager, handling both radio and TV time sales. Another grandson, Ned Shott, is business manager of both newspaper and radio and TV stations.
Plans for the future call first for full day programming and then for addition of color film and live color facilities.
The town, partly in Virginia and partly in West Virginia, once was solely a thriving bituminous coal community, but has since successfully adapted its industrial format to keep pace with progress. New industries have been brought to the city by an enterprising group of citizens. These have banded together to form the Bluefield Area Development Corporation. As a result, today the town is fully employed and growing. The coal industry, although employing fewer workers is mechanized for efficient operation and is operating at a profit to all concerned. Bringing television to this expanding and progressive community is a natural and necessary part of its continuing development. Television will help to make Bluefield as much a part of the heritage and culture which is America as Bluefield has already shown itself to be.
WHIS-TV Three-Hop Microwave SystemThis article appeared in RCA Broadcast News, February 1956. Several photographs from this article are available elsewhere on this website.
By PAUL A. GREENMEYER
Since 1928, WHIS has been an outstanding radio station in the town of Bluefield, West Virginia, and in August 1955, its management inaugurated the opening of WHIS-TV, the town's first and only television station, but immediately, a large problem arose: Since there were no network common carrier facilities, how was the new station to supply sufficient programming to justify its existence? When approached upon the subject, AT&T indicated there were no plans afoot to put in a common carrier connection between these cities. Thereupon, with typical resourcefulness, Jim and Hugh Shott, president and general manager of WHIS-TV respectively, decided to install their own microwave relay system to bring NBC programs from Roanoke, Virginia, a distance of some 70 air line miles.
Description of System
The microwave system is a one-way system that originates in Roanoke and proceeds to Bluefield via two intermediate relay points. The first relay site is 15 air miles west of Roanoke at Poor Mountain. The second relay site is 38.8 air miles from Poor Mountain at Dismal Peak. Finally, the system terminates 20 miles from Dismal Peak at East River Mountain, which is the location of the WHIS-TV transmitter.
The WHIS-TV network feed employs the new RCA Type TVM-1A Microwave Relay equipment, which is designed for monochrome and color operation. It generates one watt of transmitter power (10,000 watts ERP with a 6-foot dish), has a sound channel, and features transmitter AFC and transmitter picture monitoring. Unitized construction is utilized for ease of servicing. Standard RCA equipment was employed. No modifications thereof were necessary.
Since the system is a one-way arrangement it was only necessary to have one complete receiver and one complete transmitter assembly at each relay station. The originating point required a transmitter only, while the terminal required a receiver only. Thus the entire system called for the use of three complete receiver units and three complete transmitter units.
A sound diplexer modulator is provided at the network terminal point in Roanoke. A sound diplexer demodulator is similarly provided at the final receiving point to provide the required audio signal.
At the originating point and at the first receiver 4-foot parabolic antennas are used. At all other sites 6-foot parabolic reflectors are used. The reflectors are all mounted sufficiently high to clear local obstructions. The greatest distance that any reflector is mounted above ground is approximately 40 feet.
At the broadcast transmitter location on East River Mountain the microwave receiving parabola is attached to the 100-foot transmitter antenna tower, at a point 58 feet up from the bottom, which puts the parabola 15 feet above the top of the mountain.
The transmitter and receiver R-F sections are attached to the reflectors and are easily accessible at all locations. The majority of the electronic equipment at each station is located in a small building at the base of each tower. All adjustments and tests are now made on the ground after the initial system installation.
An extremely desirable feature of the system from the servicing standpoint is the facility for monitoring the video signal transmitted from each relay station at the station itself. This is an exclusive system of "off-air" monitoring.
Planning the System
Patrick ("Pat") Flanagan, Engineering and Administrative Director of WHIS Radio and Television, was handed the assignment to plan, install and operate the microwave system. Layout of the microwave paths and choosing the relay sites was a new and rather unusual job Also. It was not an easy job because of the mountainous terrain. The success of the entire operation would hinge upon the choice of a path that would prove to be unobstructed.
The first step was to investigate a path which had already been surveyed from Roanoke to Bluefield by the local electric power company. Flanagan found, however, that a portion of this path was not suitable for his purpose because of an obstruction that appeared when he endeavored to lay out a direct route from the relay site at Butt Mountain to Bluefield, see Fig. 8. (The power company's path led to Bluefield from Butt Mountain via an additional link beyond the town.) In order to clear the obstacle, Flanagan estimated that he would have to build a 250-foot tower, light it, and use a passive reflector on the tower. All of this meant considerably more time and expense in the way of construction and maintenance.
After more study of geodetic maps a second route was selected for the final link to Bluefield. A site known as Dismal Peak, some 20 miles southwest of Butt Mountain, was chosen. This path was sufficiently far removed from the first to completely eliminate the obstacle. In addition the second route turned out to be a more direct path (see Fig. 8).
The routes were set up first on U. S. geodetic maps and then in the field. Compass, binoculars, and mirrors were used to locate lines from one site to the other. Voice circuits were established at the various sites through local switchboards and temporary wire lines strung to the top of mountain peaks. Thus the engineers could talk back and forth with each other while attempting to establish line-of-sight paths.
Construction of Relay Stations
It was desired to make the relay towers as simple as possible in order to keep expenses under control and get into operation as rapidly as possible. To achieve these ends an arrangement using telephone poles was designed to support antennas and head-end units but no compromise was made, however, with clearance requirements. Armco sheet steel pre-fab structures measuring 10 by 8 by 8 feet were used for housing radio equipment at the base of the relay stations.
The Cofer Construction Company of Roanoke contracted to do the outdoor erection of buildings and antenna supports. A poured 6-inch thick concrete slab was used for the foundation of the sheet steel building. Pouring required one day and building erection required another day. Two men took one full day to erect the structure.
The towers for antennas consisted of four creosoted 50-foot telephone poles, arranged to form a rectangle 6 by 12 feet. The poles were sunk 4 1/2 feet into the ground. A platform arrangement, 5 feet from the top, supported antennas and external equipment. The contractor spent one day digging holes and two days for erecting the structure. Six men were used in this stage of the job.
Angle iron arrangements used for supporting the parabolic antennas and equipment were designed by Flanagan and fabricated in the WHIS-TV Bluefield shop. These were then fastened to the platform, antennas were mounted, and head-end units installed. The platform is large enough to allow several men to work at one time.
One rack houses all the microwave relay equipment in the pre-fab building at the relay station. The rack contains transmitter control panel, receiver control panel, and power supply (see Fig. 13). Both relay stations operate completely unattended.
The platform at the top of the 4-pole tower makes it convenient for serving the head-end units and the antennas. Eventually it is planned to enclose the platform so that service can be more conveniently carried on in all kinds of weather.
Point of Origin
The WHIS-TV microwave connects into existing AT&T circuits in Roanoke. Arrangements were made with station WDBJ in Roanoke to lease space for location of microwave equipment. The microwave antenna is located on the roof of the Mountain Trust Building, which houses WDBJ studios. No tower was needed at this point it was merely necessary to fabricate an angle iron supporting structure to elevate the parabolic antenna eight feet above the roof level (see Fig. 15).
The microwave transmitter control panel and power supplies are mounted in less than half a rack in the WDBJ film room (the rest of the rack contains WDBJ equipment). Only other piece of equipment used by WHIS-TV in this room is the AT&T terminal box (see Fig. 16).
Problems at Dismal Peak
At this relay site several difficulties took quite a bit of time to iron out. The site itself is located in the Jefferson National Forest. It was the only acceptable point to get a direct and unobstructed path. Although considerable negotiation was required, the station was finally able to lease an area 100 foot square on the mountain from the Forest Service.
Access roads were not of the best but were in and were deemed adequate for all-weather transportation. Power, however, was not available. WHIS-TV made arrangements with the local electric utility to run some 1 1/4 miles of power line. For some unexplained reason, this took so long that the equipment was installed before power was available. In order not to hold up testing and alignment, a gasoline-driven motor generator set was temporarily used to power the microwave equipment.
Pre-Testing the System
Prior to installation the RCA microwave radio relay equipment was set up in Bluefield, bench tested, and each piece was marked. After that it was transported to relay sites, to Roanoke, and to the transmitter for installation in racks and on towers. Flanagan and his boys did the entire job.
Before transporting the equipment to installation sites, it was also set up as a complete system and tested. The entire three hops were arranged around the studio. It was operated for sufficient time to get all wiring in order and ready for final installation. This studio setup and test took two days.
Installation of Equipment
Final setups at terminals and relay points were made in four days, using two crews of three men each. This final installation was also done by Flanagan and his men. They traveled from one end of the system to the other, installing the equipment and turning on transmitters and receivers as they went. They began at Roanoke, where the common carrier terminates, and ended up in Bluefield at the TV transmitter site. As they traveled, the signal was received at each site before they left. On the fourth day in Bluefield the signal was received at the terminal, coming through fairly satisfactorily and only in need of final alignment and adjustment.
The antennas were originally oriented by Flanagan by means of a hand compass, allowing for angle of declination, and then more accurately adjusted for maximum signal strength after the equipment was operating. Final tune-up and final alignment of the system were performed by an RCA engineer. There resulted considerable improvement in operation when the RCA engineer re-aligned the "dishes" and re-adjusted AFC for proper operation.
The RCA Microwave System is designed for automatic operation. There are no personnel at relay sites. When the transmitter at the AT&T feed point in Roanoke is turned on, the transmitter at the first relay point begins transmitting, and so on in turn down the line.
No emergency power supplies are employed at relay stations. Commercial power supply has proved sufficiently reliable to avoid this expense. In event of failure, WHIS-TV has made arrangements with WSJS-TV of Winston-Salem, N. C., to pick its NBC signal off the air for rebroadcast.
Should anything go wrong, such as power loss at a relay station, the system will shut itself down. This is accomplished by means of the carrier-controlled radiation switch. Each transmitter is tied into the preceding receiver by being wired into its AGC so that if carrier is not received, the transmitter is shut down. Upon failure at any point for any reason, this effect is cascaded along the "line" in order to shut down the entire system. When the fault is cleared, the system automatically starts up by means of the Roanoke signal.
Service and Maintenance
A plan has been set up for routine maintenance at terminals and intermediate relay points of this system. A routine schedule calls for two visits per month to each unattended station. To perform these duties one additional man has been hired. The microwave system is his sole responsibility. It is his job to travel up and down the system, making necessary checks and adjustments to keep the equipment in top operating condition.
Results of First Few Months of Operation
"Bugs" were ironed out, the system shaken down, and operation reached a consistently good state during the first month of operation. Interference caused by the signal of another station was eliminated by changing polarization on the antenna that picked up the interfering signal. As operating personnel are becoming more familiar with the new equipment, its tuning and alignment, operation is becoming more and more satisfactory. All in all it appears that performance is now on the same high level as studio and transmitter equipment.
In spite of the newness of the microwave equipment to Pat Flanagan and his crew, they experienced little difficulty in the first month of operation. The system has proved to be dependable and in the instance of a failure was readily returned to service. Both of these qualities of dependability and serviceability are the prime requisites required to equipment that is to operate at remote, unattended locations in a microwave system such as that used by WHIS-TV. Thus, the RCA model TVM-1A microwave relay, which has been designed to provide these features, is now proving itself in the rugged, mountainous country along the Virginia-West Virginia border.
WHIS-TV Presents First Local Telecast To Area;