JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Seventy years ago, WJHL was preparing to go on the air. The station’s late founder, Hanes Lancaster Jr., had worked hard to secure the network and build the station from nothing.

Despite some major setbacks, his perseverance created a legacy that we celebrate today.

It was a big gamble.

“Well, as you might say, it was a crap shoot,” Lancaster recalled.

But it was a gamble that paid off.  On Oct. 26, 1953, WJHL went on the air. In an interview before his death, Lancaster recalled having no blueprint to start a television station.

“And the thing about television is that there was really no rule to go by,” he said. “Everybody that was on it developed their own way of doing things, so no matter where you went, and I traveled to a lot of stations, and everybody was doing a different thing and as far as the interior internal structure of handling their sales, their pricing of advertising the traffic was all different.”

But Oct. 26 almost wasn’t the station’s anniversary. The night before the big day, disaster struck when the broadcast tower on the mountain fell.

“They were jacking in the top guylines and by jacking in, I mean they were tightening them and making sure the tower was straight so they could hoist the antenna the next morning,” Lancaster said. “Well, one of the choke lines, which is a line that is pulled around as they tightened down to pull the guidelines in tight, broke.  Well, you had two more lines out there that were still under tension and started a whipping action and just whipped the thing to the ground, threw pieces and sections of tower all over the top of that hill.”

But Lancaster had no thoughts of giving up.

“None whatsoever,” he said. “When you fall in and you feel like you’re going to drown…you don’t quit swimming.”

With some phone calls and a lot of work, WJHL went on the air as scheduled.

“Well, surprisingly enough, it didn’t delay us from getting on the air, but not with the effective range that we wanted,” he said. 

Lancaster refused to give up on his vision and his dream lives on seven decades later.