News Channel 11 celebrates 65 years

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) -- For more than six decades, you've trusted News Channel 11 and welcomed us into your homes and today we're celebrating our 65th anniversary in the Tri-Cities.

GALLERY: Scroll through our photo gallery to view the early days of WJHL-TV

The WJHL-TV journey began 65 years ago when our first television broadcast debuted on October 26, 1953.

Take a walk past 338 East Main Street in downtown Johnson City -- built in the 1930s as a federal post office -- but on the inside -- a state-of-the-art, 24/7 news hub. One click of a button and our signal is broadcast across more than 330,000 homes across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Have you ever wondered how all of this began? Well, you'll have to take a trip back in time. 

WJHL-TV was founded by Hanes Lancaster, Jr and Sr, and Jay Birdwell. Eventually, the Lancasters bought Birdwell's interest in the station and operated it from a location in downtown Johnson City that is now demolished.

The early days of television were exciting and packed with unexpected surprises.

Since television was in its infancy, the station crew had to feel its way along, often improvising and making adjustments to deal with the situation. 

The first weather graphics were drawn on a chalkboard and people at home were getting their first opportunity to see live, local television across the Tri-Cities region.

In the days and weeks that followed, people watched from home.

Few homes even had a television then, so the Lancaster's didn't just have to build a television station, they had to build an audience. 

Al Gregory joined WJHL-TV in 1957. A New Yorker who had dreams of being a baseball player, turned into a decades old career at WJHL. 

"Everything we did was live," Gregory said during an interview celebrating the station's 60th anniversary. "There was no video tape. We did shows back-to-back. You had to be on the ball and move fast. I think back then we had more live shows back-to-back than we do today."

Hanes Lancaster Jr. still had a vision -- to transform Johnson City's television station into a regional powerhouse.

Lancaster Jr. knew the studio on Tannery Knob was too small. As the audience grew, so did the sponsors, so did the broadcast operation, which included a larger news staff.

In 1958, Lancaster moved his television station downtown and his tower to Buffalo Mountain. In 1968, the Lancaster's sold WJHL to Park Broadcasting and stayed on to move the station forward.

The news team became the faces of the station. Most in the early days, the station's talent grew up in the region. Our current evening team includes anchors Josh Smith and Sara Diamond with both Chief Meteorologist Mark Reynolds and Sports Director Kenny Hawkins working at WJHL for more than three decades. 

WJHL-TV has embraced the digital area. Our website WJHL.COM, Facebook page and news and weather apps that can be accessed from your smartphone or tablet bring you news, sports and weather from across the region every single day.

We have served you with pride for the past 65 years and we look forward to many more years to come!

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