JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – For the past 70 years, WJHL-TV has broadcast to the Tri-Cities.
On Oct. 26, 1953, the transmitter began operation, and Herb Howard’s voice became the first heard on WJHL.
The station was founded by Hanes Lancaster Sr. and Hanes Lancaster Jr., whose initials help make up the station’s call letters. Lancaster Sr. came from a radio background, but together, he and his son expanded their family’s legacy by launching WJHL-TV.
However, the first broadcast was not assured, as the station’s broadcast tower collapsed onto the station’s original building on Tannery Knob in Johnson City only days prior. Lancaster Sr. and other employees were inside but luckily uninjured.
But the show went on, and WJHL became the region’s first television station.
“It was going to work,” Lancaster Jr. previously said in an interview on the station’s beginnings. “I wasn’t going to give it up.”
Seven decades later, more than eight hours of news is broadcast each weekday from WJHL to seven counties in Northeast Tennessee, nine in Southwest Virginia and two in Eastern Kentucky.
From its start in the 1950s, WJHL continued to evolve. The station started broadcasting in color in 1965, and in 1968, the Lancasters sold WJHL-TV to Park Broadcasting with Lancaster Jr. staying on as general manager. In his time as general manager, Lancaster Jr. oversaw major deals that led to the station’s longstanding success.
A transmitter tower was placed atop Holston Mountain in 1970 after waiting 22 years for the green light from the Federal Communications Commission. The placement of the tower gave WJHL expanded reach and with it, more viewers.
“We reached five states: Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky,” Lancaster Jr. said in a previous interview. “And if we didn’t move to that Holston Mountain, we would have never reached all of those people, and the more people you reach, the more valuable is your advertising.”
The station made the move in 1976 to the former post office building on East Main Street, and it has been WJHL’s home ever since.
The transmitter tower gave the news team of WJHL household name status, with many legendary newscasters coming from within the Tri-Cities area originally. Others would come to the station, fall in love with the area and its people and call it home for the rest of their lives.
Newscasters like Bob Lewis, Tim Cable, Tony Treadway, Josh Smith and others had long careers at the station, informing viewers, sharing important stories and entertaining the region. Several more like Mark Reynolds, Kenny Hawkins, Sara Diamond and Kasey Marler continue their longstanding mission to provide the Tri-Cities with the best quality news possible.
As technology and the region changed, so did the way WJHL operated. The station switched to digital programming from analog in the 2000s and added a sister station, ABC Tri-Cities, in 2016.
With the rise of the Internet came another way to receive news, and WJHL.com now serves as the hub of the top headlines in the region at all hours of the day.
The studio used by WJHL’s newscasters, producers, directors and guests has changed numerous times over 70 years. The latest renovation to the studio was completed in 2019.
In the summer of 2023, the newsroom was completely renovated with the help of Nexstar Media Inc., WJHL’s parent company.
The way news is broadcast, received and aired has changed over the course of 70 years, but the core of WJHL and its mission to the Tri-Cities region has not. On Oct. 26, 2023, the folks behind News Channel 11, ABC Tri-Cities and WJHL.com remain the Team You Can Trust.