1946 - 1949: The Beginning

The year was 1946. World War II was over, the troops were home and Americans were trying to get back to normal life. There were lots of weddings. Housing was in short supply. The "baby boom" was underway and "the manual" was Dr. Benjamin Spock's new book, Baby and Child Care. Proctor & Gamble announced a new "power detergent" called Tide for all the work clothes and diapers. Las Vegas went "on the map" with the opening of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Lady Liberty was replaced by Franklin Roosevelt on the dime. The first computer, called ENIAC, was built in Philadelphia. Heralded in the press as being a "Giant Brain" it contained about 18,000 vacuum tubes—but wasn't as powerful as one of today's pocket calculators.

This logo was featured in a small ad that appeared on nearly every page of the Roanoke Times on Monday, December 16, 1946—WROV's second day.

As the year came to a close, the country was horrified by the worst hotel fire in American history at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta in which 120 people died and over 100 more were injured. But on a brighter note, labor leader John L. Lewis called off a massive strike by coal miners and government restrictions on electricity, heat and travel were lifted just in time for the holidays. Industrial and factory workers would be going back to work, paychecks would soon be coming in, and the bills would soon be paid. Most folks were happy, relieved, and looking forward to a joyous holiday season with lights, family and big packages coming in the mail.

The top artists in America were Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Count Basie, and the Andrews Sisters. Sinatra had just released The Things We Did Last Summer, Goodman was riding the charts with his version of My Blue Heaven, Dinah was singing Doing What Comes Naturally from Irving Berlin's new hit musical, Annie Get Your Gun and the top record in the U.S.A. was the Andrews Sisters' song about Johnny Fedora meeting Alice Bluebonnet in the window of a department store. Country music was ruled by Tex Ritter, Bob Wills, Merle Travis and Ernest Tubb.

Lee Garrett and Jim Shell were two of the voices heard on WROV in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Typhoon starring Dorothy Lamour and The Big Sleep with Bogie & Bacall were big at the box office. There was no television south of Washington, DC—the first to sign on would be WTVR, Richmond in 1948—so Roanokers got their news, information and entertainment from reading the newspaper, theater newsreels, and listening to the radio. Roanoke had two stations—WDBJ-960 (which signed on in 1924) and WSLS-1240 (on in 1940). But in late 1946 this was about to change.

WROV signed on at 8:00 AM, at 1490 on the dial, on December 15, 1946 as Roanoke's third radio station (really the fourth, if you count the low-powered WRBX which was on the air from 1929 through 1935). At first, the station broadcasted from 8:00 AM through 11:30 PM on weekends, 6:00 AM through 11:30 PM weekdays. Within a month they were staying on until 1:00 AM. The power was 250 watts.

On December 14, 1946 The Roanoke Times ran this full-page advertisement designed to look like a news story.

It was to have signed on the air on Thanksgiving Day, 1946, but was delayed because of a construction accident which resulted in two sections of the tower collapsing at the transmitter site on Cleveland Avenue and 15th Street, SW, and delays in acquiring the transmitter which was housed near the tower in a World War II style Quonset Hut. The studios were located on the top floor of the Mountain Trust Bank building at Jefferson & Kirk in downtown Roanoke.

The day before the sign-on, the news was proclaimed in a full-page advertisement in The Roanoke Times that was designed to look like a series of news stories about the event. The headline read "STATION WROV ON THE AIR TOMORROW" and the ad included stories about the local businessmen who made up Roanoke Radio, Inc, the firm who backed the station.

Roanoke Radio Incorporated:   Leo Henebry, Pres.;   J. Kirk Ring, VP;   Ernest Mitchell, Treas.;   Lambert Beeuwkes, GM

Also included were articles detailing members of the staff, the equipment, the news department and the programming. Pictures were shown of a small airplane and a panel truck that were to be used as "news coverage equipment." Other photos showed station officials and radio stars of the Mutual Broadcasting System and some local acts to be featured on the station.

Roanoke Radio, Inc's president was Leo F. Henebry, a former Roanoke mayor and owner of the jewelry stores bearing his name. The vice-president, J. Kirk Ring, was known in town as the man who ran Roanoke City Mills. The station's treasurer was Ernest J. Mitchell, of the Mitchell Clothing Company. The general manager, Lambert Beeuwkes, was a former Mutual Radio Network official who had once been the personal manager of The Lone Ranger and a station manager in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ray Bentley was another "first generation" WROV personality.

Stockholders included Wallace Clement of Clement Brokerage, Randall Knisley of Coca Cola, Howard Beasley of Beasley Orchards, Ralph Gunn of Mountain Trust Bank, Lynn Hammond of Hammond Lithograph Works, Norman McVeigh of Mick-Or-Mack, Elmore Heins of National Theater Corporation and Lorenz Neuhoff, who ran the packing company in Salem that became Valleydale.

The station hired "the most talented men available in their respective branches of radio," said Henebry, who added "we have the cream of the crop." The staff was hired by Lambert Beeuwkes, whose knowledge of radio men was "reflected in the appointments made for the various departments of WROV." These included Frank Koehler, a former sales manager of WSLS who had worked for NBC in Richmond and New York City before coming to Roanoke. Frank became WROV's second general manager when Beeuwkes left in 1947.

Gabriel Heatter was a famous newscaster during WWII. He opened newscasts by saying "There is good news tonight" and then focused on positive, morale-boosting stories. His late 1940s show A Brighter Tomorrow was part of WROV's first broadcast day.

The program director, Gordon Phillips, came from the Don Lee Network in Hollywood. The news "day editor" was Dick Sutcliffe, a Roanoke Times writer. The "night editor" was Dan Cronin, former city editor for the Times, who went on to become a Roanoke city councilman. Both had done news features for WSLS and WDBJ.

WROV's first chief engineer was Julian J. Ralston, a man termed as "one of the outstanding radio engineers in the country." Ralston was from Covington, had run the Ralston Radio Engineering Company in Washington, DC and had recently served in the U.S. Navy where he set up radio operations and top-secret radar installations in the Pacific during WWII. Ralston apparently missed his native southwestern Virginia and saw the job at WROV as a way to return to the area.

Highlights of WROV's first day on the air
from a Roanoke Times ad, December 15, 1946.

Hired to be his assistants were Marion Stoner of CBS in Boston, Robert Houston from WSAI in Cincinnati, and Joe Moses. Joe was from Roanoke and worked as an engineer in the control tower at Woodrum Field. After setting up the downtown studios, the engineers spent most of their time working at the Cleveland Avenue transmitter site.

WROV's first broadcast day began with an invocation by Rev. Ramon Redford, pastor of Belmont Christian Church. Later in the day, listeners heard salutes from Roanoke's two other stations and from the Mutual Broadcasting System. WSLS saluted WROV at 1:00 PM with a program broadcasted on both stations. WDBJ followed suit with a salute at 2:30 PM. Other highlights of the first day included several local church programs and a show called Alcoholics Anonymous, a dramatic story of the work of that organization broadcasted from Detroit.

The highlight of WROV's first day was a dedicatory program of its own which aired at 5:00 PM. This show featured Roanoke Mayor Richard T. Edwards and included the first music broadcasted on the station, performed by local bluegrass / folk group, The Hall Brothers Band. The Halls performed "Filipino Baby" which was, at the time, a big hit for Ernest Tubb. Rufus Hall sang the lead and thereby became the first person ever to sing on WROV.

The Hall Brothers Band posed for this photo the day WROV signed on the air in December, 1946. Later that day they fell six floors in the elevator when the brakes gave out. Front: Carl Decker, Norman Wheeler, Bill Brown. Back: David Kent (real name Herman Adkins), Rufus Hall, Jay Hugh Hall, Hank Angle.

Following this program, the Hall Brothers and Mayor Edwards climbed onto the elevator and were almost killed when it fell six floors to the bottom of the Mountain Trust building. In a 2005 interview, Rufus Hall told Tim White of the Appalachian Cultural Music Association that "after the program this day, the elevator fell. Thirteen of us were on there and it put six of us in the hospital. I was one of the six that spent the night at Lewis Gale Hospital.

"They'd been hauling freight on it, it was a freight elevator and the cables had gotten hot on it and they wouldn't hold. So we all loaded up, and we had the mayor of Roanoke City, Edwards, he was on there with us, he went down with us on there. And that's the reason it fell, because it was hot and the brakes wouldn't hold on it." Fortunately, there were only a few minor injuries and in a few days everyone involved was fully recovered.

WROV's first day on the air, from the Roanoke Times radio program listings, December 15, 1946.

The station's original programming reflected the "block" style of early radio and remained much the same for the next ten years. It included large blocks of time devoted to straight music of all varieties, seven network news commentators, five local newscasts and popular daily network shows. Morning shows were designed to "set Roanokers off to a good start," PD Gordon Phillips said, and were followed by shows for the "housewife." Early afternoons were for "general interest" shows and the "kiddies" were catered to from 4:45 - 6:00 PM. Evenings were called "Family Evenings" with programs designed to appeal "to everyone in Mr. and Mrs. Roanoke's family."

Music heard on the station during the early days included songs from Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Guy Lombardo, the Andrews Sisters, Vaughn Monroe and the Mills Brothers. Twenty years later in 1966, in an advertisement marking the station's anniversary, music director Sam Russell said "a WROV listener in 1946 was likely to hear Bing sing Dear Hearts and Gentle People and three other tunes by Bing that hit the million-seller jackpot."

"And to ensure 1946 as Bing's year, he teamed up with the Andrews Sisters to sell another million copies of South America, Take It Away! Perry Como had a big hit in 1946 with Prisoner of Love. Eddy Howard hit the charts with To Each His Own. Al Jolson's records really topped them all that year, accounting for seven million-plus sellers including his famous Sonny Boy and Mammy."

The WROV control board was wired to accommodate two stations and it was announced that an FM station was soon to follow. A construction permit was secured for erecting a tower and transmitter site atop Fort Lewis mountain, west of Salem. At some point, these plans were abandoned and the FM antenna was hung on the side of the AM tower.

WROV's "On The Spot News Coverage Equipment" included an airplane and a van, each equipped with "a short wave transmitter, recording machinery and portable wire recorders." The airplane was a new Cessna operated by the Woodrum Flying Service.

Not long after signing on, WROV hired a local announcer named Homer Holcomb, Jr. Homer had just returned from WWII where he'd flown 35 missions as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. After brief radio jobs at WSVA in Harrisonburg, VA and WDBJ, he joined the staff of WROV. Since he was known as a WDBJ announcer he was asked to change his name.

So, Homer and a few other station staffers together decided he would become Lee Garrett (a name, he says, he borrowed from an old Harrisonburg friend). Lee spent six years at WROV before leaving in 1953 to join Roanoke's new TV station, WSLS TV-10.

Another of the first generation of WROV personalities was Ray Bentley. Ray was from Roanoke and graduated from St. Andrew's High School in 1939. He joined the Navy in 1942 and served as the "Death Ray Patrol Officer" at the first atom bomb tests at Bikini atoll. He came to WROV in 1947 and did the morning show before becoming the continuity director. Ray left in 1950 to join a local ad agency and went on to run WBLU. Over the years he was a prominent person in the community who held offices with the Roanoke Jaycees and the Knights of Columbus.

WROV's Rub & Scrub Music Club show gave away a honeymoon trip to Natural Bridge.

WROV featured live music by groups such as the Hall Brothers Band. They also had a huge record library of 78 rpm records that consisted of all types of music which the announcers were free to choose from. Lee says "we were sort of 'jacks of all trades' back when we had our library and it was in that room that looked down onto Jefferson Street. You could look right out the window and look at the old theater right across the street.

"But when the music would come in whoever was available, whoever was not on the air would go back there and we'd take the records and we would shuck them and we'd catalog them and when we got ready to do our shows we'd pick what we wanted to do. We didn't have a librarian there to say 'Hey this is what you're going to play, yak yak yak' we did it ourselves.

"We got to pick what we wanted to do. Which was good. We liked it that way. But Frank Koehler had two songs that, oh, it tore him to pieces when we would play them. He finally forbade us to play them. One of them was Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down which was an old country song.

Eddie Dunn's popular quiz show True Or False was on Saturdays during the late 1940s.

"And the one he REALLY didn't like—and it was a beautiful thing, musically it was great, fabulous—was called the Half Fast Waltz. Now you say it fast… 'This is the Half Assed Waltz' …and that would tear Koehler up. He'd say 'Don't play that anymore!'" Nobody knows for sure became of this huge library of records which would be worth a fortune today, but we think Burt may have donated it to the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College.

A typical broadcast day on the WROV of the late 1940s began with "RFD 1490" (later "RFD 1240"). Lee thinks this was an early morning country-style show hosted by Glenwood Howell who Lee says "was our rural statesman." Next came "Yawn Patrol," which was a staple of WROV throughout the 1950s. The mid-morning show was called "The Rub & Scrub Music Club"—apparently named and targeted for housewives who were doing the cleaning. Lee was among those who hosted both shows.

WROV's frequency change from 1490 to 1240 was mentioned in this ad for a baseball game, September 9, 1948.

Live music shows and popular national shows were heard throughout the rest of the day. Also, beginning shortly after signing on and continuing through 1953, WROV carried the baseball games of the Roanoke Red Sox (later called the "Ro - Sox") of the Piedmont League.

Two years after signing on, WROV-AM changed frequencies. In radio transmission, the lower the frequency, the longer the wavelength. Long wavelength signals produce a very large fringe coverage area and the signal fades slowly as you leave it, which means that AM stations on lower frequencies generally have more and better coverage per watt of power.

The Roanoke Red Sox games were carried on WROV from early 1947 until the team folded in 1953. These matches, which listed the 1949 Ro-Sox games on the inside cover, also promoted the station's other daily sports programs.

So for this reason, on September 5, 1948, after securing permission from the FCC, station WSLS began broadcasting on frequency 610. This opened up the 1240 frequency in Roanoke, and one week later on September 12, 1948, WROV quit broadcasting on the 1490 frequency and became 1240 WROV. The hours of operation and power remained the same. Several newspaper ads from both stations proclaimed the change. The 1490 frequency was never again used in the Roanoke market, though years later WBLU signed on at 1480 on the dial.

By late 1948, all three Roanoke stations were simulcasting their programs on FM. WDBJ-FM was 94.9, WSLS-FM was 99.1, and WROV-FM was 103.7 on the dial. Television in Roanoke was just around the corner and all three of the radio station combos had big plans.

WROV Programs 1946-1949
Martin Agronsky
America Dances
Eddy Arnold
Martin Block Show
Blue Barron Presents
Blue Ridge Jamboree
Box 13 with Alan Ladd
Break the Bank
Buck Rogers
Campus Capers
Chicago Air Theatre
Tommy Dorsey
Morton Downey
The Falcon
Cedric Foster
The Jan Garber Orchestra
Hall of Hits
Gabriel Heatter
Hillbilly Hit Review
Honor Roll of Hits
Inside Sports
The Johnson Family with Jimmie Scribner
The Leonard Trio
Let's Listen
The Little White Church
Fulton Lewis, Jr.
Tom Mix
Queen For A Day
Relax & Listen
RFD 1490/1240
Rhythm Ranch
Lanny Ross Sings
The Rub & Scrub Music Club
Kate Smith Speaks
Song Shop
Take A Number
True Or False
Twenty Questions
Queen For A Day
Quiz Masters
The Wanderers of the Wasteland
Yawn Patrol