WJXT-TV4 Through The Years

Highlights Of A Glorious History

Published On: Oct 26 2011 02:01:39 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 22 2008 02:56:42 AM EDT

It all started in the fall of 1949.

Channel 4 was known as WMBR back then, and our studio was next to the Main Street Bridge on the St. Johns River. A young singer named Virginia Atter was hired to do commercials and host talk shows on Jacksonville television.

It was live TV, and the station employees suddenly found themselves interviewing famous celebrities who dropped into town, like Joe Dimaggio and Andy Griffith. Virginia Atter-Keys recalls how nervous she was interviewing the Reverend Billy Graham: "I forgot to say anything. I was just so impressed I kept mumbling over and over about going to church. I thought that was important."

Virginia was joined by Dick Stratton, a handsome young man with a booming voice. "We were very nervous in those days, Dick told us just before the station's 50th birthday party. I wrote down the questions - 1,2,3 -- and I wouldn't pay attention to the answer and sometimes they'd answer my question."

Channel 4's first news anchor was Bill Grove. He was a straightforward, solid newsman on the air for more than 30 years. He built the foundation of the station's reputation for accuracy and honesty.

In the late 1950s, WJXT was one of the first stations in the nation to have a meteorologist involved in weather forecasting. Frank Forrestor began his television career at Channel 4 before going to Washington, D.C., where he became chief information officer for the U.S. Geological Survey.

George Winterling came on board in 1962 and quickly earned a reputation as a fabulous forecaster -- the only one to accurately predict Hurricane Dora was heading our way in 1964.

Forecasting has changed drastically over the years. Back in the 60's there were no satellite images. George actually painted the clouds on in white paint. There are many unforgettable days when it comes to weather: horrible storms, devastating floods, and how about 1989 when Jacksonville actually had a white Christmas.

Dick Stratton's love of sports led him into the role as Channel 4's first official hired sportscaster. But in the good old days, if you were on TV you had to do a little bit of everything.

"I was the weather man and it was partly cloudy, chance of afternoon showers and high in the 90s low in the 70s everyday," Stratton said. "Now the station has four full time meteorologists telling you the same thing!"

A famous Channel 4 memory was a snowstorm that never really happened: it was the award winning holiday promotion called "snow dreams" featuring the four main anchors. Tom Wills, Deborah Gianoulis, George Winterling and Sam Kouvaris have been a team for 19 years -- longer than any other anchor team in the nation.

While many people have made their careers at this television stanton, some WJXT alumni have gone on to big jobs at the networks, such as 60 minutes' Steve Kroft, CBS' Randall Pinkston and Bruce Hall and ABC's Karla Davis.

Channel 4 has presented countless images we will never forget for more and stories that stay in our minds and our hearts for a lifetime. It has been a tremendous 50 years of television on Channel 4.

As WJXT heads into the next century, the station remains dedicated to bringing the world around us into your homes through the magic of television.