Channel 4 celebrates 70th anniversary of broadcasting

Decades of history behind Jacksonville's most watched television station

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On Sept. 15, 1949, Channel 4 signed on as WMBR as the first television station in Jacksonville and the second in the entire state of Florida. A lot of things beyond the call letters have changed over the decades, but not our commitment to serve the people of greater Jacksonville.

In the first years, a young singer, Virginia Atter, and future sportscaster, Dick Stratton, hosted talk and entertainment shows on Jacksonville's new station. They welcomed celebrity guests such as Andy Griffith, Joe DiMaggio and the Rev. Billy Graham.

While it was a CBS affiliate, as the only game in town Channel 4 carried a mix of CBS, NBC, ABC and DuMont network programming for several years.

In 1952, anchor Bill Grove was hired to host a daily news broadcast and help invent local television news. He set a standard for honest and accurate reporting. Before long, meteorologist George Winterling was added to the expanding news lineup to give custom weather forecasts. He accurately predicted the path of Hurricane Dora in 1964 and Jacksonville's first snowy Christmas in 1989.

SLIDESHOW: Early broadcasters grow with Jacksonville

Over the years, the Channel 4 team has broadcast thousands of unique stories that informed, entertained, and, in some cases, prompted change in Jacksonville and beyond.

A half-century later, Tom Wills, along with Deborah Gianoulis, Sam Kouvaris and Winterling became the longest-running TV anchor team in the nation. In 2019, Wills continues to lead the News4Jax anchor team, upholding and developing the goals Grove set for us despite a vastly changed and challenging journalistic environment.

In 2002, WJXT split from CBS after unresolved affiliation agreements between station owner Post-Newsweek Stations and that network. That transition required some innovation and wasn't always easy, but it truly made us The Local Station.

animation of TV4's logos over timeThere have been many other transitions over the decades: broadcasting in color, then in stereo, then in high-definition. We went from shooting news on film, on videotape of various configurations and now on memory cards.

With the advent of digital broadcasting, we added additional channels, now including This TV and Smart TV. In January 2017, our parent company bought WCWJ-17 and we program the two Jacksonville stations to complement each other.

We've also innovated as new digital platforms came along. We began publishing news on the World Wide Web in 1995, adding news and weather apps shortly after smartphones were invented, and now we even provide updates throughout the day on smart speakers.

In its 69 years, The Local Station has evolved, grown and accomplished many things and been honored to remain Jacksonville's top-rated source of local television news. Despite competing with numerous stations carrying national, network programs, WJXT often draws the most viewers with entertainment programs as well.

Our broadcast journalism has received numerous awards over the years, including Emmys, Edward R. Murrow awards, Peabodys,  Associated Press awards and three Golden Batons from the Columbia School of Journalism.

Many of us, including those mentioned already, spent most of our careers in this Jacksonville and at this television station. Some WJXT alumni have gone on to big jobs at the networks, such as "60 Minutes" veteran Steve Kroft, CBS correspondents Randall Pinkston and Bruce Hall and ABC's Karla Davis.

But the most important accomplishment of our team is that we have done our best to keep viewers and their families safe and informed and that we try every day to make our community a better place to live.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.