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Bill Grove: WJXT's first news director, legendary anchor

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Bill Grove was hired by WMBR-TV in the fall of 1952, he was the news department.

No one knew very much about how to do local television news because there wasn’t much local news on TV anywhere.

Grove figured out how to do it and became leader of a news department that brought a new dimension and stature to electronic journalism. With the station purchased by the Washington Post and call letters changed to WJXT, Grove built a solid reputation around responsible journalism and courageous investigative reporting.

SLIDESHOW: Bill Grove's career in photos | DOCUMENT: Grove's 1960s biography

Grove graduated from Shippensburg State College in Pennsylvania with a bachelor of science in education. He taught one year at a prep school in New Jersey, then went to work at the Harrisburg Evening News, then several radio stations, before coming to Jacksonville.

My the middle-50s, Grove had assembled a small new team, includingBill Blackburn (standing behind Grove) and Claude Taylor (on right).
My the middle-50s, Grove had assembled a small new team, includingBill Blackburn (standing behind Grove) and Claude Taylor (on right).

Grove led the news department through a long campaign of exposing corruption and waste in city and county governments that culminated in a grand jury investigation and the indictment of high-ranking officials. That, plus the station’s work on government integrity and efficiency led to the abolition of existing governments and approval of a new consolidated government.

To honor Grove's 25 years as WJXT’s news leader and main anchor, there was a big celebration. CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite came to town, which was particularly fitting since Grove was regarded as Jacksonville’s Walter Cronkite.

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite was among those honoring Groveat a banquet held for his 25th anniversary at Channel 4.
CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite was among those honoring Groveat a banquet held for his 25th anniversary at Channel 4.

“I would have done anything to get here tonight," Cronkite said. "You are, unfortunately, a rarity in our business. There are not enough Bill Groves. I wish we had a Bill Grove in every community in the United States.”

Florida Gov. Reubin Askew said a good newsman should have soundness, judgment and genuine concern.

“It’s unnecessary for me to say Bill Grove has these qualities," Askew said. "The people of North Florida have been saying it for 25 years. We’re not here to thank you for doing your job, but for doing it well.”

Congratulatory messages included such phrases as:

“Your public service value is beyond measure.”
“Without a news media such as yours, the public wouldn’t know what is going on.”
“Every taxpayer owes Channel 4 a debt of gratitude.”
“One of the greatest examples of public service I ever heard of.”
“The people are 100 percent behind you.”
“God bless you and keep up the good work.”

The Tampa Tribune said Grove’s work was “in the best tradition of American journalism.”

The New York Times wrote: “WJXT said it got into investigative reporting because Jacksonville’s two daily newspapers were not doing any. 'They simply were not doing the job in the community,’ Bill Grove said. Mr. Grove’s first move was to make the television station’s editorials stronger. He said his editorial writer, Norman Davis, did not hesitate to attack anyone or anything.”

Grove, along with editorial director Norm Davis, produced monthly Project 4 documentaries anddeveloped other programming designed not only to inform, but to improve the community.
Grove, along with editorial director Norm Davis, produced monthly Project 4 documentaries anddeveloped other programming designed not only to inform, but to improve the community.

Newsweek wrote: " Long rife with rumors of deep municipal corruption, Jacksonville had never seen the likes of this before. That it saw it all was due almost entirely to the consistent policy of hard-hitting reporting practiced by WJXT.”

The St. Petersburg Times said: "WJXT has two exceptional newsmen -- Bill Grove and Norm Davis -- who began special reports, documentaries and blunt editorials. They launched a new wrinkle in television: investigative reporting.”

Grove retired in 1980 after 30 years at WJXT. He died five years later.