The WTVR TV Tower has stood on Broad Street — just east of Roseneath Road — since its completion in 1953. At that time, it was the tallest freestanding radio tower in the country and the second tallest lattice tower in the world, surpassed only by the Eiffel Tower.
CBS 6’s resident historian, Don Talley, filled us in on the story. At the center is one man: Wilbur Havens.
Something of a media visionary, Wilbur founded WMBG as an AM radio station in 1927. Broadcast wasn’t his main focus — the call letters actually stand for motors, batteries, and generators — but foresight + luck put him in the right place at the right time.
Near the end of World War II, Wilbur applied for an FCC license to start the area’s first television station. Soon after, the FCC was overwhelmed with applications. The commission put the pause on new licenses — which meant for nearly a decade, Wilbur had the only TV station in town.
The steel lattice tower allowed his station to reach as far north as DC, south past the North Carolina border, west through the Blue Ridge Mountains and east to Tidewater.
“Pity the poor people that lived around here,” Don said. “It was so powerful, you could get Channel 6 on your toaster.”
CBS shifted to digital technology in 2009, turning off the tower. Some other radio stations have leased it, but it mostly stands today as a historic landmark.
Here are some fast tower facts to have in your back pocket.
- It’s 843 feet tall.
- Because it’s made of steel, the tower is larger in the summer as it expands in heat.
- You can use the red + white color blocking of the tower to measure its height — the colors switch every 100 feet.
Check out this footage of the tower being constructed.