|Channels||Digital: 30 (UHF)
Virtual: 10 (PSIP)
(Media General Communications Holdings, LLC)
|Founded||December 11, 1952|
|Call letters' meaning||Shenandoah Life Station
(reference to original owner)
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
10 (VHF, 1952-2009)
|Former affiliations||Both secondary:
|Transmitter power||1000 kW (digital)|
|Height||592 m (digital)|
|Public license information:||Profile
WSLS-TV, virtual channel 10 (digital channel 30), is the NBC-affiliated television station in Roanoke, Virginia. Its transmitter is located on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County. The station is owned by Media General and broadcasts from a studio on Third Street in Roanoke.
The station first signed on the air on December 11, 1952. It is the third-oldest continuously operating station in Virginia, behind Richmond's WTVR-TV and Norfolk's WTKR, as well as the state's oldest station west of Richmond. It was owned by the Shenandoah Life Insurance Company along with WSLS radio (610 AM, now WVBE; and 99.1 FM, now WSLQ); the call letters stand for Shenandoah Life Stations.
The station originally carried programming from all three major networks: NBC, CBS and ABC. Although CBS already had an affiliate in Roanoke, WROV-TV on channel 27, CBS allowed WSLS-TV to cherry-pick its stronger shows due to WROV's weak UHF signal. Channel 10's sign-on and the pending sign-on of WLVA-TV (channel 13, now WSET-TV) from Lynchburg prompted WROV's demise in early 1953. WSLS-TV split ABC with WLVA-TV until 1954, when WLVA-TV became a sole ABC affiliate. The two stations then split CBS until WDBJ-TV (channel 7) signed on in 1955 and took the CBS affiliation.
Examples of locally produced programming in the late-1950s and 60s included: Echo, Klub Kwiz (a competitor to WDBJ's Klassroom Kwiz), Ebb and Andy, Spectrum, Glen Howell, Cactus Joe, and Profile.
In 1969, WSLS-AM-FM-TV were purchased for $7.5 million by Roy H. Park of Ithaca, New York. The all-time high station staff number of 120 began to be reduced to around 50 for "budgetary reasons". Park had to sell off the radio stations in 1972 due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restrictions on cross-ownership.
In 1979, disgruntled employees unionized with the BRAC (Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees) after the removal of profit sharing plans, medical coverage, personal holidays, and cumulative sick leave. This was the first unionization of a television station in the commonwealth of Virginia. At the time, 46% of the employees made minimum wage or less while interns were unpaid. Only one individual made over $10,000 annually. By comparison, the other television stations paid their employees an average wage that was 30 to 40% higher and with more benefits. Though the accusations of low morale are unquantifiable and perhaps biased, company policy against socializing with other members of the local media was unpopular with some members of the station.
The feud between employees and management got to the point that long distance telephone calls (inevitably to the union) were prohibited. Only station management was allowed to post material on the bulletin board and an armed guard had to be hired. Eventually, through union negotiations, the situation between employees and management did improve. Former co-anchor Ed McIntyre quipped, "They’re trying to run a Cadillac operation on a Honda budget. They just don’t have the equipment or the people."
When WSET modernized its news department in 1977, WSLS quickly responded by opening a Lynchburg Bureau. Still, viewership problems worsened when WSET moved to the #2 spot in the late-1970s. In addition, the station's on-air look was somewhat primitive. Videotape was reused very often causing quality to suffer, and the station's transmitter had not been significantly upgraded since sign-on (aside from converting to color from black-and-white). A new transmitter was eventually dedicated in 1981.
By the late-1980s, staff numbers rebounded to 75 and viewership began to increase. By 1987, WSLS had regained the runner-up position before losing it again. Today, WSLS ranks 3rd in the market.
In 1992, WSLS launched "The Spirit of Virginia" campaign. The centerpiece of the campaign was a music video-style commercial that featured WSLS news anchors interacting with the community as a country music themed "Spirit of Virginia" song played in the background. The commercial ended with an unidentified man singing and playing a guitar on a mountaintop. The unidentified man was presumed to be the person singing the "Spirit of Virginia" theme but was actually a janitor at the station. The actual "Spirit of Virginia" theme was composed by a commercial music company and included a customized news music theme which the station used during its newscasts. During the "Spirit of Virginia" period, the station subscribed to a more "down home" news philosophy that included more features and a stronger emphasis on soft, community oriented news.
WSLS dropped "The Spirit of Virginia" song and news music in September 1995. That fall, the station revamped the look and focus of the station, shedding the "down home" philosophy in favor of a more hard-news approach. "The Spirit of Virginia" slogan was retained for several years afterward but the phrase "Leading the Way" was added to various promotional efforts.
In 1996, WSLS was approached by Grant Broadcasting, the owner of Roanoke’s Fox affiliate combo WFXR/WJPR, on the topic of a "news sharing agreement". The deal would allow WSLS to produce a 10 P.M. newscast for the Fox stations. The stations originally attempted to form a news partnership with WDBJ but a deal was never formed. The Fox 10 O'Clock News with Frances Scott and John Carlin premiered on October 28, 1996. Since September 18, 2006, the newscast has also been airing on the second digital subchannels of WFXR/WWCW that have CW affiliation. In 2012, an 2-hour morning newscast was added, "The Fox 21/27 Morning News." The news sharing agreement would end on October 1, 2015 when WFXR launched its own in-house news department, ending an almost 20-year partnership between WSLS and WFXR.
A new chapter in the life of WSLS began on January 1, 1997 when Media General acquired Park Communications and became the station’s new owner. Changes began immediately as Media General executives charted a new course for WSLS. A new look and philosophy for WSLS was adopted from a successful model at WFLA-TV, Media General’s flagship station in Tampa, Florida. The launch of the new Media General version of WSLS began during the week of April 7–13, as the station aired commercials stating: "On April 14, Channel 10 will go off the air forever." WSLS re-launched itself as NewsChannel 10 during the 5 P.M. newscast on April 14.
While the new NewsChannel 10 maintained "The Spirit of Virginia" as its slogan, a new campaign called "10 Listens" was launched. Viewers were encouraged to set up a "10 Listens Community Forum". The idea was to give viewers a chance to speak directly to WSLS news anchors and management about concerns facing their community. The forums yielded exclusive story ideas for WSLS and gave the station a chance to improve its image within the market. A combination of factors caused the station to eventually abandon the forum concept.
Media General also began the process of renovating the WSLS studios in downtown Roanoke. The original WSLS building housed Shenandoah Life and the WSLS radio stations. Shenandoah Life had moved out in 1969. The radio stations followed in 1972 but the building retained its original setup and many spaces were not being used. Plans were drawn up and the building was renovated in stages beginning in 1999. The renovation moved the station’s news department to a larger newsroom on the first floor adjacent to the news studio while the old newsroom space on the second floor was remodeled for other uses by the station.
Cable and satellite carriage
On cable, WSLS can be seen as far south into Yanceyville, North Carolina, as far east as Clarksville, as far west as Marion and as far north as Harrisonburg, Staunton and Snowshoe, West Virginia. Shentel Cable in Franklin, West Virginia dropped WSLS at some point in 2009. Sometime in the late 2000s, Comcast in Harrisonburg added WSLS to digital cable, which at one time may have been on the main tier cable lineup.
WSLS and all of the Roanoke stations are carried on DirecTV in Patrick County due to Nielsen placing the county in the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market. It was always a part of the Roanoke market for many years which now faces 50% viewership between Roanoke and Triad television stations. WSLS is also carried out of market for North Carolina DirecTV viewers in the counties of Caswell and Rockingham.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|10.1||1080i||16:9||WSLS-HD||Main WSLS-TV programming / NBC|
|10.2||480i||4:3||WSLS-DT||News and Weather|
On digital subchannel 10.2 and Cox digital channel 110 is "WSLS 10.2 GO", provides 24 hours of news and weather forecast; previously, WSLS-DT2 aired a continuous image of "Live VIPIR 10." On digital subchannel 10.3 and Cox digital channel 111 is Me-TV, offering classic television series from the CBS Television Distribution, 20th Television and NBCUniversal Television Distribution program libraries.
WSLS-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 10, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 30, using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 10.
In 1989, the station debuted First News at 5:30. The program was solo-anchored by John Carlin and included live feature segments from a field reporter. The newscast did not catch on with viewers at first but the ratings took off when it moved to 5 P.M. in 1992. This prompted WDBJ to launch a 5 o'clock newscast of its own in 1993. First News remained at 5 P.M. on WSLS until September 21, 1998 when it moved back to 5:30. Yet another shift came in February 2002 when the 5:30 newscast was once again moved back to 5 o'clock. In August 2004, WSLS added a 5:30 newscast to the existing 5 and 6 P.M. shows, creating the first 90 minute evening news block in the market. A half-hour 7 p.m. show was added in September 2009.
The 1997 rebranding of the station's news operation as NewsChannel 10 coincided with the debut of "Storm Team 10". Media General’s idea for the "Storm Team" was to give weather a stronger emphasis in the larger news product. It was also believed that a "team" concept would make Robin Reed on WDBJ look like a solo-act and thereby less credible. Under the "team" concept, no one weather anchor was to be more important than the other. The title of "chief meteorologist" was dropped and multiple weather anchors would often be seen presenting forecasts during the same newscast. The title of "chief meteorologist" was brought back with the addition of weathercaster Ros Runner in 2007.
Media General made a significant investment in resources after purchasing WSLS. The first major investment was the purchase of a satellite news gathering (SNG) truck in 1997. Prior to that, WSLS was forced to rent or borrow equipment from other stations for satellite live shots.
While improvements were being made by Media General, trouble behind the scenes prevented WSLS from making traction in the Roanoke/Lynchburg television ratings. The late-1990s saw a continuous change of management which led to competing philosophies and general unrest among employees. In 1998, longtime morning news anchor Dave Mellon was fired and replaced by current evening co-anchor Karen McNew. Chief Meteorologist Chuck Bell was dismissed later in the year and longtime Sports Director Greg Roberts resigned. In 2000, popular evening co-anchor Barbara Gibbs was also dismissed for reasons that were never specified. The departures generated a great deal of negative publicity for the station.
A renewed emphasis was placed on local news in the early part of the 21st century, particularly in the eastern and southern portions of the Roanoke/Lynchburg market. In the spring of 2001, two additional news bureaus were established: one in Martinsville and one in Bedford. The Martinsville bureau was intended to cover Henry County, Pittsylvania County, Halifax County, and the independent cities that lied within those areas. The Bedford Bureau covered Bedford County, Campbell County, Amherst County, and the independent cities of Lynchburg and Bedford. Both bureaus were manned by an individual reporter/photographer. In 2004, personnel from the two bureaus were moved to the offices of the Lynchburg News and Advance and the Danville Register and Bee respectively. The move came as part of a Media General effort to converge its newspaper and television properties as a single newsgathering entity. As of 2008, WSLS no longer has its own reporters stationed in Lynchburg and Danville. Between 2008 and 2012, coverage of these areas was maintained through shared content from its newspaper partners. When Media General sold its newspapers to World Media Enterprises in 2012, the partnership with WSLS ended and the station was forced to rely on its own resources to cover the eastern side of its market.
In 2007, the on-air branding was changed to "WSLS 10 On Your Side," dropping the NewsChannel name. Later that year, the station updated the studio set and graphics for the high definition launch. WSLS discontinued their weekday noon newscast in March 2010. It was replaced by a live interview and variety program called Our Blue Ridge. In 2011, Jay Prater was let go from the station and the show was canceled in favor of a new host and new name Daytime Blue Ridge. The "On Your Side" slogan was dropped in 2012. The station currently has no official marketing slogan, however the term "Making a Difference" is regularly applied to features within newscasts. WSLS currently ranks third in market for overall news/programing ratings and advertising revenue.
On November 3, 2014; the Noon news returned to WSLS with "WSLS 10 at Noon", with "Daytime Blue Ridge" airing at 12:30 p.m. Garry Kelly, who became the vice president and general manager at WSLS in July, said that Channel 10 needed a local news presence during the day. “We didn’t have any [newscast] between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” Kelly said. “That’s way too long to be off the air. We needed an afternoon newscast and noon has the most potential.”
- RabbitEars TV Query for WSLS
- Where to Watch Me-TV: WSLS 10.3
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and the Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- CDBS Print
- p26 May / June 1975 issue of the Roanoker Magazine
- "Channel 10's Decade of Decline" p18 Holiday 1979 issue of the Roanoker Magazine
- "Lights, Camera, News!" p32 March / April 1980 issue of the Roanoker Magazine
- "Roanoke Media Comparison" p19 February 1988 issue of the Roanoke Magazine
- Page C-4, Roanoke Times & World-News on Thursday, April 27, 1978
- WFXR / WWCW "Fox 21 / 27"
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WSLS-TV
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WSLS-TV