Remembering 65 years of WTAP

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When stations are given a license to broadcast from the Federal Communications Commission, part of the requirement of that license is serving the community.

And, in one way or another, WTAP has served the Mid-Ohio Valley with local news.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy...the Challenger and Columbia disasters...the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks...national news stories local viewers saw unfold on WTAP.

But we've also covered a lot of local and regional breaking news stories.
Long-time news director Glenn Wilson covered many of them in the early years of this station, including the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse.

"I will never forget it," long-time news director Glenn Wilson recalled in a 1995 interview. "There were buses and cars toppling from the bridge into the Ohio River."

The collapse of a cooling tower under construction in Pleasants County just this year marked its 40th anniversary. An event that drew national news coverage mainly because of the loss of 51 people working on that tower on a spring morning in 1978.

"The funerals...after it was all over. I decided, no, don't cover those," one-time news anchor Tom Neale said in 2002. "The people had lost enough, the people had seen enough."

16 years later, an explosion at the Shell Chemical Plant, now Kraton Polymers...a fire that burned throughout the day, taking the lives of three employees.

"I can tell you there are three employees we have not accounted for," then-plant manager Arnie Ditmar said on the day of the tragedy, May 27, 1994.. "We've notified their families; we've had Shell people present."

And just a little over a year ago, the former Ames tool plant near South Parkersburg, later known as the IEI Plastics recycling plant, burned for nine days after fire broke out just after midnight October 21, 2017.

But not all the major stories we've covered were tragedies. We've covered visits by presidents and presidential candidates from John F. Kennedy to Donald Trump. We were there when members of a local medical company returned to the U.S. following the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

"(Were you looking for each other?) Yeah, I kept my honor for a while, but when the crowd busted loose, I lost it.," a member of a locally-based medical company told us just after being reunited with his wife.

And, again, in 2003, when prisoner of war Jessica Lynch returned to her home town in Wirt County.

"There are heroes out there, and they deserve this attention; they deserve the credit," Lynch said in 2013. "Not me; I've never said I was a hero. I've never taken any credit for that."

And we were honored for some of those major stories with awards from the Associated Press.

Keeping up with what's happening in our area is a challenge we face every day-and we will continue to strive to meet that challenge.


Television at Parkersburg...that's what WTAP stood for when it first went on the air in 1953. And part of the reason is that, with the station's first broadcast on that November night, television finally came to the Mid-Ohio Valley.

"I visualize Parkersburg and the Ohio Valley as being like a cocoon," long-time WTAP newsman and weatherman Glenn Wilson told us, shortly before his retirement in 1995. "And the cocoon is ready to burst."

There was, at first, no network, no NBC...just a small number of local programs lighting up local TV screens. And some, like "Cooking With Katy", a forerunner of sorts of Rachael Ray, made the best use possible of what now seems like a limited spectrum.

"I stood outside and interviewed people as they were coming in," Tom Neale, a personality and anchor on our station from its early days through the 1970's, said in a 2002 interview. "Our camera had to be shoved out the front door. We didn't have too much cable, but it was long enough to get out the front door. We just interviewed people who were coming in to take a tour of the station."

And when the networks weren't providing programming, television then was local. But some older viewers still fondly remember shows like the Big Red Jubilee, that featured entertainers, some of whom would go on to stardom.

For more than 35 years, WTAP was headquartered in a building off Seventh and Juliana Streets near downtown Parkersburg. Growing pains and technical advances led us to move to our current location at the foot of Market Street, later renamed Television Plaza.

"We view it as a very high priority for us to bring the station to where we want it to be," said Keith Bland, General Manager from 1990-95. "And that the community and the company can be proud of."

"And we think it's a showcase for our television community of Parkersburg, Marietta and the Mid-Ohio Valley," said Richard Benedek, whose company, Benedek Broadcasting Corporation, owned the station from the late 1970's to the early 2000's.

And with the new location, the station and its staff grew as well. The news department alone more than tripled its staff. With more news people, we've also added more news programming. While "Cooking with Katy" and the "Big Red Jubilee" are just memories, we've also aired live high school football games, including the annual rivalry between Parkersburg and Parkersburg South high schools. The yearly Wood County Society Telethon goes back to the 1970's. And we recently partnered with the NBC station in Columbus, Ohio in airing live a debate from Marietta College between Ohio's Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates.

But some of the biggest advancements in the industry have taken place since the beginning of the 21st century.

Our website was launched at the end of the 1990's.

And just as it went from black and white to color, television has gone from analog to digital-and high-definition. Again, network and national broadcasts led the way. And in 2011, WTAP became the first station in West Virginia to air its local newscasts in high-definition.

Technology has also helped expand program services. In 2006, it launched a Fox and My Network station, in addition to its original NBC station. In 2012, CBS and weather radar channels were added. And recently, we introduced a local CW-plus station.

And more technological advances are to come in the near future.