WSLS-TV, virtual channel 10 (UHF digital channel 30), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Roanoke, Virginia, United States and also serving Lynchburg. Owned by the Graham Media Group subsidiary of Graham Holdings Company, WSLS broadcasts from a studio on Third Street in Roanoke, and its transmitter is located on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County.
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 WPLY; 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—a handsome return on Shenandoah Life's original investment when it signed on WSLS-AM in 1940. 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 third 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, a 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.
Today, WSLS leases office space and master control room space to Roanoke's Ion Television network affiliate WPXR-TV.
On January 27, 2016, Media General announced that it had entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by Nexstar Broadcasting Group in a deal valued at $17.14 per-share, valuing the company at $4.6 billion plus the assumption of $2.3 billion debt. The combined company will be known as Nexstar Media Group, and own 171 stations, serving an estimated 39% of households. As Nexstar already owns WFXR and WWCW through satellite exemptions, and since the Roanoke-Lynchburg market has too few stations to permit duopolies under normal circumstances, in order to comply with FCC ownership rules as well as planned changes to rules regarding same-market television stations which would prohibit future joint sales agreements, the company was required to sell either WSLS or both WFXR and WWCW to another company. On May 27, Nexstar announced that it would keep WFXR and WWCW and sell WSLS, along with WCWJ in Jacksonville, Florida, to the Graham Media Group for $120 million. The sale was approved by the Federal Communications Commission on January 11, 2017 and completed January 17.
|TV stations in Commonwealth of Virginia|
|WAVY, Hampton Roads/Norfolk|
|TV stations in Roanoke/Lynchburg, including the New River Valley, Southside, and surrounding areas|
| WDBJ 7 (CBS)|
WSLS 10 (NBC)
WSET 13 (ABC)
WBRA 15 (PBS)
WWCW 21 (CW)
WZBJ 24 (MNTV)
WFXR 27 (FOX)
WPXR 38 (Ion)
WMDV-LD 44 (IND)