Channel 13 WSET-TV Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary

Jim Stapleton

Channel 13 went on the air 60 years ago Friday when Edward and Phillip Allen expanded their WLVA radio station into the TV, making us only Virginia's fourth TV station.

Four radio announcers turned into TV stars overnight, including the late Jim Stapleton. Many of the old timers shared their memories with us for our 50th anniversary special, but Jim Stapleton shared his memories for our 40th anniversary.

"It was very very hectic we were so ambitious you won't believe it.. five back to back shows live with one camera. One camera that holds or pick up the film. So we had to switch back and forth. The guy who was the host of one show was the cameraman on the next show we just switched around."

WLVA radio and TV both operated out of same building on Church St. in downtown Lynchburg. The station was first affiliated with the CBS network, but with only an hour and a half of network programming, hosts like Jim Stapleton had their work cut out for them.

Known as the father of Channel 13, Stapleton hosted many live shows such as the Dr. Pepper Dance Party, and Kiddy College which ran for more than 10 years.

Marilyn Fanning has fond memories as well. "We felt like a family here.. everyone helped everyone out and uh it was a time of fun," Fanning recalled for our 50th anniversary.

Fanning was another early host. At the young age of 14,{}she got her start in radio before making the switch to TV, hosting a show called Party Line in the late 60s and early 70s. Her career took off from there.

Fanning recalls one of her worst moments on air. "I took a bite of something that the cook was preparing and began choking on it on live TV but that was pretty bad and I was trying my best to control it but you can go just so far to control choking."{}

In the 1960s Stapleton kept the viewers laughing as Halifax Bundy, introducing movies on Channel 13.

Musician Dee Roberts also sat down with us for our 50th anniversary. "TV was an exciting media at that time."

Roberts was instrumental in opening up doors to local musicians to be heard and seen. "Every Thursday we had a little show in which I played the piano and sometimes the organ and piano together," said Roberts.{}

In the late 1960s to early 70s, WLVA began to explore new territory. Slowly moving to live talk show and news programs that examined community issues. Libby Fitzgerald was on board. "We did several through the years I had several half hour programs that were taped, one Emphasis 13 and which was that was the last thing I did and it was a sort of mini documentary that camera man and I did-- every{}two weeks we did one."

But the news department remained small- with only five people, including one who got his start here, Charlie Gibson. "And we would go out with two man crews, and I would report one story while the other guy filmed it and the next story I'd film he'd report then come back develop the film ourselves, cut the film ourselves write the script and go on television," recalled Gibson.

And in the mid 1970s local news was becoming more of the station's focus, and today our news department is 10 times the size it was in its humble beginnings.

WLVA became affiliated with ABC a year after going on the air, then changed its call letters to WSET in 1977.

See pictures from the past 6 decades on our Facebook page.

Get more info on WSET's history here.