WOOD-TV signed on the air on August 15, 1949. It was originally WLAV-TV (which stood for Leonard Adrian Versluis – who lived to age 95 – passing away in 1993. In 1940 Mr. Versluis developed Blythefield Memory Gardens. and in 1956 he donated land for development of Versluis Park), and it was on Channel 7. It was the first station to sign on the air in Grand Rapids and carried programming from NBC, CBS, ABC and the DuMont network.
The first broadcast was from a big, inaugural party at the Midtown Theater. It was an invite-only crowd inside the theatre, but there was an overflow crowd outside. Most homes didn’t have a television set, so people lined the sidewalk outside Herpolsheimer’s department store downtown to watch on the sets in the relatively small, black-and-white sets in the windows.
In 1951, WOOD Radio bought WLAV-TV and the call letters changed to WOOD-TV. In 1953, the station moved from Channel 7 (there was a Channel 7 in Chicago) to Channel 8 (the nearest Channel 8 was Toledo).
In 1954, the station was among only 21 stations in the country, and the first in West Michigan, to air the Tournament of Roses Parade in color. In the 1970s, due to a federal ruling, the station changed its call letters to WOTV, but in 1983, the WOOD-TV call letters returned. Channel 41 (now WOTV4) later became WOTV. Later independent WXSP was added to the group. It was intended to be a sports-intensive station and XSP stood for extreme sports. At one time WXSP carried 2 NCAA football games on Saturday, “overflow” Pistons and Red Wing games and plans were made to show a high school football game of the week.
Craig James came to Grand Rapids in Sept. 1973. Back then, many TV stations just had announcers presenting the weather. During the 1970s and early 80s, many of these stations moved to qualified meteorologists. I followed in Nov. 1974. Craig moved to WOOD in 1985 (October?) and I followed in July 2001.
See more photos, stories and video at WOOD-TV’s 70th Anniversary page here.