GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — “TV is coming to town!”
It was 1949 and a full-page ad in the newspaper was announcing Grand Rapids’ first local television station — the station that would ultimately become WOOD TV8.
We were leading the way in West Michigan TV, something we’ve continued to do for 70 years.
When we signed on Aug. 15, 1949, we were WLAV on channel 7 and we operated out of McKay Tower downtown. The only game in town, WLAV carried not only NBC programming, but also CBS, ABC and DuMont.
That first broadcast was from a gala at Midtown Theater. The audience was invite-only; in the lobby, the overflow crowd watched along on TV. Since most homes didn’t have a television set yet, people lined the sidewalk outside Herpolsheimer’s department store downtown to watch on the sets in the windows.
>>Photos: WLAV launch gala
Two years later, WOOD Radio bought WLAV and our call letters changed to WOOD TV.
In 1953, we moved to channel 8 to avoid interference with WLS-TV in Chicago. “Mark the date,” ads reminded viewers. “We move to channel 8 on December 8.”
The ’50s also saw several popular local shows, including “Fifteen with Father,” a religious program; Carol Duval’s “Chick Chat;” “Ray’s Roundup” on Saturday nights; and Buck Barry’s “Buckaroo Rodeo,” which was one of the first TV programs anywhere in the country to bring together children of all races.
In 1954, WOOD TV8 was among only 21 stations in the country — and the first one in West Michigan — to air the Tournament of Roses Parade in color.
Through the 1960s, our news operation expanded and for the first time, viewers watched video of major events happening across the world, including race riots in Detroit and Grand Rapids. We also welcomed new team members who would become West Michigan favorites: weatherman Buck Matthews, West Michigan’s first female anchor Tina Wilson and sports director Warren Reynolds.
In the 1970s, we were the first station in West Michigan to own electronic news gathering equipment, helping us to bring you coverage of important events, like Grand Rapids’ own Gerald R. Ford being sworn in as president.
>>Photos: Technology through the years
The 1970s also brought another name change. A federal ruling meant we had to change our call letters, so we switched to WOTV.
In 1983, Chopper 8 became West Michigan’s first news helicopter. A year later, News 8 “Today” premiered as the area’s first early morning newscast. Many will remember Dick Evans traversing the state to bring unique stories home in his series “On The Michigan Road.” As the 80s came to a close, we became WOOD TV8 again with a return to dominance in the ratings.
In the 1990s, the well-known duo of Suzanne Geha and Tom Van Howe joined forces behind the anchor desk. The noon newscast expanded and the morning program became the two-hour “Daybreak.” In November 1996, West Michigan’s leading news website launched: woodtv.com. In 1999, we marked our 50th anniversary.
>>App users: Watch our 1999 anniversary special
We ended the millennium by being the first in West Michigan to broadcast in HD.
In the 2000s, we added eightWest to the lineup and made the switch to DTV.
We’ve been the official broadcast media partner of Grand Rapids’ biggest event, ArtPrize, each year moving our newscasts downtown and bringing you live coverage of the ArtPrize Awards.
One of our biggest technical undertakings in our seven decades has been live start-to-finish coverage of the River Bank Run, deploying dozens of cameras along and above the race.
In 2015, WOOD TV8 became the first West Michigan news station to launch a drone with Drone 8. The region’s only 7 p.m. newscast launched in 2016. In 2017, we built West Michigan’s first permanent street-side studios in downtown Grand Rapids and downtown Kalamazoo, giving you the chance to see our newscasts in action. And this year, we launched the most technologically-advanced studio West Michigan has ever seen at our headquarters in Heritage Hill.
>>Photos: Sets through the years
We continue to innovate the way we bring you the news, creating unique content daily on woodtv.com and WOOD TV8 news app, the Storm Team 8 weather app and social media platforms.
All the while, our connection to our community continues to grow. This year, we celebrated 25 years of Maranda Park Parties, which provide free fun to hundreds of thousands of kids across our area.
While the call letters, channel numbers and technology have changed in 70 years on the air, our mission is the same now as it has always been: to bring you accurate local reports, keep you informed and hold those in charge accountable.