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While working as the technical director of WHEN TV in Syracuse, New York, Frank K. Spain envisioned a television station for his boyhood hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. An electrical engineer, Spain had been a member of the engineering and development team for NBC in New York and Washington.
Upon petitioning the Federal Communications Commission for assignment of Channel 9 to Tupelo, the formidable task of making his dream a reality began in 1953.
At this early stage in television, the best commercial television equipment was extremely expensive and constructing your own television station was unheard of. But Spain faced this formidable task with determination and dedication. Throughout the construction period, his garage, backyard, and home basement in Syracuse literally became an electronics assembly facility. The antenna, transmitter, and cameras were designed and built from scratch.
In December, 1956, the Federal Communications Commission officially approved and assigned Channel 9 to Tupelo, Mississippi, followed by the grant of a construction permit for the then-named WTWV. All the equipment constructed over the previous three years was gathered and shipped to Tupelo and the job of assembling and building a workable television station began. The equipment's new home was an abandoned school located just north of Tupelo, which remains the station's operations headquarters to this day.
Frank Spain accepting a Gold Circle Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Broadcasting in 2005.
On March 18, 1957, WTWV radiated its first live pictures to viewers in Northern Mississippi.
WTWV produced numerous firsts. WTWV was the first commercial television station in the state to devote its entire daily morning schedule to "educational programming" coordinated with the area's public school system. WTWV was the first television station in Mississippi to broadcast a live basketball game and it was the first station to broadcast a live telethon for an entire broadcasting day—raising money for cerebral palsy.
As the industry progressed and improved, so did WTWV. The change from black and white to color television was easily accomplished due to Spain's involvement with the development of color television for NBC several years earlier.
Along with an expanding and successful business came the public demand for an expanded coverage area. A new site was chosen for the transmitter and tower which not only put Columbus, Mississippi, within the city grade coverage but also resulted in one of the largest geographic coverage areas in the country.
A new 1590 foot tower and a new transmitter building were constructed near Woodland, Mississippi, some 40 miles away from the studio.
Having established this large regional influence and because Tupelo was the first city to purchase power from Tennessee Valley Authority, WTWV requested and was granted the new call letters of WTVA.
Today WTVA has an operation undreamed of in the 1950's with an expanded news department featuring some of the finest journalists in the nation and electronic news gathering utilizing satellite uplink and extensive portable microwave equipment.
The advances and changes in television systems today are amazing. In 2009, WTVA became the smallest market in the United States to offer high-definition (HD) programming, and was the first station in Mississippi to offer both local news coverage and commercial production in HD. WTVA continues to lead the way in bringing you higher-quality entertainment.
It's a tradition of excellence which will continue year after year.
For more information about Frank Spain,
including personal details and rare photos
of his life and legacy, please be sure to watch
the Tupelo Automobile Museum Welcome video.
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