MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Friday marks 65 years that News13 has been the Grand Strand and Pee Dee’s source for Local Coverage You Can Count On.
On October 18, 1954, WBTW-TV hit the airwaves for the very first time.
The first broadcast aired from the original studio on TV Road near Florence- just days after Hurricane Hazel made landfall along the Carolina coastline.
Bernie Moore was the station’s first chief engineer and was the one who flipped the switch.
“People were excited to see TV back then,” he said in a 2014 interview. “It was very exciting. You felt you accomplished something when you got the station on.”
The station was originally owned by the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company, which also owned WBTV in Charlotte, NC. The station’s call sign- WBTW- was used simply because ‘W’ comes after the letter ‘V.’
In later years, the call sign would be used as the basis for the station’s slogan- ‘We’re the Best of Two Worlds-‘ referring to the Grand Strand and Pee Dee.
As it is now, WBTW was a CBS affiliate and was the first broadcast television station in the area. It originally aired on Channel 8, officially adopting Channel 13 in 1962.
WBTW began developing a local news presence during its first years on air. Although a CBS affiliate, it aired programs from the other networks periodically.
As did many local television stations in the era, WBTW also had its own children’s show. Ashby Ward played the captain of ‘Spaceship C-8’ in the kiddie show.
In 1968, the station was sold to the Shott family of Bluefield, WV. They owned other media outlets- like the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and WHIS-AM. Local radio personalities often delivered the news for WBTW during this era.
By 1979, the station was ready to expand.
That’s when it activated a new tower on Pee Dee Church Road in Dillon County. The tower essentially doubled WBTW’s coverage area, expanding it both northward toward Fayetteville and southward toward Georgetown.
It gave WBTW the tools to continue providing local coverage to a growing viewing area.
Former lead anchor Jim McGee remembered this time fondly in a prior interview with News13.
“Really the heart of the station is the people it had and it had that going for it,” he said.
The 1980s ushered in more advancements for WBTW.In 1984, Spartan Communications of Spartanburg bought WBTW. It founded News13’s sister station, WSPA-TV in South Carolina’s Upstate. They owned the station until the company merged with MediaGeneral in 1999.
By 1989, it was time to once again extend the station’s reach.
That came in the form of a new bureau. WBTW opened its Grand Strand news bureau at 101 McDonald Ct. in Socastee. That address is still the home of WBTW in 2019.
Another important addition was made to News13 in 1989: Nicole Boone.
Boone started with News13 as a reporter before she was promoted to anchor a few years later.
Boone’s future co-anchor, Bob Juback, joined the team in 1992. The duo began anchoring newscasts together in 1994.
Going on 25 years, they are one of the longest-running anchor duos in the country. They also happen to share a birthday.
Throughout the ’90s, WBTW continued to expand its coverage into the Grand Strand, along with North Carolina’s Robeson and Scotland Counties, without sacrificing its commitment to the Pee Dee.
“You had to almost pinch yourself to make sure you knew it was a job,” former chief meteorologist Don Luehrs said. “It was like a family or best-friend atmosphere. It was a lot of fun.”
The 2000s brought with it several changes to WBTW. TV13 was officially branded to News13 in 2002. Two years later, News13 began a news share partnership with WFXB-TV.
By 2007, it was time to expand and upgrade the station.
That’s when WBTW made the jump from the original studio location on TV Road outside of Florence- to its present-day location in Socastee.
Crews worked to demolish the old Grand Strand bureau and build in its place the new station.
Over the next few years, News13 continued to evolve and expand its programming.
By 2009, full high-definition broadcasts became standard. In May 2012, News13 launched its Saturday and Sunday morning shows.
In 2015, WBTW launched an extended half-hour in its morning show, plus a 9 a.m. newscast called News13 NOW. In September 2018, a 5:30 p.m. newscast was added to the lineup.
Another big change for WBTW came in 2017. That’s when MediaGeneral merged with Nexstar Broadcasting, forming Nexstar Media Group: WBTW’s current owner.
Moving ahead, News13 has focused on expanding its digital offerings- giving viewers access to the latest Grand Strand and Pee Dee news at the palm of their hands.
Through Nexstar’s Digital First initiative, WBTW has been able to focus on telling stories in new and exciting ways that are paving the way for the future of storytelling.
Although a lot has changed over the past six and a half decades, WBTW’s commitment to its community is one thing that hasn’t.
News13 has been telling the region’s stories for over six decades now. Here’s a look at a few of the most memorable headlines.
Hurricane Hazel: October 15, 1954
Hurricane Hazel made landfall at the border of North and South Carolina on October 15, 1954- three days before WBTW hit the airwaves for the first time.
Hazel was the deadliest and costliest hurricane of the 1954 season and made landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm.
Some areas along the coast experienced winds as high as 150 mph, while Myrtle Beach recorded a record wind gust of 106 mph.
An intense 12-foot storm surge battered the coastline. In Garden City, the storm surge coincided with the lunar high tide, leaving the area in devastation.
Nineteen people were killed in North Carolina, with many more injured. Damage costs for both Carolinas reached approximately $163,000,000.
Bennettsville Tornadoes: March 28, 1984
On March 28, 1984, huge tornadoes ripped through Marlboro County.
The tornadoes ripped through the Carolina Sandhills before heading across the stateline into Robeson County and then deep into North Carolina.
The twisters killed nine people in Marlboro County. That number could have been much higher, though, if a Bennettsville tornado siren hadn’t hadn’t warned people a half-hour beforehand.
One of the tornadoes was two miles wide.
In total, 57 people were killed in the Carolinas, making this the region’s deadliest day of tornadoes in the last century.
Hurricane Hugo: September 1989
1989’s Hurricane Hugo is still considered one of the strongest hurricanes in the Palmetto State’s history. It remains in the memory of many who were in the area.
The Category 4 storm was the costliest hurricane to ever come out of the Atlantic Ocean at the time, costing anywhere from $8 to $10 billion in damage and causing at least 86 fatalities.
Hotels and beachfront condos in Myrtle Beach were left obliterated in the storm’s wake, while the city’s protective sand dunes were largely washed away.
Garden City was nearly flattened, while 10 inches of mud-covered Ocean Boulevard in Surfside Beach. Pawleys Island was essentially cut in two.
Myrtle Beach Ferris Wheel Accident: July 21, 1991
A teen was killed and two others were hurt in a ferris wheel incident at the Pavilion in Myrtle Beach.
It happened in 1991, when kids rocked one of the ferris wheel cabs. That caused a chain reaction, causing the cab to fall into another, crashing about 30 feet below.
The kids rocking the cab apparently were not listening to orders from a ride operator.
Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins faces death: Sept. 6, 1991
Donald Gaskins faced death in the electric chair in 1991.
Gaskins- nicknamed “Pee Wee” for his small stature- admitted to killing 13 people between 1970 and 1975.
Gaskins was sentenced to death for one of those murders, but it was tossed out when the state’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional.
Ironically, he would eventually face a death penalty for blowing up a death row prisoner.
James Jordan found dead: Aug. 3, 1993
Micheal Jordan’s father- James- was found dead in a Marlboro County swamp back in 1993.
Daniel Green is serving life in prison for the murder of Jordan.
In recent years, his attorney has argued Green deserves a new trial, arguing Green was not there during the fatal shooting of the basketball great’s dad.
Hurricane Floyd: Sept. 1999
Hurricane Floyd brought with it 105 mph wind gusts and impressive storm surge when it made landfall at Cape Fear, NC on Sept. 16, 1999.
Although a Category 2 when it made landfall, Floyd was one of the strongest hurricanes at the time to approach the east coast.
It generated storm surges as high as 15 feet in some areas and is remembered for its devastating impact on many coastal communities in North Carolina.
There were also many reported tornadoes and funnel clouds in conjunction with Floyd. In some areas, just over 24 inches of rain were reported.
Carolina Forest wildfires: April 2009
The Highway 31 wildfires in April 2009 left dozens of homes destroyed in its wake.
Up to 4,000 people in the Carolina Forest area of Horry County had to head out as the fire threatened everything in its path.
The fire was first reported on April 22, and by the time it was all said and done, it had burned through around 19,000 acres.
Georgetown Front Street Fire: Sept. 26, 2013
A devastating fire tore through the 700 block of Front Street in historic Georgetown. It destroyed 8 buildings and left over 130 people jobless overnight.
Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency and the SC Dept. of Commerce offered up to 1 million dollars in grant funds.
But that grant never went forward. Mayor Jack Scoville said that’s because not all of the building’s owners wanted to follow to the grant conditions.
Heather Elvis disappearance: December 2013
WBTW has followed the Heather Elvis case since her disappearance first broke in 2013.
Elvis was reported missing in December 2013 and has still not been found.
News13 was in the courtroom last month, when Sidney Moorer was found guilty of kidnapping and conspiracy to kidnap Heather Elvis.
1,000-year flood: October 2015
In the fall of 2015, historic flooding struck South Carolina and many other areas along the eastern seaboard. The results were catastrophic.
Many homeowners and business owners lost everything in the flood.
Recovery efforts lasted for months. For some, it was well over a year before things were back to normal.
Hurricane Matthew: Oct. 2016
Hurricane Matthew struck during the 2016 hurricane season and brought with it Category 1 force strength during its fourth landfall in McClellanville, SC.
Matthew became known for its highly destructive storm surge, causing water levels to be three to five feet above normal.
Damage can still be observed from Hurricane Matthew.
Springmaid Pier, in Myrtle Beach, for instance, is still being rebuilt in the storm’s wake. Pawleys Island was another area hit hard by the hurricane; many beach homes’ first floors were completely flooded out by the storm surge.
Hurricane Florence: Sept. 2018
Florence, which peaked as a Category 4 storm, made landfall as a Category One on September 14, 2018 in Wrightsville Beach, NC.
The storm wreaked havoc across the region, with about a million people ordered to evacuate. The North Strand felt the heaviest wind gusts, but rain proved to be the defining issue.
Florence slowed to a crawl after making landfall, dumping impressive rainfall amounts across the area.
Rural communities along the Great Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers all flooded for several weeks.
The Waccamaw reached a record high of over 21 feet in Conway.
In addition to severe river flooding, roadways were also impacted, including Interstate 95 in Dillon County and state highway 22 in Horry County.
Recovery from Florence continues for many even a year later.
Florence Vintage Place shooting: October 3, 2018
Seven law enforcement officers were shot on Oct. 3, 2018, at 932 Ashton Drive in the Vintage Place neighborhood just west of Florence city limits off Hoffmeyer Rd. A total of 12 patients were transported to two local trauma centers, including seven law enforcement officers and five civilians.
Florence Police Department Officer Terrence Carraway, 52, of Darlington, was killed in the shooting. Sheriff’s Officer Investigator Farrah Turner was wounded in the shooting and died on Oct. 22, 2018.
FCSO Investigator Sarah Miller, FCSO Deputy Arie Davis, Florence police officer Brian Hart, Florence police officer Travis Scott, and Florence police officer Scott Williamson also were wounded in the shooting.
Following the shooting, News13 obtained warrants, which revealed details surrounding the shooting. Read more about what those warrants said.
Residents in the Vintage Place neighborhood spoke with News13 shortly after the shooting, saying they felt disturbed, traumatized, scared and unsettled by the incident.
Frederick Hopkins has five attempted murder charges and two murder charges pending in connection to the shooting, the SC Public Index shows. Bond was denied for Frederick Hopkins on Oct. 5, 2018. He was denied a public offender on Oct. 16, 2018.
Hania Aguilar case: Nov. 2018
The lengthy search for the Robeson County teen captured the attention of millions after her kidnapping. Stories about the case made national headlines again when county officials learned her murder could have been prevented entirely if an unsolved rape case from 2016 had been properly investigated by local law enforcement.
Court documents showed thirteen-year-old Hania Aguilar was forced into an idling SUV and kidnapped from a mobile home in Robeson County on November 5, 2018, according to Lumberton police. After weeks of searching, the FBI located the girl’s remains in a body of water off of Wire Grass Road on November 27.
Michael Ray McLellan was charged for Hania’s kidnapping and death on December 8. The press release from the FBI states McLellan was arrested for her murder shortly after forensic test results were processed.
Thank you for staying with us through the years
Thank you to our Grand Strand and Pee Dee viewers for counting on us for six and a half decades.
Here’s to another 65 years of Local Coverage You Can Count On!
Sources: WBTW archives, Associated Press archives, National Weather Service