Mel Linkous - Broadcasting Pioneer
Mel Linkous was born in a part of Montgomery County that's now in Christiansburg. His family moved to Roanoke in the winter of 1928. He remembers using a horse robe to keep warm during the long journey by Model T Ford. "I think the best way I can describe the development of Southwest Virginia is this way," he said. "Blacksburg used to be eight flat tires and six hours away. Now it's a 40 minute drive."
In Roanoke, Linkous attended Melrose Elementary School, Monroe Junior High and Jefferson High School. While at Jefferson (1935) WDBJ radio was looking for a student to do a 15 program on the school's softball team, and 14 year old Mel Linkous got the job. "We got in this room", he said. "We talked a little bit and thousands of people heard us". It was so amazing," Mel commented, "It's a wonder I didn't faint". By this time it was apparent that Mel had been bitten by the "radio-bug".
Linkous launched his professional broadcasting career just a few years after his show on the Jefferson Magicians. He joined WSLS radio as a part-timer in 1941, the year after it went on the air, and was made a full-time employee in 1942. Following a three-year interruption for war-time infantry duty in Europe, Linkous rejoined the station in 1945. Mel had enrolled at Roanoke College in 1940, but because of the war, it wasn't until 1949 that he received his B. A. with majors in English and political science.
During Mel's radio career he was the announcer for the Dixie Playboys, a popular local band that was heard on WSLS radio.
In 1950 Mel hosted Teen-Time Capers, a program that featured interviews, student news and the latest hits of the day by request. For the smaller listeners, Mel read christmas letters to Santa.
In 1952 WSLS-TV became Roanoke's first and Virginia's second television station. "I can tell you the date was December 11, 1952, because it was my birthday," Linkous said. At first Mel did both radio and television work. Before long, however, he was concentrating on the newer medium. "When we went into television, we got to do everything. We'd do a commercial and then go around and operate the camera for the next show. I'm not sure it would be good by the standards of today, but we didn't know any better. And it worked. We made it work.
The first commercial Linkous did was for Michael's Bakery. As he tilted the cake toward the camera for a better view, it began to slide off it's plate. Mel simply reached out and pulled it back. His rescue effort left his fingers sticky with icing. He solved this problem by licking it off in full view of the camera. They sold out of the cakes and the people loved it. It was an exciting to me to be in television. People would watch anything, including the test pattern.
Linkous was an announcer and studio man for the first year with the station. From 1953 until 1962, he was the program director, that's the person who sees that the programs selected by management get on the air. From 1962 until 1981, Linkous was operations manager and developed a reputation as an ace trouble-shooter. From 1981 until his retirement he was back in the program director's position.
During Mel's career in Roanoke Broadcasting he claims a couple of firsts; He was first to tape telephoned record request for later playback over the air. That was while he was host of "Saturday Night Dance Party", an all request music show on WSLS Radio. Later on television, he was the host of the market's ground-breaking TV talk show. It was a weekday morning program called "Coffee Time".