A visionary named Wilbur: Family archives shine new light on founder of WTVR-TV

Wilbur Havens
Posted at 4:39 PM, May 18, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Some people use genealogy sites like when they want to learn about their great-grandparents.

One local woman doesn't need to do that. She has good memories of her great-grandfather - the family man.

But only in recent years has she really started to learn about his legacy as the man who brought television to Richmond.

"I’m proud of it all, I’m proud of what my great-grandfather did with his life," said Margaret Ferguson, the great-granddaughter of Wilbur Havens, the founder of WTVR-TV. "He went for his dream and he fulfilled it."

Margaret Ferguson
Margaret Ferguson

In April 1948, Havens put Channel 6 on the air, introducing not only Richmonders, but people across the commonwealth to a brand-new medium.

"Wilbur Havens is the guy whose shoulders we all stand on," said Don Talley, senior account executive at WTVR. "He had been working on setting up a television station in Richmond, virtually investing his fortune in it, for years."

Wilbur Havens
Wilbur Havens

But Havens wasn’t just the money behind the monitor. The son of an inventor, he helped his team design and build a lot of the equipment that made early television possible.

"They were figuring all this stuff out," said Chris Ferguson, Margaret's husband. "These were really honest-to-God pioneers."

And Havens was always thinking about what to do next.

"They were holding an open house on Sunday, September 12th, 1954, to kinda show people what color television was and what it did," said Chris Ferguson, in reference to a photograph from the family archives that shows a long line of people standing outside the Broad Street studio.

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By the early 1960s, while television’s popularity was going up, Havens’ career was winding down.

Selling the station allowed him to shift the focus to his family, around whom the broadcasting legend could lose the suit and tie.

"It was t-shirt, it was cutoff khaki pants, and that was it," said Margaret Ferguson, describing what Havens was like when she spent time with him at the vacation house he built on the Rappahannock River. "That was DeeDee [the name she called him], he was doing whatever he wanted to do."

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The Fergusons enjoy digging into the past, exploring all of Wilbur Havens' many accomplishments.

And Margaret is glad his dream became a reality... that people continue to watch.

"I wish he was still here, because he would be enjoying all this."