WJHL-TV first signed on the air on October 26, 1953 as the first television station in the Tri-Cities region of Tennessee and Virginia. It was owned by Hanes Lancaster, Sr. and his son Hanes, Jr., alongside WJHL radio (910 AM, now WJCW; and FM 101.5, now WQUT). The call letters stood for John H. Lancaster, Hanes, Sr.'s father and Hanes, Jr.'s grandfather, who had founded the AM station in 1938. Hanes, Jr., who was the radio station's sales manager, was intrigued by the potential of television and worked to establish a television counterpart to WJHL radio. Despite initial skepticism from Hanes, Sr., Hanes, Jr. was able to secure the necessary investments to convince his father to take on the project.