John W. Harkrader was born on April 6, 1916. He attended and graduated from Roanoke in 1938 with a B.A. in English. He joined the communication industry in the late 1930's with WDBJ radio. After five years in the Navy, he returned and set up WDBJ's first promotion department. From there he progressed to assistant manager and general sales manager for radio and television, to general manager of television operations. In 1977, he became president and general manager of WDBJ television.
Harkrader had served on the Boards of Directors for the United Way, Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce, Roanoke Valley American Red Cross, 4-H, and the Miss Virginia Pageant. He served on the Advisory Committee for Virginia Western Community College, and was a member of Roanoke College's Community Advisory Board. He was a class fund drive chairman for Roanoke College on several occasions.
John W. Harkrader was awarded the Roanoke College Medal on May 2, 1980 for his professional achievements and service to the community. John Harkrader was married to Margaret Agnes Kimsey, and together they raised two children; John Kimsey Harkrader and Mary Jane Harkrader.