First air date
|October 18, 1953|
Former call signs
Former channel number(s)
Call sign meaning
|"Volunteer TV", moniker adopted in 1997|
|HAAT||551.5 meters (1,809 ft)|
Public license information
WVLT-TV (channel 8) is a television station in Knoxville, Tennessee, United States, affiliated with CBS and MyNetworkTV. It is owned by Gray Television alongside Crossville-licensed CW affiliate WBXX-TV (channel 20). Both stations share studios on Papermill Drive (near I-40/I-75) on the west side of Knoxville, while WVLT-TV's transmitter is located on Sharp's Ridge in North Knoxville.
WVLT-TV debuted on channel 8 in 1988 after a years-long process spurred by the addition of a "VHF drop-in"—an extra channel on the VHF band—to Knoxville. It traces its history to the former channel 26 (WTSK-TV and later WTVK), which merged with another applicant for channel 8 and essentially moved there.
Harold H. Thoms and J. Horton Doughton, doing business as Television Services of Knoxville, applied with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on August 25, 1952, to build a new television station on Knoxville's channel 26; the application for a construction permit was granted on March 25, 1953, after W. R. Tuley—who had filed a competing bid for the channel—was added to the ownership group. The partners were out-of-town businessmen: Tuley, who took an 80 percent share in the merger, had oil interests in Evansville, Indiana, while Thoms owned WISE radio in Asheville, North Carolina, and Doughton was his partner in several other North Carolina television ventures. A site on Sharp's Ridge previously used by radio station WROL's shuttered FM operation was secured for use by the new channel 26.
WROL and competing channel 6 applicant WKGN merged their bids in July, and the race was suddenly on to be first to air in Knoxville. Channel 26 took the call letters WTSK-TV, for the permitholder, and secured network affiliation with CBS and the DuMont Television Network, as well as ABC (shared with WROL-TV). The first test pattern went out on the night of October 1, the same evening WROL-TV started up; the station also aired a film that night, though after channel 6's first broadcast. Regular programming started on October 18, and WTSK-TV was able to claim that it produced the first live television program in the city, as WROL-TV started with entirely filmed fare.
In 1954, the Tuley-led Television Services of Knoxville sold the station to another Evansville–based concern, South Central Broadcasting, in 1954; Tuley cited the need to devote time to his other business ventures in the Midwest as a factor in selling. South Central announced in September 1955 that it would seek approval to raise the station's effective radiated power from 21,900 to 314,000 watts and expand its transmitter facility; coinciding with the change, it also announced a new call sign, WTVK "Television Knoxville". The call sign change took effect December 12, though it was not until early 1956 that the power boost took effect because of delays with a key part.
Channel 26 had grown since its start, but it was also a UHF station in the days before the All-Channel Receiver Act and in a region of the United States with hilly terrain that blocked some viewers from satisfactory UHF reception. In 1955, the first idea of moving the then-WTSK-TV to the VHF band was floated by a man on a mission. Wilton A. Hall operated WAIM-TV in Anderson, South Carolina. In nearby Spartanburg, VHF station WSPA-TV (channel 7) had proposed a transmitter site move vigorously opposed by the two UHF stations in the Upstate, WAIM-TV (channel 40) and WGVL (channel 23). Hall proposed moving channel 7 from Spartanburg to Knoxville for use by WTSK-TV and reallocating channel 26 to the South Carolina city as its replacement. The FCC denied this and 34 other similar requests in November, but South Central continued to be highly interested in the idea. In March 1956, South Central president John A. Engelbrecht warned that while the station could "marginally survive" with competition from just one VHF station, the impending arrival of WBIR-TV on channel 10 after years of hearings could send the station to its doom or cost it its CBS affiliation—which ultimately went to WBIR-TV. He also revealed that the 1954 sale by Television Services of Knoxville came as the firm was facing financial losses and weighing closing the station. WTVK also became active in other proceedings related to the contentious WSPA battle.
In January 1960, the FCC proposed reducing the minimum mileage separation requirements between stations on the same channel and potential new channel assignments—"drop-ins"—where feasible. That October, WTVK formally petitioned the FCC to have channel 8 added to Knoxville. Knoxville was 162 miles (261 km) from WSIX-TV in Nashville and 152 miles (245 km) from WGTV at Athens, Georgia; while the spacing requirements required 190 miles (310 km) between the co-channel channel 8 stations, South Central Broadcasting believed that the terrain between Knoxville and each of those two cities would enable the use of channel 8 in east Tennessee. The FCC shelved the idea of granting 10 cities, including Knoxville, drop-ins in 1961. WTVK protested and appealed the decision in federal court, further pointing out that it was not able to compete effectively with channels 6 and 10 and that some advertisers did not want to buy time on a UHF station. However, the FCC, on a 4–3 vote and finding that the proposal might hinder the development of UHF broadcasting, closed the door on the controversial proposal in June 1963.
WTVK applied in late 1965 for a further power increase to 812,000 watts, the same week that another company proposed installing a 1,000,000-watt station on channel 14. The increase became effective in December 1966. Another VHF drop-in proposal that would have put channel 8 in Knoxville was floated in 1975 by the FCC at the request of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy, but nothing emerged from this.
This is a heckuva way to treat a station that has been a loyal ABC affiliate for more than 20 years.
Duane Eastvold, general manager of WTVK
In the late 1970s, ABC—by then ascendant in the national ratings—began to look for better affiliates in some markets where it had been relegated to a third-rated VHF or UHF station. On March 29, 1979, WATE-TV announced it would become an ABC affiliate within six months, giving 15,000 to 20,000 additional homes access to ABC programs. WTVK station manager Duane Eastvold noted that ABC's treatment of the station—and notification of the change—was less than subpar; the station's compensation for carrying ABC programming had not increased in over 20 years, and channel 26 was caught completely unaware, informed only by a phone call from ABC before WATE announced the change on its 6 p.m. newscast. WTVK signed an affiliation agreement with NBC, thus inheriting that network's affiliation from WATE and began carrying its programming on September 17 of that year.
In 1980, WTVK was approved to increase its power one last time to the UHF maximum of five million watts. The full boost took effect in 1981, making channel 26 one of just 10 stations operating at that power level in the United States. Two years later, Freedom Communications contracted to buy WTVK from the Engelbrechts, though the proposed buyer opted out of the transaction within a month.
In September 1980, the FCC opened the door again to giving Knoxville a third VHF television service when it approved four drop-ins, for Knoxville; Salt Lake City (channel 13); Charleston, West Virginia (channel 11); and Johnstown, Pennsylvania (channel 8). A group known as the "Organizing Committee", led by James R. Martin, was one of the most active suitors early on; WTVK, at that time in the middle of its increase to 5,000,000 watts, initially stayed out of the fray. Others, though, readied applications. By June 1981, there were 13 different applications on file for channel 8. One proposed a Christian station; another suggested a partial simulcast of Atlanta's WTBS with some local content; and others proposed a commercial independent station. One, however, was South Central Broadcasting itself. All 13 of these applications were designated for hearing in July 1982.
After more than three years, an FCC administrative law judge gave the initial nod to Tennessee Telecorp, Inc., owned by two employees of the Tennessee Valley Authority (with Olympic athlete Ralph Boston as a minority stockholder), in September 1985; the Telecorp application was selected based on media diversity and integration of staff and management. Four of the losing parties, including South Central, appealed the decision. The commission's review board overturned the administrative law judge's decision, in a shock to Tennessee Telecorp, and declared South Central the winner, with president John David Engelbrecht declaring it "the first good break we've got" in many years of fighting for a VHF assignment. One review board member wrote of WTVK's more than 30 years of good service to the community and noted that "the licensee of WTVK has acquired its surpassing entitlement to the new Knoxville VHF frequency the hard way: it earned it"; the opinion found that not awarding South Central the channel would have a "devastating impact" on its business.
Tennessee Telecorp appealed this finding to the full FCC, but it never got to rule on the case. In August 1988, Tennessee Telecorp and South Central were reported to have agreed to combine their bids and jointly own channel 8. The arrangement was finalized and announced on September 12, 1988, ending an eight-year contest for channel 8 and 33 years after the idea of moving WTVK to VHF was first floated; the new channel 8 would retain most of WTVK's employees with the exception of some management posts. (After WKXT-TV was built, Tennessee Telecorp president Donald Bagwell claimed that the station could have been in service four years sooner if the FCC had weeded out non-serious applications, criticizing the FCC for allowing such bidders to be able to gain financial settlements in exchange for dismissing their filings.)
We were waiting for Channel 8 to drop in, but it never dropped in. It seemed like it was going to go on forever.
Pierson Mapes, president of NBC
The long wait for WTVK to secure channel 8, however, would have repercussions that would still be sorted out while it was on channel 26. In June 1988, WBIR-TV announced it was dropping CBS for NBC—the latter of which had become the top-rated network then—after 32 years. After the network considered going to WATE-TV, CBS and WTVK reached an affiliation deal a month later, with the change taking place on September 10. NBC president Pierson Mapes revealed that the delay in moving from UHF to VHF was a factor, as was WBIR-TV's dominance in local news.
With the affiliation switch in the rear-view mirror, the process then began of replacing the UHF transmission facility with a VHF one. At the end of November 1988, the channel 26 transmitter went on reduced power. After a delay attributed to faulty connectors in the antenna and high winds, channel 8—under the call letters WKXT-TV—went on the air at 4 p.m. on December 8, 1988.
The channel switch was more than a technical overhaul. Telecorp partners, many of whom had worked at television stations in the Tri-Cities, assumed all of the senior management positions at the station from their WTVK counterparts. The new general manager, Lewis F. Cosby, told reporters at a press event to announce the station's new news team that WTVK would "become part of that big TV station in the sky".
In 1992, South Central sold its stake in WKXT to Phipps Television, owner of WCTV in Tallahassee, Florida, and 50 percent of WPBF serving West Palm Beach, Florida. Phipps became a 70 percent partner for $5.77 million. Under Phipps, WKXT moved its studios from Sharps Ridge to the present Papermill Road site in 1993; the site was chosen to be more efficient and closer to advertisers, and South Central, which owned the property, was purchasing radio stations in Knoxville and moving them into the former channel 26 building.
Phipps and the minority partners in Knoxville Channel 8 Limited Partnership agreed to sell WCTV and WKXT to Gray Communications Systems (now Gray Television) at the end of 1995, with the sale consummated in 1996. (Many of the partners then briefly owned WINT-TV channel 20.) The new owners changed the call sign to the current WVLT-TV on February 10, 1997, as part of a major investment in the station and its news product.
WVLT-TV began programming a secondary service as a digital subchannel in 2004: "UPN Knoxville", which replaced prior low-power carrier WEEE-LP. This service assumed the MyNetworkTV affiliation in September 2006, first as "MyEastTennesseeTV" and later as "MyVLT-2". Some local programming has also aired on the MyVLT channel, such as high school football.
Gray expanded its Knoxville operation in 2015 when it purchased WBXX-TV from Lockwood Broadcast Group. The deal was part of a like-kind exchange in which Lockwood received KAKE in Wichita, Kansas—which needed to be sold so Gray could purchase Schurz Communications—and Gray received WBXX and $11.2 million in cash. At the time, Knoxville was the company's largest media market.
WTVK was traditionally Knoxville's third-rated source for news, far behind the two VHF stations—a status that has continued to hold true even since the VHF shift in 1988. However, it did have its moments. In 1982, the station secured a contract to broadcast live from the Sunsphere during the 1982 World's Fair, airing Today at the 1982 World's Fair. The Sunsphere show continued after the fair and ended in February 1983.
News was one of the priority areas for the WKXT-TV relaunch, which included an entirely new main anchor team. However, the station's newscasts continued to rate poorly. Facing an advertising slump, in 1991, channel 8 axed its 11 p.m. weeknight and weekend newscasts and fired 10 staffers; morning cut-ins and the noon and early evening programs were maintained.
In 1997, as part of the WVLT-TV relaunch, channel 8 boosted its news staff from 10 to 55 people and reinstated weeknight 11 p.m. and weekend newscasts; it also added an hour-long morning newscast. At the time, the outgoing WKXT-TV newscasts captured just four percent of the 6 p.m. audience, compared with 22 percent for WATE and 45 percent tuned to WBIR-TV. The next year, WVLT began producing local news for Fox affiliate WTNZ, an arrangement that lasted three years until the station opted to work with WATE-TV instead.
On January 9, 2011, channel 8's 11 p.m. newscast became the first in the Knoxville market to originate in high definition. On April 20, 2013, WVLT became the last station in the market to add a weekend morning newscast.
In 2007, WVLT and the Vol Network, the broadcasting arm of the University of Tennessee's athletic department, entered into a new 10-year agreement for WVLT to be the exclusive home of all Vol TV Network programing in the Knoxville area. WVLT paid UT $4.95 million for the 10-year contract, giving it exclusive rights to the weekly highlights shows featuring the head coaches of the football, men's basketball, and women's basketball teams, as well as other UT athletic-related programs in the Knoxville market. With this, the Vol TV Network ended a 10-year relationship with NBC affiliate WBIR-TV.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|8.1||1080i||16:9||WVLT-DT||Main WVLT-TV programming / CBS|
|8.2||720p||MYVLT||WVLT-DT2 / MyNetworkTV|
WVLT-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 8, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 30.
As part of the SAFER Act, WVLT-TV kept its analog signal on the air until June 26 to inform viewers of the digital television transition through a loop of public service announcements from the National Association of Broadcasters.