Florida’s early TV station history

Our Sponsors

I love history and — as is evident by this site — broadcast history. So, I’ve been compling a list of Florida’s first television stations. You’ll likely notice some familiar call letters as well as some you may never seen before.

Those lesser-known stations are Florida’s early UHF stations, such as Miami’s WGBS-Ch. 23, Fort Lauderdale’s WITV-Ch. 17 and Jacksonville’s WJHP-Ch. 36 (all of which predated WBDO-Ch. 6, Orlando’s first TV station).

Despite high hopes and a market ripe for television programming, these stations suffered the same fate as many other early UHF stations that competed with VHF stations: they ceased operations after a brief period. UHF stations had a very hard time getting viewers because early TV sets didn’t even have UHF tuners — they had to be bought separately. Plus, those early UHF signals didn’t reach as far as VHF signals and were also very difficult to tune-in, even with those add-on UHF receivers.

Still, one of the very first UHF stations in the state managed to hang on for 17 years — WSUN-TV Channel 38 in St. Petersburg.  Click the read more button for the list of Florida’s first 21 stations.

Florida’s first 21 TV stations

1949

WTVJ, Channel 4, Miami
Sign-on: March 21, 1949.
Original Networks: CBS, NBC, ABC, DuMont.
Info: WTVJ-6, NBC (a NBC O&O). It was the first TV station in Florida and the just the 16th in the country. It went on to become a longtime CBS affiliate, but in its early years it carried shows from all the networks — CBS, NBC, ABC and DuMont. In 1987, the station was sold to NBC — which later prompted a three-way affiliation swap in the Miami market (WTVJ-Ch. 4 switched from CBS to NBC, WCIX-Ch. 6 switched from Fox to CBS and WSVN-Ch. 7 switched from NBC to Fox). Then, in another move prompted by a deal between CBS and NBC involving stations elsewhere, WTVJ swapped channel positions with WCIX — WTVJ became WTVJ-Ch. 6 and WCIX became WFOR-Ch. 4. In 2008, NBC reached a deal to sell WTVJ to Post-Newsweek Co., owners on WPLG-Ch. 10 in Miami. Due to objections by the community and a downturn in the economy, the deal was called off. 

WMBR, Channel 4, Jacksonville
Sign-on: Sept. 15, 1949.
Original Networks: CBS, ABC.
Info: Now WJXT-4, an independent. One of three Post-Newsweek stations in Florida. The others are WKMG-Ch. 6 in Orlando and WPLG-Ch. 10 in Miami.

1953

WITV, Channel 17, Fort Lauderdale
Sign on: Thanksgiving Day, 1953.
Original Networks: ABC.
Info: WITV was Miami’s second TV station. It went dark in 1957(?), shortly after WPST-Ch. 10 went on the air in Miami  took WITV’s ABC affiliation. WITV owner Gerico Investment Co. filed lawsuits in an attempt to prevent WPST-Ch. 10 and WCKT-Ch. 7 from going on the air, saying (correctly) that the new VHF stations would seriously harm the UHF station. After being unsucessful in blocking the two new VHF stations, WITV tried —  again unsuccessfully — to get the VHF license to Channel 6 in Miami. Bill Byers was WITV’s anchorman, and Maxine Barrat did weather — she was Florida TV’s first “weather girl.”

WFTL-TV, Channel 23, Fort Lauderdale
Sign-on: Exact date not known.
Original Networks: NBC, DuMont.
Info: Ceased operations on April 13, 1957. After starting as WFTL-TV in Fort Lauderdale, the station was bought by Storer Broadcasting Co., renamed WGBS-TV and moved to Miami. It became an independent for a short time after the DuMont network folded and it lost its NBC affiliation to new Miami VHF station WCKT-Ch. 7 in 1956. Present day Miami Univision station WLTV broadcasts on Channel 23, which was revived on Nov. 14, 1967, as WAJA.

WJHP-TV, Channel 36, Jacksonville
Sign-on: Exact date not known
Original Networks: NBC, ABC
Info: WJHP went dark in 1956. It was owned by the Jacksonville Journal Co., whose president was the famed John H. Perry Jr.  He amassed a wide collection of newspapers, TV and radio stations across the state — including WESH-Ch. 2 in Daytona Beach.

WSUN-TV, Channel 38, St. Petersburg
Sign on: May 31, 1953
Original Network: ABC
Info: Went dark air in 1970. Was owned by the City of St. Petersburg and broadcast from the St. Pete pier. It was Tampa Bay’s first TV station — and originally carried programs from all the networks. After WFLA-Ch. 8 (NBC) and WTVT-Ch. 13 (CBS) signed on and took network affiliations, WSUN was left with ABC — an affiliation it kept until WLCY-Ch. 10 signed on in 1965. WSUN continued on as an independent until finally signing off in February 1970.

WJDM, Channel 7, Panama City
Sign on: Dec. 1, 1953
Original Network: ABC, NBC, CBS
Info: Now WJHG-7, NBC. 

1954

WEAR-TV, Channel 3, Pensacola
Sign-on: Jan. 13, 1954
Original Network: ABC
Info: Still an ABC affiliate.

WINK-TV, Channel 11, Fort Myers
Sign-on: March 1, 1954
Original Networks: CBS, ABC
Into: Still a CBS affiliate. Was the only commercial station in Southwest Florida until 1968.

WDBO-TV, Channel 6, Orlando
Sign-on: July 1, 1954
Original Networks: CBS, ABC, NBC, DuMont
Info: Now known as WKMG-6, CBS. Orlando’s first TV station was originally owned by Orlando Broadcasting Co., which also owned radio stations WDBO-AM (580) and WDBO-FM (92.3). Changed call sign to WCPX in 1982 when deal was on table to sell station to Columbia Pictures. The deal fell through, but the station kept WCPX. In 1998, the station was acquired by Post-Newsweek, and renamed WKMG in honor of Katherine M. Graham. (P-N sister station WPLG in Miami is named after Graham’s husband Phillip.) As the first station in Central Florida, it was primarily a CBS affiliate but also aired shows from DuMont (until the network folded in 1955), from NBC (until WESH signed on in 1957), from ABC (until WLOF signed on in 1958)

WJNO-TV, Channel 5, West Palm Beach
Sign-on: Aug. 22, 1954
Original Networks: NBC
Info: Switched to WPTV in 1956.

1955

WEAT-TV, Channel 12, West Palm Beach
Sign-on: Jan. 1, 1955
Orignal Networks: ABC
Info: Now known as WPEC-12, CBS.

WCTV, Channel 6, Tallahassee
Sign-on: Sept. 1, 1955
Original Networks: CBS, ABC, NBC
Info: Still WCTV-6, CBS.

WFLA-TV, Channel 8, Tampa
Sign-on: Feb. 14, 1955
Original Network: NBC
Info: Still WFLA-8, NBC (but was also WXFL briefly).

WTVT, Channel 13, Tampa
Sign-on: April 1, 1955
Original Network: CBS
Info: Now WTVT-13, Fox (a Fox O&O).

WTHS, Channel 2, Miami
Sign-on: Aug. 12, 1995
Original Network: Educational independent station
Info: Now known as WPBT 2, PBS. Was Florida’s first non-commercial station.

1956

WESH-TV, Channel 2, Daytona Beach
Sign-on: June 11, 1956
Original Network: Independent, then NBC
Info: Still WESH-2 with NBC. Only major Orlando network station with original call letters.

WCKT, Channel 7, Miami
Sign-on: July 29, 1956
Original Network: NBC
Info: Now known as WSVN-7, Fox

1957

WPST, Channel 10, Miami
Sign-on: Aug. 2, 1957
Original Network: ABC
InfoL Now WPLG-10, ABC. This was the second ABC affiliate in the Miami market, after WITV-Channel 17. Because it as a VHF station and had stronger signal than UHF WITV, ABC moved its affiliation from Channel 17 to Channel 10. But WPST had its license stripped by the FCC in November 1961 after it was discovered station owner National Airlines bribed a FCC commissioner to get the broadcast license. National sold the station assets to a group that created a new Channel 10, WLBW. This group later sold the station to Post-Newsweek, which renamed it WPLG in honor of Phillip L. Graham.

WFGA-TV, Channel 12, Jacksonville
Sign-on: Sept. 1, 1957
Original Network: NBC
Info: Now WTLV-12, NBC. Had switched to being an ABC affiliate, then back to NBC. Now part of Gannett duopoly that owns the NBC and ABC affiliates in Jacksonville.

1958

WLOF-TV, Channel 9, Orlando
Sign-on: Feb. 1, 1958
Original Network: ABC
Info: Now known as  WFTV-9, ABC. Changed its call letters to WFTV in 1963. WLOF stood for “We Love Orlando Florida.” WFTV was for “Wonderful Florida Television.”

About Roger Simmons 549 Articles
Roger Simmons has been blogging about Orlando television since 2001. You can email him at roger@rogersimmons.com

1 Comment

  1. Like you I am very interested in TV station history and have been looking at some old Broadcast yearbooks on the internet.

    You mentioned correctly WFTL-TV which came at the end of 1953, it was bought by Storer and moved to Miami.

    The interesting this is this also happened to the first WFTL radio. The radio station came on in 1939 on 1400 with 250 watts. Sometime around 1943 it was sold to Storer, I found an article that basically said the owner was led to believe he had to sell the station. Storer moved it to Miami and got permission to move the frequency to 710 with 10KW. It was renamed WGBS. The second WFTL radio came on in 1946 again on 1400 with 250 watts.

    Thought you might find that interesting even though it’s radio and not TV.

    Mike

Comments are closed.