This month marks six years since WUCF became Central Florida’s PBS affiliate and saved public TV for the region, keeping alive a non-commercial, educational service started in 1965.
But let’s go back — way back — to the beginning of this story. In April 1952, the Federal Communications Commission assigned four television channels for Orlando — Channels 6, 9, 18 and 24, with the latter designated as a non-commercial station.
It took another 13 years before Channel 24 would go on the air. The county school boards of the region banded together and launched WMFE-TV on March 15, 1965, as an educational station. The plan was for Channel 24 to be a “video school on the air” with classroom instruction shows telecast to area schools from WMFE-TV’s studios on Oak Ridge Road.
When WMFE-TV started broadcasting, it offered 13 classroom programs each weekday and 11 five-minute specials on various topics. The station even took the summers off when school was out, halting broadcasts on June 4 of its first year and not resuming until students were back in school on Sept. 7.
Eventually, Orange County Public Schools took full ownership of the station, which became a PBS affiliate in May 1970. In mid-1971, OCPS turned control of the station over to the non-profit Community Communications Inc. But in April 2011, Community Communications announced it needed to sell the station because of financial difficulties. The buyer was going to be the religious Daystar Television Network at a price of $3 million.
That’s when the University of Central Florida stepped up. It reached a deal with East Coast State University (then known as Brevard Community College) to lease its primary TV channel and become the area’s PBS affiliate. On July 1, “WUCF TV” launched on WBCC-Channel 68.1.
Seven months later, WMFE-TV’s deal with Daystar fell apart amid FCC scrutiny about how Daystar would provide educational and local shows on non-commercial Channel 24. On June 21, 2012, UCF reached a deal with WMFE-TV to purchase all of the station’s assets — except of its East Colonial Drive studio, which was still being used by public radio station WMFE-FM.
On Nov. 15, 2012, UCF left its leased channel on WBCC and began broadcasting on Channel 24 as WUCF-TV — once again returning PBS to its former longtime station.