WAPT is the ABC-affiliated television station for Central Mississippi that is licensed to Jackson. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 21 (or virtual channel 16.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter at its studios on Channel 16 Way in Southwest Jackson. Owned by Hearst Television, the station can also be found on Comcast channel 4 and Cable ONE channel 12. There is a high definition feed provided on Comcast digital channel 431 and Cable ONE digital channel 455.
The station began broadcasting on October 3, 1970 with a rerun of Stagecoach West. Prior to its debut, ABC was limited to coverage on NBC affiliate WLBT and CBS affiliate WJTV, even though Jackson had been big enough since the 1950s to support three full network affiliates. In fact, Jackson was one of the largest markets, if not the largest, in the U.S. with only two network stations by the 1960s. It has long been speculated that the Federal Communications Commission delayed granting licenses to any potential broadcasters in central Mississippi because of WLBT's blatant bias against African-Americans in news coverage and advocacy against the civil rights movement.
A more likely reason, however, has to do with geography. The Jackson market is a fairly large market, covering a large swath of west-central Mississippi. Jackson had been allocated only two VHF frequencies—channels 3 and 12, occupied by WLBT and WJTV respectively. UHF stations initially didn't cover large stretches of territory very well. Even after the FCC mandated all-channel tuning in 1964, it took a long while for UHF to be a viable option to cover large areas. With Jackson sandwiched between Baton Rouge to the south and Monroe/El Dorado to the north, it is not likely there would have been room to drop in a third VHF allocation in Jackson.
In 1971, WAPT started broadcasting local news, weather, and sports Monday through Friday evenings following the ABC Evening News. The broadcast, which aired at 5:30 p.m., was called The Case-Jefferies Report. A 10:00 p.m. news broadcast was later added. This was later moved to 10:30 when the station began broadcasting the syndicated comedies Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Forever Fernwood. at 10 instead, as an attempt to counter-program the newscasts on WLBT and WJTV, whose ratings were well ahead of WAPT at the time. Other syndicated programming, such as The Addams Family, Hee Haw Honeys, and The Andy Griffith Show. filled that time slot following the cancellations of the comedies set in Fernwood.
In 1972, the station began a series of horror movies airing on Saturday evenings. These were hosted by "Scartisha", a female character whose true identity remains a mystery to this day. In 1973, the station's sports anchor, Dick Thames, was killed in a plane crash as he was preparing a news story.
WAPT was founded by the American Public Life Insurance Company, an insurer which is still in business today but is now an affiliate of American Fidelity Assurance. American Public Life sold the station to Clay Communications in 1979. That company then sold its television stations—WAPT, plus KJAC-TV (now KBTV-TV) in Port Arthur, Texas, KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas and WWAY in Wilmington, North Carolina—to Price Communications in 1987. Price Communications sold three of its stations—WAPT and then-sister stations WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan and WNAC-TV in Providence, Rhode Island—to the newly founded Northstar Television Group in 1989. Northstar Television was bought out by Argyle Television Holdings II, a company which was formed in late 1994 by a group of managers and executives who left the first incarnation of Argyle Television (the former Times-Mirror Broadcasting) after that company sold all of its stations to New World Communications, in January 1995.
In August 1997, Argyle merged with the Hearst Corporation's broadcasting unit to form what was then known as Hearst-Argyle Television (now Hearst Television after the Hearst Corporation became sole owner of the group in mid-2009).
In 2005, Sacha Baron Cohen appeared as his Borat character in a news interview, while secretly filming a segment for the movie of the same name. After the film's release, Dharma Arthur, a news producer for WAPT, wrote a letter to Newsweek saying that Borat's appearance on the station had led to her losing her job: "Because of him, my boss lost faith in my abilities and second-guessed everything I did thereafter … How upsetting that a man who leaves so much harm in his path is lauded as a comedic genius." Although Arthur has said she was fired from the show, she told the Associated Press that she left the station. She said that she checked a public relations website that Borat's producers gave her before booking him.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|16.1||720p||16:9||WAPT-DT||Main WAPT programming / ABC|
WAPT shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 16, on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 21, using PSIP to display WAPT's virtual channel as 16 on digital television receivers.
For most of the last thirty years, WLBT has been the dominant news station in Jackson according to Nielsen ratings. WAPT currently broadcasts 26 hours of local newscasts per week with four hours of news aired on weekdays and three hours seen on weekends. On April 30, 2011, WAPT debuted weekend morning newscasts to bookend the weekend editions of Good Morning America.
Unlike most ABC affiliates, WAPT does not currently carry a midday news show during the week. In 2008, however, WAPT announced its intention to begin a noon newscast offering a third option in the time slot. It has since dropped the program from the schedule most likely due to inconsistent viewership and tough competition from WLBT and WJTV. The station operates a Baron Services VHD 250 Doppler weather radar next to its studios that is known on-air as "Storm Shield 16". There is a live video feed of this radar available on WAPT's website. In addition, all newscasts are streamed online.