WCOV-TV is the Fox-affiliated television station for Central Alabama licensed to Montgomery. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 20 from a transmitter southeast of Grady along the Montgomery and Crenshaw County line. Owned by David Woods and his Woods Communications Corporation, the station has studios on WCOV Avenue in the Normandale section of Montgomery. WCOV is carried on cable systems all over central and south Alabama including Charter Cable, WOW Cable, Brighthouse Cable, DirecTV, Dish, AT&T U-Verse and many others. In addition to the FOX network programs like American Idol, Empire, NASCAR and The NFL, WCOV carries syndicated programming which includes The Ellen Show, The Big Bang Theory, The People's Court, Judge Mathis and The Andy Griffith Show.
WCOV-TV was the first television station in Montgomery, making its first broadcast on April 17, 1953. It was a primary CBS station but carried affiliations with all networks that were airing at the time (NBC, ABC, and DuMont). During the late-1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. It was originally supposed to broadcast on VHF channel 12 (now occupied by WSFA), but RCA could not deliver a VHF transmitter in time for the launch. However, RCA could deliver a UHF transmitter. This historical accident would come back to haunt WCOV three decades later.
The station was owned by Oscar Covington and his family along with WCOV radio (now WGMP) and two other radio stations in Alabama. Oscar's brother, George William "Will" Covington, who had founded WCOV radio in 1939, had applied for a television license in 1949 and was on a trip to Chicago to buy equipment at the time of his death later that year. It lost NBC when WSFA launched in 1954 and ABC when WSLA-TV in Selma started up in 1960. DuMont programming went away in 1956 after that network shut down. The Covington family sold the station to Gay-Bell Corporation in 1964.
From 1960 to 1984, WCOV blocked several requests by WSLA (by then a CBS affiliate) to increase its power in order for that station to better cover Montgomery, claiming that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would not be fostering the growth of UHF stations if it allowed WSLA to do this. In truth, WCOV feared losing its CBS affiliation if WSLA were allowed to move into Montgomery. But finally in 1984, WSLA was indeed granted a construction permit for a taller tower that would cover Montgomery and changed its call letters to WAKA. Gay-Bell saw the writing on the wall and sold WCOV in December 1985 to a group of investors led by David Woods, son of veteran Alabama broadcaster Charles Woods. Years later, Woods bought out the investors and became the sole owner.
In April 1985, WAKA activated its new tower officially, and WCOV indeed lost its CBS affiliation to that station on New Year's Day in 1986. For the first half of 1986, WCOV carried on as Montgomery's first general-entertainment independent station, with a schedule heavy on network reruns. However, at the same time, Woods signed an affiliation deal with the upstart Fox network, which was due to launch in October. WCOV was one of the first longstanding Big Three affiliates to join Fox. For all intents and purposes, however, WCOV continued to be programmed as an independent for most of Fox' early years, as was the case with most Fox affiliates; the network wouldn't air a full week's worth of programming until 1993.
The original tower in Montgomery was destroyed by a massive tornado on March 6, 1996. The station was able to restore service for cable customers later that afternoon with help from WSFA and AT&T Cable (later to become Charter). One month later, WCOV returned to the air on a temporary 350 foot (107 m) tower. The station applied to the FCC to resume full-power operations from a new 1,700 foot (518 meter) tower in Grady, with a power increase to a full five megawatts. The FCC granted the request and issued a construction permit. In January 1997, the station activated its new tower.
WCOV started broadcasting a special "nightlight" service on its analog signal featuring digital conversion information following the discontinuance of its analog service. The station currently produces one local program MPD: The Television Series, a police reality show which features the work of the Montgomery Police Department. MPD has been in production since November 1991.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|20.1||720p||16:9||WCOV-DT||Main WCOV-TV programming / Fox|
WCOV-TV began transmitting a digital signal in 1997 on Channel 16 and the transmission plant was located next to its studios in Montgomery. The station also started broadcasting a special "nightlight" service on its analog signal featuring digital conversion information following the discontinuance of its analog service. The station shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 20, on February 20, 2009. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 16 to channel 20. At the same time, the station digital converted from channel 16 to channel 20 and moved digital transmission from Montgomery to Grady.
As a CBS affiliate, WCOV operated its own news department. It spent most of its history as a distant runner-up to WSFA. The station dropped all news programming after losing CBS programming. Eventually, a two-hour simulcast of the four-hour-long Good Day Alabama was added from fellow Fox affiliate WBRC in Birmingham. This aired weekday mornings from 7 until 9 and originated from WBRC's studios. At some point in September 2010, the simulcast was dropped.
On January 7, 2008, Woods Communications contracted with NBC affiliate WSFA (owned by Raycom Media) to air a prime time broadcast in conjunction with another Fox affiliate and Raycom-owned station in Dothan, WDFX-TV. Originally airing for 35 minutes on weeknights, a weekend half-hour edition began in Summer 2008. On August 3, WSFA upgraded its newscasts to high definition level. The primary news set and graphics were redesigned in the transition.
Initially, the 9 p.m. shows were not included because they originated from an older secondary set at WSFA's studios on East Delano Avenue. However in Spring 2010, those broadcasts began airing in HD with updated graphics separate from programs seen on WSFA. Since WDFX and WCOV both aired Fox News at 9, there was regional coverage of the Montgomery and Dothan areas provided. Reporters based at WDFX's studios (referred to as the Wiregrass Newsroom) were also featured in the show.
After WCOV's outsourcing contract with WSFA expired at the end of 2010, it entered into a new agreement with CBS affiliate WAKA (owned by Bahakel Communications) to produce a nightly 35 minute prime time newscast at 9 covering Montgomery. At that time, the new show, known as WCOV News at 9, reverted to pillarboxed 4:3 standard definition (since WAKA had yet to make any upgrades to newscasts) and originated from studios on Eastern Boulevard (US 80/US 231). In addition, WAKA operates bureaus in Selma (on Landline Road/SR 22 Truck/SR 219) known as the West Alabama Newsroom and in Troy as well as Greenville (both known as South Alabama Newsrooms). Despite merging with WNCF and WBMM on February 4, 2013, WAKA continues to produce WCOV News at 9 which now airs in high definition from an updated set at the shared WAKA/WNCF studios on Harrsion Road in Montgomery.