WECT is the NBC-affiliated television station for North Carolina's Cape Fear region that is licensed to Wilmington. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 44 (or virtual channel 6.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Town Creek Township. Owned by Raycom Media, the station operates Fox affiliate WSFX-TV (owned by American Spirit Media, LLC) through a shared services agreement (SSA). The two outlets share studios on Shipyard Boulevard (U.S. 117) in Wilmington.
As the first television station in Wilmington, it began broadcasting on April 9, 1954 with the call sign WMFD-TV. It aired an analog signal on VHF channel 6 from a transmitter near Delco. The television station was co-owned with WMFD 630 AM. In 1958, the station's calls changed to the current WECT. The WMFD-TV call letters are now used by an independent television station in Mansfield, Ohio.
At its launch, channel 6 was affiliated with all four networks of the day—NBC, CBS, DuMont and ABC. However, it has always been a primary NBC affiliate. It lost DuMont when that network went silent in 1956. The station finally got local competition in 1964 when WWAY signed on. However, WWAY opted to affiliate with the much weaker ABC, forcing WECT to shoehorn NBC and CBS onto its schedule until the 1970s. It primarily carried CBS soap operas and CBS' Sunday afternoon NFL coverage. At one point, this station was carried on cable systems in the Triangle region of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, and Chapel Hill) for a time when NBC did not have a full-time affiliate in that market. At one time, WECT had a Fayetteville news bureau.
As a result of the station's long-held popularity, it is still carried on cable systems in Fayetteville, Southern Pines, Jacksonville and Lumberton even though their respective markets have their own NBC affiliates. The station's analog signal once served as the default NBC station for the northern and eastern portions of the nearby Florence/Myrtle Beach, South Carolina market since that area was one of the few on the East Coast without its own NBC affiliate. For many years, the channel even identified as "Wilmington/Myrtle Beach" to acknowledge its viewership in the Grand Strand. However, WECT's signal was somewhat weak on the North Carolina side of the market (such as Laurinburg). During the 1970s and 1980s through CATV, WECT was carried as far south as Georgetown, South Carolina, as far west as Wadesboro, Anson County and as far north as Greenville, Pitt County.
For many years, WECT was locally owned. The News-Press & Gazette Company acquired the station in 1986. That company then sold its entire stations group of the time to the first incarnation of New Vision Television in 1993. New Vision turned around and sold its entire group at the time to Ellis Communications in 1995. Ellis was folded into current owner Raycom in 1997. In 2006, Raycom bought out The Liberty Corporation, owner of WWAY. However, FCC duopoly rules forced Raycom to spin off WWAY to Morris Multimedia as a condition of the Raycom–Liberty merger.
On May 8, 2008, the FCC announced that five stations in Wilmington (including WECT) had agreed to voluntarily cease analog broadcasting on September 8  five months ahead of the February 17, 2009 tentative date for television stations to complete the analog-to-digital transition. The market was used by the FCC as a pre-transition test market. After the digital transition, WGNI radio agreed to air emergency weather information from WECT. Previously, because channel 6 is adjacent to the FM band, its broadcasts could be heard on FM 87.7.
WECT's coverage has been reduced as a result of the digital transition which left the station as a UHF. With the move of the station's transmitter by 35 miles (56 km) from south of White Lake to Winnabow, Fayetteville viewers could not receive the digital signal. While Myrtle Beach itself is just outside the fringe area for the digital signal, North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is just inside it. The southern and western portions of the Florence/Myrtle Beach area were served by another Raycom station, WIS in Columbia, South Carolina.
On August 8, 2008, Raycom signed-on WMBF-TV, a new digital-only NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach covering the 2008 Olympic Games as part of its first network programming. On August 8, due to FCC regulations, WECT disappeared from most cable systems in the Florence/Myrtle Beach market when WMBF signed on. For long time viewers, this was controversial as this station had been on cable systems in Laurinburg and Lumberton for decades. On December 1, 2008, WECT returned to the Time Warner Cable lineup in Lumberton, but was placed in the digital tier.
This station is one of the few NBC affiliates that refused to air Poker After Dark. In 2012, owner Raycom Media gave the station's defunct analog transmitter site to the Green Beret Foundation. On September 20, 2012, the tower, which was built in 1969 and the tallest man-made structure east of the Mississippi River, was imploded. Plans called for the scrap metal and the 77-acre site to be sold to benefit the foundation.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|6.1||1080i||16:9||WECT-DT||Main WECT programming / NBC|
Prior to September 26, 2012, WECT-DT2 aired a 24-hour local weather channel with the branding "WECT Plus". The subchannel also aired repeats of the main channel's weeknight 6 and 11 o'clock newscasts as well as local traffic and travel information. Occasionally, other special programming aired on WECT-DT2. From April 15, 2005 until the end of December 2008, WECT-DT2 carried the defunct NBC Weather Plus. WECT replaced the local weather channel with Bounce TV on August 18, 2014 Escape was added to a new subchanel.
On September 22, 2003 through a news share agreement, WECT began producing a nightly half-hour prime time newscast on WSFX (Fox Wilmington News at 10). This was eventually joined by an sixty-minute extension of WECT's weekday morning show on September 13, 2006 called Carolina in the Morning on Fox Wilmington, seen from 7 until 8 on WSFX offering an alternative to the national morning shows seen on the market's big three network-affiliated stations.
On August 31, 2008, WECT became Wilmington's first television outlet to upgrade local news production to high definition level and the broadcasts on WSFX were included in the change. At some point in time, WECT added a third newscast to WSFX, under the title Fox Wilmington News at 6:30. It only aired on weeknights and attempted to compete against the national evening newscasts seen on the big three networks. It would be cancelled by the end of 2013 in preparation to expand the weeknight edition of the 10 o'clock show to an hour (which occurred on January 15, 2014).
After WWAY stopped producing weekend evening newscasts on August 1, 2009, WECT and WSFX became the only outlets in Wilmington to offer evening broadcasts seen seven nights a week. Although WWAY eventually reintroduced a local newscast airing Sunday nights at 11, WECT and WSFX remain the only channels in the market to air newscasts throughout the weekend. All newscasts on WSFX air from WECT's primary set but with modified duratrans indicating the Fox-branded shows.