WTVT, virtual channel 13 (VHF digital channel 12), is a Fox owned-and-operated television station located in Tampa, Florida, United States and also serving the nearby city of St. Petersburg. The station is owned by the Fox Television Stations subsidiary of 21st Century Fox. WTVT maintains studio facilities located on West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, and its transmitter is located in Riverview.
As a CBS affiliate
The station first signed on the air on April 1, 1955, becoming the third television station in Tampa Bay (after WSUN-TV – channel 38, frequency now occupied by WTTA, and WFLA-TV, channel 8), it is also currently the second-oldest surviving station in the market (behind WFLA). Operating as a CBS affiliate, WTVT was originally owned by Tampa Bay radio veteran Walter Tison and his Tampa Television Company. The Federal Communications Commission originally awarded the construction permit to build a station on channel 13 to the now-defunct Tampa Times newspaper, which owned WDAE radio (then at 1250 AM, now at 620 AM). However, the FCC reversed its decision and awarded the license to the Tison group, which intended to open a studio facility in nearby St. Petersburg. The Times appealed the FCC's decision, but lost. Although it appears that the station's call letters stand for TeleVision Tampa, they actually stand for the initials of Walter Tison and his wife, Virginia. Like many other stations located on "unlucky" channel 13, WTVT used a black cat as its mascot for several years.
In 1956, the Tampa Television Company merged with the Oklahoma City-based Oklahoma Publishing Company. OPUBCO's broadcasting subsidiary, the WKY Radiophone Company, would later be known as Gaylord Broadcasting, named for the family that owned the company (Gaylord also owned what is present-day CBS O&O KTVT in Fort Worth, but the "TVT" base callsign was only a coincidence).
The station's remote broadcast facilities were chosen for network pool coverage of Alan Shepard and John Glenn's Mercury capsule splashdowns (in 1961 and 1962, respectively). The mobile unit recorded the recoveries on videotapes that were flown to the mainland.
In 1987, Gaylord sold that station to Gillett Communications (which Gillett was in a groupwide acquisition from KKR, that mostly are stations owned by Storer Broadcasting.) Gillett underwent a corporate restructuring in the early 1990s, changing its name to GCI Broadcast Services, Inc. In 1993, GCI filed for bankruptcy, and its stations (including WTVT) were sold to New World Communications. By that time, WTVT was pre-empting CBS This Morning for a locally-produced morning newscast, as well as pre-empting all but one hour of the network's Saturday morning cartoons.
As a Fox station
On December 18, 1993, Fox outbid CBS for the rights to the NFL's National Football Conference television package beginning with the league's 1994 season. Most of Fox's affiliates at the time were on the UHF band; seeking to affiliate with VHF stations to complement the new rights, Fox signed a long-term deal with New World Communications on May 23, 1994 to affiliate with twelve of the company's major network affiliates, effective that fall.
WTVT affiliated with Fox on December 12, 1994, ending its 39-year affiliation with CBS. This resulted in a three-way affiliation swap that resulted in the market's original Fox affiliate, WFTS-TV (channel 28), affiliating with ABC as part of a deal between the station's owner, the E. W. Scripps Company and ABC that saw four of Scripps's stations joining ABC; longtime ABC affiliate WTSP (channel 10) became a CBS affiliate. With the switch, WTVT became the third Tampa area station to have been affiliated with Fox. WTOG (channel 44) was the market's original affiliate from the network's launch in October 1986 until the affiliation moved to WFTS in 1988.
Albeit with a three-month interruption due to CBS losing the NFC rights (the games instead aired on WFTS for the first three months of Fox's NFC telecasts as a lame-duck affiliate), the switch continued channel 13's status as the "home" station for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, largely due to the Bucs' lack of success on the field for most of their first 20 years, the team's home games were rarely shown locally. Once the Buccaneers began to build a winning team in the late 1990s, along with a new look and the opening of Raymond James Stadium, local television blackouts decreased, thus allowing more games to be shown on WTVT. The station chose not to renew the more expensive syndicated programs that it had run as a CBS affiliate, and instead began acquiring cheaper first-run syndicated talk and reality shows.
News Corporation bought New World outright in July 1996; the purchase was finalized on January 22, 1997, making WTVT the first owned-and-operated station of a major network in the Tampa Bay area. Although New World no longer exists as a separate company, WTVT continues to use "New World Communications of Tampa Bay" as the copyright tag at the end of the station's newscasts. Shortly after the purchase was announced, the station changed its branding from "Channel 13" to "Fox 13" – retaining the numerical "13" logo it had used since 1989 as a CBS affiliate (the font for that number has since been utilized by sister station WFLD in Chicago upon its rebranding in 2012, as well as the "13" itself used by ex-sister station WHBQ-TV in Memphis). Under Fox ownership, the station added more higher-profile syndicated shows and a few off-network sitcoms to its lineup.
In June 2009, WTVT interviewed late television pitchman Billy Mays shortly before his death. His interview, which was conducted at the Tampa International Airport, is believed to have been his final appearance on live television.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|13.1||720p||16:9||WTVT-DT||Main WTVT programming / Fox|
|13.4||16:9||H&I||Heroes & Icons|
WTVT shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 13, 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 VHF channel 12, using PSIP to display WTVT's virtual channel as 13 on digital television receivers.
WTVT presently broadcasts 67½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 11 hours on weekdays, 6 hours on Saturday and 6½ hours on Sunday).
Under Gaylord broadcasting ownership, the company poured its resources into channel 13's news operation. In 1958, WTVT became the second station in the country to introduce daily editorials, and was also the first station in the country to run an hour-long news block, consisting of 45 minutes of local news (under the title Pulse) combined with the then-15-minute network newscast. By 1962, WTVT had overtaken WFLA-TV as the highest-rated station in the Tampa Bay market, retaining that position for over 25 years. This was largely because of the longevity of many of the station's personalities. For instance, Roy Leep was the station's weatherman from 1957 until his retirement in 1997, and Hugh Smith was the station's main anchor from 1963 to 1991, spending most of that time doubling as its news director. Channel 13 dropped the Pulse moniker from its newscasts in 1989, renaming the news branding Channel 13 Eyewitness News (later becoming Fox 13 Eyewitness News in 1996, before the Eyewitness News brand was dropped altogether in 1997).
After WTVT became a Fox affiliate in December 1994, the station adopted a news-intensive schedule, increasing its news programming output from about 25 hours a week to nearly 45 hours. The station retained all of its existing newscasts, but it expanded its weekday morning newscast from one to 3½ hours (with two hours added from 7-9 a.m.) and extended the weeknight 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts were bridged into a two-hour early evening news block (by expanding its half-hour 6 p.m. newscast to one hour); and added an hour-long primetime newscast at 10 p.m. At one point, WTVT had the largest local newscast output of any television station in the country.
In April 2009, Fox entered into a Local News Service agreement with the E. W. Scripps Company in which Fox's owned-and-operated stations in Tampa, Detroit and Phoenix would share news video and helicopter footage with Scripps-owned stations in those markets for use in their own reports. Locally, WTVT began pooling video with WFTS as part of the agreement; however the stations otherwise maintain separate news departments. Gannett Company-owned WTSP was added to the LNS agreement that June. Prior to the agreement, WTVT had been the only station in the Tampa market to use two news helicopters: a Bell 206 called "SkyFox" and a Robinson R44 called "SkyFox 2", which was used whenever "SkyFox" was grounded due to mechanical reasons. When warranted, both helicopters were used to cover significant news stories. WTVT, WFTS and WTSP now utilize only one helicopter (WFTS' Action Air One) to cover news events.
In the summer of 2009, Fox Television Station opened a graphics hub at the WTVT studios to distribute graphics for Fox's owned-and-operated stations. Rival WFTS serves a similar role, as a graphics hub for the E.W. Scripps group.
In 1997, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre began work on a story regarding the agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a milk additive that had been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration but also blamed for a number of health issues. Wilson and Akre planned a four-part investigative report on Monsanto's use of rBGH, which prompted the company to write to Fox News Channel president Roger Ailes in an attempt to have the report reviewed for bias and because of the "enormous damage that can be done" as a result of the report.
WTVT did not run the story, and later argued in court that the report was not "breakthrough journalism." Wilson and Akre then claimed that the station's actions constituted the news broadcast telling lies, while WTVT countered looking only for fairness, and wanted to air a hard-hitting story with a number of statements critical of Monsanto. Wilson and Akre stated that they rewrote the report over 80 times over the course of 1997, and WTVT decided to exercise "its option to terminate their employment contracts without cause," and did not renew their contracts in 1998. WTVT later ran a report about Monsanto and rBGH in 1998, and the report included defenses from Monsanto.
After Wilson and Akre's contracts were not renewed, they filed a lawsuit concerning WTVT's "news distortion" under Florida's whistleblower laws, claiming their termination was retaliation for "resisting WTVT's attempts to distort or suppress the BGH story." In a joint statement, Wilson claimed that he and Akre "were repeatedly ordered to go forward and broadcast demonstrably inaccurate and dishonest versions of the story," and "were given those instructions after some very high-level corporate lobbying by Monsanto (the powerful drug company that makes the hormone) and also ... by members of Florida's dairy and grocery industries." The trial commenced in the summer of 2000 with a jury dismissing all of the claims brought to trial by Wilson, but siding with one aspect of Akre's complaint, awarding her $425,000 and agreeing that Akre was a whistleblower because she believed there were violations of the Communications Act of 1934 and because she planned on reporting the station to the Federal Communications Commission. Reason magazine, referring to the case, noted that Akre's argument in the trial was that Akre and Wilson believed news distortion occurred, but that they did not have to prove this was the case.
An appeal was filed, and a ruling in February 2003 came down in favor of WTVT, who successfully argued that the FCC policy against falsification was not a "law, rule, or regulation", and so the whistle-blower law did not qualify as the required "law, rule, or regulation" under section 448.102.... Because the FCC's news distortion policy is not a "law, rule, or regulation" under section 448.102, Akre has failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower's statute." The appeal did not address any falsification claims, noting that "as a threshold matter... Akre failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower's statute," but noted that the lower court ruled against all of Wilson's charges and all of Akre's claims with the exception of the whistleblower claim that was overturned.
Current on-air staff
- Paul Dellegatto (AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Seal of Approval) - chief meteorologist; weeknights
Notable former on-air staff
- Jane Akre - investigative reporter and anchor
- Sharyl Attkisson - reporter (1988–1992; later at CBS News until 2014)
- Joe Collum – reporter (1982–1984)
- Bill Keneely – meteorologist (1980–1982); later with The Weather Channel
- Colin Cowherd - weekend sports anchor (1994–1996; now at Fox Sports Radio)
- Tom Dunn - anchor/reporter (1962–1964; deceased)
- Liz Brunner - anchor/reporter (1987-1992); later with WCVB-TV in Boston
- Don Harris - reporter (1964–1968)
- Jack Harris - afternoon host, Pulse Plus (1984-1989)
- Roy Leep - chief meteorologist (1957–1997; retired)
- Tom Martino - reporter (1980s; moved to KDVR)
- John Nicholson – 11 p.m. news anchor (1978–1982)
- Kerry Sanders - reporter (1986–1991; now at NBC News)
- Hugh Smith - anchor (1963–1991; deceased)
- Steve Wilson - investigative reporter (later at WXYZ in Detroit, now runs an investigative reporting service)
- Jessica Yellin - reporter (1999–2001) now at CNN)
- Tony Zappone - news correspondent (1965 and 1976–1982)