WTVT, virtual channel 13 (VHF digital channel 12), is a Fox owned-and-operated television station licensed to Tampa, Florida, United States and also serving the nearby city of St. Petersburg. The station is owned by the Fox Television Stations subsidiary of Fox Corporation. WTVT's studios are 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, which mostly are stations owned by Storer Broadcasting). Gillett underwent 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 preempting CBS This Morning for a locally produced morning newscast, as well as preempting all but one hour of the network's Saturday morning cartoons. WTVT did not carry the CBS daytime dramas Capitol or The Bold and the Beautiful and instead aired The Young and the Restless at 1 p.m. on a half-hour delay. This was due to the popularity of its one-hour midday newscast that dates back to the 1970s.
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 second 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 resulted in two other Scripps-owned stations joining the network; longtime ABC affiliate WTSP (channel 10), which was retained by Citicasters, 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—a status it held since 1977 when the team moved to the NFC.
Under the NFL's contract with Fox (and before it, CBS), WTVT normally airs most of the Bucs' games, including all road games against American Football Conference opponents. 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 almost always blacked out 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 blackout rules were lifted by the NFL in 2015 on an experimental basis, and have since been lifted indefinitely, meaning games are now shown on Channel 13 regardless of attendance. 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 former sister station WHBQ-TV in Memphis and PBS member station KERA-TV in Dallas). 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.