|Tampa–St. Petersburg, Florida|
|Channels||Digital: 17 (UHF)|
|Branding||ABC Action News|
|Slogan||Taking Action for You (general)|
Tampa Bay's Streaming News Leader (newscasts)
|Owner||E. W. Scripps Company |
(Scripps Broadcasting Holdings LLC)
First air date
|December 14, 1981|
Former channel number(s)
Call sign meaning
|"Family Television Station"|
Fox Television Station (former affiliation)
|HAAT||469 m (1,539 ft)|
Public license information
WFTS-TV, virtual channel 28 (UHF digital channel 17), branded as ABC Action News, is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Tampa, Florida, United States and serving the Tampa Bay area. The station is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company, as part of a duopoly with Bradenton-licensed Ion owned-and-operated station WXPX-TV (channel 66). WFTS-TV's studios are located on North Himes Avenue on Tampa's northwest side (across the street from Raymond James Stadium), and its transmitter is located in Riverview, Florida. On cable, the station is available on channel 11 on most systems in the market.
Early history of channel 28 in Tampa Bay
A channel 28 construction permit was issued to Lucille Frostman, involved in the construction of WSMS-TV in Fort Lauderdale, in 1966, for a station which would have been called WTSS-TV, which was never built and deleted in 1971.
Applications for a new channel 28 station in Tampa were received again in 1977, with the Christian Television Network the first to bid, followed by a group proposing a Spanish-language station; Family Television Corporation of Tampa, also of a Christian orientation; and Suncoast Telechoice, associated with subscription television equipment manufacturer Blonder Tongue Labs.
Christian Television dropped out, amended its application to specify channel 22 at Clearwater, and won a construction permit for WCLF in February 1979. The other two parties dropped out in settlement agreements in early 1981, and Family received a construction permit in March. Family stockholders included T. Terrell Sessums, former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and former state senate president Louis A. de la Parte Jr.
As an independent station
WFTS first signed on the air on December 14, 1981, operating as a family-oriented independent station with cartoons, off-network dramas, classic movies and religious programs. Its call letters originally stood for "Family Television Station". WFTS-TV was the flagship station of Family Group Broadcasting, which also owned WFTX-TV, WFGX-TV, WPGX-TV, WVFT-TV (now WFXR), WGBA-TV and WLAX-TV.
On April 22, 1984, after having launched the station for just $6 million and turning a profit in the first year, Family sold the station to Capital Cities Communications for more than $30 million. The deal gave Capital Cities its first station in Florida and its first (and only) independent, as well as bringing the group to its then-maximum of seven stations. Under Capital Cities, the station added more off-network sitcoms and reduced the number of religious programs and drama series on its schedule, improving ratings against established Tampa Bay independent WTOG.
In March 1985, Capital Cities stunned the broadcasting industry with its announced purchase of ABC—a network that was ten times bigger than Capital Cities was at the time. In addition to WFTS-TV, Capital Cities owned four ABC and two CBS affiliates (which would change to ABC after the merger). The combination of Cap Cities and ABC exceeded the new ownership limit of 12 stations and the 25% national reach limit, so the companies opted to sell WFTS; WXYZ-TV, the ABC-owned station in Detroit; and Cap Cities-owned ABC affiliates in Buffalo and New Haven, Connecticut; WFTS and WXYZ-TV were sold to Scripps.
Scripps continued the general-entertainment format on WFTS, running cartoons, sitcoms, movies and drama series. WFTS became the Tampa Bay market's Fox affiliate in 1988, after it was dropped by WTOG. Just like channel 44, the station continued to program itself as an independent until 1993, when Fox started its week-long programming schedule. It began to identify on air as "Fox 28" in 1992 and soon after briefly identified its call letters as standing for "Fox Television Station".
As an ABC affiliate
On May 23, 1994, New World Communications signed an affiliation agreement with Fox, that resulted in twelve of New World's stations, including Tampa Bay's longtime CBS affiliate WTVT (channel 13), being tapped to switch to the network. Among the stations making the switch were longtime CBS affiliates WJBK-TV in Detroit and WJW-TV in Cleveland. Not wanting to be relegated to the UHF band, CBS heavily wooed Detroit's longtime ABC affiliate, WXYZ, as well as Cleveland's longtime ABC affiliate, WEWS-TV. Both were owned by Scripps, who told ABC that it would switch WXYZ and WEWS to CBS unless ABC affiliated with three of its stations: WFTS, KNXV-TV in Phoenix (which was also slated to lose its Fox affiliation to New World-owned CBS affiliate KSAZ-TV), and WMAR-TV in Baltimore. Scripps insisted on including WFTS and KNXV in the deal, even though a news department was in construction at KNXV and no movement had yet occurred to build one in Tampa.
The ABC affiliation, confirmed on June 15, set off a mad dash. WFTS had already been planning a new studio facility in the vicinity of Tampa Stadium, and with the ABC tie-up confirmed, management scrambled to hire a news director. With the station's new facility not to be ready until late 1995, the news department initially operated from former facilities of the Home Shopping Network in Clearwater.
Another consequence of WFTS replacing WTSP (channel 10) in ABC's affiliate lineup was that it had a more centrally located transmitting facility, which then-ABC president Bob Iger cited as a positive in the switch. That meant that the network would no longer have had a coverage gap between Tampa and Fort Myers, which had been filled by WWSB-TV in Sarasota since its 1971 sign-on. Coinciding with the Scripps-ABC pact, ABC notified WWSB that it would be terminating its affiliation; though no reason was given by the network, WWSB cited conversations with ABC officials who described it as essential to the broader deal and petitioned to deny channel 28's license renewal. The Sarasota station ended up winning its battle with ABC and signed a new affiliation contract in March 1995.
On December 12, 1994, WFTS became the market's ABC affiliate; that day, it launched local news and broke ground on the Tampa studio. Most of WFTS's syndicated programs were then acquired by WTVT and WTTA, which also aired Fox Kids in the market. Station operations moved to the $20 million studio in March 1996, bringing the news department and other station offices back under one roof.
On September 24, 2020, a consortium made up of Scripps and Berkshire Hathaway announced the purchase of Ion Media, including local Ion station WXPX-TV (channel 66) and the company's technical operations center in Clearwater.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|28.1||720p||16:9||WFTS-HD||Main WFTS-TV programming / ABC|
|32.1||1080i||WMOR-TV||ATSC 1.0 simulcast of WMOR-TV / Ind.|
WFTS-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 28, 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 29, using PSIP to display WFTS-TV's virtual channel as 28 on digital television receivers.
WFTS was briefly the local over-the-air broadcast partner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club, airing four Lightning games produced by the Sunshine Network during the 2002–03 season. The station also aired the team's 2004 Stanley Cup Finals win.
WFTS-TV presently broadcasts 45 hours, 5 minutes of locally produced newscasts each week (with 7 hours, 35 minutes each weekday; 4 hours, 5 minutes on Saturdays; and 3 hours, 5 minutes on Sundays).
During its days as an independent station and then as a Fox affiliate, WFTS presented hourly news and weather updates, featuring a person reading the day's headlines or the current forecast, with as few as one full-time staff.
WFTS launched a full-scale news department and began airing regular long-form newscasts on December 12, 1994, branded as 28 Tampa Bay News, from the Clearwater temporary studios. The station's news department then moved to its new studio facilities on Himes Avenue, across from Raymond James Stadium, in 1996. The station, which initially aired half-hour newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. nightly when the news department began operations, added a morning newscast and 5 and 5:30 p.m. programs within months of starting up.
The newscast title was changed to 28 News briefly in 2002 before being changed again to ABC Action News that October, coinciding with a new focus on hard news and more aggressive style. On July 28, 2007, beginning with the 6 p.m. newscast, WFTS-TV became the first television station in the Tampa Bay market and the third in the state to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition.
Though ratings were low before the institution of the Action News brand, WFTS has since become a major competitor in the market. In November 2012, WFTS overtook all other local stations in all evening and late news ratings in the demographic of adults 25–54, marking the first time ever WFTS won at 5:00, 5:30, 6:00 and 11:00 p.m. in the key demographic during one ratings period.
Until December 2009, WFTS was one of two stations in the market to have two women regularly anchor an evening newscast: Wendy Ryan and Linda Hurtado anchored the station's 5 p.m. news broadcast; while Denise White and Kathy Fountain anchored the 5 p.m. newscast on WTVT (Fountain retired on December 30, 2009, leaving Ryan and Hurtado as the only all-female anchor team in Tampa Bay; this changed again in the summer of 2010 when Jamison Uhler joined WFTS from WCAU-TV in Philadelphia as 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. co-anchor). On April 25, 2012, WFTS launched ABC Action News Now, an exclusive newscast and weather station available mainly to smartphone and tablet users and designed with a program schedule designed with those devices in mind, rather than a traditional "news wheel" schedule seen on most news/weather-only subchannels. During severe weather and breaking news events, the channel is also carried on-air over 28.2 and local cable television providers in lieu of Laff.
Notable former on-air staff
- Jay Crawford – sports director (1998–2003; later at ESPN until April 26, 2017, now at WKYC in Cleveland)
- Scott Hanson – sports anchor (1994–2000; now at NFL Network)
- Walt Maciborski – anchor/reporter (2005–2009; now main anchor at KEYE-TV in Austin)
- Elaine Quijano – reporter (1998–2000; now with CBS News)
- Sage Steele – reporter (1998–2001; now at ESPN)
Broadcast, cable and satellite carriage
The station is not available in Comcast's Venice service area (in southern Sarasota County) due to the presence of WWSB (channel 40), an ABC station formed as the signal of WTSP, the Tampa–St. Petersburg market's previous ABC affiliate, provided insufficient over-the-air coverage in the Sarasota area. As a result, WFTS is not available to over 91,000 cable subscribers.
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