WFTS signed on the air as an independent television station on December 14, 1981. Local businessman Ian Wheeler founded the station and the call letters were in reference to the station’s mission as a “family television” station. Wheeler’s objective was to provide Tampa Bay viewers with syndicated reruns, religious programming and movie classics.
The station was sold to Capital Cities Communications April 16, 1984. Under the new management, premiere movie packages were purchased and investments were made in first-run programs and specials. When E.W. Scripps began operation of WFTS January 2, 1986, it had a staff of 55 and a 19-hour broadcast day that featured new and classic programming targeted toward family viewership.
In 1988, WFTS became a FOX affiliate. However, on May 22, 1994, as part of the biggest shake-up in the history of network television, WFTS was one of 12 FOX affiliates nationwide involved in a network shuffle. WFTS emerged as an ABC affiliate with an immediate need for a full-fledged news department.
At the time, WFTS operated out of a small facility on Columbus Drive in Tampa. The equipment and infrastructure WFTS needed for its new news department was housed 23 miles away at the Home Shopping Network’s headquarters. Less than a year after Tampa Bay 28 News premiered, the start-up operation was named “Best Newscast” by the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Other awards were earned for general reporting and deadline photography.
The station operated out of the two facilities until 1996 when its $6 million, 73,000 square-foot facility on Himes Avenue was completed.
On July 28, 2007 at 6:00pm, WFTS-TV became the first broadcast station newscast in the Tampa DMA to broadcast in high definition.
In 2008, ABC Action News earned recognition as the “Best Newscast” at the 58th Annual Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards, a regional journalism competition among 11 Southeastern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
Florida Associated Press recognized WFTS-TV, ABC Action News as Florida’s “Best Overall TV News Operation” in 2008 and 2009, and abcactionnews.com was named “Best Television Website” for both years as well.
In 2009, ABC Action News also took home a first place trophy in Public Affairs for our Taking Action for Domestic Violence campaign.