Definitions

WSUN-TV

WSUN-TV

This article is about a defunct television station in St. Petersburg, Florida. For the current channel 38, see WTTA.

WSUN-TV was a television station in St. Petersburg, Florida from 1953 to 1970, serving the Tampa/St. Petersburg television market.

Early history

It signed on with a test pattern on Memorial Day weekend of 1953, with regular operations beginning on May 31. It was owned by the city of St. Petersburg along with WSUN radio (620 AM, frequency now occupied by WDAE; and 97.9 FM, now WXTB). It was one of the first UHF stations in the country. Its studios were located on the first floor of the St. Petersburg Pier overlooking Tampa Bay. It was relatively small--only 35 feet long and 46 feet wide--and had once been a trolley turnaround. This made local productions rather difficult.

The station was originally an independent station carrying secondary affiliations with all four major networks of the time--CBS, NBC, ABC and DuMont-- in part because microwave links for network programming only went as far as Tampa. For its first year of operation, channel 38 relied on film and kinescopes for prime time programming. In 1954, however, the area's main telephone provider, Peninsular Telephone (later owned by GTE), provided WSUN-TV with a private microwave link in time for the World Series, making it the first station in the country to receive live programming via microwave. The station quickly secured a primary affiliation with CBS, while continuing to cherry-pick programming from NBC, ABC and DuMont.

Due to protracted battles over the other two allocations for Tampa Bay--channels 8 and 13, both licensed to Tampa--WSUN-TV was the only station in town for two years. The station's most popular local program during this time was "Captain Mac," hosted by Burl McCarty. Channel 38 lost its monopoly in 1955. On Valentine's Day, WFLA-TV signed on channel 8 and took the NBC affiliation. In April, WTVT signed on channel 13 and took the CBS affiliation. WSUN-TV dropped its affiliation with the dying DuMont network shortly afterward, leaving it as a sole ABC affiliate. WTVT's debut hit WSUN-TV particularly hard, as many of the station's staffers bolted to channel 13. One of them was McCarty, triggering a legal battle over whether he or channel 38 owned the Captain Mac character. Ultimately, McCarty was allowed to take his character to WTVT, but not his uniform or the show's format. WSUN-TV was allowed to use the Captain Mac name as well. This strange situation prevailed for only six months, until McCarty returned to WSUN-TV and stayed there until his retirement in 1959.

Signal problems

Channel 38 struggled in the ratings for the next decade, as ABC was not on par with CBS and NBC at the time (and wouldn't be until the 1970s). However, it faced an additional problem due to its location on the UHF band. Until 1964, television set manufacturers were not required to include UHF tuning capability. Viewers had to buy an expensive converter to watch WSUN-TV, and even with one picture quality was marginal at best. Also, UHF signals didn't travel very far at the time, resulting in a considerably smaller coverage area compared to those of WFLA-TV and WTVT.

In hopes of getting a better signal, WSUN-TV tried to swap frequencies with Tampa Bay's educational television station, WEDU, in the late 1950s. Under the proposed deal, WSUN-TV would have moved to channel 3, while WEDU would have moved to channel 38 and kept WSUN-TV's old equipment. However, this deal was turned down.

Battle for channel 10

Sometime in the late 1950s, the Federal Communications Commission announced it was dropping in a third VHF frequency in the Tampa Bay market--channel 10, in Largo, just north of St. Petersburg. WSUN-TV immediately jumped into the bidding for the new license, fearing the loss of ABC programming if another company got the license. After a protracted legal battle, the FCC awarded the channel 10 license to Rahall Communications in 1961. Shortly afterward, ABC decided to move its affiliation in Tampa Bay to the new channel 10, effective with the end of WSUN-TV's contract in 1965. WSUN-TV sued ABC to stop the switch, but could not stop Rahall from putting channel 10 on the air as WLCY-TV on July 17, 1965.

After another month of legal fighting, WLCY-TV was finally awarded the ABC affiliation by court order. Channel 10 officially joined ABC in a special ceremony on September 1, leaving WSUN-TV as an independent station.

Demise

The St. Petersburg city government soon realized it could not afford to buy an additional 19 hours of programming per day, and sold WSUN-AM-FM-TV to Hy Levinson of Detroit.

In 1968, just when the station was finding its niche again, it got a competitor in the form of WTOG (channel 44). The new station's owner, Hubbard Broadcasting Corporation, used its financial muscle to snap up most of the stronger syndicated programming. WSUN-TV limped along for two more years before finally going off the air in February 1970. A local legend in the Tampa Bay area has it that during its last few months on the air, the station only showed a close-up of a clock.

The channel 38 frequency remained dark for 20 years, until WTTA signed on in 1990. It operates under a different license from WSUN-TV.

References/external links

  • Big 13--memorial site for WTVT, includes lots of historical info on WSUN-TV

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