WFTV, virtual channel 9 (UHF digital channel 39), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Orlando, Florida, United States. The station is owned by the Cox Media Group subsidiary of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, as part of a duopoly with independent station WRDQ (channel 27). The two stations share studios on East South Street (SR 15) in downtown Orlando; WFTV's transmitter is located between Bithlo and Christmas.
The station's signal is relayed through a UHF digital translator on channel 20 in Deltona (transmitting from WNUE-FM's tower). On cable, WFTV is available on channel 7 on Charter Spectrum, channel 10 on Comcast Xfinity, and channel 9 on CenturyLink Prism and in outlying areas.
WFTV is also carried on cable providers in Polk and Citrus counties, which are part of the Tampa Bay market, although non-local programming is subject to blackout due to the FCC's network non-duplication and syndication exclusivity rules.
The station first signed on the air on February 1, 1958, under the callsign WLOF-TV (standing for "We Love Orlando, Florida"). It has been an ABC affiliate since the station's inception. For years, the station was owned by the Mid-Florida Television Corporation, which was a consortium of local investors.
Channel 9 changed its callsign to the current WFTV in 1963. In 1984, the station was purchased by the SFN Companies. SFN, in turn, sold the station to Cox Broadcasting (now Cox Media Group) in 1985. In 1987, WFTV announced that they would move from their original location on West Central Boulevard, to a new studio located at their present-day location.
Since July 2006, WFTV is seen on the co-owned Cox cable system in Ocala (standard definition channel 9 and high definition channel 729) in addition to Gainesville's WCJB-TV. Ocala and Marion County are both parts of the Orlando market. Prior to this, the Cox system in Ocala only offered WCJB due to contractual obligations even though that city is not in the same television market as Gainesville.
To further complicate matters for viewers in the area of northwest Marion County, WNBW-DT, an NBC affiliate located in Gainesville and in operation since 2008, also identifies itself as channel 9, using that channel as its PSIP, though broadcasting on VHF channel 9 itself, as opposed to WFTV, which broadcasts on UHF channel 39, but also using a PSIP of 9. WNBW is not seen on the Cox or Spectrum systems serving Marion County.
On July 24, 2018, Cox Enterprises announced that it was "exploring strategic options" for Cox Media Group's television stations, including WFTV, which the company said could involve "partnering or merging these stations into a larger TV company." Cox Media Group's president, Kim Guthrie, subsequently clarified to trade publication Radio & Television Business Report that the company was solely seeking "a merger or partnership" and not an outright sale of the television stations.
On February 15, 2019, Cox announced that Apollo Global Management would acquire a majority interest in the CMG television stations, as well as the Dayton radio stations and Ohio newspapers (whose operations are integrated with WHIO-TV), forming a new company that will retain Cox Media Group's management and operating structure; Cox Enterprises will hold a minority stake in this company.
Cox's other radio stations, as well as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are not included in the deal; Cox had previously said that any deal involving the television stations would not include radio stations or newspapers. In March 2019 filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Apollo disclosed that the new company, named Terrier Media, would purchase the Cox stations for $3.1 billion (reduced by the value of Cox's equity stake in Terrier).
WFTV's second digital subchannel originally launched sometime in 2006 as a local weather service, broadcasting in 720p HD on channel 9.2 over-the-air and Bright House channel 1091. The 9.2 subchannels were then downgraded to 480i standard definition to make room for the 9.3 subchannels. In April 2010, WFTV announced plans to add a simulcast of GenTV affiliate WAWA-LD on a third digital subchannel.
However, before the subchannel could launch, WAWA's chief investor pulled out, effectively closing that station and dissolving the partnership with WFTV. On January 25, 2013, the station replaced its weather channel Severe Weather Center 9 on digital subchannel 9.2 with Spanish language service Mega TV.
In August 2014, Grit TV was added to channel 9.3. On April 14, 2015, Grit TV moved to sister station WRDQ and was replaced by Laff TV on 9.3. In January 2016, Laff was moved to 9.2 as WFTV relaunched its 24-hour local weather channel on 9.3. In July 2016, 9.3 began displaying a message that it would become Escape on August 1, 2016.
WFTV ended programming on its analog signal, on VHF channel 9, on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal continued to broadcast on its pre-transition UHF channel 39. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 9. Since February 25, 2009, it has had an application filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate an auxiliary digital facility from a transmitter in northeastern Osceola County.
WFTV presently broadcasts 41 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours on weekdays and 5½ hours each Saturdays and Sundays); in addition, the station produces a half-hour sports highlight program called Sports Night on 9, that airs on Sunday evenings after the 11 p.m. newscast. The station operates a Baron Services weather radar called "Early Warning Doppler 9 HD" at its old analog transmitter site north of Bithlo along the Orange and Seminole county line.
WFTV plans to upgrade the radar's power to one million watts, which would make it the second most powerful radar in central Florida (WOFL's also operating at one million watts).
For most of the time since the 1980s, WFTV has been the dominant news station in Central Florida. Although NBC affiliate WESH made some temporary advances in the 1990s, WFTV often enjoys ratings higher than the combined rating of the other network affiliates in the Central Florida market. In some airings, it has been the highest-rated ABC station in the Southeastern United States.
In the May 2009 sweeps period, only WESH's weekday morning news programs even came close to tying WFTV in the rating race while the primetime programs on CBS affiliate WKMG-TV led overall. In fact, during much of the first half of 2009, WFTV's dominance was not as absolute as it had been in the past decade or so even though it continues to lead in most timeslots.
However, in the November 2009 sweeps period, WFTV regained its dominance over the other stations in the market. It has been one of ABC's strongest affiliates over the years.
For the February 2012 sweeps period, WFTV continued to win the morning, noon, and evening time slots. However, WFTV finished in third place in the 25-to-54 demographic at 11 p.m. despite the return of Bob Opsahl to the anchor desk for the month. WKMG beat WFTV by 5,700 viewers while second-place WESH beat WFTV by 700 viewers.
The main anchor duo on Eyewitness News, Bob Opsahl, and Martie Salt have been together on-air for over 15 years, from 1984 to 1994 and again since 2003. Opsahl has been the primary anchor at WFTV since 1984.
Bob Opsahl retired on May 25, 2016. Salt was originally an anchor from 1982 to 1994, departing for Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-TV from when that station's news department began in 1994 until 2003 (where she anchored the news under her married name, Martie Tucker); she returned to WFTV in 2003. In 1992, WFTV dropped two of the five hours of ABC's Saturday morning cartoons in order to add a local newscast; the station ceased airing the block completely in 1993 when the broadcast expanded to three hours.
Alongside its own Eyewitness News shows, WFTV has also been producing a nightly 10 p.m. newscast since the 1990s, WFTV first produced a 10 p.m. newscast for WRBW-TV under a news share agreement with that station, prior to moving the 10 p.m. newscast to sister station WRDQ since 2000. It added a two-hour-long weekday morning newscast at 7 a.m. on WRDQ in 2007, and a half-hour 6:30 p.m. newscast on that station in 2010.
On June 29, 2006, channel 9 became the first Florida station, the first station owned by Cox Enterprises, and the tenth in the country to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. With the switch to HD, came a new set from FX Group and graphics from Giant Octopus (the station has used graphics from other sources in the past, including a late 1990s package based on Dayton, Ohio sister station WHIO-TV).
On June 10, 2013, WFTV launched a new half-hour 4 p.m. newscast to compete against WESH's longest established hour-long news program, which had been the only newscast at 4 p.m. since WKMG dropped its own 4 p.m. news in May 2009. Around on the same day or afterward, WFTV dropped the 6:30 p.m. news for WRDQ.
After just one month on-air, WFTV extended the 4 p.m. newscast to one hour, starting July 22, 2013. On September 15, 2014, WFTV expanded the weeknight 10:00 p.m. news on WRDQ to an hour, citing the rating success of the broadcast in which has now able to tightly compete against long-time leader WOFL.