In April of 1953, Montgomery's desire for a local television station became fulfilled as WCOV-TV began broadcasting from a newly-constructed facility just off of Adrian Lane in the Normandale section of the city. Prior to WCOV-TV's coming on the air, the few local residents who were able to view television had had to erect large towers and directional antennas alongside their homes in order to view the few unreliable signals from distant Birmingham. WCOV-TV changed all of that. Rabbit ears, bow-ties, and set-top converters were the order of the day and local sales of television receivers soared. Television had come of age in Montgomery!
Will Covington's Old Victrola
In January of 1939, WCOV began operation as an AM station, using the call-letters "WJJJ" and broadcasting from the old Exchange Hotel on Court square in downtown Montgomery. The station was owned by George William Covington, Jr., known variously as "Will" and "Bill." He also owned two other radio stations in Alabama. In 1949, while on a buying trip to Chicago, to buy furnishings for the future WCOV-TV for which he had just received a construction permit, Will passed away.
Television comes to Montgomery
It fell to his brother, Oscar Covington to continue operating the station and the station flourished in the heyday of radio. The Covingtons obtained a construction permit and built an FM station in 1948. It was rather short-lived, however, because FM was a new technology and required more expensive receivers . Some folks said it would never amount to anything! At around the same time, WJJJ changed its call-letters to WCOV, changed frequency to 1170 kilocycles, and moved its radio transmitting facilities to Coosada Ferry Road. Today, this transmitting facility is operated with the call-letters WACV, having been sold in 1983.
In the early '50s, Oscar Covington began planning ways to bring the new and exciting medium of television to Montgomery. At that time, viewers were few in number and limited to what they could receive from Birmingham. Covington actually applied for and received a construction permit from the FCC for Channel 12. RCA, however, was unable to provide a transmitter for channel 12. They could deliver a UHF transmitter immediately, however. In the spring of 1953, WCOV-TV began operating on channel 20 from a 400 foot tower on Adrian Lane, bringing CBS Television Network programming to Montgomery. A devastating control-room fire brought a temporary end to WCOV-TV's transmissions in the spring of 1955. Oscar Covington quickly rebuilt the facility and returned it to the air. He operated the station with the help of his sisters, a niece, and Hugh Smith, all part owners.
WCOV-TV's claim to fame as "Montgomery's only home-owned and home-operated station" came to an end when the station was purchased by the Gay-Bell Corporation of Lexington, Kentucky in 1964. The new ownership held a small manufacturing concern In Kentucky and also owned WLEX-FM/TV in Lexington. They quickly embarked on an expansion program and replaced the antenna and tower on Adrian Lane, significantly increasing WCOV-TV's coverage. They also installed color equipment and, for awhile, WCOV-TV was the state's only "Full-Color Television Station." Luminaries from across the state travelled to WCOV-TV to be shown in color. The first Bear Bryant Show to be telecast in color originated from the Adrian Lane studios. Gay-Bell also began WCOV-FM in 1969 and sold it around 1972 to Glen Griffin, a former WCOV-TV account executive. Griffin changed the call letters to WKLH. In 1978-79 it was sold to Colonial Broadcasting and is now WLWI-FM.
Woods Communications Corporation
Fearing a possible loss of CBS Television Network affiliation due to the encroachment into the Montgomery market of VHF station WSLA-TV (Selma - now WAKA), Gay-Bell decided to sell WCOV-TV. David D. Woods, son of multi-station owner Charles Woods of Dothan, Alabama, had been working at his father's television stations in various capacities. When he received word that WCOV-TV was for sale he decided to strike out on his own and quickly formed Woods Communications Corporation which purchased the station in 1985. Gay-Bell's fears were realized shortly thereafter when WCOV-TV lost the CBS affiliation in 1986. Already bringing a wealth of fresh programming concepts to Channel 20, Woods had no trouble in deciding to hitch his wagon to the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Company. This proved to be a fortunate decision because WCOV-TV quickly became one of Fox's most successful affiliates and Fox has gone on to become the "fourth" network.
When one door closes, another opens
On Tuesday, March 6, 1996, an aerial tornado moved across the southern part of the city of Montgomery, selectively removing bits and pieces of the landscape. As it moved from west to east, on its way to a tragic touchdown in East Montgomery, its tendrils twisted around the 793 foot tower on Adrian Lane, causing it to crash to the ground.
On Friday, March 22, WCOV-TV returned to the air following the erection of a temporary 350 foot tower. The station operated with a one-kilowatt transmitter and an effective radiated power of 14,000 watts, and regained its metropolitan audience as-well-as some additional cable companies. The efforts of the local Cable TV community resulted in a comparatively short interruption to WCOV-TV's cable signal. In June, WCOV-TV returned to TCI cable of Selma via an off- air pickup and microwave link.
In early September, 1996, we began construction of a new transmitting facility in Grady, Alabama. Using the tall tower of Montgomery's NBC affiliate, WSFA-TV, we built Central Alabama's most modern UHF transmitting facility, with power capability of 4 million watts and antenna located 2139' above sea level. Near the end of January, 1997, we returned to the air with a vastly improved signal and stereo audio, and a much larger audience potential.