WATE-TV is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Knoxville, Tennessee, United States. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 26 (or virtual channel 6 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Sharp's Ridge in North Knoxville. Owned by Nexstar Media Group, WATE has studios in the Greystone mansion on North Broadway/SR 33/SR 71/US 441.
On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channel 13 in SD and 713 in HD, as well as Comcast Xfinity channels 13 and 1006, WOW! channels 13 and 901, and AT&T U-Verse channels 6 and 1006.
Channel 6 was East Tennessee's first television station, signing on the air at 8 p.m. on October 1, 1953 as WROL-TV. The race to be the first television station in the eastern part of the state was won by WROL-TV when the 300-foot (91 m) tower of WJHL-TV in Johnson City (ironically, now a sister station to channel 6) collapsed a few months earlier. That station would have been first to sign-on, but WROL claimed the title by only 25 days. Its first studios were underneath the 800-foot (244 m) self-supporting tower on Sharp's Ridge which was one of the tallest man-made structures in Tennessee at the time. It was signed on by Greater East Tennessee TV, Inc., owned by local insurance executive Paul Mountcastle and a small group of investors along with WROL-AM 950. At the time, Mountcastle was chairman of the board of the Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee of Nashville, which signed on WLAC-TV (now WTVF) in that city in 1954. The stations were not considered to be co-owned.
WROL-TV signed-on as a primary NBC affiliate because of WROL-AM's longtime affiliation with NBC Radio and also shared ABC programming with CBS affiliate WSKT-TV (now WVLT-TV). Although NBC held a firm grip on WROL, DuMont tried unsuccessfully several times to get a secondary affiliation with the station when it was not broadcasting NBC and ABC. Channel 6 opted to fill its non-network schedule with local programming, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate. DuMont was forced to join WTVK on a secondary basis. CBS also made many attempts to grab a primary affiliation with Knoxville's only VHF station, but the owners of WROL held firm despite many financial incentives from the other networks, especially CBS.
The station changed its call letters to WATE-TV in 1955 with the new call letters not really standing for anything; the licensee also was renamed to WATE, Inc.. John Reese, the station's program director at the time stated "those call letters were the next available at the FCC." In 1956, WATE dropped ABC when WBIR-TV signed-on and took the CBS affiliation from WTVK, leaving WTVK the ABC station by default. At that time, Knoxville became one of the smallest TV markets in the country to have affiliates of all three networks. WROL-AM later changed its call letters to WATE-AM to correspond with the television station. WATE-TV had a role in the failure of WBIR to have its second antenna tower on House Mountain in 1965 for better coverage. The station used a rather ingenious way to force its chief rival station to build a 1,751-foot (534 m) tower on Zachary Ridge instead of on the much higher House Mountain. WATE simply purchased all of the property on the top of House Mountain from the lot owners. With no property for the tower base on the Mountain, WBIR had no choice but to spend millions of dollars more to build a taller tower on much-shorter Zachery Ridge nearby two years later.
As was broadcast tradition with many stations in the 1950s, the channel's sales offices moved to downtown Knoxville and the studios were moved to a new building on North Broadway. In 1965, Mountcastle and his group sold WATE-TV to Nationwide Communications of Columbus, Ohio. That same year, the station moved into and renovated the historic 19th century Greystone Mansion that is now on the National Register of Historic Places. At the same time, WATE-AM (which had changed frequency to 620 kilohertz) was sold off changing its call letters to WETE. It is now WRJZ, at AM 620. The self-supporting tower on Sharp's Ridge was dismantled in 1975 when the station built a 1,153-foot (351 m) broadcasting tower alongside it. That tower was dismantled in July 2016, owing to a newer, 1,525-foot (465 m) multi-plexed tower built beside it. The taller tower is owned by American Towers, Inc., formerly Spectracite Broadcast Towers, Inc.
On September 17, 1979, WATE swapped its NBC affiliation with WTVK to become an ABC affiliate. The years 1979 to 1980 saw the ABC television network become the highest-rated in the country and ABC wanted a stronger station in Knoxville. At the time, WATE-TV joined other former NBC affiliates WSB-TV in Atlanta, KSTP-TV in St. Paul–Minneapolis, and WSOC-TV in Charlotte who also switched to ABC. At the time, WATE was the market leader with a strong VHF signal in East Tennessee, Southwestern Virginia, and Southeastern Kentucky. WTVK's UHF signal on channel 26 was marginal at best in much of the Knoxville area and many viewers in East Tennessee and Southeastern Kentucky treated ABC as though it were a new television network (which it was anything but at the time). Some of them would not see NBC again until September 10, 1988, when WBIR-TV joined that network that day. CBS was no longer seen in many of these households until December 1, 1988, when CBS moved its affiliation to WTVK (which coincided with its call letter change to WKXT-TV and switch to VHF channel 8 on that day; it is now WVLT-TV). Coincidentally, seventeen years later, WATE's digital signal would be broadcast on digital channel 26.
During its first fifty years, WATE pioneered many locally produced programs like The Homemaker Show hosted by Mary Starr. Housewives were glued to television sets as Mary showed them the latest recipes and homemaking tips. Star Time, hosted by local businessman Jim Clayton, featured many local country music acts and The Cas Walker Show, a local country music show hosted by former Knoxville Mayor Cas Walker who also owned a chain of grocery stores in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Southeast Kentucky. The show also featured Dolly Parton who made her television debut on WATE-TV before she became famous. In 1981, the station premiered PM Magazine with MayCay Beeler and Calvin Sneed. The popular syndicated show highlighted unusual people, places, and things from the East Tennessee/Southeastern Kentucky area.
In 1993, Nationwide sold its three ABC-affiliated television stations (WATE, WBAY-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and WRIC-TV in Richmond, Virginia) to Young Broadcasting. Young Broadcasting emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2010, and the new company was renamed New Young Broadcasting, Inc. As a contingency of the reorganization plan, Young has a limited management Agreement with Gray Television of Atlanta, Georgia to allow that company management all of Young's stations except WATE, WLNS-TV in Lansing, Michigan, and KRON-TV in San Francisco. Gray was not allowed to operate WATE or WLNS because it also owns WVLT in the Knoxville market and WILX-TV in Lansing. Young Broadcasting merged with Media General on November 12, 2013, which united East Tennessee's first TV station (WATE-TV) and the second TV station in East Tennessee (WJHL-TV, Johnson City) as sister stations. In 2017, Media General merged with Nexstar Broadcasting.
WATE-TV adopted its current "Circle 6" logo in 2011. Due to the design and similar callsigns, the logo has received comparisons to fellow ABC affiliate WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, who has used the current version of its "Circle 4" logo since 1995 and has used a variation of it since 1973. Aside from the ABC affiliation, the two stations are not related.
|TV stations in Tennessee|
| WKRN, Nashville|
|TV stations in East Tennessee, including Knoxville|
| WATE 6 (ABC) |
WKNX 7 (Ind)
WVLT 8 (CBS)
WBIR 10 (NBC)
W14CX-D 14 (3ABN)
WKOP 15 (PBS)
WBXX 20 (CW)
WDTT-LD 24 (Daystar)
WTNZ 43 (Fox)
WAGV 44 (Ind)
W45DF-D 45 (HSN)
WVLR 48 (CTN)
WPXK 54 (Ion)