WCOV-TV, virtual channel 20 (UHF digital channel 22), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Montgomery, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by David Woods and his Woods Communications Corporation, as part of a duopoly with Troy-licensed Cozi TV affiliate WIYC (channel 48); it is also sister to Montgomery-licensed low-powered Justice Network affiliate WALE-LD (channel 17). The three stations share studios on WCOV Avenue in the Normandale section of Montgomery; WCOV-TV's transmitter is located southeast of Grady along the Montgomery–Crenshaw county line.
On December 31, 1951, the owners of radio station WCOV (1170 AM)—the First National Bank of Montgomery and the estate of G. W. Covington, Jr.—filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for a new television station on VHF channel 12 in Montgomery. Six months later, after the commission lifted its freeze on television applications, WCOV amended its application to specify UHF channel 20—to the surprise of others—after radio station WSFA also filed for channel 12. The FCC granted WCOV—which had reorganized as the Capitol Broadcasting Company—a construction permit on September 17, 1952.
WCOV-TV was the first television station in Montgomery, making its first broadcast on April 17, 1953. Commercial programs started five days later; the station was a primary CBS affiliate, but all four major networks were represented on channel 20's schedule. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
Christmas Day 1954 brought Montgomery a second television station, this time on VHF, when WSFA-TV began broadcasting as an NBC affiliate on channel 12. The arrival of VHF television in Montgomery created an economic and viewership inequality between the city's two television stations. In 1959, WCOV-TV filed to have channel 8 moved from Selma to Montgomery to put it on an equal footing. When that failed, the station instead proposed that WSFA be moved to the UHF band, an idea that drew protests from viewers—such as those in Butler County—which were served only by channel 12 and which could not receive channel 20. The FCC voted not to pursue deintermixture in Montgomery and other markets in 1962. 1962 also brought the arrival of full three-network service, when channel 32 signed on as ABC affiliate WCCB-TV.
The Covington family sold WCOV radio and television in 1964 for $1.225 million to Gay-Bell Broadcasting, which owned WLEX-TV in Lexington, Kentucky. Gay-Bell, however, continued to grapple with its UHF problem in Montgomery. In 1968, it attempted to buy the channel 8 station in Selma, WSLA-TV, which was silent at the time following its destruction by fire, but nothing ever materialized. Channel 20 also continued fighting against multiple attempts by channel 8 to improve its facilities; WCOV-TV had petitioned against applications by WSLA-TV's ownership dating back to 1954,
In 1976, WSLA-TV filed once more for an application to build a maximum-powered site, this time from a tall tower near Lowndesboro. WCOV-TV objected to the proposal and again advocated for the deintermixture of the Selma and Montgomery markets to make all stations UHF; in 1978, it proposed moving channel 8 to Tuscaloosa for educational use and channel 12 to Columbus, with WSFA being reassigned channel 45. The FCC denied the WCOV-TV proposal in May 1980; in July, it then proceeded to approve the WSLA application. Appeals from WCOV and WKAB dragged on for several more years until final approval from the FCC was granted in 1983 and a federal appeals court denied further pleas from the UHF stations the next year.
From CBS to Fox
WSLA-TV's power increase, according to the FCC administrative law judge that had approved the application in 1981, would not jeopardize the service of Montgomery's two UHF television stations. However, much was on the line for WCOV-TV, as the Selma station was also a CBS affiliate. The network had previously reassured channel 20 that it would remain in the network fold, but CBS went back on those claims and informed the station in March 1985 that it would disaffiliate from WCOV-TV the next year, though this was not stated publicly for another two months.
The affiliation uncertainty came the same month as Gay-Bell reached a deal to sell the station to Woods Communications, led by David Woods, for an estimated $4 million; Gay-Bell had also spun off the radio station the year before, and both sales gave the company capital to improve its flagship property in Kentucky. Woods was aware of the impending disaffiliation action when he agreed to buy WCOV-TV. CBS was not required to transfer the affiliation to Woods, who closed on the purchase in early December 1985; the network opted to let WCOV-TV remain an affiliate through December 31 as a "courtesy". WCOV-TV soldiered on as an independent station that "didn't even have money to buy toilet paper", picking up a Fox affiliation when the network launched in 1986. Fox proved to be a lifeline to channel 20, despite its technical inferiority to other market stations and having axed its local newscasts; network programs boosted the station's ratings and finances.
The original tower in the Normandale area of Montgomery was destroyed by a massive tornado on March 6, 1996. The station was able to restore service for cable customers later that afternoon with help from WSFA and AT&T Cable (later to become Charter; now Spectrum). One month later, WCOV returned to the air on a temporary 350-foot (107 m) tower. The station applied to the FCC to resume full-power operations from a new 1,630-foot (497 m) tower in Grady, with a power increase from 617 to 2,667 kilowatts. The FCC granted the request and issued a construction permit. In January 1997, the station activated its new transmission facility, which provided much-improved coverage and secured it positions on 23 additional cable systems in the Montgomery market.