WECT is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Wilmington, North Carolina, United States and serving the Cape Fear region. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 44 (or virtual channel 6 via PSIP) from a transmitter located near Winnabow, North Carolina. The station is owned by Gray Television, which also operates Fox affiliate WSFX-TV (channel 26) through joint sales and shared services agreements with owner American Spirit Media. The two outlets share studios on Shipyard Boulevard in Wilmington. On cable, WECT is carried on Charter Spectrum channel 7.
As the first television station in Wilmington, it began broadcasting on April 9, 1954 with the call sign WMFD-TV. It aired an analog signal on VHF channel 6 from a transmitter near White Lake. The television station was co-owned with WMFD 630 AM. In 1958, the station's calls changed to the current WECT. The WMFD-TV call letters are now used by an independent television station in Mansfield, Ohio.
At its launch, channel 6 was affiliated with all four networks of the day—NBC, CBS, DuMont and ABC. However, it has always been a primary NBC affiliate. It lost DuMont when that network went silent in 1956. The station finally got local competition in 1964 when WWAY signed on. However, WWAY opted to affiliate with the much weaker ABC, forcing WECT to shoehorn NBC and CBS onto its schedule until the 1970s. It primarily carried CBS soap operas and CBS' Sunday afternoon NFL coverage. At one point, this station was carried on cable systems in the Triangle region of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, and Chapel Hill) for a time when NBC did not have a full-time affiliate in that market. At one time, WECT had a Fayetteville news bureau.
As a result of the station's long-held popularity, it is still carried on cable systems in Fayetteville, Southern Pines, Jacksonville and Lumberton even though their respective markets have their own NBC affiliates. The station's analog signal once served for the northern and eastern portions of the nearby Florence/Myrtle Beach, South Carolina market, including Myrtle Beach itself. That area was one of the few on the East Coast without its own NBC affiliate. For many years, the station even identified as "Wilmington/Myrtle Beach" to acknowledge its viewership in the Grand Strand. However, WECT's signal was somewhat weak on the North Carolina side of the market (such as Laurinburg). During the 1970s and 1980s, WECT was carried on cable systems as far south as Georgetown, South Carolina, as far west as Wadesboro, North Carolina and as far north as Greenville, North Carolina.
The Atlantic Telecasting Corporation, WECT's original local owners, sold the station to the News-Press & Gazette Company in 1986. That company then sold its entire station group to the first incarnation of New Vision Television in 1993. New Vision turned around and sold its entire group to Ellis Communications in 1995. Ellis was folded into current owner Raycom in 1997. In 2006, Raycom bought out the Liberty Corporation, owner of WWAY. However, FCC duopoly rules forced Raycom to spin off WWAY to Morris Multimedia as a condition of the Raycom–Liberty merger.
On May 8, 2008, the FCC announced that five stations in Wilmington (including WECT) had agreed to voluntarily cease analog broadcasting on September 8 five months ahead of the February 17, 2009 tentative date for television stations to complete the analog-to-digital transition. The market was used by the FCC as a pre-transition test market. After the digital transition, WGNI radio agreed to air emergency weather information from WECT. Previously, because channel 6 is adjacent to the FM band, its broadcasts could be heard on FM 87.7.
WECT's coverage has been reduced as a result of the digital transition which left the station as a UHF. With the move of the station's transmitter by 35 miles (56 km) from south of White Lake to Winnabow, Fayetteville viewers could not receive the digital signal. While Myrtle Beach itself is just outside the fringe area for the digital signal, North Myrtle Beach is just inside it. The southern and western portions of the Florence/Myrtle Beach area were served by another Raycom station, WIS in Columbia.
On August 8, 2008, Raycom signed-on WMBF-TV, a new digital-only NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach covering the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing as part of its first network programming; due to FCC regulations, WECT disappeared from most cable systems in the Florence/Myrtle Beach market when WMBF signed on. For long time viewers, this was controversial as this station had been on cable systems in Laurinburg and Lumberton for decades. On December 1, 2008, WECT returned to the Time Warner Cable lineup in Lumberton, but was placed in the digital tier.
This station is one of the few NBC affiliates that refused to air Poker After Dark. In 2012, owner Raycom Media gave the station's defunct analog transmitter site to the Green Beret Foundation. On September 20, 2012, the tower, which was built in 1969 and the tallest man-made structure east of the Mississippi River, was imploded. Plans called for the scrap metal and the 77-acre (31 ha) site to be sold to benefit the foundation.
Sale to Gray Television
On June 25, 2018, Atlanta-based Gray Television announced it had reached an agreement with Raycom to merge their respective broadcasting assets (consisting of Raycom's 63 existing owned-and/or-operated television stations, including WECT and the SSA for WSFX), and Gray's 93 television stations) under the former's corporate umbrella. The cash-and-stock merger transaction valued at $3.6 billion – in which Gray shareholders would acquire preferred stock currently held by Raycom – will reunite WECT with former sister station and fellow NBC affiliate WITN-TV in Greenville, which Raycom immediately sold to Gray in 1997 due to contour overlaps which were not permitted at the time. The sale was approved on December 20 and completed on January 2, 2019.
|TV stations in North Carolina|
|TV stations in the Wilmington, North Carolina area|
|WWAY 3 (ABC) |
WECT 6 (NBC)
WILM-LD 10 (Ind)
WSFX 26 (Fox)
WUNJ 39 (PBS)
W47CK 47 (MNTV)