WSFA, virtual channel 12 (VHF digital channel 8), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Montgomery, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by Gray Television. WSFA's studios are located on the seventh floor of the RSA Tower on Monroe Street in Downtown Montgomery, and its transmitter is located in Grady along the Montgomery–Pike county line.
WSFA was one of two flagship television properties (alongside CBS affiliate WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina) of previous owner Raycom Media, which had headquarters at the RSA Tower. The station boasts one of the largest coverage areas in Alabama, providing at least secondary coverage from the geographical center of the state to the Florida state line and from the Black Belt region to the Chattahoochee River bordering Georgia. On cable, WSFA is available on Charter Spectrum and WOW! channel 11.
WSFA was formerly the default NBC affiliate for Dothan and the Wiregrass Region, which had been one of the few areas without an NBC station of its own. That status ended when WTVY in Dothan, which would eventually become a sister station of WSFA, launched WRGX-LD as an NBC affiliate on June 1, 2013.
The station's call letters—SFA—are an acronym for South's Finest Airport. They can be traced back to 1930, when Gordon Persons (years before becoming Governor of Alabama) opened a radio station at the Montgomery Regional Airport (now Gunter Annex of Maxwell Air Force Base). The new station was the state's fourth station but the city's first. WSFA radio quickly became a landmark in Montgomery and was most famous in its early days for launching the career of country music legend Hank Williams, a native of nearby Georgiana, in the 1940s.
By the mid-1950s, the new medium of television was sweeping the nation and Persons won the construction permit for Montgomery's second television station on VHF channel 12. This allocation was supposed to be occupied by Montgomery's first television station, CBS affiliate WCOV-TV (it is now a Fox affiliate). However, due to a delay in getting a transmitter for channel 12, WCOV was forced to move to UHF channel 20. Persons built a state-of-the-art facility on Delano Avenue to house both the television and radio stations in 1954, and WSFA-TV aired its first broadcast on December 25, 1954—a Christmas present to Alabama. Owing to WSFA radio's long affiliation with NBC, channel 12 has been Montgomery's NBC affiliate for its entire existence.
Only two months later, in February 1955, Persons sold WSFA-AM-TV to the Gaylord family's Oklahoma Publishing Company, earning a handsome return on his original investment of a quarter-century earlier. At that time, WSFA-AM-TV was operated by a staff of 35. In 1956, the radio station was sold and moved to downtown Montgomery under a new set of call letters, WHHY (and then later still, WLWI).
The television station was sold again, in 1959, to the Broadcasting Company of the South of Columbia, South Carolina. A subsidiary of the Liberty Life Insurance Company, the company renamed itself Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation in 1965. Later in the decade, Liberty reorganized itself as Liberty Corporation with Cosmos and Liberty Life as its subsidiaries.
WSFA was the area's only VHF station until 1985, when Selma-based WAKA (channel 8) built a new transmitter that was halfway between Selma and Montgomery, thus giving it good coverage in Montgomery proper (but is still licensed to Selma to this day) and replaced WCOV as the area's CBS affiliate. In 1986, it dropped the -TV suffix, though as mentioned above channel 12 and its radio sister had gone their separate ways three decades earlier. Liberty exited the insurance business in 2002, bringing the station directly under the Liberty banner. The company merged with Raycom Media in 2006. Since Raycom was headquartered in Montgomery, WSFA became the corporation's flagship station. However, with Raycom's 2008 purchase of Lincoln Financial Media's television stations, WSFA shared flagship status with Charlotte's WBTV.
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 WSFA), and Gray's 93 television stations) under Gray'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—resulted in WSFA gaining new sister stations in adjacent markets, including ABC affiliate WTOK-TV in Meridian and CBS/NBC affiliates WTVY and WRGX-LD in Dothan (while separating it from WDFX), in addition to the current Raycom stations. The sale was approved on December 20, 2018, and was completed on January 2, 2019.