WZVN-TV, virtual channel 26 (UHF digital channel 28), is an ABC-affiliated television station serving Fort Myers, Florida, United States that is licensed to Naples (as such, it is one of two Fort Myers-based full-power stations licensed in Naples, alongside CW affiliate WXCW, channel 46).
The station is owned by Montclair Communications; locally based Waterman Broadcasting, which owns Fort Myers-licensed NBC affiliate and company flagship WBBH-TV (channel 20), operates WZVN-TV under a local marketing agreement (LMA). The two stations share studios on Central Avenue in Fort Myers and transmitter facilities along SR 31 in unincorporated southeastern Charlotte County.
WZVN-TV is branded as ABC 7, in reference to its channel location on most Fort Myers area cable systems, including Comcast Xfinity and CenturyLink.
The station first signed on the air on August 21, 1974 as WEVU (a phonetic translation of "WE VieU[W]"); it was the third television station to sign on in Fort Myers. The station was owned by Gulfshore Television Corporation; it immediately took over the ABC affiliation which beforehand was relegated to off-hour secondary clearances through WBBH (channel 20) and CBS affiliate WINK-TV (channel 11). However, viewers with a good antenna could also watch the full ABC schedule from either Miami's WPLG, West Palm Beach's WPEC (now a CBS affiliate), or WLCY-TV (now CBS affiliate WTSP) in St. Petersburg. The station's original studios were located off of US 41 in Bonita Springs; its original transmitter facilities were located southeast of Bonita Springs, near the Collier–Lee county line. This location allowed the station to provide a stronger signal into Naples and southern Collier County as compared with the market's other broadcast outlets.
WZVN's early months quickly turned turbulent. In December 1974, founding general manager and majority Gulfshore owner G. Vernon Lundquist, who had previous broadcast experience in the market at WMYR radio and WINK-TV, was asked to take a leave of absence by the board of directors; his wife Marilyn, who was tapped to be the operations manager, was fired. Early the next month, Gulfshore's other members sued Lundquist, saying that the stock he held was illegally issued; at that same time, the station fired 15 staff, canceled its early evening news and began signing on at 11:30 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. In a summary judgment that March, a circuit court found in favor of the other stockholders.
In a second lawsuit filed in May 1975, more details surfaced about Lundquist's tenure running the new station. According to the suit filed by Gulfshore's other stockholders, Lundquist solicited a WEVU employee to appear in a sex movie; failed to pay the lease on the station's broadcast equipment; used his own company to make commercials, competing with WEVU's own advertising department; and hired relatives who were unqualified for their positions, jeopardizing the station's future. In addition, the minority owners of Gulfshore said that by failing to obtain a direct link with ABC, the station had lost $200,000 in advertising business; WEVU obtained its ABC programming off-air from Sarasota's WXLT, leaving it at the mercy of WXLT's own preemptions of ABC network fare.
In May 1976, Lundquist sold his controlling interest in WEVU to the other seven stockholders, after his shares were reinstated by an appeals court. With the other members of Gulfshore in control, the company set out to try and get WEVU on the right foot after the station nearly closed; they hired Joe Buerry, one of the founders of WBBH-TV, as the new general manager, and WEVU also restored the local news it had cut back earlier.
The station made national news for all the wrong reasons in May 1978, when a film distributor mixup was responsible for the station airing 30 minutes of an X-rated film instead of its intended late feature, Daring Game.
In May 1978, Gulfshore announced the sale of channel 26 to Caloosa Television, a subsidiary of the Home News Company, for a total of $3.3 million. WEVU was the seventh broadcasting property owned by Home News and second TV station. For years, it had been a standing complaint of viewers, and southwest Florida's TV stations, that Miami Dolphins games that did not sell out could not be aired in the Fort Myers–Naples market. In 1979, then-new news director Jack Speiss was surprised when the station did not air a Monday Night Football game because of a blackout; he eventually was able to telephone Joe Robbie, who told him in no uncertain terms, "I'm not going to allow you to broadcast it." Tension over what came to be known locally as the "Robbie Rule" boiled over in 1984 when the Dolphins blacked out WEVU again on Monday night. However, once WEVU's scheduled movie ended, and with the game still going on, channel 26 joined the network telecast in progress, and the general manager issued a statement criticizing the "Robbie Rule" which was read on the station's late newscast.
The late 1980s saw two significant upgrades. In 1987, WEVU moved to new studio facilities in the Bonita Bay Executive Center, where the front entrance was designed to also double as an outdoor studio and the station would have more space to operate. (The previous studios were then occupied by WSFP-TV, giving the PBS station its first proper headquarters.) Its second upgrade, a new tower on the Lee-Collier county line, was more controversial. The National Audubon Society warned that the construction of the tower would cause potential harm to a sanctuary of wood storks and asked the ABC network to intervene in the dispute, which it refused. In October 1987, Lee County approved the zoning for the new transmitter tower; a 1989 settlement brokered by Governor Bob Martinez enabled WEVU to finally build the facility and begin broadcasting from it that summer. The relocated tower improved WEVU's signal in the northern and eastern portions of the market, particularly in Charlotte County. However, by 1991, WEVU still had half the audience share of either WINK or WBBH.
A side venture for WEVU began in the late 1980s with a low-power TV station permit in Fort Myers held by Caloosa that the station wasn't using. Ultimately, Caloosa sold 49 percent of it to Tim Pipher, and the station signed on in August 1988 as W07BR; the station was noted for its extensive affiliations with baseball team networks, carrying more than 180 games a season. In 1991, Home News put WEVU on the market in a bid to pay down long-term debt. Home News accepted a bid from Young Broadcasting in January 1992, but the deal fell apart that March and Home News instead sold WEVU to FCVS Communications of Columbia, South Carolina for $9.925 million. FCVS, owned by two former ABC executives, promised to infuse resources into WEVU's news department.
FCVS, which also owned WKCH-TV (now WTNZ) in Knoxville, Tennessee, and WACH in Columbia, South Carolina, received an "offer it could not refuse" and sold itself to newly formed Ellis Communications in 1993. However, the station continued to struggle; it was understaffed and had outdated equipment. Effective June 1, 1994, Ellis entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with WBBH-TV, owned by Waterman, whereby WBBH would produce all news programming for WEVU. Some WEVU staffers were not retained by WBBH; in all, there were 20 firings, including WEVU's main news, weather and sports anchors. The local marketing agreement also saw WEVU leave Bonita Bay to join WBBH at its Central Avenue studios in Fort Myers; WTVK (channel 46) moved from Naples into the old WEVU facilities in 1995.
When Waterman took over WEVU, both stations began identifying by their cable channel slots, with channel 26 starting to use a variant of the circle 7 logo. The station changed its call letters to the current WZVN-TV (a phonetic translation of "Z[S]eVeN") on October 23, 1995. Former owners Caloosa, who still owned W07BR, promptly reclaimed the WEVU calls for what became WEVU-LP, later WEVU-CA.
Ellis Communications merged with Raycom Media in 1996; WZVN's license was spun off to Montclair Communications, which continued the LMA with WBBH. WBBH's owner, Waterman Broadcasting, holds an investment interest in Montclair Communications even though the two companies file separate financial reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. As of August 2009, its website is now completely operated by WBBH as a hybrid of that station's web address with a different color scheme.
WZVN-TV presently broadcasts 31 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours each weekday and three hours each on Saturdays and Sundays). Between the two, WZVN and WBBH air a combined 13½ hours of news per weekday and 13 hours during the weekend. In addition to the main studios, WZVN and WBBH operate a Collier County Bureau on Tamiami Trail North (US 41/SR 45) in Naples. The two stations operate a Baron weather radar at the main facilities that is known on WZVN as "StormWarn 7 Live Doppler". The radar has a range of 300 miles (483 km) and can survey approaching storms in three dimensions.
WEVU's first news operation was known as "Closeup News" with daily 6:30 and 11 p.m. broadcasts; general manager Lundquist presented the weather. When the station fell into financial difficulties, the news department was cut back. After Lundquist was ousted in 1976, Gulfshore reinstated a local news service under the "Newscene" name, airing at 6 and 11 p.m.
In 1981, under Home News ownership, Jack Wheeler, who had been one of the first anchors on Closeup News in 1974, returned to the station; WEVU hoped the new anchor would increase its perennially low ratings. Wheeler also hosted a talk show on WRCC radio at the time. However, when WEVU management changed over, Wheeler was removed from the newscast; he then hosted a morning talk show for channel 26, and later a late night show, before being shown the door in 1985.
After having 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, WEVU added a 6 p.m. broadcast in the fall of 1989; the station made significant improvements in an attempt to lift its news out of third place. (Within a year, the 5 p.m. show was axed.)
In the immediate wake of the Waterman LMA, WEVU's news offerings were radically changed; in addition to the dismissals of its main presenting team, WEVU's early news moved to 4 p.m. and its 11 p.m. show was cut back to a five-minute update. As a result, the stations began to share news reporters, video footage and stories. Ultimately, each station maintained separate unique sets at the Central Avenue facilities and featured a distinct on-air style. There were primary personalities (such as news anchors) that would only appear on one station. The joint operation was billed as the Eyewitness News Network. Traditionally in the past, WBBH tended to cover more stories from Charlotte County, while WZVN had a slight Collier County focus since it is licensed to Naples and had its former analog transmitter located further south than the area's other television outlets.
Today, WZVN and WBBH continue the practice of maintaining their own primary on-air teams on weekdays that only appear on each respective station. Otherwise, all other personnel—including most reporters—are shared between the two stations. WZVN's newscasts are broadcast from a separate set at the Central Avenue facility, allowing it to have a different on-air identity and graphics scheme from WBBH. Compared with that station, channel 26's newscasts usually tend to air in a more flashier fast-paced format with promotions referring to the station providing more news coverage in 30 minutes than the market's other stations. WBBH traditionally covers more investigative and consumer stories through its "NBC 2 Investigators" unit. On weekends, there are separate news and sports anchors, but the same meteorologists are seen on both WZVN and WBBH. This is possible because the two stations maintain individual sets and do not always air local newscasts at the same timeslots.
Since it was the first station to sign on in Southwest Florida and was the only one located on the VHF dial, WINK-TV has long been the most watched television station according to Nielsen. One of the best known former personalities and a veteran of Southwestern Florida broadcasting is Harry Horn. He lost his battle with ALS in August 2005. During major hurricanes, most recently Charley and Wilma, WZVN and WBBH combined their news resources to provide 24-hour continuous coverage. Commercial breaks are dropped for several hours preceding and following landfall. Coverage is simulcast on both stations and a common live video stream is featured on both stations' websites. During previous years, WBBH's news set was used during hurricane coverage along with both WBBH and WZVN's weather sets. As of 2007, WZVN's high definition news set is now used in the event of a hurricane as its internal location at the Central Avenue facility provides the best protection against damaging winds.
On August 14, 2006 through a news share agreement, the station began producing a nightly primetime newscast for cable-exclusive "WNFM" which eventually become the market's MyNetworkTV affiliate on September 5. Known as ABC 7 Gulfshore News at 10 on My TV 8, the broadcast was the first competitor to Fox affiliate WFTX-TV, whose 10 p.m. newscast has been long dominant in the ratings. However, as a result of Comcast's frequent technical difficulties (as the cable company operated "WNFM") which hindered the show's ratings as well as the March 26, 2007 launch of a WINK-produced 10 p.m. newscast that quickly garnered enough viewership to emerge as a strong second place in the 10 p.m. timeslot, WZVN canceled the program on May 25, 2007.
On July 12, 2007, WZVN upgraded its newscasts to 16:9 widescreen enhanced definition. On October 20, however, rival WINK-TV became the first station in Southwestern Florida to broadcast news programming in high definition. WZVN would itself upgrade its newscasts to HD on July 19, 2008. On October 26 of that year, several changes occurred to WZVN and WBBH's news programming in order to better compete with WINK-TV. WZVN dropped the first hour of its weekday morning newscast (as of 2012, that hour has since been restored) and a mid-morning newscast at 10 a.m. WBBH debuted a new hour-long midday broadcast at 11 a.m. while keeping its hour-long noon newscast. Meanwhile, WZVN added an hour-long weekday morning newscast at 9 a.m. On September 8, 2009, the station began producing a half-hour 7 p.m. newscast on weeknights to compete against WINK-TV's newscast airing in the same timeslot. On January 16, 2012, WZVN debuted an hour-long newscast at 5 p.m. weeknights, which incidentally directly competes with WBBH's own 5 p.m. newscast. On the week of May 11, 2015, WZVN canceled the hour-long 5 p.m. newscast and has since replaced it with Extra at 5 p.m. and The Insider at 5:30 p.m. On September 7, 2015, WZVN's 9 a.m. newscast moved back to its original 10 a.m. time period.
- Closeup News (1974-1975)
- Newscene (1976–1979)
- Pulse 26 (1979-1980)
- WEVU News (1980–1983)
- WEVU NewsCenter (1983–1989)
- Channel 26 WEVU News (1989–early 1990s)
- WEVU NewsWatch (early 1990s–1994)
- Eyewitness News Network (1994–1995)
- ABC 7 News (1995–2006 & 2007–present)
- ABC 7 Gulfshore News (2006–2007)
- People Make It Special (1984-?)
- The Heart of Southwest Florida (1989-?)
- If It's 26/Cable 7, It Must Be ABC (1992-1993, localized version of ABC ad campaign)
- 7 On Your Side (1994–1996)
- News for Your Life (1997–1998)
- ABC 7 Works for You (2004–2006)
- The News Team That Works for You (2006–2007)
- The News That Works for You (2007–?, news slogan)
- ABC7 Here (2013–present, general slogan)
- Get More (?-present, news slogan)
- Greg Parker - weekday mornings
- Krista Fogelsong - weeknights at 6:00, 7:00 & 11:00 p.m.
- Jeff Butera - weeknights at 6:00, 7:00 & 11:00 p.m.
- John Patrick - chief meteorologist; weeknights at 6:00, 7:00 & 11:00 p.m.
- Jesslyn Ferentz -
- Andrew Adams - meteorologist; weekends
- Jim Dickey -