The station first signed on the air on December 19, 1953. Originally licensed to Pine Bluff, the station was a CBS affiliate with a secondary ABC affiliation. It became a full ABC affiliate in 1955 after KTHV (channel 11) signed on and took the CBS affiliation due to KTHS (now KAAY) having a long time relation with CBS Radio; during the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. KATV was founded by John Toole "J.T." Griffin and James C. "Jimmy" Leake (who also founded sister station KTUL in Tulsa and original sister station KWTV in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the company founded by the former of the two founders would later become the present-day Griffin Communications).