WTVA was the idea of Frank K. Spain, a Mississippi State University engineering graduate who had previously worked on the construction of NBC-owned station WNBW (now WRC-TV) in Washington, D.C. He dreamt of bringing a television station to Tupelo, where he had spent much of his boyhood, while working as Technical Director at WHEN-TV (now WTVH) in Syracuse, New York in the early 1950s. Spain sought for a license in 1953, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded it in 1956. The station debuted on March 18, 1957, under the call letters WTWV. Its equipment (antenna, transmitter, cameras, etc.) was handcrafted in Syracuse in Spain's garage, backyard, and basement.