WTVA was the brainchild of Frank K. Spain, an engineering graduate of Mississippi State University, who had helped build NBC-owned station WNBW (now WRC-TV) in Washington, D.C. While serving as Technical Director at WHEN-TV (now WTVH) in Syracuse, New York in the early-1950s, he dreamed of bringing a television station to Tupelo, where he had spent most of his childhood. Spain applied for a license in 1953 which was granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1956. The station began airing on March 18, 1957 with the call letters WTWV. Its equipment (antenna, transmitter, cameras, etc.) was hand-built in Spain's garage, backyard, and basement in Syracuse.