About WVLT 8WVLT-TV debuted on October 18, 1953 as WTSK-TV on channel 26. It was Tennessee's first UHF station, and the second television station in East Tennessee, signing on just a few hours after WROL-TV in Knoxville (channel 6, now WATE-TV). The station was a CBS affiliate, but also shared ABC programming with WROL-TV.
Channel 26 found the going difficult at first, since television manufacturers weren't required to build in UHF tuning capability at the time. Viewers needed an expensive converter to watch WTSK, and even then the picture quality was marginal at best. In addition, most of East Tennessee is very mountainous, and UHF signals at the time usually did not carry very well over rugged terrain. In 1954, the station's original local owners, Television Services of Knoxville, sold the station to South Central Communications, a radio company in Evansville, Indiana, who changed its calls to WTVK.
When WBIR-TV signed on in 1956 and took the CBS affiliation, WTVK became a full-time ABC affiliate. However, it spent most of the next 20 years as a very distant third in the ratings. While this was due in part to ABC being a much weaker network (it wouldn't be on par with CBS and NBC in terms of programming until the 1970s), another problem was the terrain issue. Many viewers didn't get a clear signal from channel 26 until cable arrived in Knoxville in the 1970s. In fact, many viewers got a better signal from WLOS-TV (channel 13) in Asheville, North Carolina; WLOS' transmitter is located almost 118 miles (190 km) east of Knoxville.