KUTP was granted an original construction permit on December 20, 1984, and began broadcasting as an independent station on January 1, 1986. The station was originally owned by Chris-Craft Industries subsidiary United Television. It ran a general entertainment format consisting of cartoons, drama shows and old movies. It eventually added off-network sitcoms, as well as first-run talk and reality shows. The station was granted its initial license on November 17, 1986, over ten months after beginning operations. KUTP was the only station built and signed on by Chris-Craft.
From 1988 until the 2010–11 season, KUTP had been the longtime over-the-air television home of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, televising all road games that were not exclusive for national broadcast, as well as selected home games, averaging at least 45 game telecasts each season. KUTP produced its own broadcast graphics, in conjunction with the Suns until the 2010-11 NBA season; this role was taken over thereafter by corporate sibling Fox Sports Arizona. However, the "burning sun" graphic is still used in lieu of the Fox Sports graphics before and after instant replay reviews. Fox Sports Arizona will take over as the sole regional television broadcaster of Suns games, starting with 2011-12 season.
Under United Television ownership, the station carried programming from the Prime Time Entertainment Network programming service from January 1993 to January 1995. In the fall of 1994, United Television and Paramount Pictures announced the formation of the United Paramount Network, lining up independent stations that were owned by both companies at the time as charter affiliates. KUTP affiliated with UPN on the network's January 16, 1995 debut, becoming the first network-owned station in the market.
In the wake of a four-way affiliation switch spurred by New World Communications' affiliation agreement with Fox in 1994 that saw KSAZ-TV switch from CBS to Fox, KNXV-TV from Fox to ABC, KTVK lose its ABC affiliation and become independent and independent KPHO-TV gain an affiliation with CBS, KUTP picked up several sitcoms that KNXV had no room for on its schedule due to its new ABC affiliation. As a UPN station, KUTP also began to incorporate more syndicated first-run talk and reality shows. The station was featured in the 1995 feature film Waiting to Exhale as the workplace of Whitney Houston's character Savannah Jackson.
On August 12, 2000, Chris-Craft Industries sold its television station unit to News Corporation for $5.5 billion. This resulted in the creation of a duopoly with Fox-owned station KSAZ (both KSAZ and KUTP are currently the only English-language network-owned stations in the Phoenix market).
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