WFLA-TV signed on Valentine's Day 1955 with a live broadcast of the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. The station was owned by the Tribune along with WFLA radio (AM 970 and FM 93.3, now WFLZ). Largely because of its newspaper background, it was the early ratings leader in Tampa until WTVT passed it in 1962.
Arch Deal and Bill Henry were the prominent faces of WFLA's newscasts in the 1960s. Arch Deal's tenure was abruptly cut short in 1975, when he suffered injuries during a parachute accident. Bob Koop served as the evening anchor from 1977–1979. Longtime anchorman Bob Hite came to the anchor desk in 1979.
In 1966, Richmond Newspapers, publishers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and part-owner of the Tribune, acquired full control of the paper and WFLA-AM-FM-TV. Three years later, Richmond Newspapers renamed itself Media General, and WFLA-TV, the first television station owned and operated by Media General, has been its flagship television station since then. WFLA and the Tribune were corporate siblings until Media General sold the newspaper to Tampa Media Group, Inc. in October 2012. Despite the split, the two outlets will continue their long-standing partnership.
The station was renamed WXFL on January 19, 1983 after the WFLA radio stations were sold. (Both radio stations are currently owned by Clear Channel Communications.) At the time, Federal Communications Commission cross-ownership regulations forced Media General to sell the radio stations; however, the company was granted a permanent waiver permitting it to keep the Tribune and the television station. Channel 8 regained its original call letters on January 1, 1989. That same year, it surged to first place in the Tampa Bay ratings and has stayed there for most of that time, led by one of the most popular anchor teams in the country. "Eagle 8" made its debut in October 1985.
In the midst of a market shake-up in 1994 which saw many of the Tampa area stations swapping network affiliations, WFLA was one of the few major stations in the market that did not change networks. As a result it became number 1 in the market, a position formerly held by WTVT, which saw its ratings drop after switching from CBS to Fox. However, since NBC's ill-fated experiment with The Jay Leno Show in primetime in late 2009 and early 2010, WTVT regained its number 1 status. In the February 2012 Sweeps period, WFLA was the clear ratings winner for early morning news, evening news and late news. It was also was the only station in the market to gain audience for its primetime newscast even after lackluster NBC programming.
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