Originally signed on the air on March 23, 1953 as KGUL-TV (either GULF of Mexico or seaGULL) on VHF channel 11. It was founded by Paul Taft of the Taft Broadcasting Co. (no relation to the Cincinnati-based Taft Broadcasting Corporation). Originally licensed to Galveston, it was the second television station to debut in the Houston market (after KPRC-TV, VHF channel 2), taking the secondary CBS affiliation from KPRC-TV as the network's new primary affiliate, and has stayed aligned with the network ever since. In 1956, the original owners sold the station to the Indianapolis-based Whitney Corporation (later Corinthian Broadcasting), which became a subsidiary of Dun & Bradstreet in 1971.
In June 1959, the station changed its callsign to KHOU-TV (the "-TV" suffix was dropped from the call letters the week following the June 12, 2009 digital transition, as most Belo stations did at the time) and had its city of license relocated to Houston.
In 1984, Dun & Bradstreet sold its entire broadcasting division, including KHOU, to the Dallas-based Belo Corporation, who spun off its Beaumont station, KFDM-TV (VHF channel 6) in order to comply with FCC regulations at the time that prevented one company from owning overlapping signals; both stations had overlapping Grade B signals in the vicinity of Liberty County (east of Houston).
On June 13, 2013, the Gannett Company announced that it would acquire Belo for $1.5 billion. The sale was completed on December 23. On June 29, 2015, the Gannett Company split in two, with one side specializing in print media and the other side specializing in broadcast and digital media. KHOU was retained by the latter company, named Tegna.