Originally signed on the air on October 18, 1953 as WTSK-TV, a primary CBS affiliate on UHF channel 26. It was first owned by the Television Services of Knoxville, led by Harold J. Thoms, J. Horton Doughton and W. R. Tuley, who later sold the station to South Central Broadcasting, citing the need to devote time to other business ventures in the Midwest as a factor in selling.
The call letters changed to WTVK on December 12, 1954.
In 1956, WTVK became Knoxville's ABC affiliate after WBIR-TV signed on to take the CBS affiliation.
On March 29, 1979, WATE-TV announced it would become an ABC affiliate within six months, which took effect on September 17 of that year, when they switched affiliations with WTVK as ABC began to look for better affiliates in some markets where it had been relegated to a third-rated VHF or UHF station.
This Serpentine typeface logo was used from 1984 to 1986, superseding the 1979 '26' logo.
Studio entrance, circa 1988 (though the NBC logo on the sign had been retired two years earlier)
In June 1988, WBIR-TV announced it was dropping CBS for NBC—the latter of which had become the top-rated network after 32 years. Later in August, VHF drop-in applicant Tennessee Telecorp and owner South Central agreed to combine their bids and jointly own channel 8. The arrangement was finalized and announced on September 12 (after switching affiliations again with channel 10, taking over the CBS affiliation (thereby rejoining the network since its 1953 sign-on) on the 10th), ending an eight-year contest for channel 8 and 33 years after the idea of moving WTVK to VHF was first floated; the new channel 8 would retain most of WTVK's employees with the exception of some management posts. This logo would be short-lived and the last logo the channel used as WTVK on channel 26, as the station would change its channel position and callsign three months later. To anticipate for the switch WTVK debuted a new tagline called WTVK 26 and CBS: Together Again to reflect the station rejoining the network that first affiliated with the station.
Shortly after the switch, Telecorp and South Central began the upgrade to channel 8 when they reduced channel 26's transmitting power, until relaunching as WKXT-TV on December 8, 1988 at 4pm, ultimately concluding their goal of having another VHF channel in Knoxville. In 1992, South Central sold its stake in WKXT to Phipps Television, owner of WCTV in Tallahassee and 50% of WPBF in Tequesta and West Palm Beach in Florida. Phipps became a 70% partner for $5.77 million.
Phipps and the minority partners in Knoxville Channel 8 Limited Partnership agreed to sell WCTV and WKXT to Gray Communications Systems (now Gray Television) at the end of 1995, with the sale completed in 1996. (Many of the partners then briefly owned WINT-TV channel 20.) After the takeover, Gray changed the callsign to the current WVLT-TV on February 10, 1997, as part of a major investment in the station and its news product. The call letters "VLT" stands for VoLunTeer State, which is Tennessee's official nickname.