Originally singed on the air as WAFM-TV, a primary CBS and secondary ABC affiliate on VHF channel 13, owned by The Voice of Alabama, Inc., along with radio stations WAPI (1070 AM), and WAFM (then at 93.3, now WJOX-FM at 94.5 FM).
In July 1953, The Birmingham News bought the Voice of Alabama and changed the station's call letters to WABT (for "Alabama's Best Television"). The following year on July 4, 1954, WABT traded primary network affiliations with WBRC-TV (channel 6) and joined NBC; however it retained a secondary affiliation with ABC as did WBRC-TV, which took over the CBS affiliation as its then-new owners, Storer Broadcasting, had a strong relationship with the network (the company's founder and chairman, George B. Storer, was a member of the board of directors at CBS).
The station changed its call letters again in 1958 to WAPI-TV (for Alabama Polytechnic Institute [now known as Auburn University], which owned WAPI radio from 1925 to 1932) to match its sister AM radio station; WAFM-FM adopted the WAPI calls at the same time, and received FCC permission to move its frequency to 94.5 FM.
Newhouse exited the broadcasting industry in the early 1980s to focus exclusively on its newspaper holdings. In 1979, the company sold its television stations, including WAPI-TV, to the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Company; the WAPI radio stations were sold to Dittman Broadcasting. Following the completion of the sale, the station, due to an FCC rule in place at the time that stated that TV and radio stations in the same market, but with different ownership had to have differing call letters, changed its call letters to WVTM-TV (for Vulcan Times-Mirror; the "V" referencing both the cast-iron statue in Vulcan Statue as well as its location atop Red Mountain at Vulcan Park, where WVTM's transmitter tower was located) on March 28, 1980.