With hand-me-down equipment and a great deal of ambition, WUFT signed on the air for the first time on Nov. 10, 1958. As a new division of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, WUFT’s goal was to provide educational broadcasting to the University of Florida and other schools within the broadcast area.
Since that sign-on over 50 years ago, many changes have taken place at WUFT and in public television in general. Technological advances and viewer tastes have caused public broadcasters to re-think and re-direct public television programming.
In the late fifties and early sixties programming emphasis at WUFT was on instructional broadcasts. Very few programs were directed to the home audience. In fact, virtually every classroom in WUFT’s broadcast area, some 20,000 students, received some type of educational programming. North Central Floridians were watching WUFT to learn Spanish, French, journalism and many other subjects.
The change in programming emphasis took place in the late sixties. Schools began to move away from sequential instructional programs that taught a complete course. Television was used as a support tool for teachers.
With the expansion of scheduling time, WUFT was able to present more public affairs and entertainment programming for North Central Florida. Educational programming continued in the late sixties and seventies with programs such as “Sesame Street” and “Electric Company,” but the total broadcast day was not devoted to instructional programming as in the past. WUFT was cited numerous times for community service and programming excellence.
WUFT locally produced programs such as “Sunshine Almanac,” “Report 5,” “Viewpoint” and “Conversation” came into existence in order to keep viewers informed of local events and services. With programs from the public broadcasting service (PBS) and other distributors, programming on WUFT began to emphasize British drama, political comedy, film classics, children’s programming, musical specials of all varieties and virtually “something for everyone.”
By 1978, Nielsen’s Cumulative Audience Surveys rated WUFT among the top stations nationally for viewership. People in North Central Florida were watching WUFT-TV Florida’s Five.
An increase in public commitment was seen as a by-product of increased responsive programming. A part of that responsive programming included the staffing production commitment to a regular minority affairs series.
Another tangible expression of commitment to community service was the establishment of a regular and professional weekday news programs, “News Five” (now “WUFT News First at Five”) in 1978. This program fulfilled a community desire for more coverage of news events as well as increasing the commitment of providing station internship experiences for the College of Journalism and Communications students. Using the best telecommunication students, the program continues to report on news events of interest to the residents of North Central Florida.
Along with changes in the quality of its public television services, came an increase in the quality of WUFT Channel 5’s facilities. In 1980, WUFT moved from antiquated studios and offices in the UF Stadium to facilities in the new College of Journalism and Communications building, later named Weimer Hall. Equipment grants were gradually secured to bring to the station state-of-the-art television origination and production equipment.
In 2005, WUFT added three high definition digital streams to provide a variety of programming options. Channel 5.1 (HD1) features the main WUFT-TV signal, 5.2 (HD2) broadcasts The Florida Channel from the Florida Legislature on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and PBS Create from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday. Channel 5.3 (HD3) features PBS World.
Community support for WUFT Channel 5 continues to grow. In 1977, WUFT first began a concentrated effort to secure private and corporate dollars for the station and its programs. In that year, nearly $20,000 was raised. Over a decade later in 1988, nearly $600,000 in membership and corporate income was raised and the monetary commitment from viewers and members continues in the 21st century.
Public television in north central Florida has come a long way from closed circuit broadcasts of instructional programming to a full-service community responsive broadcast outlet. The future holds more change for telecommunication and more services for North Central Florida.