WKYT marks 65 years serving Kentucky viewers

WKYT marks 65 years serving Kentucky viewers
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 4:30 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It was 65 years ago Friday that the television station which would become the home of the beloved WKYT call letters first signed on the air.

Just days before the Soviet Union launched Sputnik One triggering the “space race,” new independent television station WKXP went on the air in Lexington on September 30, 1957.

Less than a year later, the station was sold to Taft Broadcasting and the call letters changed to WKYT which have remained the same ever since.

“It is very seldom that you get a chance to be a pioneer,” said former WKYT anchor and host Nick Clooney who crossed over from local radio to television and WKYT in 1958. “Here we were at an emerging station, UHF market, and we knew we were creating something brand new.”

In addition to anchoring the news, Clooney hosted a Saturday afternoon dance show.

“They had kind of a regular kedgeree of dancers that came every week much like what used to happen on American Bandstand,” Clooney said about his former dance show on WKYT.

In the 1960s, June Rollings became the first lady of Lexington television. On her morning talk show, she welcomed stars like then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, actor Telly Suvalas, and comedian Lucille Ball to the Bluegrass.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, WKYT came of age under the ownership and guidance of Garvis Kincaid who moved the station out a small facility on New Circle Road and built a new, landmark one on Winchester Road.

A year after Rupp Arena opened in 1976, Rob Bromley started his 40-year run covering Kentucky sports and became a fixture ever since.

By the 1980s, cable television helped allow even more people to see WKYT.

That’s when Dave Baker, Barbara Bailey, Bill Bryant and Sam Dick were all part of the team.

Coach Joe B. Hall’s decision to resign from Kentucky aired live on WKYT in 1985 which was the same year an announcement that Toyota was coming would forever change the landscape of Kentucky.

After scandal engulfed the University of Kentucky basketball program in 1989, Coach Eddie Sutton would resign making the announcement live on WKYT. In 1993, Gray Communications bought WKYT. It was the company’s third station. Today, Gray Television owns stations in 113 television markets across the country.

In 1996, Coach Rick Pitino and the Kentucky Wildcats won their first national championship in 18 years.

In 1998, Tubby Smith’s first Kentucky team rallied to win the school’s seventh national title live on CBS and WKYT. It was the same year, a young meteorologist named Chris Bailey would first appear on WKYT.

In the new century, 9-11 would forever change Kentucky, the nation, and the world.

For 13 hours on August 27, 2006, WKYT brought viewers live, uninterrupted coverage of the crash of Comair flight 5191. Amber Philpott had been on the anchor desk at WKYT for two years at the time.

In 2007, another coaching shakeup in Kentucky basketball dominated the airwaves as WKYT became the first television station in Kentucky to broadcast in high definition.

Two years later, WKYT would cover John Calipari’s arrival to Kentucky. In 2010, he embarked on his first of three, $1 million raising telethons on WKYT. Victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, 2012 Superstorm Sandy, and this year’s Hurricane Harvey in Texas all benefited. In 2012, Calipari and the Wildcats would bring home their eighth national championship live on WKYT.

Over the past decade, WKYT continued to expand its schedule of local news to include added, more convenient newscasts in the mornings and weekends as well on its second channel, The CW Lexington.

Historic flooding events in 2021 and 2022 left many Eastern Kentucky communities devastated. Partnering with a half-dozen organizations, WKYT helped to launch the Appalachia Rises initiatives which raised millions of dollars for relief efforts.