When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lifted the freeze on new television station applications in 1952, they allocated VHF channels 11 and 13 for broadcast television service in Yuma. Valley Telecasting quickly applied for and opened KIVA on channel 11, becoming the city's first television station in October 1953. Wrather-Alvarez Broadcasting followed with a January 1956 application to build KYAT on channel 13, but failed, and in September 1958, the construction permit was dismissed. By November 1961, more than eight years after the arrival of local television, Yuma was still a one-station town.
In November 1961, Robert Crites, owner and manager of local CBS-affiliated radio station KBLU, formed a partnership, called Desert Telecasting, and applied to the FCC on November 30, 1961 for a construction permit to build a station on channel 13. New England Industries had filed a competing application for the same channel nearly a month earlier, but on July 23, 1962, the FCC granted the construction permit to Desert Telecasting, and KBLU-TV came into existence, to be the market's CBS television affiliate. It would not be an easy road to sign-on, as Bruce Merrill, owner of both KIVA and the local cable television system, was convinced that the market could not support a second local television station and fought to keep the new station from opening. Merrill opposed a KBLU-TV partnership restructure, an extension of time to construct the station, and a proposal to increase power, then, in September 1963, filed a "motion to stay" to prevent KBLU-TV from building its facilities. All of Merrill's petitions were denied, and on the evening of November 2, 1963, one hour after receiving notice of program test authority, KBLU-TV began broadcasting.
The station expanded its coverage to El Centro in 1965 with another increase in power, and relocation of its transmitter from within the city of Yuma to a site atop Black Mountain, 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Yuma, at a much greater height above average terrain. It also opened an office and studio in El Centro to better serve the Imperial Valley. On December 7, 1966, Desert Telecasting filed an application to transfer the stations to Eller Telecasting, part of Eller Outdoor Advertising Company. Ownership of the station would pass to Karl Eller, but the station would continue to be managed by Crites, who became president of Eller Telecasting. KBLU-TV became part of Combined Communications in 1968, when its parent, Eller Outdoor Advertising Company, merged with KTAR Broadcasting Company.
The sudden demise of KIVA in January 1970 spelled more changes for KBLU-TV, which immediately moved to acquire the NBC affiliation, while the CBS affiliation passed to new station KECC-TV (now KECY-TV). KBLU-TV also took over the television studio facilities formerly occupied by KIVA.
In July 1977, Combined Communications announced that it was selling both radio station KBLU and TV station KBLU-TV, but to different owners. The TV station would keep its NBC affiliation, but was to be sold to Chapman Television of Tuscaloosa, effective January 1, 1978, pending FCC approval. As FCC rules in effect at the time prohibited two stations to share call letters unless commonly-owned, and the radio station was keeping the KBLU call letters, Chapman requested the call sign KYEL-TV (for Yuma EL Centro). The call sign was found to be in use, but it was on a ship which had not been in service since 1803. The FCC approved the sale on November 1, 1977 and on January 1, 1978, KBLU-TV became KYEL-TV.
Chapman Television did not keep the station long, selling it to Service Broadcasters, Inc. in November 1978, who, in turn, sold it to Beam Broadcasters in November 1983 (later known as Beacon Broadcasters). In September 1991, Beacon Broadcasters sold the station to KB Media, who promptly renamed the station KSWT. It remained an NBC affiliate until shortly after KYMA went on the air, when it took the ABC affiliation. In September 1994, CBS affiliate KECY-TV flipped to Fox, and KSWT took over the CBS affiliation once again; this left Yuma without an ABC affiliate until KECY launched an ABC-affiliated subchannel in 2007. (In both the 1985-1988 and 1994-1995 interims, KGTV was cabled in from San Diego.) In February 1998, KB Media sold the station to Eclipse Media, and then in September 2000, Eclipse Media sold the station to Pappas Telecasting. KSWT also included Telemundo programming during the overnight hours in the 1990s, until local affiliate KESE-LP began operations. KSWT aired some PAX programming during afternoons beginning in 2000, but had reverted to full-time CBS by 2004.
In July 2013, Pappas filed to sell KSWT to Blackhawk Broadcasting, a company that shares ownership with the Northwest Broadcasting group. The deal required a failing station waiver, as Blackhawk concurrently acquired KYMA-DT from Intermountain West Communications Company. The FCC granted the KSWT failed waiver request on December 23. It previously approved the KYMA transaction earlier on August 12. The sale of both stations was completed on February 18, 2014.
On July 2, 2014, News-Press & Gazette Company, owners of KECY-TV and KESE-LP, announced that it had agreed to form a resource sharing agreement with Blackhawk Broadcasting, giving NPG control of the big four television network affiliates in the Yuma/El Centro market. All employees of KSWT and KYMA-DT, except for sales personnel, became employees of NPG. Blackhawk continues to operate the sales departments of its stations. As a result of the agreement, KSWT and KYMA will relocate to the studios of KECY within five months.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
In September 2006, The CW network launched nationwide, and KSWT added the network as a digital subchannel on 13.2. Adding the subchannel soon became a problem, as Time Warner Cable, the dominant local cable provider, placed the CW programming on channel 740, in a costlier digital cable package. KSWT requested that the channel be placed in the basic package on channel 6, where the market's cable-only WB affiliate, branded KWUB, had resided.
After several months of negotiations, the differences were settled, and in December 2006, KSWT digital subchannel 13.2 was placed on cable channel 6. In 2010, The CW moved to KECY's third digital subchannel, which inherited KSWT-DT2's cable carriage; KSWT replaced CW programming with a standard definition simulcast of its main programming.
KSWT shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 13, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 16 to VHF channel 13 for post-transition operations.
Syndicated programming featured on KSWT includes: Entertainment Tonight, The Dr. Oz Show, AgDay, Rachael Ray, and The Doctors.
Monday through Friday, the station features an hour-long 4 p.m. newscast, called KSWT First News, followed by the CBS Evening News. At 5:30 p.m., following the network news, KSWT airs another hour-long newscast, called KSWT Early News, and finally, at 10 p.m., KSWT has a half-hour newscast called KSWT Late News. On Saturday and Sunday, only the late newscast airs. Unlike other CBS affiliates, it does not carry newscasts on weekday mornings, weekdays at noon or early evening newscasts on weekends. Following the planned relocation of KSWT to the studios of KECY-TV, the station will retain its current newscast times and separate news branding from KECY and KYMA-DT.Lou Dobbs - anchor/reporter (now anchor and host for Fox Business Network)
Trace Gallagher - reporter (1980s; now correspondent for Fox News Channel)
Fred Roggin - sports anchor/reporter (1977-1978; now sports anchor for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles and NBC Sports)
Both programming streams of KSWT had been rebroadcast on stations licensed to Wellton-Mohawk, Arizona, until the translator stations' licensee, Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation & Drainage District, shut down the stations on August 18, 2009. KSWT is available via Dish Network.