John Toole Griffin, a local grocery magnate and founder of Griffin Foods, decided to apply for a broadcast license with the Federal Communications Commission after noticing while driving around Oklahoma City that many homes in the area had outdoor television antennas installed to receive WKY-TV (channel 4, now KFOR-TV), which debuted in June 1949 as the first television station in Oklahoma. KWTV first signed on the air on December 20, 1953; it was founded by Griffin and his brother-in-law James C. Leake, co-owners of radio station KOMA (1520 AM, now KOKC). Channel 9 initially transmitted its signal from a shorter temporary tower near its Kelley Avenue studios as its permanent transmitter tower, for which the Griffins chose the KWTV callsign (standing for "World's Tallest Video") for the station over using the KOMA calls, was still under construction; when it was activated in 1954, the 1,577 feet (481 m) structure became the tallest free-standing broadcast tower in the world at the time. As of October 2014, the tower is currently being removed and sold for scrap. KWTV's first broadcast was a roll call of station employees introducing themselves and the departments they were employed with.
KWTV has been a CBS affiliate since its sign-on (having taken the affiliation from WKY-TV, which relegated the network to secondary clearances), owing to KOMA's longtime affiliation with the CBS Radio Network; it is one of the few American television stations that has had the same callsign, ownership, primary network affiliation and over-the-air channel allocation throughout its history. Todd Storz, creator of the Top 40 radio format, purchased KOMA in 1958. Griffin and Leake bought out the partners that held minority interest in KWTV in 1963; Leake then sold his interest to Griffin in 1968, in return for Griffin's share of two other television stations, KTUL in Tulsa and KATV in Little Rock. By the 1970s, KWTV became the first station in Oklahoma City to record news footage on videotape instead of film. In the late 1970s, it also became the market's first television station to maintain a 24-hour programming schedule. John Griffin retired in 1990, and turned over control of channel 9 to his son David.
On August 18, 1993, KWTV partnered with Cox Cable and Multimedia Cablevision to create a 24-hour local cable news channel through a condition in carriage renewal agreements between Griffin Television and the two cable providers. This channel, News Now 53, debuted locally on December 3, 1996 on Cox channel 53, featuring rebroadcasts and live simulcasts of KWTV's news programs (News Now 53 was initially available only in Oklahoma City proper, expanding to its outlying suburbs after Cox acquired Multimedia Cablevision from the Gannett Company in January 2000); a Tulsa area feed of News Now 53 launched in 2000 after Griffin purchased that market's CBS affiliate, KOTV.
On January 26, 2001, a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 transporting nine members of the Oklahoma State University basketball team (including two players and six members of the coaching staff) and KWTV sports director Bill Teegins (who was also the university's football and basketball radio announcer) crashed in a field near Strasburg, Colorado. The plane departed from Jefferson County Airport following a game against the University of Colorado Buffaloes, when the pilot became disoriented while flying through heavy snow on the way to Stillwater Regional Airport; all ten men on board were killed (two memorials have since been erected in remembrance of the tragedy: one at the crash site, and another outside of Gallagher-Iba Arena at OSU's Stillwater campus featuring a statue of a kneeling cowboy).
Also in 2001, KWTV entered into a content partnership with The Oklahoman, resulting in the merger of both the station and newspaper's websites under the "NewsOK" banner; this collaboration ended in early 2008 (the NewsOK website continues to exist as the standalone website for The Oklahoman). Ironically the Gaylord family, who ran the newspaper from 1907 to 2011 (when the paper's owner, OPUBCO Communications Group, was sold to The Anschutz Corporation), built and signed on competitor KFOR-TV in 1949, and owned that station until 1975. On October 25, 2010, KWTV became the first television station in the Oklahoma City market to carry syndicated programming and advertisements inserted during local commercial breaks (including station and network promos) in high definition.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
News 9 Now is a news simulcast/rebroadcast channel that previously operated as cable-only News Now 53 from December 3, 1996 to March 30, 2011. Owned by Griffin Communications in cooperation with Cox Communications, it also runs a three-hour block of E/I-compliant children's programs on Saturday afternoons.
KWTV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 9, on February 17, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television (which Congress had moved the previous month to June 12). The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 39 to VHF channel 9. Due to reception issues in parts of central Oklahoma, KWTV was granted permission by the FCC to operate a secondary signal on its former UHF digital channel 39 under special temporary authorization in October 2009, mapped to virtual channel 9.2. On March 9, 2010, the FCC issued a Report & Order, approving the station's request to move its digital signal from channel 9 to channel 39.
On April 20, 2010, KWTV filed a minor change application on its new channel 39 allotment, that was granted on June 10. Short-lived service interruptions began on July 29 to allow viewers to rescan their digital tuners to carry the UHF channel 39 signal. On August 16, 2010, the digital signal on UHF channel 39 added a virtual channel on 9.1, in addition to the 9.2 PSIP channel. KWTV terminated its digital signal on channel 9 and began to operate only on channel 39 on August 30, 2010 at 12:30 p.m.
Outside of the CBS network schedule, Syndicated programs broadcast by KWTV include Live with Kelly, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Extra and The Insider. KWTV currently does not air CBS This Morning Saturday on its main channel and delays the second half-hour of Face the Nation to early Monday mornings (both shows air on the News 9 Now subchannel, with the former being shown after the Saturday morning newscast, and the entire broadcast of the latter airing in simulcast with digital channel 9.1 for the first half-hour and the second half-hour airing exclusively on 9.2).
For a brief period in the early 1990s, KWTV preempted CBS News Sunday Morning; it also ran The Price Is Right (at 11:00 a.m.) and The Young and the Restless (at 3:00 p.m.) out of pattern from 1993 to 1999. CBS' Saturday morning children's program block (now branded as the CBS Dream Team) also aired in a split pattern until September 2010, with one half-hour airing at 5:30 a.m., while the block's other programs usually ran from 8:00 to 10:30 a.m. Until March 28, 2011, KWTV ran The Late Late Show on a half-hour delay at 12:07 a.m. due to its weeknight airing of Seinfeld (which is now seen on KOKH-TV and KOCB).
From 2000 to 2011, KWTV served as the broadcast home for Oklahoma State Cowboys basketball games produced through the Cowboys Sports Network, broadcasting three games each season (usually airing on a Wednesday or Saturday during primetime hours). In 2013, the station obtained the local television rights to St. Louis Rams preseason NFL games from the team's Rams Television Network syndication service (ironically, most Rams regular season games air on KOKH-TV through Fox's contract with the National Football Conference, while KWTV only carries the team's matchups against an opponent in the American Football Conference, CBS' NFL broadcast partner).
KWTV-DT presently broadcasts 39 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours on weekdays and 4½ hours each on Saturdays and Sundays). Since 2006, the station has operated a Bell 407 helicopter for newsgathering called "SkyNews9 HD" (now Bob Mills SkyNews9 HD through a sponsorship and brand licensing agreement with Bob Mills Furniture), which was the first in the market to be equipped with a high-definition camera (though helicopter images were not broadcast in HD until October 2010 when the station finally started broadcasting in 16:9 aspect-ratio); this helicopter replaced "Ranger 9", which had a camera installed below the nose (dubbed "EagleVision") in 2000, and was the first helicopter in the state used for daily newsgathering (having debuted one day before KOCO-TV (channel 5)'s "Sky 5" came into use in 1980). KWTV also provides local weather updates for the Clear Channel-owned Oklahoma News Network and Tyler Media Group-owned radio stations KOKC, KOMA (92.5 FM), KMGL (104.1 FM) KJKE (93.3 FM) and KRXO-FM (107.7 FM). KWTV also features select stories filed by Tulsa sister station KOTV-DT during its newscasts, and partners with that station to cover news events within the Tulsa market; both stations co-produce the Sunday sports analysis program, Oklahoma Sports Blitz (formerly OKBlitz.com).
KWTV, which has long been one of CBS' strongest affiliates, has long had a rivalry with KFOR-TV for the most-watched newscast in the market. It had the highest-rated late evening newscast in the United States during the May 2006 sweeps period, and its 10:00 p.m. newscast was the top-rated newscast in the nation in May 2007, and in the market during the February 2012 sweeps. KWTV's newscasts vie for first place with KFOR in most news timeslots. Although the Ogle family has long been associated with KFOR-TV dating back to Jack Ogle's arrival as anchor in the 1950s, with Kent and Kevin Ogle now with that station today (although Kevin's daughter, Abigail Ogle, serves as a sports anchor at KOCO), Kelly Ogle serves as KWTV's weeknight co-anchor and provides an op-ed segment weeknights on the 10:00 p.m. newscast titled My Two Cents. After the FCC imposed the Prime Time Access Rule that cut 30 minutes from the major networks' primetime schedules – reducing them from 3½ hours to three – in 1971, KWTV launched Oklahoma City's first hour-long 6:00 p.m. newscast (predating KFOR-TV's 6:00 p.m. news hour by 25 years). It was split into two half-hour newscasts at 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. in 1976, bookending the 5:30 p.m. airing of the CBS Evening News. From 1966 to 1971, KWTV used the Eyewitness News format later used by ABC affiliate KOCO.
KWTV places a significant emphasis on weather, and is known for its severe weather coverage and for having the top weather technology in the U.S. Oklahoma native Gary England is the state's longest-serving television meteorologist, having served as chief meteorologist at KWTV from October 16, 1972 to August 28, 2013 (surpassing Jim Williams, who worked at KFOR-TV for 32 years from 1958 to 1990, for the title in 2005); England then moved to an executive position at parent company Griffin Communications as its vice president of corporate relations and weather development. Former KFOR meteorologist David Payne, who joined KWTV in February 2013, took over as chief meteorologist on August 29, 2013. In 1973, KWTV installed first television weather radar in the U.S., first utilized on May 24 of that year to cover an F4 tornado that caused extensive damage in Union City (the original film of that televised warning from 1973 was used in later years in promos for the station's weather coverage). The first commercial Doppler radar in the nation was installed at KWTV in 1981, and shortly after had detected a tornado near Binger, which was broadcast live by a photographer inside the station's news helicopter.
In 1991, Gary England developed the country's first television weather alert system, "First Warning" (which updated watches and warnings manually, while the similarly developed First Alert created by KOCO-TV one year later, was the first automatically updated system). KWTV debuted MOAR (for "Massive Output Arrayed Radar"; though colloquially referred by England as the "Mother of All Radars") on May 8, 2003 to track an F4 tornado that hit Moore; the radar used enhanced street-level mapping to detect the path of tornadoes and GPS to track the location of KWTV's storm spotters. In 2000, the station introduced "I-News", internet-enabled software for personal computers that provides severe weather and breaking news alerts to users. In February 2007, KWTV debuted "Storm Monitor" (later known by its brand name of ESP for "Early Storm Protection"), which utilized VIPIR technology to measure a mesocyclone's strength and its tornado-producing potential.
From the 1980s to 2006, England and the KWTV weather staff presented "Those Terrible Twisters", a program that toured Oklahoma communities during the spring and summer providing tornado safety information and promoting the station's severe weather coverage efforts; these extended to half-hour specials that aired each spring on KWTV, which showcased severe weather footage shot by KWTV storm spotters and behind-the-scenes video of its storm coverage. In 1998, KWTV became one of the first stations in the United States to introduce a computer forecasting system that predicted hourly future weather conditions. During a tornado outbreak that affected Oklahoma City on June 13, 1998, a camera on the station's transmitter tower caught the live collapse of an auxiliary tower operated by KFOR-TV and its former radio sister WKY (930 AM).
In November 2006, KWTV debuted a high definition-ready news set designed and built by FX Group. On August 2, 2010, the 4:00 p.m. newscast (which debuted in 1995 as a half-hour newscast, before expanding to an hour in 1999) was reformatted from a traditional newscast into a more feature and lifestyle-driven program. On October 24, 2010, KWTV became the second television station in the Oklahoma City market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition (the graphics, logo, "Oklahoma's Own" slogan and CBS Enforcer Music Collection theme that debuted with the change, were also adopted by KOTV that same day upon that station's upgrade to widescreen standard definition newscasts). On January 24, 2011, KWTV expanded its weekday morning newscasts with the addition of a third hour of the program at 4:00 a.m. In September 2013, KWTV expanded its weekend morning newscasts to three hours starting at 5:00 a.m. On August 16, 2014, KWTV expanded its existing 6:00 p.m. newscast on Saturday evenings to one hour, with the addition of a half-hour block at 6:30 p.m. KWTV also changed the weekly forecast from the former 7-day to a 9-day forecast since 9 is the station's channel number and to take advantage of the 16:9 displays. Likewise one of its rival stations, KOCO-TV later on changed theirs from 7-day to a 5+5 day forecast since its station's channel number is 5. KWTV later on adjusted its lower-third graphics from following safe-zone rules for displays with a 4:3 aspect-ratio, to the 16:9 safe-zone rules. The result of this would be problematic if a viewer is watching the 16:9 broadcast on a 4:3 television in pan & scan mode rather than in letterbox mode
In 2015, KWTV added a video wall in the newsroom's back wall, consisting of several Samsung LCD TVs, with each set showing video feeds in a 3x2 array on each screen.
In 2016, KWTV launched Drone 9, a quadcopter that would be used where chopper Bob Mills SkyNews9 HD can't reach. Drone 9 is the first news quadcopter in Oklahoma City. Likewise, sister station KOTV in Tulsa, Oklahoma has a quadcopter called Drone 6 although it might actually be just one quadcopter used by both stations.
On 14 July 2016, and again during the 10PM newscast on 19 July 2016, KWTV announced a new technology that would be used in conjunction with its helicopter cam that would project street and building names, in real-time, during a live broadcast. KWTV is the first station in the United States to use this technology. The technology is branded as StreetScope. Chances are that KWTV's sister station in Tulsa, KOTV will implement the same technology into their news helicopter, Osage SkyNews6 HD
In July 2016, KWTV had changed its lower-third graphics, but has kept the rest of the graphics package used since 2010 up until October 2016. In Late-September to Early-October 2016, KWTV had updated its fullscreen graphics and animations to match the replacement lower-third graphics. However, they've kept the Titlecard graphics and animation used since the station debuted its 16:9 FullHD broadcast in 2010.
On 2 December 2016, KWTV had launched a new technology branded NextGen Live designed by Huntsville, Alabama based Baron Services, a dual-polar doppler radar, scanning at both X & Y axis, with one million watts of power at 6RPM. Likewise, rival NBC affiliate KFOR-TV has been using a one million watt dual-polar doppler radar for years beforehand. However, KWTV's new doppler radar scans at a higher rate speed than its competitors.
On the first week of January 2017, KWTV had changed its titlecard and bumper graphics to match the lower-third graphics that had debuted the previous year, along with a different music track from the same sound package.
KWTV has been running notable local sweepstakes during various seasons.
One of the most notable ones is a tornado shelter giveaway, debuted in May 2012, formerly dubbed Gary's Storm Shelter Giveaway (during Gary England's time as Chief Meteorologist), now dubbed David's Storm Shelter Giveaway (after David took over as chief meteorologist). Storm shelters are provided by FlatSafe; originally, viewers get a "cue to call" twice per weekday during the sweepstakes original May giveaway period. After KFOR-TV premiered their version of the Storm Shelter Giveaway in late-April 2014, KWTV ran the giveaway twice that same year in May and in October until 2015. In 2016, KWTV ran the giveaway only in October. However, unlike the original method, viewers would contact the station about someone who they know would need one and why they deserve it.
The station also does a grocery giveaway, in which the station gives a cue to text for viewers to text a certain keyword; a giftcard to Homeland Stores is given.
During the summer, the station will give away a late year-model Ford vehicle provided by one of the Oklahoma City Ford dealers, along with an additional weekly prize. The summer giveaway is dubbed Best Summer Ever, and had premiered in 2014David Payne (AMS and NWA Seals of Approval) - chief meteorologist; weekdays at 4:00 and weeknights at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 p.m; former KFOR-TV Meteorologist
Dean Blevins - sports director; weeknights at 5:00 and 6:00 and Sunday-Fridays at 10:00 p.m.; also co-host of Oklahoma Sports Blitz; former KOCO-TV Sports Anchor
Kelly Ogle - Anchor, Reporter; Weeknights at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 p.m.; Former KOKH-TV Anchor; Brother of KFOR-TV anchors Kevin Ogle and Kent Ogle, son of Jack Ogle, Uncle to Kevin's daughter, KOCO-TV's Abigail Ogle
Amanda Taylor - Anchor, Reporter; Weeknights at 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 p.m.
Mike Boettcher - reporter (1978–1980; now correspondent for ABC News)
Gary England - chief meteorologist (1972 – April 2013; now vice president of corporate relations and weather development at parent company, Griffin Communications LLC; makes occasional appearances in TV Ads for Air Comfort Solutions, the station's SkyCam Network sponsor; Consultant for the film Twister)
Shon Gables - weekend morning anchor/reporter (1998–2001; later at WFAA/Dallas-Fort Worth)
Chris Harrison - weekend sports anchor/reporter (1993–1997; now host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette)
Harry Volkman - chief meteorologist (1954–1960; later at WBBM-TV, WGN-TV and WFLD in Chicago; now deceased)