WAPT, virtual channel 16 (UHF digital channel 21), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Jackson, Mississippi, United States. The station is owned by Gannett. WAPT's studios and transmitter are located on Channel 16 Way in southwest Jackson. On cable, the station can be seen on Comcast Xfinity channel 4, Cable One channel 16 and Vicksburg Video channel 9. There is a high definition feed provided on Xfinity digital channel 431, Cable One digital channel 1016 and Vicksburg Video digital channel 225.
The station began broadcasting on October 3, 1970 with a rerun of Stagecoach West. Prior to its debut, ABC was relegated to off-hours clearances on NBC affiliate WLBT and CBS affiliate WJTV, save for a brief period from March 1954 until June 1955 when WSLI-TV 12 was a standalone ABC affiliate before combining forces with WJTV, which had aired on channel 25. In fact, by the 1960s, Jackson was one of the largest markets, if not the largest, in the U.S. with only two network stations by the 1960s, even though it had been large enough on paper to support three full network affiliates by the 1950s. It has long been speculated that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) delayed granting licenses to any potential broadcasters in central Mississippi because of WLBT's blatant bias against African-Americans in news coverage and advocacy against the civil rights movement.
A more likely reason, however, has to do with geography. The Jackson market is a fairly large market, covering a large swath of west-central Mississippi. Jackson had been allocated only two VHF frequencies—channels 3 and 12, occupied by WLBT and WJTV respectively. UHF stations initially didn't cover large stretches of territory very well. Even after the FCC mandated all-channel tuning in 1964, it took a long while for UHF to be a viable option to cover large areas. With Jackson sandwiched between Baton Rouge to the south and Monroe–El Dorado to the west with Alexandria (southwest), Columbus (northeast), Greenville (north), Hattiesburg (southeast) and Meridian (east) all in close proximity, it is not likely there would have been room to drop in a third VHF allocation in Jackson.
WAPT was founded by the American Public Life Insurance Company, an insurer which is still in business today but is now an affiliate of American Fidelity Assurance. American Public Life sold the station to Clay Communications in 1979. That company then sold its television stations—WAPT, plus KJAC-TV (now KBTV-TV) in Port Arthur, Texas, KFDX-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas and WWAY in Wilmington, North Carolina—to Price Communications in 1987. Price Communications sold three of its stations—WAPT and then-sister stations WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan and WNAC-TV in Providence, Rhode Island—to the newly founded Northstar Television Group in 1989. Northstar Television was bought out by Argyle Television Holdings II, a company which was formed in late 1994 by a group of managers and executives who left the first incarnation of Argyle Television (the former Times-Mirror Broadcasting) after that company sold all of its stations to New World Communications, in January 1995.
In August 1997, Argyle merged with the Hearst Corporation's broadcasting unit to form what was then known as Hearst-Argyle Television (now Hearst Television after the Hearst Corporation became sole owner of the group in mid-2009). WAPT was not included in the TDN affiliation swaps of 2000 and was in turn sold to the Gannett Company.