WJTV signed-on January 20, 1953 as Mississippi’s first television station.
Airing an analog signal on UHF channel 25, it was founded by The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson’s morning newspaper. A few weeks later, the afternoon Jackson Daily News started WSLI on channel 12. WJTV was a primary NBC affiliate, with a secondary affiliation with the DuMont Television Network. WSLI was a CBS affiliate. WJTV lost NBC when WJBT (channel 3, now WLBT) signed-on, but shared ABC programming with channel 3 while WJTV and WSLI continued to air DuMont.
The Hederman family, owners of The Clarion-Ledger, bought the Daily News in 1954. Since the FCC did not allow one person to own two stations in the same market at the time, WJTV and WSLI merged in 1955. The merged station retained WJTV’s license and call sign, but moved to the more-desirable channel 12 and became a CBS affiliate. This move was similar to the merger between KPTV and KLOR in Portland, Oregon which occurred two years later. The new channel 12 also shared ABC programming with WLBT until 1970 when WAPT started operations on channel 16.
From 1977 until 1983, WJTV was owned by the Capitol Broadcasting Company (the same company which owned KNAZ-TV in Flagstaff, Arizona but unrelated to the Capitol Broadcasting Company of Raleigh, North Carolina). In 1983, it was sold to the News-Press & Gazette Company. Four years later, the station launched a semi-satellite for the Hattiesburg/Laurel area, WHLT. In 1993, NPG sold several of its stations, including WJTV and WHLT, to the first incarnation of New Vision Television. In turn, New Vision sold its entire stations group to Ellis Communications in 1995. Ellis was folded into Raycom Media the following year after it was bought out by a media group led by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (who bought Aflac’s broadcasting group a few months earlier).
In 1997, Raycom bought out Federal Broadcasting, owner of WHLT’s rival station, WDAM-TV. That placed Raycom in violation of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) duopoly rules in the Hattiesburg/Laurel market. As a result, Raycom opted to keep the higher-rated WDAM and trade WJTV and WHLT (along with WSAV-TV in Savannah, Georgia that also had to be divested by Raycom due to its ownership of that station’s rival WTOC-TV) to Media General in exchange for WTVR-TV in Richmond, Virginia (which had to be divested by Media General due to FCC same-market cross-ownership restrictions).
The trade left Raycom without a station in the Jackson market until 2006 when it acquired WLBT as part of its purchase of The Liberty Corporation. WJTV shut down its analog signal on June 12, 2009, as part of the DTV transition in the United States. The station had been broadcasting its pre-transition digital signal on UHF channel 52, but returned to channel 12 for its post-transition operations. Its original digital transmitter was located at its studios on TV Road.