WFTS went on the air December 14, 1981 as what was, at the time, Tampa's second independent TV station. The call letters were supposedly chosen to stand for "Family Television Station," and their first slogan was "Catch Familyvision on TV 28."

They were purchased by the Capital Cities corporation in 1984, and were then divested when CapCities bought ABC in 1986. Scripps-Howard took over.

In 1988, WFTS became a Fox affiliate and became known as "Fox 28," occasionally claiming that their call letters stood for "Fox Television Station."

Six years later, after the New World station group announced all their stations would become Fox affiliates, ABC signed a deal with Scripps-Howard, primarily to ensure that their VHF affiliates in Cleveland and Detroit would stay with ABC. But it also meant that WFTS would switch to ABC when New World-owned WTVT switched to Fox in the early morning of December 12, 1994.

As a Fox affiliate, WFTS's entire news operation consisted of 30-second newsbreaks during Fox prime time programming, but both Scripps-Howard and ABC felt that a major network affiliate in a major metropolitan area should have full local news, and so WFTS built one from scratch.

Since their "studios" were located in a glorified tool shed next to Interstate 4, at first, they rented studio space from the Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg. Eventually, they built a new facility in a highly visible location across the street from Raymond James Stadium.

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