The network consists of:
- WETP-TV (digital 41, PSIP 2) Sneedville (serving the Tri-Cities)
- WKOP-TV (digital 17, PSIP 15) Knoxville
WETP-TV was founded on March 15, 1967, as WSJK-TV (Sneedville-Johnson City-Knoxville), the first in a series of four stations that the Tennessee state board of education would establish over the next 12 years, the others being WLJT-TV in Martin, WTCI-TV in Chattanooga, and WCTE-TV in Cookeville. The transmitter was built on Short Mountain near Sneedville, not by choice, but by necessity (see below). Studios were located on rented space at the University of Tennessee's communications building in Knoxville, with a satellite studio located at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. Reception was spotty at best, due to the long distance the signal had to travel and the rugged, mountainous terrain between that area and Short Mountain. Even in the Tri-Cities area, many areas also received a less than adequate signal. The Tri-Cities wouldn't get a city-grade signal from PBS until WSBN-TV in Norton, Virginia, started in 1971 as a satellite of WBRA-TV in Roanoke.
However, WSJK was constrained by two matters. First, the 1955 legislation authorizing a public television system in the state mandated that these stations serve the school populations in their areas first, before all other considerations. Also, the channel 2 signal travels a very long distance under most conditions and WSJK was short-spaced to WDCN-TV in Nashville (now WNPT on channel 8; the channel 2 frequency is now occupied by WKRN-TV), WSB-TV in Atlanta and WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sneedville, located about halfway between the Tri-Cities and Knoxville (and just a few miles south of the Virginia state line), was the only location that could best serve the school populations in the most efficient way, while at the same time protecting WDCN, WSB-TV, and WFMY from interference.
In fact, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that WSJK's transmitter could not be moved even one mile in any direction. Moving it west would cause co-channel interference with WDCN, moving it east would cause interference with WFMY, and moving it to the south would cause interference with WSB-TV. While moving it north would not expose it to potential interference (the nearest channel 2 station northward being WDTN in Dayton, Ohio, over 250 miles away and shielded by the mountains of southeastern Kentucky), to do so would prevent the Knoxville area from getting even a rimshot signal. The FCC formally defined the Short Mountain transmitter site "a broadcasting island," because it was so surrounded by possible interference. Thus, Short Mountain is one of only a few broadcasting transmitter sites in the entire U.S. that cannot be physically relocated in any direction.
The FCC had already allocated channel 15 to Knoxville for noncommercial use, and plans to activate it as a satellite of WSJK cropped up from 1972 onward. There were also attempts to activate a satellite in the Tri-Cities on channel 41. However, they all collapsed, due to a lack of state funding to match the available federal funding, a situation largely caused by the 1970s economic recessions affecting state revenues. Since the State Department of Education had begun all but one of its proposed stations by that point, priority was given to starting up WCTE for the Upper Cumberland region, the last large area of the state that had no public television service at all; that station did not come into service until 1978. As a result, WSJK became, quite by default, the only public television station in the northern two-thirds of East Tennessee. This left Knoxville as one of the largest markets in the country without a city-grade signal from PBS. This was remedied in 1980, when WSJK Home Video was established to provide WSJK programming to the Knoxville area.
A Knoxville station at lastEdit
In 1981, the state legislature passed a law that allowed the state board to transfer its four stations to community organizations (WKNO-TV in Memphis and WDCN in Nashville were operated by, respectively, a community board and the local school board, and were never part of the state system). WSJK was the first to complete the separation in 1983; operational control was transferred to the East Tennessee Public Communications Corporation. Eventually, the state discontinued even token financial support of all ETV operations after the stations were emancipated; this did not adversely affect the stations, because their release to community boards had already encouraged them to develop different sources of financial support.
Almost immediately, the new authority approved plans to build WKOP as the PBS station for the Knoxville area, with WSJK reoriented to serve the Tri-Cities (though it still provides "rimshot" coverage of Knoxville over the air). WKOP began broadcasting on August 15, 1990, on channel 15 from a transmitter and tower located on top of Sharp's Ridge. Although channel 2 was (and still is) reckoned as the main station, its main studios have always been located in Knoxville. In the late 1980s, the station's facilities were moved to East Magnolia Avenue.
In 2000, WSJK-DT (channel 41) and WKOP-DT (channel 17) started operations. On December 25, 2002, WSJK-TV was renamed WETP-TV; for the next seven and a half years, both stations would use the branding "ETP-TV" (East Tennessee Public TV). In 2005, the East Tennessee Public Communications Corporation changed its public name to ETPtv Broadcasting, though its license still bears the former name.
In July of 2008, due to an equipment malfunction, WKOP discontinued broadcasting an analog signal over channel 15. WETP has discontinued its analog broadcasts as of February 17, 2009.
As of March 9, 2009, WETP-DT and WKOP-DT both air PBS World and Create TV on their digital subchannels.
In August 2010, WETP and WKOP adopted the "East Tennessee PBS" branding.