KDNL-TV, virtual channel 30 (UHF digital channel 31), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to St. Louis, Missouri, United States. The station is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. KDNL's studios are located on Cole Street in the Downtown West section of St. Louis, and its transmitter is located in Shrewsbury. On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channel 12 in both standard and high definition, and on AT&T U-verse channels 30 (SD) and 1030 (HD).
As an independent station
Channel 30 first signed on the air on June 8, 1969 as the first UHF television station in the St. Louis market in more than twelve years. Though its construction permit was awarded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1966 to a group of local investors under the banner Greater Saint Louis Television Corporation, the station was signed-on under the ownership of Evans Broadcasting, a New York City-based company which acquired the permit in 1968. Initially KDNL-TV ran a format of business news, religious shows, rejected network programs from NBC affiliate KSD-TV (channel 5, now KSDK) and then-ABC outlet KTVI (channel 2), and classic movies. By 1976, the station's schedule became more of the then-standard for independent stations of the era, including cartoons, westerns, sitcoms, religious shows during the early mornings and movies in primetime and late nights. Also in 1976, KDNL began televising St. Louis Blues hockey games, which ran on the station for five seasons.
In 1977, the business news block was gradually eliminated, making way for the addition of a few more second-hand classic sitcoms. It also phased out English dubs of Japanese programs. By this time, the station had evolved into a more conventional general entertainment independent, but its viewership was far behind that of established independent KPLR-TV (channel 11), as KDNL's big disadvantage that at the time was it was the only UHF station in St. Louis.
In March 1981, Evans Broadcasting agreed to sell the station to Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises. Programming during this time continued to consist of classic sitcoms, a couple of rejected network shows, and some religious programs during the day. Also in 1981, Channel 30 began carrying business news programming from the Financial News Network. On June 1, 1982, not long after Cox took control of the station, KDNL-TV began running subscription television service Preview during the nighttime hours, leaving KPLR-TV as the only full-time independent station in the St. Louis market. Preview was dropped nine months later, and the station resumed running the usual primetime fare of movies and classic sitcoms until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Channel 30 regained the broadcast rights to the Blues in 1983 for an additional three seasons. In 1984, cartoons were added to the lineup and the station reduced the number of religious programs on its schedule. Also under Cox ownership, the station won bids to acquire stronger off-network sitcoms.
As a Fox affiliate
On October 9, 1986, KDNL-TV and Cox's other two independent stations, KTVU in Oakland and WKBD-TV in Detroit, joined the Fox Broadcasting Company as charter affiliates. It eventually began branding as "Fox 30" by the early 1990s. However, the station was still programmed as an independent, as Fox would not air a full week's worth of programming until September 1993. Still, during this time, it began edging closer to KPLR (which had turned the Fox affiliation down before the network approached KDNL) in the ratings after having been well behind channel 11 for most of its first two decades on the air. In 1989, Cox sold channel 30 to St. Louis-based River City Broadcasting, a new company formed by two former KPLR employees.
As a Fox affiliate, KDNL boasted one of the largest Fox Kids Clubs in the nation, second only to the one operated by WOIO in Cleveland.
In 1994, New World Communications bought St. Louis' longtime ABC affiliate, KTVI, and three other stations from Argyle Television. On May 22 of that year, New World signed an affiliation deal to switch the majority of its stations, including KTVI, to Fox. ABC originally wanted to affiliate with the longer-established KPLR. However, that station opted to affiliate with The WB (in preparation for that network's January 1995 launch) instead. More or less by default, ABC cut a deal to affiliate with KDNL and moved its programming there on August 7, 1995. Soon after joining the network, KDNL began showing UPN programming during the late night hours. Despite its large size, the St. Louis market did not have enough commercial stations at the time to support a full-time UPN affiliate. The station gradually began taking on the look of a major-network affiliate, picking up more first-run syndicated programs and reducing its reliance on older sitcoms.
On April 11, 1996, River City announced that it would merge with the Sinclair Broadcast Group for $2.3 billion. KDNL dropped the secondary UPN affiliation in January 1998, leaving the network without an outlet in St. Louis until religious station KNLC (channel 24) affiliated with the network in May 1999 (the UPN affiliation would subsequently move to KPLR the following year; St. Louis did not have a full-time UPN affiliate until East St. Louis-based WRBU (channel 46, now an Ion Television owned-and-operated station) joined the network in April 2003). In June 1999, Sinclair tried to sell KDNL to Emmis Communications as part of a sale that included six local radio stations that the company also owned in St. Louis at the time – KPNT (105.7 FM); KXOK-FM (97.1 FM, now KFTK-FM); WVRV (101.1 FM, now WXOS); WRTH (1430 AM, now KZQZ); WIL-FM (92.3); and KIHT (96.3 FM, now KNOU); Sinclair later pulled KDNL from the Emmis deal, opting to only sell the radio properties to the Indianapolis-based broadcaster for $220 million in June 2000. Sinclair once again tried to sell the station in June 2002, as part of the company's eventually aborted attempt to sell all seven of its ABC-affiliated stations to focus on its Fox and WB stations.
For most of its tenure as an ABC affiliate, KDNL has been among the network's weakest affiliates (this is in stark contrast to KTVI, which had been one of ABC's strongest affiliates). Several ABC shows, such as Good Morning America and World News Tonight, have garnered ratings so low in the St. Louis market that A.C. Nielsen cannot even rate them since the sample sizes are too small to generate a rating. As a result, KDNL has typically placed fifth among the St. Louis market's television stations, behind KPLR (a rare fourth-place finish for KDNL in 2013 played a factor in KPLR owner Tribune Broadcasting being able to buy KTVI as part of its purchase of Local TV, which given KDNL's usual ratings performance, would have otherwise not been allowed under FCC duopoly rules). Ironically, given its status, KDNL was actually the local broadcaster for the St. Louis Rams' victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, which had aired on ABC.
The station was also known to preempt ABC prime time programming in favor of paid programming. In November 2004, KDNL preempted ABC's telecast of the film Saving Private Ryan, following the lead of other Sinclair-owned ABC affiliates, over concerns regarding the violent battle scenes and graphic profanity that were left intact as ABC aired the film uncut (this occurred nine months after the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy).
Sinclair refused to allow Charter Communications to carry KDNL's high definition signal until April 19, 2007 (when KDNL-DT began airing on Charter digital channel 780 as part of a three-year national retransmission agreement between Sinclair and Charter), making the station the longest holdout in the area to make its high definition digital feed available on the provider (not counting CBS affiliate KMOV pulling its HD signal from Charter in January 2007). On June 23, 2011, KDNL upgraded its severe weather ticker to be overlaid on high definition programming without having to downconvert HD content to standard definition.
Because of the station's lackluster performance, there have been recurring rumors about KPLR pursuing the ABC affiliation (despite owner Tribune Broadcasting's strong affiliation ties to The CW, and that group's near lack of any Big Three network affiliates among its stations until it acquired the Local TV station group) after KDNL's affiliation agreement expired due to that station's management agreement with (and now, outright ownership of) KTVI and their downplaying of references to its CW affiliation as part of that station's on-air branding, along with experimentation with The CW primetime schedule to maximize ratings. However, Sinclair has continued to include KDNL as part of affiliation agreement renewals with the group's other ABC-affiliated stations. Most recently, the network extended its affiliation agreement with KDNL and Sinclair's other ABC stations for five years on September 30, 2014, which will keep KDNL affiliated with the network until at least August 2020. As of 2014, through the company's various station acquisitions over the prior three years, Sinclair is now the largest ABC affiliate group, making it unlikely the station will lose its affiliation with the network in the near future.
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair entered into an agreement to acquire Tribune Media—which has owned KTVI and KPLR since 2013—for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. (Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley cited St. Louis as one of three markets out of fourteen where ownership conflicts exist between the two groups, and the proposed acquisition would likely result in divestitures.) While it also had to comply with rules prohibiting broadcasters from legally owning more than two full-power television stations in a single market, the unique situation between KDNL and KPLR also posed issues for which station combination Sinclair could have direct ownership of. KTVI consistently ranks among the four highest-rated stations in the St. Louis market in total day viewership, but KDNL and KPLR have alternated between fourth and fifth place in total-day ratings since the 2001 shutdown of KDNL's news department, with channel 11 ranking in fourth place and KDNL ranked fifth at the time of the merger announcement, which hampered a direct acquisition of KTVI unless KPLR was sold. (In contrast, KPLR and KTVI were allowed to be legally co-owned when Tribune acquired former KTVI owner Local TV in December 2013, as KDNL was the fourth place outlet at the time.)
Sinclair originally planned to retain operational stewardship of KPLR-TV through a local marketing agreement (possibly involving one of its partner companies); however, in an amendment to the Sinclair-Tribune merger submitted on February 21, 2018, the group announced that it would keep KDNL, purchase KTVI's license and assets, and sell KPLR-TV to an independent third party. On April 24, 2018, Des Moines, Iowa-based Meredith Corporation announced that it would purchase KPLR-TV for $65 million; the deal would have created a new duopoly between KPLR-TV and KMOV, the latter of which Meredith has owned since February 2014. The sale was canceled on May 15, amid objections by the Justice Department, likely due to similar viewership and advertising market conditions that led the agency to reject the Gannett Company's 2013 proposal to operate KMOV under an LMA with KSDK (now owned by Gannett broadcasting spinoff Tegna) and sell the former's license to Tucker Operating Company LLC; in a revised filing, Sinclair said it would instead put KPLR into a divestiture trust administered by Rafamedia LLC, led by media broker Richard A. Foreman, for sale to a independent third party that does not already own a television station in St. Louis.
Three weeks after the FCC's July 18 vote to have the deal reviewed by an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain conflict properties, on August 9, 2018, Tribune announced it would terminate the Sinclair deal, intending to seek other M&A opportunities. Tribune also filed a breach of contract lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court, alleging that Sinclair engaged in protracted negotiations with the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division over regulatory issues, refused to sell stations in markets where it already had properties, and proposed divestitures to parties with ties to Sinclair executive chair David D. Smith that were rejected or highly subject to rejection to maintain control over stations it was required to sell.
|TV stations in Missouri|
|KDNL, St. Louis|
|TV stations in the Greater St. Louis and Metro East Illinois areas|
|KTVI 2 (Fox) |
KMOV 4 (CBS)
KSDK 5 (NBC)
KPTN-LD 7 (HSN)
KETC 9 (PBS)
KPLR 11 (CW)
WPXS 13 (Daystar)
KDTL-LD 16 (RTV)
KEFN-CD 20 (EWTN)
KNLC 24 (MeTV)
K25NG-D 25 (3ABN)
W29CI-D 29 (3ABN)
KDNL 30 (ABC)
KBGU-LP 33 (Buzzr)
K38HD-D 38 (HSN)
WODK-LD 45 (Cozi TV)
WRBU 46 (Ion)
W50CH 50 (Ind)