WATN-TV, virtual channel 24 (UHF digital channel 25), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Memphis, Tennessee, United States. The station is owned by the Nexstar Media Group, as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate WLMT (channel 30). The two stations share studios at the Shelby Oaks Corporate Park on Shelby Oaks Drive in the northeast section of Memphis; WATN's transmitter is located in the Brunswick section of unincorporated northeast Shelby County. WATN and WLMT's studio facilities also handle master control and some internal operations for Jackson-licensed Fox affiliate WJKT (channel 16).

History[edit | edit source]

As an independent station, then Fox affiliate[edit | edit source]

The station first signed on the air on September 10, 1978 as WPTY-TV, and was the first station on the UHF band and first independent station in the market, as well as the first new commercial station to sign on in Memphis since WREG-TV (channel 3) debuted 23 years earlier. Memphis had a longer wait for an independent station than other cities its size. Although Memphis itself had almost 650,000 people at the time channel 24 signed on, the Memphis market has always been a medium-sized market because the surrounding suburban and rural areas aren't much larger than Memphis itself. The station originally operated from studios located at 2225 Union Avenue in Memphis.

It was owned by Petry Television (the source of its call letters), and ran a general entertainment format featuring cartoons, movies, sitcoms, westerns and drama series. WPTY also carried NBC, CBS and ABC programs whenever WREG-TV, WMC-TV (channel 5) and WHBQ-TV (channel 13) preempted network shows in favor of local programs. By 1983, WPTY gained competition when the TVX Broadcast Group signed on WMKW (channel 30, now WLMT), sparking a rivalry between the two independents. Petry sold the station to Precht Communications in 1984.

TVX signed a deal to affiliate all of its stations with Fox in 1987, which resulted in WMKW becoming Memphis' Fox affiliate. Precht Communications sold the station to Chase Broadcasting in 1988. In February 1990, Fox pulled its affiliation from channel 30 (by then known as WLMT) and gave it to WPTY. This occurred because WLMT had been sold a few months earlier, and TVX's affiliation agreement with Fox included a clause stating that if an under-performing TVX station was sold, it ran the risk of losing its affiliation.

Chase Broadcasting merged with Renaissance Broadcasting in 1992. Due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules which limited the number of stations a company could own, Renaissance was forced to put WPTY and several other stations up for sale. WPTY was purchased by Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia) later that year. In 1993, Clear Channel entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with WLMT's then-owner MT Communications, allowing the once rivals to pool resources and programming.

As an ABC affiliate[edit | edit source]

In 1995, WPTY was set to be displaced as Memphis' Fox outlet after Fox unexpectedly bought longtime ABC affiliate WHBQ-TV; the purchase was finalized on July 5, 1995. However, News Corporation had to run WHBQ as an ABC affiliate for over five months after the sale was completed. ABC ultimately chose to affiliate with WPTY; the two stations switched affiliations on December 1, 1995.

The station gradually took on the look of a traditional network affiliate, running mostly first run syndicated shows and a few sitcoms while WLMT ran cartoons, movies, sitcoms and some reality/talk shows. Shortly after joining ABC, WPTY picked up a secondary affiliation with The WB, airing the network's schedule in late nights. This was because Memphis, despite its relatively large size, didn't have enough stations for a separate WB affiliate. In 2001, Clear Channel bought WLMT outright from Max Media, creating the first television duopoly in the Memphis market. Clear Channel moved WB programming to WLMT in 2003.

On April 20, 2007, Clear Channel entered into an agreement to sell its entire television station group to Newport Television, a company controlled by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners. Newport announced on July 19, 2012, that it would sell 12 of its stations, including WPTY and WLMT, to Nexstar Broadcasting Group. The transaction was finalized on December 3.

On June 1, 2013, WPTY, WLMT and WJKT's operations were moved to a converted former MCI call center on the city's northeast side. Nexstar invested $5 million in constructing the new facilities, which included high definition cameras and other new studio equipment, a new set repurposed from sister station KLRT-TV in Little Rock (which consolidated its news department with KARK-TV earlier that year after Nexstar purchased the station through Mission Broadcasting as a result of the Newport deal), equipment to allow reporters from its new sister station KARK to appear on-air, and a shift away from automation for the production of its newscasts (the station formerly used Ross Overdrive for newscast automation, but continues to use other Ross products in the new facilities). As a result of these changes, WPTY became the final station in the Memphis market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. Alongside the new studio and HD transition, WPTY re-launched as "Local 24" and changed its call letters to WATN-TV as part of a campaign coinciding with the move.

On December 3, 2018, Nexstar announced it would acquire the assets of Chicago-based Tribune Media—which has owned WREG-TV since December 2013—for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. Nexstar is precluded from acquiring WREG directly or indirectly, as FCC regulations prohibit common ownership of more than two stations in the same media market, or two or more of the four highest-rated stations in the market. (Furthermore, any attempt by Nexstar to assume the operations of WREG through local marketing or shared services agreements may be subject to regulatory hurdles that could delay completion of the FCC and Justice Department's review and approval process for the acquisition.) As such, Nexstar will be required to sell either WREG-TV or WATN-TV to a separate, unrelated company to address the ownership conflict. (As WLMT does not rank among the top four in total-day viewership and therefore is not in conflict with existing FCC in-market ownership rules, that station optionally can be retained by Nexstar regardless of whether it chooses to retain ownership of WATN or sell WATN in order to acquire WREG or, should it be divested, be sold to the prospective buyer of WATN.) On March 20, 2019, McLean, Virginia-based Tegna Inc. announced it would purchase WATN-TV and WLMT from Nexstar upon consummation of the merger, as part of the company's sale of nineteen Nexstar- and Tribune-operated stations to Tegna and the E. W. Scripps Company in separate deals worth $1.32 billion; this would make the duopoly sister stations to NBC affiliate WBIR-TV in Knoxville and CBS affiliate KTHV in Little Rock.

TV stations in Tennessee
WKRN, Nashville

WATN, Memphis
WTVC, Chattanooga
WJHL-DT2, Johnson City/Kingsport/Bristol
WATE, Knoxville
WBBJ, Jackson

TV stations in Western Tennessee, Northwestern Mississippi and the Eastern Delta Region of Arkansas, including Memphis and Oxford
WHBQ 13 (Fox)
WTWV 23 (Rel)
WLMT 30 (CW)
WWTW 34 (Ind.)
WQEK-LD 36 (Cozi)
W50EA-D 42 (3ABN)
WPXX 50 (Ion)
WDNM-LD 59 (Daystar)
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