WAVE, virtual channel 3 (UHF digital channel 36), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Louisville, Kentucky, United States. The station is owned by Gray Television. WAVE's studios are located on South Floyd Street in downtown Louisville, and its transmitter is located in New Albany, Indiana (alongside the transmitter of CBS affiliate WLKY, channel 32). On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channel 6 in both standard and high definition.
The station first signed on the air on November 24, 1948, originally broadcasting on VHF channel 5 with an effective radiated power of 24,100 watts. WAVE was the first television station to sign on in the state of Kentucky, and the 41st to debut in the United States.
The station has been a primary NBC affiliate since its debut, owing to its sister radio station's longtime affiliation with the NBC Red Network; however, it also initially carried secondary affiliations with ABC, CBS and the DuMont Television Network. The national coaxial cable did not reach Louisville until 1950, so prior to that, NBC programs were shown on film, as was national and foreign news.
On May 7, 1949, WAVE-TV became the first television station in the United States to present a live telecast of the Kentucky Derby. The station shipped a canned newsreel of the event to NBC to broadcast nationally. The telecast was the first use of a Zoomar Lens in a television sports broadcast. The lens was loaned to WAVE by inventor Frank Back. Not long after the Derby, WAVE acquired a Zoomar lens of its own, which was frequently loaned to the other stations owned by WAVE-TV.
WAVE-TV lost CBS programming when WHAS-TV (channel 11, now an ABC affiliate) signed on in March 1950; it later lost DuMont when the network folded in August 1956. Channel 3 continued to share ABC programming with WHAS-TV until WLKY (channel 32) signed on as a full-time affiliate in September 1961. It has remained with NBC since then, and as such, WAVE is the only commercial television station in the Louisville market that has never changed its primary network affiliation.
In 1953, WAVE-TV moved to VHF channel 3, due to signal interference issues with fellow NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati. The move included a new, 100,000 watt transmitter and 600-foot (183 m) tower atop a 925-foot (282 m) (above sea level) knob above New Albany, Indiana. This increased WAVE-TV's coverage by 66%. WAVE-TV made history again in 1954 as it became the first station in Louisville to broadcast programming in color; viewers were treated to a vivid image of the new NBC Peacock logo.
During 1958–59, WAVE-TV produced, in its studios, educational programs for Jefferson County Schools—the forerunner of WFPK-TV (channel 15, now WKPC-TV). From 1954 to 1962, WAVE-TV also produced, in its studio, Tomorrow's Champions, a police-sponsored program for young amateur boxers. Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) got his start there.
In July 1959, having long since outgrown its original studio facility on East Broadway (which now houses the Louisville offices for Metro United Way), WAVE-TV moved into its current downtown facility at 725 South Floyd Street. The new, specially designed building was dedicated with a commissioned opera, Beatrice, by Lee Hoiby. George Norton's wife, Jane Morton Norton, an accomplished artist herself, also commissioned original paintings for the building and statues for the adjacent WAVE Garden. The Garden, facing on Broadway, is a small park with water and greenery, now dedicated to the late George Norton. Three years later, in 1962, channel 3 became the first station in the region to transmit live, locally produced programming in color. By 1966, it was the only Kentucky station that processed its own news footage on color film and, in 1969, WAVE-TV became the first station in the market to employ a certified television meteorologist (Tom Wills) and operate its own weather-forecasting system.
The station notably refers to its coverage area as "WAVE Country", echoing a popular jingle and image campaign that the station introduced in the early 1970s. In fact, that very jingle served as the image campaign of the Al Ham-composed news music package "Home Country."
WAVE-TV was founded and owned by George W. Norton Jr., a lawyer and financier who had also put WAVE radio (970 AM, now WGTK) on the air in 1933. Over the years, the Nortons acquired three other television stations and two other radio stations. They purchased WFIE-TV (Evansville, Indiana) in 1956; WFRV-TV (Green Bay, Wisconsin) and semi-satellite WJMN-TV (Marquette, Michigan) in 1961; and WMT-AM-FM-TV (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) in 1968, all of which shared a common logotype style. Following the last acquisition, the Norton holdings became known as Orion Broadcasting, "after a prominent and brilliant constellation". With WAVE-TV-AM serving as the flagship station, Orion greatly expanded its news, weather, editorials, agricultural programs, and documentaries. News bureaus were set up in Frankfort, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C. As a result, WAVE-TV-AM won a number of national awards, including a Peabody in 1978.
Orion merged with Liberty Corporation in 1981. WAVE-TV then became part of Liberty's broadcast arm, Cosmos Broadcasting. WAVE radio was then sold off; the WAVE cluster had been grandfathered when the FCC banned common ownership of radio and television stations in the same market in the 1960s, but lost its grandfathered protection with the Liberty merger. As the radio station promptly changed its call sign to WAVG, Cosmos dropped the "-TV" suffix from the WAVE callsign in 1987. In 1991, the station began transmitting its signal from a new broadcast tower in Oldham County; the 1,739 feet (530 m) transmitter tower (which is 70% taller than most television broadcast towers), which is the tallest structure in the state, cost $5 million to build and helped to improve WAVE's signal coverage. When the Liberty Corporation exited from the insurance industry in 2000, WAVE came directly under the Liberty banner; in August 2005, Liberty announced that it would merge with the Montgomery, Alabama-based Raycom Media; the sale was finalized on January 31, 2006. This brought it a new sister station nearby in the Cincinnati market to the north, Fox affiliate WXIX-TV.
Sale to Gray Television
On June 25, 2018, Atlanta-based Gray Television announced it had reached an agreement with Raycom to merge their respective broadcasting assets (consisting of Raycom's 63 existing owned-and/or-operated television stations, including WAVE), and Gray's 93 television stations) under Gray's corporate umbrella. The cash-and-stock merger transaction valued at $3.6 billion – in which Gray shareholders would acquire preferred stock currently held by Raycom – resulted in WAVE gaining new sister stations in nearby markets, including CBS affiliate WKYT-TV in Lexington (and its semi-satellite WYMT-TV in Hazard) and ABC/Fox affiliate WBKO in Bowling Green, in addition to its current Raycom sister stations. The combined company will be in every market in or surrounding Kentucky, except for Nashville (which covers a few counties in the south-central part of the state), as a result. The sale was approved on December 20, and was completed on January 2, 2019.