WDAF-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 34), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Kansas City, Missouri, United States and serving the Kansas City metropolitan area. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company. WDAF-TV's studio and transmitter are located on Summit Street in the Signal Hill section of Kansas City, Missouri. On cable, WDAF-TV is available on Charter Spectrum, Comcast Xfinity and Consolidated Communications channel 6, and Google Fiber and AT&T U-verse channel 4. There is a high definition feed provided on Spectrum digital channel 1206, Xfinity channel 805, Consolidated channel 640 and U-verse channel 1004.
WDAF-TV also serves as an alternate Fox affiliate for the St. Joseph market (which borders the Kansas City Designated Market Area to the north), as the station's transmitter produces a city-grade signal that reaches St. Joseph proper and rural areas in the market's central and southern counties. WDAF previously served as the default NBC station for St. Joseph until it disaffiliated from the network in September 1994 (presently, NBC programming in St. Joseph is provided by KNPG-LD), and as the market's de facto Fox affiliate from that point on until KNPN-LD (channel 26) signed on as an in-market affiliate on June 2, 2012.
As an NBC affiliate
On January 30, 1948, The Kansas City Star Co. – the locally based parent company of the Kansas City Star, which operated as an employee-owned entity at the time – submitted an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a construction permit to build and license to operate a television station that would transmit on VHF channel 4. The FCC granted the license for the proposed television station to the Star Co. on the same day; the company subsequently requested to use WDAF-TV (standing for "Why Dial Any Further?) as its call letters, applying the base call sign originally assigned to its radio station on 610 AM (now KCSP; on radio, the WDAF calls now reside on 106.5 FM through a September 2003 format change that also saw the former's country music format move from the AM station, which adopted a sports talk format). (Channel 4 is among a handful of U.S. broadcast stations that is an exception to an FCC rule that assigns call signs prefixed with a "K" to television and radio stations with cities of license located west of the Mississippi River and call signs prefixed with a "W" to stations located east of the river. The anomaly in the case of the WDAF television and radio stations is due to the fact that Kansas City was originally located east of the original "K"/"W" border distinction defined by the FCC at the time that the WDAF call letters were assigned to both stations.)
The station commenced test broadcasts on September 11, 1949, with a three-day event held at Kansas City, Missouri's Municipal Auditorium on West 13th and Central Streets, which was presented by Kansas City Star Co. president Roy A. Roberts and WDAF-TV-AM general manager H. Dean Fitzer. Channel 4 informally signed on the air on September 29, when it broadcast coverage of President Harry S. Truman's speech at the Municipal Auditorium. WDAF-TV officially commenced regular programming two weeks later at 6:00 p.m. on October 16, 1949; the station's first broadcast was The Birth of a TV Station, a special 30-minute documentary inaugurating channel 4's launch, which featured speeches from Roberts and Fitzer as well as topical features on the station's development and a film outlining programs that would air on WDAF. It was the second television station to sign on in Missouri (after KSDK in St. Louis, which debuted in February 1947 as KSD-TV) and the first to sign on in the Kansas City market. WDAF-TV has maintained studio facilities based at 31st and Summit Streets in Kansas City, Missouri's Signal Hill neighborhood since its sign-on; the station originally maintained transmitter facilities on a 724-foot (221 m) broadcast tower located atop the building. (Since the transmitter facility was relocated to a tower across the street from the Summit Avenue studios, on Bellevue Avenue near West 30th Street, in 1969, the original tower at the studio facility has remained in use for auxiliary transmissions).
Channel 4 originally operated as a primary affiliate of NBC – an affiliation that was owed to WDAF radio's longtime relationship with the television network's direct predecessor, the NBC Red Network, which it had been affiliated with since 1925 (when the station transmitted on 680 AM) as the network's westernmost affiliate – although it also maintained secondary affiliations with CBS, ABC and the DuMont Television Network. Under Star ownership, the station largely utilized WDAF radio employees to staff the television station; among the notable staffers employed with both stations in its early years included Randall Jessee (who served as WDAF-TV's first news anchor), Shelby Storck (who was the station's first weathercaster), and future Hollywood character actor Owen Bush (who served as an on-staff announcer during the early 1950s). Among the local programs that WDAF aired during its early years included the half-hour daytime talk program The Bette Hayes Show, the 90-minute-long daily children's program Dr. Inventor, and a weekly television program on religion hosted by Arthur Otto Ackenbom that ran from 1955 to 1956. For several years, WDAF-TV's daily sign-on and sign-off sequence was accompanied by a recording of Gordon MacRae's rendition of "The Lord's Prayer."
The station would lose affiliations with three of the networks from which it cherry-picked programs in the late summer of 1953, when WDAF gained its first commercial television competitors in the Kansas City market. Programming from CBS and DuMont moved to WHB-TV and KMBC-TV (channel 9; KMBC became the sole occupant of that channel in June 1954), which shared affiliations with the two networks when both stations signed on under a timesharing arrangement between their respective licensees, the Cook Paint and Varnish Company and the Midland Broadcasting Company, on August 2 of that year. Channel 4 shared the ABC affiliation with WHB/KMBC until September 27, when KCMO-TV (channel 5, now KCTV) signed on as the network's original full-time Kansas City affiliate (KMBC and KCMO would swap affiliations two years later in September 1955); this left channel 4 as an exclusive affiliate with NBC.
Also in 1953, the U.S. Department of Justice initiated an antitrust investigation against the Star over its ownership of WDAF radio and WDAF-TV; the investigation was reportedly opened at the behest of President Harry S. Truman, who had been engaged in a long-standing feud with the newspaper over its opposition to the Kansas City native's presidency and his policy proposals. The investigation culminated in the Justice Department filing indictment charges against the Star on the grounds that it engaged in monopolistic practices in its sale of advertising for the newspaper and its television and radio stations. The case was taken to court in 1955, two years after the close of the Truman administration, a federal grand jury found the Star guilty at the end of the one-month restraint-of-trade trial. After attempts to appeal the ruling failed, the Star signed a consent decree in 1957 that required it to stop combining advertising and subscription rates for the newspaper and sell off its broadcasting interests. On May 18, 1958, the WDAF stations were sold to National-Missouri Broadcasters, the broadcasting division of National Theaters.
On July 13, 1960, National-Missouri Broadcasters merged with Buffalo, New York-based Transcontinent Broadcasting. Under Transcontinent ownership, the two stations were joined by an additional sister radio station, WDAF-FM (102.1, now KCKC). Transcontinent merged with Cincinnati, Ohio-based Taft Broadcasting on February 19, 1964; the transaction was finalized on April 1, 1964.
On July 13, 1984, as NBC began transitioning away from using microwave relays for distribution of its programs to the more economically efficient downlink method, WDAF-TV became one of the first 20 NBC stations to begin receiving the network's programs via satellite transmission. In 1986, it also became the first television station in Kansas City to broadcast in stereo, initially broadcasting NBC network programs and certain syndicated shows that were transmitted in the audio format.
On October 12, 1987, company investors completed a hostile takeover of Taft Broadcasting from the family which owned the company; its new owners restructured the group into the Great American Television and Radio Company (also known as Great American Communications). By that year, WDAF-TV had overtaken KMBC as the dominant station in Kansas City, as was the trend during this period at many NBC-affiliated stations, buoyed by the stronger programming slate that helped the network retake first place in the ratings among the Big Three broadcast networks around that time. In December 1993, Great American Communications underwent another financial restructuring following the company's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Great American then decided to put most of its television stations up for sale.
As a Fox station
=New World Communications ownership
On May 5, 1994, Great American Communications (which would later be renamed Citicasters following the completion of its restructuring) agreed to sell WDAF-TV and three other television stations – CBS affiliate KSAZ-TV in Phoenix, and ABC affiliates WBRC in Birmingham and WGHP in High Point, North Carolina – to New World Communications – for $350 million in cash and $10 million in share warrants; Great American Communications, meanwhile, retained ownership of WDAF radio and sister station KYYS (102.1 FM, now KCKC) until the renamed Citicasters merged with Jacor on February 13, 1996, in a $770 million deal (due to FCC rules at the time that restricted broadcasting companies from owning more than twelve television stations nationwide, WBRC – also due to the agency's prohibition of television station duopolies; New World having purchased Birmingham's NBC affiliate, WVTM-TV, through the Argyle deal – and WGHP were placed in a blind trust and then sold directly to Fox's owned-and-operated station group, Fox Television Stations, in January 1995).
On May 23, 1994, as part of an overall deal in which network parent News Corporation also purchased a 20% equity interest in the group, New World signed a long-term affiliation agreement with Fox to switch thirteen television stations – five that New World had already owned and eight that the company was in the process of acquiring through separate deals with Great American and Argyle Television Holdings (which New World purchased one week later in a purchase option-structured deal for $717 million), including WDAF – to the network. The stations involved in the agreement – all of which were affiliated with one of the three major broadcast networks (CBS, ABC and NBC) – would become Fox affiliates once individual affiliation contracts with each of the stations' existing network partners had expired. The deal was motivated by the National Football League (NFL)'s awarding of the rights to the National Football Conference (NFC) television package to Fox on December 18, 1993, in which the conference's broadcast television rights moved to the network effective with the 1994 NFL season, ending a 38-year relationship with CBS.
At the time the agreement was signed, the affiliation contracts of WDAF-TV and CBS affiliate WJW-TV in Cleveland were up for renewal as they were set to expire on or shortly after September 1, 1994. The timing of New World's purchase of channel 4 and the signing of its affiliation deal with Fox automatically gave NBC only a five-month span until the conclusion of its contract with the station to find another outlet to replace WDAF-TV as its Kansas City affiliate (by comparison, depending on the station, the existing affiliation contracts of most of the other New World stations that were slated to join Fox were not due to expire until as early as December 1994 to as late as September 1996, giving NBC, ABC and CBS more time to find a replacement affiliate). The network entered into negotiations with other area stations in the immediate weeks after the Fox-New World deal was announced, as the projected date of WDAF's switch to Fox was now fast approaching.
NBC first entered into discussions with KCTV for a contract; this concerned CBS, as New World planned to switch several of the network's stronger-performing affiliates in other markets to Fox, which often forced CBS to affiliate with either a former Fox affiliate or a lower-profile independent station, as many of the Big Three stations and – with the exception of Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix – some higher-rated independents it approached rejected offers to join CBS due to its faltering ratings and the older-skewing programming slate it had at the time. To prevent such a situation from happening in Kansas City, CBS decided to approach the Meredith Corporation on a proposal to switch two of KCTV's sister stations – NBC affiliate WNEM-TV in Bay City, Michigan and independent station KPHO-TV in Phoenix – to that network as a condition of keeping the CBS affiliation on channel 5; KMBC-TV was automatically eliminated as an option for NBC as it was in the middle of a long-term affiliation agreement between ABC and that station's owner, Hearst Broadcasting. This left existing Fox station KSHB-TV (channel 41) as the only viable option with which NBC could reach an affiliation agreement; the station's owner, Scripps-Howard Broadcasting, would strike an agreement with NBC to affiliate KSHB with the network on August 1, 1994, agreeing to do so on the condition that it carry as much local news programming as WDAF had aired as an NBC affiliate (Scripps excluded KSHB from the affiliation deal it struck with ABC around the same time – which also renewed affiliation contracts with WEWS-TV in Cleveland and WXYZ-TV in Detroit, both of which were approached by CBS to replace newcomer Fox affiliates WJW and WJBK-TV, which had their CBS affiliations displaced through the Fox-New World deal – due to KMBC's existing agreement with the network).
New World finalized its purchase of WDAF-TV and KSAZ on September 9, 1994; WDAF-TV switched to Fox three days later on September 12, ending its affiliation with NBC after 45 years. It was the second New World station to switch its network affiliation to Fox through the agreement between the two companies (the first to switch was WJW, which traded affiliations with Cleveland's original Fox affiliate, WOIO, nine days earlier on September 3), and was the only one involved in the deal that had been an NBC affiliate prior to switching networks (WVTM-TV, now owned by Hearst Television and ironically now a sister station to WDAF rival KMBC-TV, and KNSD in San Diego, both of which New World later sold to NBC outright, remained with the network) – the other New World stations that joined Fox were previously affiliated with either CBS or ABC.
As with most of the other New World-owned stations affected by the affiliation agreement with Fox, WDAF-TV retained its existing branding – in its instance, "Newschannel 4", which the station adopted as a universal brand in April 1992 as an NBC affiliate – upon the affiliation switch; branding references to Fox, both visually and verbally, were limited in most on-air imaging, with the exception of on-air IDs (which used the tagline "in Kansas City, Newschannel 4 is Fox") that aired until January 1997. In addition to expanding its local news programming, the station added additional syndicated talk shows as well as some reality series and off-network sitcoms to fill time periods that were occupied by NBC's daytime and late-night lineups beforehand, as well as syndicated film packages for broadcast in weekend afternoon timeslots on weeks when Fox did not provide sports programming.
Fox Television Stations ownership
On July 17, 1996, News Corporation announced that it would acquire New World in an all-stock transaction worth $2.48 billion, with the latter company's ten Fox affiliates being folded into the former's Fox Television Stations subsidiary, making them all owned-and-operated stations of the network (the New World Communications name continued as a licensing purpose corporation for WDAF-TV and its sister stations until 2007 under Fox, and from 2009 to 2011 under Local TV ownership); the purchase was finalized on January 22, 1997, making WDAF-TV the first owned-and-operated station of a major network in the Kansas City market since DuMont briefly operated KCTY (channel 25) from December 1953 until it shut down that station in February 1954. On January 26, coinciding with Fox's telecast of Super Bowl XXXI, WDAF-TV subsequently changed its branding from "Newschannel 4" to "Fox 4" under the network's branding conventions (with its newscasts concurrently rebranding as Fox 4 News).
On June 29, 2001, reports surfaced that Fox Television Stations had reached an agreement to sell WDAF and three of its other owned-and-operated stations – WGHP, WBRC and WHBQ-TV in Memphis, Tennessee (which Fox purchased through a separate agreement with Communications Corporation of America as an ABC affiliate in August 1994) – to New York City-based African American business executive Luther Gatling. The deal was reportedly would have been an effort to free ownership cap space (the four stations covered 2.7% of 40.74% of U.S. television households that Fox had access to one of its owned-and-operated stations) to allow Fox to get under the 35% national market reach allowed by any station group and clear enough room to acquire standalone UPN affiliates in four markets that Fox was in the process of acquiring from Chris-Craft Television. Although representatives at WDAF and WHBQ confirmed the sale, News Corporation stated on July 3 that it had only received an offer from Gatling and had not entered into formal sale negotiations. Fox ultimately never reached a deal with Gatling, and retained ownership of the four stations after the FCC raised the national ownership cap that restricted broadcast groups from owning television stations which reached a combined total of U.S. households from 35% to 39% following an order by the U.S. Court of Appeals issued to justify the limit.
Local TV and Tribune ownership
On December 22, 2007, Fox sold WDAF-TV and seven other owned-and-operated stations – WJW, WBRC, WGHP, KTVI in St. Louis, WITI in Milwaukee, KDVR in Denver and KSTU in Salt Lake City – to Local TV (a broadcast holding company operated by private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners that was formed on May 7 of that year to assume ownership of the broadcasting division of The New York Times Company) for $1.1 billion; the sale was finalized on July 14, 2008. On July 1, 2013, the Tribune Company (which in 2008, had formed a joint management agreement involving its Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary and Local TV to operate stations owned by both companies and provide web hosting, technical and engineering services to those run by the latter group) acquired the Local TV stations for $2.75 billion; the sale was completed on December 27.
Aborted sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group; pending sale to Nexstar Media Group
On May 8, 2017, Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. If the deal received regulatory approval, WDAF-TV would have been placed under common ownership with Sinclair's existing Missouri-based stations: CBS affiliates KRCG in Jefferson City, KHQA-TV in Hannibal and KTVO in Kirksville, the Cape Girardeau duopoly of Fox affiliate KBSI and MyNetworkTV affiliate WDKA, and ABC affiliate KDNL-TV in St. Louis (which was involved in an ownership conflict with WDAF's sister duopoly of KTVI and CW affiliate KPLR-TV, which Sinclair attempted to sell to the Meredith Corporation before rescinding that deal due to KPLR and Meredith-owned CBS affiliate KMOV both falling among the FCC's "top-four" ratings threshold for duopolies and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division wanting to seek further review of the transaction). Less than one month after the FCC voted 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 DOJ 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. Had the deal been approved, it would have marked a re-entry into Kansas City for Sinclair, which previously owned KSMO-TV from 1994 to 2005, when it sold that station to Meredith to form a duopoly with KCTV.
On December 3, 2018, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group—which had previously owned ABC affiliate KQTV in St. Joseph from April 1997 until January 2017—announced it would acquire the assets of Tribune Media for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. The deal—which would make Nexstar the largest television station operator by total number of stations upon its expected closure late in the third quarter of 2019—would put WDAF-TV under common ownership with Nexstar's existing virtual clusters in the adjacent markets of Topeka (among NBC affiliate KSNT, Fox affiliate KTMJ-CD and ABC-affiliated SSA partner KTKA-TV) and Joplin (between NBC affiliate KSNF and ABC-affiliated SSA partner KODE-TV). Channel 4 would also retain WHO-DT in Des Moines as a sibling, with Nexstar's current duopoly in that market of WOI-DT and KCWI being sold to Tegna Inc.
|TV stations in Missouri|
|KTVI, St. Louis|
|TV stations in Kansas City|
|WDAF 4 (Fox) |
KCTV 5 (CBS)
KMBC 9 (ABC)
KCPT 19 (PBS)
KCWE 29 (CW)
KCDN-LD 35 (Daystar)
KMCI 38 (Ind.)
KSHB 41 (NBC)
KCMN-LD 42 (Decades)
K45IO-D 45 (HSN)
KUKC-LD 48 (UNI)
KPXE 50 (Ion)
KSMO 62 (MNTV)