WFDC-DT, virtual channel 14 (UHF digital channel 15), is a Univision-owned television station serving the American capital city of Washington, District of Columbia that is licensed to Arlington, Virginia. Owned by the Univision Local Media subsidiary of Univision Communications, it is operated under a local marketing agreement (LMA) by Entravision Communications, making it sister to Silver Spring, Maryland-licensed Sonlife Broadcasting Network affiliate WJAL (channel 68) and Washington-licensed low-power, Class A UniMás affiliate WMDO-CD (channel 47). The three stations share studios on Constitution Avenue near the Capitol Building; WFDC shares transmitter facilities with CW affiliate WDCW (channel 50) in the Tenleytown section of Washington's northwest quadrant.
Prior history of channel 14 in Washington
Channel 14 first signed on as WOOK-TV on March 5, 1963 as the first television station in the country aimed at the African-American demographic. WOOK's claim to fame was their teen-oriented dance show called Teenarama, which featured big-name acts such as James Brown and Marvin Gaye. In 1968, the station changed its call letters to WFAN-TV to match its co-owned radio station at 100.3 FM. From 1968 to 1972, channel 14 was the sister station to WMET-TV (channel 24) in Baltimore, Maryland. Both stations were owned by United Broadcasting. On February 12, 1972, WFAN-TV went dark after accumulating financial difficulties and due to license hearings affecting its sister stations.
Channel 14 was back on the air in 1976 in the form of translator W14AA, relaying Central Virginia Educational Television Corporation's WNVT from Annandale, Virginia. CVETC attempted to have the full-powered channel 14 allocation moved to Fairfax, but this request caused controversy among District of Columbia elected officials and other interested applicants who argued that the city was under-served by local television. CVETC accepted the allocation of channel 56 to Fairfax as a compromise, and upon the sign-on of WNVC in June 1981 W14AA was no longer necessary. CVETC received special approval to broadcast Congressional hearings in the interim; later in the year, the station was sold to Los Cerezos Television Co., who converted it to an affiliate of the Spanish International Network (Univision's predecessor). This station moved to channel 48 in 1989 and is today WMDO-CD.
WFDC station history
In 1985, the channel 14 allocation was awarded to Theodore M. White's Urban Broadcasting Corporation. The plan was to enter the market of general independent stations, dominated by WTTG (channel 5) and WDCA (channel 20) and soon to be joined by WFTY (channel 50); Milton Grant, who founded WDCA, consulted White on programming acquisition. Although the station claimed to the Washington Post it was aiming to start operations in the spring of 1986, legal wrangling continued among competing applicants delayed sign-on.
It was a further seven years before WTMW signed on April 3, 1993 as a Home Shopping Network (HSN) affiliate. Barry Diller's Silver King Broadcasting, predecessor to HSN's broadcasting arm, USA Broadcasting, had taken a 45% stake in the station in 1989 in order to keep it afloat. Urban Broadcasting filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy less than two years later, on July 3, 1995.
As part of WTMW's plan to emerge from bankruptcy, it agreed to begin broadcasting HSN's secondary network America's Store in 1997. A further dispute arose over this agreement. WTMW was originally licensed with an effective radiated power of 2,880 kilowatts. While testing its signal before sign-on, it was discovered that WTMW caused interference to local land mobile radio operations, and the filters required to reduce out-of-band transmissions necessitated a permanent reduction in power to 2,541 kW. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted WTMW authorization to sign on with 1,440 kW, half of the original power. There were further issues with the transmitting equipment due to failed klystrons; bankruptcy proceedings revealed WTMW broadcast for a "substantial amount of time" at just 360 kW, or one-eighth of the original power. HSN's agreement with WTMW required it to broadcast at its full authorized power to receive compensation from the network; over HSN's objections that Urban Broadcasting was not capable of remedying the transmitter issues, the court found that it was and allowed the agreement to stand. After emerging from bankruptcy, WTMW claimed that its interpretation of the contract set the power requirement at 1,271 kW (i.e., half of 2,541), and not 1,440 kW, which triggered another lawsuit with HSN over which was correct.
The lawsuits over the affiliation contract were decided in HSN's favor, and on May 10, 1999, White removed America's Store programming due to non-payment and began broadcasting the Military Channel without warning. Irate viewers flooded local cable companies, who were not aware of the change themselves, with phone calls. The Military Channel, similar in programming but unrelated to Discovery Communications' later cable channel of the same name, had broadcast to just one million cable homes since 1993, but underwent aggressive expansion through satellite carriage and leased access to cable networks starting in 1998. When this did not deliver viewers, the network spent most of 1999 beset by financial trouble; WTMW was its only documented over-the-air affiliate. After several deals to rescue its operations fell through, the Military Channel went dark for good in July. WTMW left the network early on June 12. White said to the Post that the military programming was deeply unpopular, and "people seemed to want shopping back on our channel." Shopping returned by way of the cable-based Panda Shopping Network, which had been newly acquired by pay-per-view operator TVN Entertainment Corporation.
WTMW became an affiliate of the American Independent Network, which primarily broadcast reruns of old sitcoms and infomercials, on December 20 of the same year. Without the fixed income from its HSN affiliation, however, Urban Broadcasting filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy again in August 2000. Concurrently in December, Univision Communications bought all of USA Broadcasting's over-the-air stations including its 45% stake in WTMW.
After two years with AIN, WTMW switched to the locally-based "Renaissance Network" around its launch on January 15, 2001, which provided the same general-entertainment format mixed with current affairs and politics programming with conservative viewpoints. This was short-lived, as Univision Communications purchased WTMW outright along with the rest of Urban Broadcasting's assets in an April 2001 bankruptcy auction. Univision already had an established Washington affiliate, Entravision Communications' WMDO-CA, so the rechristened WFDC instead became a charter affiliate of Univision's new secondary network TeleFutura, now known as UniMás, on January 14, 2002.
This arrangement presented the obvious deficiency of Univision's primary network remaining on a low-powered station that was not subject to must-carry rules. On January 1, 2006, Univision Communications entered into a 16-year joint sales agreement (JSA) with Entravision, in which Entravision agreed to cede the market's Univision affiliation to WFDC in return for taking over its operation and advertising sales. WMDO-CA switched networks to TeleFutura on the same day. WMDO-CD and WFDC are to remain with their respective networks until the agreement's expiration on December 31, 2021, and the Univision affiliation automatically returns to WMDO-CD if the agreement expires or is terminated early.
On April 3, 2014, Katz Broadcasting announced plans to multicast Grit and Escape on WFDC's DT3 and DT4 subchannels. The two networks began broadcasting on August 18, 2014. Escape was replaced by Katz's Bounce TV on September 30, 2017.