WFLD, virtual channel 32 (UHF digital channel 31), is a Fox owned-and-operated television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the Fox Television Stations subsidiary of Fox Corporation, as part of a duopoly with Gary, Indiana-licensed primary CW affiliate and secondary MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station WPWR-TV (channel 50). The two stations share studios at Michigan Plaza on North Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop, and transmitter facilities atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Loop business district. On cable, WFLD can be seen on Comcast Xfinity channel 12 in most parts of the Chicago area.
As an independent station (1966–1986)
Field Communications ownership
The station first signed on the air on January 4, 1966, as an independent station. WFLD was founded by a joint venture of the parties that each competed individually for the license and construction permit to operate on UHF channel 32. Field Enterprises—owned by heirs of the Marshall Field's department store chain, and publishers of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Daily News—was the station's majority partner (with a 50% interest) and was responsible for managing WFLD's day-to-day operations; they were led by veteran broadcasting executive Sterling C. (Red) Quinlan. The station originally operated from studio facilities located within the Marina City complex on State Street. Channel 32 was christened the "Station of Tomorrow" by an April 1966 Sun-Times article because of its innovative technical developments in broadcasting its signal. It also broadcast news programming from the Sun-Times/Daily News newsroom. From the fall of 1967 to summer of 1970, WFLD aired the final hour of CBS' Saturday daytime schedule from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m., in lieu of the network's owned-and-operated station WBBM-TV (channel 2).
In March 1969, Field entered into an agreement to sell WFLD to New York City-based Metromedia for $10 million. At the time, the Field interests were concerned about running afoul of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s recent scrutiny of commonly owned multiple media outlets within the same market. The deal ultimately fell through nearly one year later in February 1970; following the collapse of the Metromedia purchase attempt, Field instead purchased the 50% share of WFLD that was held by its minority partners.
WFLD was noteworthy for being the longtime home of the local B-movie program Svengoolie. There were two versions of the showcase: the original incarnation of the series began on the station on September 18, 1970, under the title Screaming Yellow Theatre, with local disc jockey Jerry G. Bishop doing scary voices and later wearing a long green wig while portraying the character. Bishop became such a hit with viewers that the show was popularly called "Svengoolie" after his character (although the title of the program did not change), and this version lasted until late in the summer of 1973. The second version premiered on June 16, 1979, with Rich Koz as "Son of Svengoolie", and ran on channel 32 until January 25, 1986. The show was revived on WCIU-TV (channel 26) when it became an English-language independent station in December 1994, and has aired there locally ever since, and began to be broadcast nationally on MeTV in April 2011.
Field Enterprises sold controlling interest in WFLD to Kaiser Broadcasting in May 1972. When the deal was completed in July 1973, the two companies' new partnership resulted in WFLD joining Kaiser's stable of UHF independent stations in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit. In June 1977, Kaiser ended the partnership when it sold its share of the stations back to Field Enterprises. In addition to carrying the traditional fare of sitcoms, drama series, children's programs and first-run syndicated programs, the station also aired movies—initially European releases that were dubbed into English—and local public affairs programming during this period.
To counterprogram against its more established VHF rivals, channel 32 offered older cartoons, older off-network sitcoms, documentaries, drama series, westerns and live sporting events; although, it easily trailed its biggest competitor, WGN-TV (channel 9, formerly a CW affiliate, now again as an independent station), in the ratings among Chicago's independent stations. The station broadcast daily from 10 a.m. to about 1 a.m. during the 1970s, except from September to December, when the station signed on at 7 a.m. Beginning in 1978, WFLD signed on daily before 6 a.m. In 1975, WFLD acquired the local syndication rights to The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family; two years later in 1977, the station won the rights to a stronger slate of cartoons such as Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, Popeye and The Flintstones.
Channel 32 strengthened its syndicated programming slate in 1979, when it acquired the local syndication rights to M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Happy Days and What's Happening!!. The station also acquired the rights to I Love Lucy that year, and later added Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman and Star Trek in 1982. WFLD began to beat WGN-TV in ratings as a result of its stronger programming acquisitions, and the two stations continued to go head-to-head throughout the 1980s. WFLD scored no big ticket program acquisitions in 1980 or 1981; however, in 1982, the station won the local syndication rights to popular series such as Three's Company, Taxi and Mork and Mindy.
Sale to Metromedia
In 1982, Field Enterprises began a sale of its five television stations on an individual basis—a process which continued into the following year—due to disagreements between brothers Marshall Field V and Frederick "Ted" Field on how to operate the company, which strained their working relationship. Incidentally, the year prior in 1981, the Field brothers sought a prospective buyer for WFLD in the event that the company would be put up for sale. While WFLD was the leading independent station in Chicago at the time, most of the companies that were interested in buying WFLD were only willing to pay about half the amount that Field wanted for the station (at least $100 million, compared to the approximately $50 million that the most expensive UHF stations went for). In addition, most of the prospective companies were concerned that Tribune Broadcasting-owned WGN-TV could eventually overtake WFLD again in the local ratings. By mere coincidence given Field's previous aborted attempt to sell channel 32 to that group, the one company that showed interest in WFLD was Metromedia, owners of WNEW-TV (now WNYW) in New York City, which led the independent stations in that market and beat Tribune-owned WPIX in the ratings there.
Metromedia was ripe to compete against WGN, based on the group's success in competing against WPIX in the New York City market. In Chicago, Metromedia was given the right of first refusal to purchase WFLD. When Field began selling its stations, the company sold WFLD to Metromedia again—this time in a successfully completed deal for slightly over $100 million, a record price for a UHF station at the time. WFLD was the first of the stations that Field Communications sold when it began the liquidation process in September 1982 (with the final station to be sold—WKBD-TV in Detroit in January 1984) completing the deal for WFLD in March 1983. As a condition, Metromedia was forced by the FCC to divest radio station WMET (95.5 FM, now WEBG), which it sold to Doubleday Broadcasting.
WFLD's programming slate changed slightly, but the station's on-air graphics and branding were abruptly changed to reflect the new ownership, with the station adopting "Metromedia 32" as its on-air brand (using a similar branding scheme that was used at new sister station WNEW). Still, the old Field-era logos were used on-air by accident on some occasions through the summer of 1983. Metromedia added several first-run syndicated programs that were not previously carried in the Chicago market—as the market had only two commercial independent stations at the time as WSNS-TV (channel 44, now a Telemundo owned-and-operated station) became a full-time affiliate of the ONTV subscription service the previous year—onto the station's schedule, particularly in prime time, like The Merv Griffin Show (which WFLD previously carried a few years prior, but subsequently moved to WSNS where it ran until that station became a full-time ONTV outlet). WFLD remained the top-rated independent station in Chicago throughout Metromedia's ownership of the station.
As a Fox owned-and-operated station (1986–present)
In May 1985, Metromedia reached an agreement to sell WFLD-TV and its five sister independent stations—WNEW-TV (now WNYW) in New York City, KTTV in Los Angeles, WTTG in Washington, D.C., KRLD-TV (now CW affiliate KDAF) in Dallas–Fort Worth and KRIV in Houston—to News Corporation, owned by Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch, for $2.55 billion (ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston, the company's only network-affiliated station, was originally to be sold as well through the deal, but upon exercising a right of first refusal clause related to Metromedia's 1982 purchase of that station, it was spun off to the Hearst Corporation's television and radio station subsidiary, Hearst Broadcasting, for $450 million in a separate, concurrent deal).
That October, News Corporation—which had purchased a 50% interest in 20th Century Fox corporate parent TCF Holdings for $250 million in March 1985—announced its intentions to create a fourth television network that would use the resources of 20th Century Fox Television to both produce and distribute programming, intending to compete with ABC, CBS and NBC. The company formally announced the launch of the new network, the Fox Broadcasting Company, on May 7, 1986, with the former Metromedia stations serving as its nuclei. The purchase of the Metromedia stations was approved by the FCC and finalized on March 6, 1986, with News Corporation creating a new broadcasting unit, the Fox Television Stations, to oversee the six television stations in April 1986.
Consequently, through the purchase, WFLD became one of the charter owned-and-operated stations of the Fox Broadcasting Company when the network launched seven months later on October 9. Following the sale to Fox, the station—which began branding on-air as "Fox 32"—continued to compete aggressively in the market, acquiring off-network syndicated programs such as Family Ties and The Cosby Show for its schedule. The station also migrated its operations into its current facility at 205 North Michigan Avenue in 1986, while also expanding its news presence with the launch of its news department in August 1987. The station's continued to carry its cartoon block on weekday afternoons, and top-rated off-network sitcoms in the evening hours; it also added more first-run talk and court shows.
Although it was now part of a network, as was the case with other Fox stations during the network's early years, Channel 32, for all intents and purposes, continued to be programmed as a de facto independent station as Fox's initial programming consisted solely of a late-night talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers; even when Fox launched its prime time lineup in April 1987, the network only aired programs during that daypart on Saturday and Sundays early on; Fox would gradually debut additional nights of programming over the next six years until it adopted a seven-night-a-week schedule in September 1993. Until Fox began airing programming on a nightly basis, WFLD aired a movie at 7 p.m. (initially at 8 p.m. until 1988) on nights when network programs did not air. The afternoon and Saturday morning animation blocks were replaced by the network-supplied Fox Children's Network block (later known as Fox Kids) in September 1990. During the mid-1990s, WFLD continued to strengthen its programming schedule with acquisitions such as The Simpsons, Home Improvement (which later moved to rival station WGN-TV in September 2001), and Seinfeld (which eventually moved to sister station WPWR, and later to WCIU-TV).
In 1997, after several years of being known on the air as "Fox 32" (although it began to visually de-emphasize references to channel 32 on-air in 1993), the station changed its on-air branding to "Fox Chicago". This was due to the perceived embarrassment of being on a UHF analog channel in the third-largest market in the United States, especially considering that The WB was carried on VHF station WGN-TV. For much of this period, WFLD was the only Fox owned-and-operated station that did not use the conventional "Fox (channel number)" branding standardization, even though most Chicagoans still referred to WFLD as "Fox 32" or "channel 32" (WFLD's Philadelphia sister station WTXF-TV utilized this same practice for nine years after Fox purchased that station from the Paramount Stations Group in 1994).
In June 2002, Fox Television Stations purchased UPN affiliate WPWR-TV (now a CW affiliated/MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station) from Newsweb Corporation for $450 million; the deal created a duopoly with WFLD when it was finalized on August 21 of that year, with WPWR's operations subsequently being integrated into WFLD's facilities in downtown Chicago. When Fox ended the weekday editions of the Fox Kids block in January 2002, WFLD added more first-run reality and talk shows to its lineup. In January 2003, WFLD dropped the Fox Saturday morning cartoon block, by then outsourced by Fox to producer 4Kids Entertainment and subsequently rebranded 4Kids TV, which was moved to WPWR—where that station aired the Saturday block in the same timeslot until Fox discontinued 4Kids TV on December 27, 2008. WFLD was the first of Fox's six original owned-and-operated stations (that were owned prior to its purchase of the New World Communications stations) to drop Fox's Saturday children's programming, and one of the few non-New World Fox O&Os (the other being sister station KMSP-TV in Minneapolis) that currently does not run the Weekend Marketplace infomercial block, which airs on WPWR instead.
In September 2006, WFLD relaunched its website, migrating it to the "MyFox" platform that was also rolled out to the other Fox-owned stations. The MyFox sites would be refreshed in 2009 using a new platform developed by Fox and LIN Media (spun off as EndPlay, which Fox owned an equity interest in). In April 2012, WorldNow began to operate the websites for Fox's O&Os. On November 12, 2012, the station dropped the "Fox Chicago" branding after 15 years, and began branding as "Fox 32" full-time for the first time since 1993.
On December 14, 2017, The Walt Disney Company, owner of ABC's owned-and-operated station WLS-TV (channel 7), announced its intent to buy WFLD's parent company, 21st Century Fox, for $66.1 billion, pending regulatory approval; later on June 13, 2018, Comcast, one of the largest cable providers in Chicago and owner of NBC owned-and-operated station WMAQ-TV (channel 5) and Telemundo owned-and-operated station WSNS-TV (channel 44) announced that they had joined Disney in the bidding war to buy Fox's entertainment assets for $65 billion. In addition, the sale will exclude WFLD and sister station WPWR-TV as well as the Fox network, the MyNetworkTV programming service and the Fox Television Stations unit, which will be transferred to a new company called Fox Corporation. The split was officially completed on January 1, 2019.
|TV stations in Illinois|
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