WGBA-TV, virtual channel 26 (UHF digital channel 14), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States. The station is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company, as part of a duopoly with Appleton-licensed MyNetworkTV affiliate WACY-TV (channel 32). The two stations share studios on North Road alongside the WIS 172 freeway in Ashwaubenon (with a Green Bay postal address); WGBA-TV's transmitter is located in the unincorporated community of Shirley, east of De Pere, Wisconsin. The station also has a Door County translator station, WLWK-CD (channel 22), licensed to Sturgeon Bay, which transmits from a site north of Sturgeon Bay on Door County Trunk Highway HH.
On cable, the station is available on channel 13 on Charter Spectrum (channel 8 on Charter's legacy Fond du Lac system), channel 7 on CenturyLink and Comcast Xfinity in Manitowoc, either channel 7 or channel 10 in most outlying areas of the market, and channel 26 on AT&T U-verse.
WLRE, which stood for station co-founder Lyle R. Evans, sought to be operational as early as December 1977. It delayed so that it could put its transmission tower on Scray's Hill near De Pere, the location of other Green Bay market transmitter towers. Ultimately the location was approved, but it meant ground was not broken on the studio and antenna location until June 1980. The station signed on the air on December 31, 1980, broadcasting an analog signal on UHF channel 26. It was the Green Bay market's second independent station, after the short-lived KFIZ-TV (channel 34) in Fond du Lac from 1968 to 1972. It was also the first new commercial station to sign-on in Green Bay itself since WFRV-TV (channel 5) signed on in May 1955. On November 12, 1982, WLRE was able to power up a new transmitter and had plans for further antenna power boosts.
In early 1983, coinciding with the purchase of a licensing deal of approximately 1,000 movies and other syndicated programs, WRLE took on the tagline "The Great Entertainer", using station imaging shared with (at least) WPHL. In late 1984, the station's partnership was dissolved in a bankruptcy court in which investors lost money. In 1985, it was bought by Family Group Broadcasting Incorporated for only pennies on the dollar. On October 3 of that year, the station's call letters were changed to WGBA-TV. The station, then known on-air as "TV 26", was well known in its early years for children's program host "Cuddles the Clown", who stayed with the station until it switched to NBC, and moved to sister station WACY before retiring. The station's imaging was also shared with sister station WQRF-TV in Rockford, Illinois, WVFT-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, WPGX-TV in Panama City, Florida, WFGX-TV in Fort Walton Beach, Florida and WLAX-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin, including its early 'diamond' logo.
In the wake of a bankruptcy, Green Bay's original Fox affiliate WXGZ (channel 32) went dark on February 14, 1992. WGBA became the new affiliate the following day, changing its branding to "Fox 26". After Ace TV acquired the WXGZ license, WGBA helped to relaunch the station through a local marketing agreement in June 1994. That station became a charter affiliate of UPN and changed its call letters to WACY-TV in 1995. In 1994, during the first year of Fox's contract to broadcast NFL games, the station entered into a contract with ABC affiliate WBAY-TV (channel 2) to produce a pregame show to air before Green Bay Packers games since it lacked a local sports department. With Fox gaining rights to air NFC games, channel 26 became the Packers' unofficial home station (a role it would only hold for one season; since their switch to NBC, the station aired any Packer games from 1995 to 1997 when the team hosted an NFC team at Lambeau Field, and since 2006, all NBC Sunday Night Football games).
In 1994, WLUK-TV (channel 11) and three other stations owned by Burnham Broadcasting were sold to SF Broadcasting (owned as a partnership between Savoy Communications and Fox). As part of the purchase and through Fox's ownership of the group, SF signed a group affiliation deal to switch its stations to Fox; this enabled WLUK to become the Packers' unofficial "home" station as Fox had acquired the television contract to the NFL's National Football Conference. Almost by default, WGBA was then left to take the NBC affiliation. On August 28, 1995, WGBA-TV switched its affiliation to NBC (and changed its on-air branding to "NBC 26"); the Fox affiliation moved to former NBC affiliate WLUK. As an NBC affiliate, it struggled to find a constant identity. Green Bay's other three stations have been on-the-air since the 1950s and had loyal audiences. Relief did not come until October 2004, when the Journal Broadcast Group bought it for $43.2 million after Aries Telecommunications sold the station. Journal had long wanted a station in Northeastern Wisconsin alongside its flagship station, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, that market's NBC affiliate and long-dominant news station.
The purchase also included the LMA with WACY. Although Journal wanted to buy WACY outright, this had been unlikely since Green Bay has only seven full-power stations (not enough to legally permit a duopoly). However, in September 2010, WLUK owner LIN TV Corporation exercised an option to purchase CW affiliate WCWF (channel 14) from ACME Communications, and filed for a "failing station waiver" – which permits duopoly in such situations if the petitioner can prove the station is in an economically non-viable position – to allow LIN to own WLUK and WCWF. Because WCWF was hampered for years by several factors, including insufficient cable carriage and an analog signal originating more towards its city of license, Suring, than Green Bay, the waiver was granted in February 2011. Journal eventually pleaded for the failing station waiver for WACY at the beginning of 2012, citing that station's dark period between 1992 and 1994 (when the Ace TV LMA began) and that the station was unable to survive on its own without the production and control assistance of WGBA. Because of this, the FCC allowed the full sale of WACY to Journal at the beginning of September 2012.
Since being acquired by Journal, WGBA and WTMJ have become close sister stations, eventually synchronizing their news imaging and sharing news and sports resources (WTMJ had previously paired with WFRV-TV, an NBC affiliate until the early 1980s, to provide Green Bay coverage and video). This became more evident in 2008, when WGBA outsourced sports and weekend weather reports to WTMJ, and had simulcast that station's morning and noon newscasts for a short time.
Summer 2013 Time Warner Cable carriage dispute
After several extensions of the original June 30, 2013 expired agreement, and the invocation of the sweeps rule disallowing cable providers from pulling the main signal of a carried station during local sweeps periods (which includes July), the main signals of WGBA and WACY were pulled off Time Warner Cable systems in the market at midnight on July 25, 2013. The MeTV subchannel had been pulled earlier on July 10 as those were not under the same protection under the sweeps rule. WTMJ was also affected in the Milwaukee market, along with Journal stations in Omaha and Palm Springs, California. The main effect of the blackout on Time Warner Cable systems was the carriage of three Packers preseason games on WTMJ and WGBA, which were blacked out on the provider due to the dispute, though the games were still available via the Spanish language simulcast using the Packers Television network camera positions produced for Milwaukee's Telemundo affiliate WYTU-LD (channel 63/49.4), which is carried on the subchannel tier in the Green Bay market (and was simulcast on WACY), with the suggestion to listen to English play-by-play via either WTMJ radio from Milwaukee or the local FM stations in Green Bay or Appleton carrying Packers Radio Network coverage. The later replays of the games were also available via replays on NFL Network through the week.
A class action lawsuit was also filed by viewers against Time Warner Cable on August 8 under grounds of breach of contract. Journal Broadcast Group has also made claims via its website detailing their version of the carriage dispute that TWC was distracted due to the other dispute involving CBS Corporation's Television Stations group and Showtime Networks premium channel suites.
By August 15, WGBA and WACY's channel slots on Time Warner Cable were replaced with a simulcast of GSN, with Starz Kids & Family airing on the channel 994 subchannel slot usually carrying MeTV. Journal Broadcast Group also asked state authorities to intervene in their dispute with Time Warner Cable.
Journal and Time Warner Cable came to an agreement for carriage on September 20, 2013 to last at least through the 2016 Summer Olympics, returning WGBA and WACY to their lineups as of 7 p.m. that evening. However, Journal conceded that the analog and cable-ready positions were less important than carriage in the high definition tier, so while WGBA's high definition signal remained on channel 1007, the standard definition signal moved to channel 13, WACY's former SD slot, with WACY shifting to channel 83 with high definition coverage coming at the start of the year. However, MeTV subchannel 26.2 remained removed from Time Warner systems, though southern portions of the Green Bay market already receive MeTV Milwaukee flagship WBME-CD (channel 41) on the basic lifeline tier.
Sale to the E. W. Scripps Company
On July 30, 2014, the E. W. Scripps Company announced that it would acquire Journal Communications in an all-stock transaction. The combined firm would retain their broadcast properties, including WTMJ-TV and its radio siblings, with the print assets being spun off as Journal Media Group. The deal was approved by the FCC on December 12, 2014, with shareholders of the two companies approving it on March 11, 2015; the merger/spin-off between Journal and Scripps formally closed on April 1.
Scripps and Time Warner Cable announced a new multi-year carriage agreement on February 1, 2016 that includes WGBA and WACY, well ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics and averting any carriage issues for the Games. This also returned all the subchannels of WGBA to Time Warner systems in the area on channels 990 and 991, which occurred on April 4, 2016.