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WGBO-DT, virtual channel 66 (UHF digital channel 35), is a Univision owned-and-operated television station serving Chicago, Illinois, United States that is licensed to Joliet. The station is owned by the Univision Local Media subsidiary of Univision Communications, as part of a duopoly with Aurora-licensed UniMás owned-and-operated station WXFT-DT (channel 60). The two stations share studios on Fairbanks Court (near Columbus Drive and Illinois Street); WGBO's transmitter is located atop the John Hancock Center on North Michigan Avenue, both in the Streeterville neighborhood.

History[]

As an independent station[]

Early history[]

The station first signed on the air on September 18, 1981 as independent station WFBN. Originally owned by Nashville-based Focus Broadcasting, it initially ran local public-access programs during the daytime hours and the subscription television service Spectrum during the nighttime. By 1982, WFBN ran Spectrum programming almost 24 hours a day; however, by the fall of 1983, Spectrum shared the same schedule with that service's Chicago subscription rival ONTV. The station as well as ONTV parent National Subscription Television faced legal scrutiny because of its lack of news or public affairs programming and was faced with class action lawsuits because of the pornographic films aired by ONTV during late-night timeslots, with some of these legal challenges continuing even after ONTV was discontinued; however, a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permitted broadcast television stations to air content normally considered indecent through an amendment to its definition of what constituted "public airwaves" declaring that "broadcasts which could not be seen and heard in the clear by an ordinary viewer with an ordinary television" were exempt, as long as the signal was encrypted.

WFBN continued the subscription programming format until early 1984, when it dropped Spectrum and adopted a 24-hour music video format. The music video format was discontinued by the fall of 1984, at which time WFBN transitioned into a general entertainment programming format, filling its schedule with movies from the 1930s through the 1980s, off-network classic sitcoms, and drama series—most of which were dropped by rival independents WGN-TV (channel 9, formerly a CW affiliate, now once again an independent station) and WFLD (channel 32, now a Fox owned-and-operated station) in previous years.

Ownership under Grant and then Combined Broadcasting[]

The station was losing money by this point, leading Focus Broadcasting to put channel 66 up for sale in summer 1985. Focus sold a 50% interest in the station to the Grant Broadcasting System in September 1985 for $2 million and an estimated $50 million in debt (some of which was forgiven or refinanced), with an option to acquire the remaining 50% interest by 1990 for $25 million at minimum, should it be exercised in the first year of the option and at minimum of $40 million if exercised in the fifth year of the option. Creditors to which the station owed debt allowed WFBN to remain in operation following its claim that the station was "on the verge of involuntary bankruptcy" with the possibility of ceasing operations by October 1 at the earliest; the reprieve was pending Focus' request to the FCC to expedite the transfer of the station's license to Grant. Metrowest Corporation—then-owners of WPWR-TV (channel 60, now a MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station on channel 50)—filed a petition to deny the sale, claiming that even before it acquired the WFBN license, Grant attempted to "stifle competition in the Chicago television market with multimarket program purchases, exclusive arrangements and similar deals".

The station changed its call letters to WGBO-TV on January 4, 1986, adopting "Super 66" as its on-air branding (the WFBN call letters are now used by a low-power television station in Rockford owned by Weigel Broadcasting, the owner of WCIU, which currently relays Telemundo programming from Milwaukee sister station WYTU-LD; the station previously aired WebFN, the successor to Stock Market Observer, whose refusal by WCIU to remove resulted in Univision purchasing WGBO in 1994).

Although not dramatically different overall, in January 1986, WGBO added a few more off-network sitcoms, a limited number of children's programs, and several western series to its schedule. In addition, it carried daily simulcasts of CNN Headline News, as well as Loyola Ramblers college basketball games. The station also adopted a very slick on-air look, using CGI graphics of near-network quality. This design was very similar to those adopted by sister stations WGBS-TV (now WPSG) in Philadelphia and WBFS-TV in Miami. However, WGBO was run somewhat more frugally than its two sisters and never really thrived in the ratings, despite Grant's ambitions of turning his three stations into regional superstations.

WGBO tried to acquire more barter programming and cheap low-budget shows, only to discover the inventory had been picked clean by established independents WGN-TV, WFLD and WPWR-TV. WGBO made virtually no headway against the established independents and was not able to compete against WPWR (even with all of the low-budget shows WPWR had on its schedule, along with many barter shows). There simply was not enough moderate-rated syndicated programming to go around, even though Chicago was more than large enough on paper to support four independent stations. Grant was so badly overextended that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 8, 1986, in an attempt to protect itself from its creditors. While the other two stations retained similar formats with fewer shows, WGBO added a large number of infomercials, religious programs and other paid programs to its schedule, although it did hold on to some entertainment-based programs. Ratings remained as dismal as they had been beforehand.

In a March 1987 Philadelphia Bankruptcy Court proceeding, Grant was allowed to continue operating its stations until at least July 1 through cash and accounts receivables to fund operations, denying a motion by the company's creditors to assume control of the stations or force their sale. However, on July 7, Grant agreed to enter into receivership, and turn over control of the company and its three stations to its television program suppliers and bondholders under a reorganization plan—which was formally filed on October 13 and approved on March 30, 1988—to repay $420 million in debt from the stations' operations by 1995, at which point the stations would be sold off. In July 1988, Combined Broadcasting, a creditor-controlled company, took over Grant and the three stations. In the early 1990s, WGBO added some barter cartoons and sitcoms that other stations passed on or previously dropped from their schedules.

After Time Warner announced the launch of The WB on November 2, 1993, the network had entered into discussions with WGBO to become the network's Chicago affiliate; even though Tribune Broadcasting would hold a partial ownership interest in The WB and tapped its independent stations in other markets to serve as the network's charter affiliates, WGN-TV—the company's flagship television station—originally passed on affiliating with The WB due to management concerns that a network affiliation would hamper its ability to balance its sports broadcast commitments. WGN-TV reversed course on December 3, in a deal that also resulted in its superstation feed (later known as WGN America, now NewsNation) carrying the network nationally, keeping WGBO a true independent station. The United Paramount Network (UPN) then planned to affiliate with WGBO, as the network had also reached agreements to affiliate with sister stations WGBS and WBFS in advance of its launch.

Sale to Univision[]

In 1993, Univision asked WCIU-TV (channel 26) to remove the English-language programming it aired on its schedule and become a full-time affiliate. WCIU had carried programming from Univision and its predecessor, the Spanish International Network, for all but five years since 1968. However, it continued to air the Stock Market Observer, an English-language business news programming block before 5:00 p.m. each weekday as well as a select number of English language entertainment programs. Univision wanted a full-time affiliate in the nation's third-largest market, but WCIU owner Weigel Broadcasting was not interested in a full affiliation. Univision then entered into negotiations to purchase WGBO-TV.

On January 10, 1994, Univision announced that it would purchase WGBO from Combined for $35 million and move its programming there. While the deal included most of WGBO's non-license assets such as its studio facilities, transmission equipment and transmitter, it excluded its English-language programming inventory. The purchase was finalized on May 13. In August 1994, Combined Broadcasting subsequently announced that it would sell WGBS and WBFS-TV to the Paramount Stations Group (which concurrently sold its original Philadelphia station, Fox affiliate WTXF-TV, to Fox Television Stations) in a group deal for $165 million. With WGBO having already been sold to Univision, the station was not part of this deal, a situation that was moot as UPN chose to instead affiliate with WPWR-TV in December 1993. In some ways, the Paramount Stations Group already owned the three stations, as its owner Viacom was a non-voting partner in Combined Broadcasting.

In August 1994, Univision officially assumed ownership of WGBO. However, Univision's part-time affiliation agreement with WCIU did not expire until December 31, 1994; as a result, Univision was forced to run WGBO as an English language independent for five months until the contract with WCIU expired. On January 1, 1995, WGBO formally switched to Spanish language programming when it became a Univision owned-and-operated station. The move gave Univision a full-time presence in the market for the first time since 1989, when the network disaffiliated from WSNS-TV to return to WCIU. Most of WGBO's English entertainment programming inventory was sold to WCIU, which became a full-time independent station. That same year, Oshkosh, Wisconsin radio station WVBO asked Univision for permission to use the call letters WGBO-FM for its planned simulcast feed in Green Bay (to stand for "Green Bay Oldies"). Univision turned the request down, and the Green Bay repeater went on the air under the callsign WOGB instead.

Digital television[]

Digital channels[]

The station's digital signal is multiplexed:

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming
66.1 720p 16:9 WGBO-DT Main WGBO-DT programming / Univision
66.2 480i Laff Laff
66.3 4:3 getTV getTV
66.4 16:9 TRCrime True Crime Network
66.5 4:3 Grit Grit
66.6 16:9 Twist Twist

In December 2009, WGBO and sister station WXFT, along with most of Univision's other owned-and-operated stations, upgraded their main digital channels to transmit in 16:9 1080i high definition, in preparation for the launches of Univision and Telefutura's HD simulcast feeds in 2010.

WGBO-DT is one of only two full-power television stations in the Chicago market (the other being PBS member station WYCC, channel 20) which maintain transmitter facilities atop the John Hancock Center. Most of the market's other television stations operate their transmitters atop the Willis Tower, although WPVN-CD (channel 24) transmits its signal from the Trump International Hotel and Tower. On September 24, 2012, WGBO filed an application to move its transmitter to the Willis Tower at 650 kW; the FCC granted the construction permit to build the Willis Tower transmitter on October 23.

Analog-to-digital transition[]

WGBO shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 66, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station moved its digital signal from its pre-transition UHF channel 53 to UHF channel 38 (which was formerly used by the analog signal and presently by the virtual digital channel of Ion Television owned-and-operated station WCPX-TV) for post-transition operations. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 66, which was among the high band UHF channels (52–69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.

On June 13, 2009, WGBO altered its legal call sign, replacing the "-TV" suffix with a "-DT" suffix in order to conform to Univision Communications' practices to adopt the "-DT" suffix for the calls of its full-power television stations.

News operation[]

WGBO-DT presently broadcasts seventeen hours of locally-produced newscasts weekly, consisting of two half-hour newscasts at 5 and at 10 p.m., and a two-hour morning show.

Upon affiliating with Univision in January 1995, WGBO launched a news department and began producing local Spanish language newscasts at 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. – with the early-evening broadcast originally anchored by Elio Montenegro (formerly of CLTV) and Edna Schmidt, and Jorge Barbosa serving as anchor of the 10:00 p.m. newscast. On January 4, 2012, WGBO began broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition.

On January 21, 2019, the station premiered a two-hour local morning newscast on weekdays, Primera Hora, leading into the national morning show ¡Despierta América!. Univision billed the program as being Chicago's first local, Spanish-language morning newscast.

Notable former on-air staff[]

TV stations in Illinois
Chicago market independent stations: Chicago market Spanish stations: Chicago market religious stations: Other stations:
WGN, Chicago WOCK-CD, Chicago WEDE-CD, Arlington Heights W15BU-D, Johnson City
WESV-LD, Chicago WWTO, Naperville WTJR, Quincy
WMEU-CD, Chicago WSNS, Chicago WDCI-LD, Chicago WHOI, Peoria
WXFT, Aurora WLPD-CD, Chicago WCHU-LD, Rochelle
WPVN-CD, Aurora WTCT, Chicago WWME-CD, Chicago
WGBO-DT, Aurora WPXS, Mount Vernon, IL/St. Louis, MO WRJK-LP, Chicago
WYCC, Chicago
W40CN-D, Sugar Grove
WLCF-LD, Decatur
WBXC-CD, Champaign
WCHU-LD, Rochelle
W25DW-D, Chicago
WMWC, Galesburg
TV stations in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana
WBBM 2 (CBS)
WMAQ 5 (NBC)
WLS 7 (ABC)
WGN 9 (Ind)
WTTW 11 (PBS)
WOCK-CD 13 (Ind)
WYCC 20 (MHz)
WRJK-LP 22 (Diya TV)
WWME-CD 23 (MeTV)
WPVN-CD 24 (AZA)
W25DW-D 25 (HSN)
WCIU 26 (CW)
WLPD-CD 30 (Hillsong)
WFLD 32 (Fox)
WEDE-CD 34 (Ind)
WWTO 35 (TBN)
WCPX 38 (Ion)
WESV-LD 40 (ESTRELLA)
WSNS 44 (TLM)
WMEU-CD 48 (Ind)
WPWR 50 (MNTV)
WYIN 56 (PBS)
WDCI-LD 57 (Daystar)
WXFT 60 (UMas)
WCHU-LD 61 (JTV)
WJYS 62 (Ind)
WGBO 66 (UNI)
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