WGN-TV, virtual channel 9 (UHF digital channel 19), is an independent television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States, serving as the flagship television property of the Nexstar Media Group subsidiary of the Nexstar Broadcasting Inc, which also owns radio station WGN (720 AM) and local cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV). The station's second digital subchannel serves as an owned-and-operated station of the classic TV network Antenna TV.
WGN-TV maintains studio facilities and offices at 2501 West Bradley Place (between North Campbell and North Talman Avenues) in Chicago's North Center community (as such, it is the only major commercial television station in Chicago with studio facilities located outside the downtown business district), and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.
WGN-TV is also a pioneering superstation, and formerly programmed an alternate feed for cable and satellite subscribers throughout the United States and select areas of Canada. The former "superstation" feed, WGN America, was converted by Tribune into a conventional basic cable network in December 2014 through the channel's removal of all WGN-TV-produced news, sports and event programs and its concurrent addition to cable providers within the Chicago market (including Comcast Xfinity, AT&T U-verse, WOW! and RCN)—in addition to its existing local carriage on the DirecTV and Dish Network satellite services. However, WGN-TV regained national availability as the Chicago area feed was included as part of the initial offerings of Channel Master's LinearTV service, which launched in the spring of 2015.
WGN's longtime slogan, "Chicago's Very Own" (which has been used by the station since it was introduced in 1983), was the basis for a popular image campaign of the 1980s and 1990s, as performed by Chicago native Lou Rawls.
- 1 History
- 2 Subchannel history
- 3 Programming
- 4 Technical information
- 5 Canadian distribution
Early years (1948–1956)
WGN Television began test broadcasts in February 1948 and began regular programming on April 5 with a two-hour special, WGN-TV Salute to Chicago, at 7:45 p.m. that evening. It was founded by the Chicago Tribune – whose slogan "World's Greatest Newspaper" was the basis for the call letters used by the television station and its radio sister. WGN-TV originally held dual primary affiliations with CBS and the DuMont Television Network, sharing both networks with WBKB (channel 4). For its first 13 years on the air, WGN-TV had operated from an annex of the Tribune Tower with their sister radio station at 435 North Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, a space currently filled by Dylan's Candy Bar.
Channel 9 lost its CBS affiliation as a sidebar to the February 1953 merger of ABC and United Paramount Theatres; at the time, CBS had purchased the VHF channel 4 license in Chicago (now WBBM-TV, which later moved to channel 2, forcing Phonevision off the air) from United Paramount Theatres – which absorbed WBKB's founding owners, Balaban and Katz in 1949, after a U.S. Supreme Court order forced Paramount Pictures to divest its chain of movie theaters – for $6.75 million, as the newly merged entity could not keep both WBKB and ABC owned-and-operated station WENR-TV (channel 7, now WLS-TV) due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations then enforced that forbade common ownership of two television stations that were licensed to the same market. Following a two-month cancellation clause, all of the CBS programs that WGN-TV had been airing were moved to the rechristened WBBM-TV, leaving channel 9 exclusively with DuMont.
WGN-TV soon became one of DuMont's strongest affiliates, as well as a major production center for that network. Several DuMont programs were produced from the station's facilities, including The Al Morgan Show, Chicago Symphony, Chicagoland Mystery Players, Music From Chicago, The Music Show, They Stand Accused, This is Music, Windy City Jamboree and Down You Go. WGN-TV had also telecast performances of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, beginning in 1953, when Fritz Reiner was the orchestra's music director.
The station lost the DuMont affiliation when the network ceased operations on August 6, 1956; at that point, WGN-TV became an independent station. Channel 9 then spent much of the next two decades as the top-rated independent in Chicago, offering a variety of general entertainment programs including movies, sports, off-network reruns and children's programs. For much of its existence, WGN-TV produced a large number of its own programs at its studios. A historic moment in Chicago television occurred when Sheldon Cooper launched The All-Time Hits, a musical variety show that ran for 13 weeks and featured The Buckinghams; the program was broadcast in color. During the late 1950s, the station was briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. In 1957, WGN-TV became one of the first television stations in the Chicago market to broadcast live programming in color.
Notable WGN-TV productions during the 1960s through the 1980s included several incarnations of the immensely popular Bozo's Circus, Ray Rayner and His Friends, Garfield Goose and Friends (which was hosted by Frazier Thomas, who also hosted a popular family movie showcase on the station titled Family Classics), The Mulqueens, and the popular children's educational series The Space Explorers. WGN-TV served as the Chicago affiliate of the United Network for its one month of existence in 1967, airing The Las Vegas Show. From 1974 to 1982, Phil Donahue's syndicated daytime talk show Donahue originated from the WGN-TV studios. In 1975, the agriculture program U.S. Farm Report debuted in national syndication, also originating from WGN-TV's studios.
In 1961, the WGN stations moved to studio facilities on West Bradley Place in the North Center neighborhood, a move undertaken for civil defense concerns in order to provide the station a safe location to broadcast in case of a hostile attack targeting downtown Chicago. WGN radio eventually moved back to North Michigan Avenue in the Pioneer Court extension in 1986, then back into Tribune Tower in October 2012; the television station, however, remains at the Bradley Place facility to this day.
In 1968, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) barred companies from owning newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same market; the FCC granted the Tribune Company permission to grandfather its combination of the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV and WGN radio through a cross-ownership waiver. In 2014, Tribune entered into a local marketing agreement with Venture Technologies Group, owners of WKQX-LP, a low-power analog television station on VHF channel 6 which uses a quirk in the FM bandplan to broadcast an audio format on the radio over 87.7 FM; this became a sports talk station that operated as a sister station to WGN radio. The station, which changed its calls to WGWG-LP, was not covered under the FCC restrictions (this issue became moot with the Tribune's separation from the Tribune Company); Tribune's LMA with WGWG-LP (now WRME-LP) ended on February 23, 2015, when it was transferred to Weigel Broadcasting and converted into an oldies/beautiful music format as a radio extension of the company's MeTV brand.
National superstation (1978–1990)
WGN-TV began to be distributed across the United States through cable television in October 1978, after Tulsa, Oklahoma-based United Video Satellite Group uplinked the station's signal via satellite. This signal was picked up by many fledgling cable television providers, as well as directly to satellite dish owners, turning WGN-TV into one of the first superstations, alongside New York City's WOR-TV (now WWOR-TV) and Atlanta's WTBS (now WPCH-TV).
As WGN-TV gained national exposure, the station became vulnerable in the Chicago area and underestimated the ability of UHF competitor WFLD (channel 32, now a Fox owned-and-operated station) to acquire top-rated syndicated programs (such as M*A*S*H, Happy Days and All in the Family). As a result, WFLD edged ahead of WGN-TV in the ratings by the end of 1979. WGN-TV continued with its programming format, competing with WFLD and another UHF independent station, WSNS-TV (channel 44, now a Telemundo owned-and-operated station). WSNS would leave the competition when it affiliated with the subscription television service ONTV during the nighttime hours in 1980, becoming a full-time affiliation in 1982. On November 10, 1984, WGN-TV became an affiliate of the MGM/UA Premiere Network, a film-based ad hoc television network, with the showing of Clash of the Titans.
On May 19, 1988, the FCC passed the Syndication Exclusivity Rights rule (or "SyndEx"), requiring cable providers to black out syndicated programs shown on any out-of-market stations, if a television station obtains the exclusive local rights to air a particular program. When the law went into effect on January 1, 1990, WGN-TV launched a separate national feed supplied with alternate programming that no stations claimed exclusive rights to in any market (along with sporting events, newscasts and several shows airing on WGN-TV that were also not subject to exclusivity claims). In September 1994, the station moved The Bozo Show from its longtime weekday morning slot to Sunday mornings, where it remained and was eventually reformatted to fit the FCC's educational programming guidelines until the program was controversially discontinued by station management in 2001.
WB affiliation (1995–2006)
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Television division of Time Warner and the Tribune Company announced the formation of The WB; through its part-ownership of the network, Tribune signed deals to affiliate the majority of the company's independent stations with the network. Even though its parent company would be a partner in The WB, WGN-TV had initially planned to remain an independent station due to concerns by station management with balancing a network affiliation and fulfilling the station's sports broadcast commitments. However, despite that reason, the station competed with WPWR-TV (channel 50) to become the Chicago charter affiliate of the United Paramount Network (UPN), another planned network founded by Chris-Craft/United Television in partnership with Paramount Television; UPN opted to sign an affiliation agreement with WPWR on November 10, 1993.
WGN-TV then reversed course on its earlier decision to turn down the WB affiliation, and signed an affiliation agreement with that network one month later on December 3, 1993; prior to the signing of the agreement, the network had planned to affiliate with competing independent WGBO-TV (channel 66), which instead joined Univision two weeks prior to The WB's launch on December 30, 1994. As part of the agreement, WGN would carry The WB's prime time schedule (and upon its September 1995 debut, Kids' WB children's programming) on its national superstation feed, with the purpose of making the network available to areas of the United States where The WB did not have an affiliate early on.
WGN-TV became a charter affiliate of The WB when it launched on January 11, 1995. Channel 9 only aired the network's prime time programming until 2004; the Kids' WB weekday and Saturday blocks aired locally on former Univision affiliate WCIU-TV (channel 26), which had converted into an English-language independent station on the same date that WGBO became a Univision owned-and-operated station, through a separate deal reached on February 19, 1995. As was the case with other WB-affiliated stations during the network's early years, WGN-TV initially continued to essentially be programmed as a de facto independent station. WGN's programming upon becoming a WB affiliate remained unchanged, as the network had only broadcast prime time shows on Wednesday nights at its launch and would not carry six nights a week of programming until September 1999 (running Sunday through Fridays). Feature films filled the time period leading into the station's late-evening newscast on nights when network programs did not air, eventually being relegated to Saturdays by 1999. In addition to WB programming, the station aired the Action Pack programming block at least in 1995.
The WB expanded its over-the-air affiliate coverage over time, and launched a cable-only affiliate group for areas where it could not align with an over-the-air station; this made using the superstation feed as a default affiliate no longer necessary as a result, leading to the network's October 1999 request that WGN stop carrying The WB's programming outside the Chicago market. In 2000, WGN-TV constructed a new newsroom on the eastern portion of its studio facility, increasing the building's space to 29,000 square feet (the original newsroom was converted into the station's weather center). In 2004, WGN-TV began broadcasting Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Bulls home games in high definition.
CW affiliation (2006–2016)
On January 24, 2006, Time Warner's Warner Bros. unit and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN. In their place, the companies would combine the respective programming of the two networks to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. On that same date, The CW signed WGN-TV as the network's Chicago affiliate as part of a ten-year agreement that saw Tribune Broadcasting sign 16 of its 18 other WB-affiliated stations at the time to serve as the network's charter stations. WGN switched to The CW when it launched on September 18, 2006 (WGN America never carried The CW's programming during its final years as WGN-TV's superstation feed, as the network has sufficient broadcast coverage through over-the-air stations, digital multicast channels and cable-only affiliates negating the need for WGN America to provide The CW with additional nationwide coverage).
On April 2, 2007, Chicago investor Sam Zell announced plans to purchase the Tribune Company, with intentions to take the publicly traded firm private; the deal was completed on December 20, 2007. Prior to the close of the sale, WGN-TV was one of two commercial television stations in Chicago (not counting network-owned stations) to have never been involved in an ownership transaction (WCIU is the other, having been owned by Weigel Broadcasting since its sign-on in February 1964). Tribune subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008, due to debt accrued from Zell's leveraged buyout and costs from the privatization of the company; Tribune emerged from bankruptcy in December 2012 under the control of its senior debt holders Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase.
On October 13, 2008, WGN-TV began a partnership with WGN radio to provide weather forecasts for the station; it replaced The Weather Channel as a content partner, as the cable network ended its ten-year forecast partnership with WGN radio on that date. On February 4, 2009, Tribune Broadcasting announced it would merge CLTV's operations with channel 9's news department (in addition to sharing resources with WGN-TV, CLTV also shares newsgathering resources with the Chicago Tribune). In 2009, WGN-TV began streaming its weekday midday and 5:00 p.m. newscasts live on its website. On February 22, 2010, WGN-TV became the first television station in the Chicago market to allow iPhone users to watch live streams of its newscasts; the 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. block of the WGN Morning News, the midday and 5:00 p.m. newscasts were initially available for streaming to iPhone users; at present, all newscasts are streamed through the station's website and on Apple devices, though sports segments are blacked out (presented only with the audio feed) due to rights restrictions with the major sports leagues.
On July 10, 2013, Tribune announced plans to spin off its publishing division into a separate company. Once the split was finalized on August 4, 2014, ending the station's co-ownership with the Tribune after 66 years, WGN-TV and WGN radio remained with the renamed Tribune Media Company (which retains all non-publishing assets). Additionally in December 2013, the station gained new sister stations in nearby markets as part of Tribune's purchase of the Local TV station group – ABC affiliate WQAD-TV in the Quad Cities and Fox affiliate WITI in Milwaukee – both of which had already shared news stories from their markets with WGN-TV as part of an existing content and broadcast management agreement between Local TV and Tribune.
As a CW affiliate, WGN-TV had been one of the network's higher-rated affiliates in terms of viewership, often drawing more viewers than Fox-owned WFLD, even in prime time despite the latter's Fox programming. As was the case during its final two years as a WB affiliate, WGN-TV aired the entire CW network schedule, including the network's children's program blocks (Kids' WB, The CW4Kids/Toonzai, Vortexx and One Magnificent Morning); however, from September 2013 until it disaffiliated from the network, it had aired The Bill Cunningham Show – which aired as part of The CW Daytime – one hour earlier (at 2:00 p.m.) than the network's other Central Time Zone affiliates, aligning with its airtime in the Eastern Time Zone.
Return to independence (2016–present)
On May 23, 2016, Tribune Broadcasting and The CW reached a five-year affiliation agreement that renewed the network's affiliations with twelve of Tribune's CW-affiliated stations through the 2020–21 television season; the deal came after a year-long disagreement between The CW's managing partner CBS Corporation and Tribune concerning financial terms, specifically the amount of reverse compensation that The CW had sought from the group's CW affiliates
While negotiating the terms of its agreement with CBS Corporation, Tribune Broadcasting decided not to renew The CW's affiliation with WGN-TV after the network's initial ten-year agreement with Tribune expired on August 31, 2016. With this, Tribune announced that Channel 9 would become an independent station on September 1, filling time slots previously occupied by CW network shows with additional syndicated programs and expanded weekend morning newscasts, as well as most notably, an increased number of prime time game telecasts involving the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks during the calendar year. The CW affiliation would then move to MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station WPWR-TV (which would mark the second time that Fox Television Stations had owned a CW-affiliated station, as it operated Charlotte sister station WJZY as a CW affiliate for approximately 3½ months after the closure of its purchase of that station in April 2013, honoring an existing affiliation contract that was already scheduled to expire before WJZY's conversion into a Fox O&O was announced).
The impetus of the move – which marked the first time in 21 years that WGN-TV would not be affiliated with a major broadcast network – was to alleviate scheduling issues with the station's sports programming because of contractual stipulations set by The CW (and by The WB beforehand) that limited the number of daytime and prime time programming preemptions that it could make on an annual basis (outside of those necessitated by coverage of breaking news), which resulted in WGN having to maintain time-buy agreements with other local stations – WCIU-TV from 1999 until 2015, and then WPWR-TV afterward – to defer some game telecasts that it was assigned to produce and broadcast. During its tenures with The WB and The CW, WGN had to tape delay network programs that were deferred due to sports events scheduled during designated programming hours for broadcast later in the week (usually on Saturday and/or Sunday evenings, as The CW does not air any prime time programming on weekends; the station did not air certain deferred CW programs on Sunday nights until the network turned over the five-hour prime time slot to its affiliates in September 2009).
On July 12, 2016, Tribune Broadcasting appointed Paul Rennie as President and General Manager of WGN-TV. The final CW program to air on WGN-TV was Whose Line Is It Anyway? at 8:30 p.m. Central Time on August 31, 2016, leading into the station's prime time newscast. All CW network programs moved to WPWR the following day on September 1, beginning with that day's airing of The Bill Cunningham Show, with that station's existing MyNetworkTV programming being shifted to air after The CW's prime time schedule on Monday through Friday nights. As such, WPWR displaced WLVI in Boston (which Tribune Broadcasting owned from 1994 until it sold the station to Sunbeam Television in 2006) as the largest CW station that is not owned by either Tribune or CBS Corporation (the latter's television station subsidiary, CBS Television Stations, owns WBBM-TV (channel 2), which is the largest CBS owned-and-operated station that is not operated as part of a duopoly).
Aborted sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group
On May 8, 2017, Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, subject to government approval. The prospect of Sinclair acquiring WGN was met with consternation among station employees, due to concerns over the influence the company might have on the station's news content. Sinclair has been known for requiring its stations to run news reports and commentaries that reflect a conservative perspective; the city of Chicago and some adjacent suburbs are predominately liberal, while some outlying areas elsewhere in the market lean conservative. However, Sinclair later announced that it would sell WGN-TV and sister station WPIX in New York City to a third party to be determined later, in order to comply with FCC ownership limits. On February 28, 2018, Tribune filed to sell WGN-TV to WGN-TV LLC (a limited liability company controlled by Steven Fader, a Maryland auto dealer who has been a business associate to Sinclair executive chairman David Smith) for $60 million; under the terms of the deal, Sinclair would provide programming and sales services to the station, and would have an option to buy WGN-TV outright within eight years. (Sinclair concurrently proposed selling WPIX to Cunningham Broadcasting – whose majority non-voting stock is held by the estate of the late Carolyn Smith, widow of Sinclair founder Julian S. Smith and mother of David Smith, which was also majority owner of Cunningham until January 2018 – intending to operate it under a master services agreement; however, FCC and Department of Justice scrutiny over that proposal led Sinclair to seek to directly acquire WPIX on April 24.) The proposed sale to Fader did not include WGN radio or WGN America.
In a revision to the acquisition proposal submitted on July 18, 2018, Sinclair disclosed it would instead acquire WGN-TV directly in order to address concerns expressed by FCC chairman Ajit Pai two days before concerning the partner licensees Sinclair proposed using to allow it to operate certain Tribune stations while materially reducing Sinclair's national ownership cap space short of the 39% limit. (For the same reason, Sinclair also proposed selling its CW-affiliated sisters KDAF in Dallas-Fort Worth and KIAH in Houston – which were originally proposed to be sold to Cunningham and have their operations leased to Sinclair under a shared services agreement – to an independent third party.) Despite this, that same day, the FCC Commissioners' Board voted unanimously, 4–0, to send the Sinclair-Tribune acquisition proposal to an evidentiary review hearing before an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain stations in markets where Sinclair and Tribune both had television properties. On August 9, 2018, Tribune announced it would terminate the Sinclair deal; concurrently, Tribune 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.
Pending sale to Nexstar Media Group
On December 3, 2018, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group announced it would acquire Tribune's assets 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 give WGN-TV additional sister stations in nearby markets including Champaign–Springfield–Decatur (CBS affilaite WCIA and MyNetworkTV affiliate WCIX), Peoria–Bloomington (CBS affiliate WMBD-TV and Fox-affiliated SSA partner WYZZ-TV), Rockford (Fox affiliate WQRF-TV and ABC-affiliated SSA partner WTVO) and Terre Haute (NBC affiliate WTWO and ABC-affiliated SSA partner WAWV-TV). Nexstar stated that it would consider the sale of other "non-core" assets tied to the sale during or after the acquisition process, which may include WGN radio (which would become the group's first radio property should it be retained by Nexstar) and WGN America.
WGN-DT2 is the Antenna TV-affiliated second digital subchannel of WGN-TV, broadcasting in standard definition on UHF digital channel 19.2 (or virtual channel 9.2 ). On cable, WGN-DT2 is available on Charter Spectrum channel 1260, RCN channel 268 and WOW! channel 79 in the Chicago area.
WGN-TV launched a digital subchannel on virtual channel 9.2 on June 19, 2006, which, through a groupwide agreement with Tribune Broadcasting, originally served as an affiliate of The Tube Music Network. The Tube ceased operations on October 1, 2007, at which time WGN-DT2 temporarily switched to a standard-definition simulcast of the station's main feed. On June 22, 2008, WGN-DT2 converted into an affiliate of the Latino-oriented bilingual network LATV. (The network would eventually move to the DT2 subchannel of low-powered WOCK-CD [channel 13] in July 2010.) The 9.2 subchannel was converted into a charter affiliate of Antenna TV on January 1, 2011, upon the launch of the Tribune-owned classic television network.
WGN-DT3 is the Court TV-affiliated third digital subchannel of WGN-TV, broadcasting in standard definition on UHF digital channel 19.3 (or virtual channel 9.3).
On May 13, 2013, Tribune Broadcasting announced that it would replace fellow Chicago-based media company Weigel Broadcasting (which decided to exit the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer joint venture to concentrate on its competing film-oriented subchannel network, Movies!, and classic television network MeTV) as a partner in This TV. As a byproduct of this, when Tribune formally assumed Weigel's interest in the network on November 1, This TV's Chicago affiliation moved from WCIU-DT 26.5 (which subsequently affiliated with Bounce TV, previously carried on the CD2 feed of sister station WWME-CD [channel 23, now a MeTV owned-and-operated station]) to a newly launched subchannel on WGN-DT virtual channel 9.3. (As a result of the management transfer, the WGN facility also began housing This TV's operations.) On October 28, 2019, as part of an affiliation agreement with Katz Broadcasting involving 19 other former Tribune stations (including three that were spun off to either the E. W. Scripps Company or Tegna) that also dropped This TV in favor of the trial news- and true crime-focused network, WGN-DT3 became an affiliate of Court TV. (The This TV affiliation concurrently moved to the third subchannel of low-power station WRJK-LP [channel 22].)
WGN-DT4 is the TBD-affiliated fourth digital subchannel of WGN-TV, broadcasting in standard definition on UHF digital channel 19.4 (or virtual channel 9.4). On November 30, 2017, through an agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group, WGN-TV launched a digital subchannel on virtual channel 9.4 to serve as an affiliate of the digital content network TBD.
WGN-DT5 is the Rewind TV-affiliated fifth digital subchannel of WGN-TV, broadcasting in standard definition on UHF digital channel 19.5 (or virtual channel 9.5). Rewind TV launched on September 1, 2021, as a companion channel to Antenna TV, featuring classic TV shows from the 1980s and 1990s.
Due to its news-intensive schedule, WGN-TV, despite returning to its status as an independent after ending 21 years of network affiliation, airs only four hours of syndicated programs within its weekday daytime schedule. Syndicated programs broadcast by WGN-TV (as of September 2019) include Rachael Ray, The Steve Wilkos Show, Two and a Half Men, Black-ish, Elementary, Last Man Standing and Maury.
Channel 9 formerly served as the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)'s "Love Network" station for Chicago, carrying the charity's annual telethon on Labor Day and the preceding Sunday night each September from 1973 to 2012 (in its original 21½-hour format that existed until 2010, the six-hour evening format used in 2011 and the three-hour prime-time-only format used in 2012). For most of its run on the station (except in 1994, due to the Major League Baseball strike that year), WGN-TV would preempt portions of the telethon on Labor Day to carry Chicago Cubs or White Sox games held during the afternoon of the holiday. Through its national distribution, beginning with the 1979 event, donations to the WGN-produced local segments of the telethon were also pledged by viewers in other parts of the United States and Canada. The broadcast moved from syndication to ABC in September 2013 (by then reduced to a two-hour special), airing thereafter by association on WLS-TV until the final telecast of the retitled MDA Show of Strength in August 2014.
Locally produced programs
WGN-TV currently produces the following programs, some of which were previously rebroadcast on CLTV:
- Adelante, Chicago (English: Onward, Chicago) is a bi-weekly public affairs program (airing Saturdays every two weeks at 6:30 a.m.) that debuted on February 19, 2000, and was originally hosted by former WGN-TV assignment reporter Eddie Arruza. Currently hosted by Lourdes Duarte (who also co-anchors the 4:00 p.m. hour of the WGN Evening News), it features topical discussions, interviews and feature segments focusing on Chicago's Hispanic community and culture.
- BackStory with Larry Potash is a half-hour historical series that premiered on October 18, 2018. Hosted by WGN Morning News anchor/assignment reporter Larry Potash and airing Saturdays at 10:30 p.m., the program looks at interesting stories pertaning to history, culture, religion and science within and outside of Chicago.
- Living Healthy Chicago is a weekly health-focused program (airing Saturdays at 10:00 a.m.) that premiered in September 2011. Hosted by Jane Monzures, it features expert medical advice and health tips from local health professionals.
- People to People is a bi-weekly public affairs program (airing most Saturdays at 6:30 a.m.) that debuted in 1973, with local civil rights leader Edwin C. "Bill" Berry as its original host. Currently hosted by Micah Materre (who also serves as weeknight co-anchor of the WGN Evening News and the 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts), the program community events and topical discussions focusing on the African-American community.
- WGN-TV Political Report, which airs Sundays at 9:00 a.m. and premiered on January 12, 2020, is a weekly political talk show in which hosts Paul Lisnek (who serves as WGN-TV's political analyst and hosted a similar daily evening program, Politics Tonight, from 2007 until CLTV's closure in December 2019) and Tahman Bradley (who serves as the station's weekend evening anchor and political reporter) provide analysis on Chicago-area and national political issues.
Channel 9 became known for its heavy schedule of local programs during the period from the 1950s through the 1980s, including some influential programs:
- The Bozo Show, a long-running children's program that aired under various titles and formats—including as Bozo (1960–1961), Bozo's Circus (1961–1980) and The Bozo Super Sunday Show (1994–2001) as well as the short-lived prime time spin-off Big Top (1965–1967)—from June 20, 1960, until July 14, 2001. The program was WGN-TV's most successful local program in terms of both ratings and cultural impact, and became the most well-known iteration of the Bozo franchise partly as a result of the exposure it received after WGN became a national superstation in 1978. Bozo originated as a live, half-hour midday broadcast (expanding to a full hour in September 1961) featuring comedy sketches, circus acts, cartoon shorts and in-studio games. The titular clown was portrayed by Bob Bell until 1984 and by Joey D'Auria thereafter, and featured additional characters such as Ringmaster Ned (Ned Locke, 1961–1976), Sandy the Tramp (Don Sandburg, 1961–1969), Oliver O. Oliver (Ray Rayner, 1961–1971), Cooky the Cook (Roy Brown, 1968–1994), Wizzo the Wizard (Marshall Brodien, 1968–1994) and the circus manager (Frazier Thomas, 1976–1985). At the peak of its popularity, ticket reservations for the show's studio audience surpassed a ten-year backlog. (WGN-TV management would discontinue the wait list in 1990, and began awarding tickets through a contest-style giveaway.) In response to Chicago Public Schools rule changes that disallowed students from going home for lunch, the program was moved to weekday mornings and switched to a pre-taped format in August 1980; to accommodate the launch of the WGN Morning News, Bozo was relegated to Sunday mornings in September 1994, remaining there until it was controversially discontinued by station management in 2001. For the final four years of its run, The Bozo Super Sunday Show was restructured to incorporate segments compliant with FCC educational programming requirements.
- Charlando (English: Chatting), a Spanish-language talk show focusing on Chicago's Hispanic and Latino community (originally airing on Saturday mornings until 1992, when it was moved to Sundays) that aired from 1964 to 1999. Peter Nuno hosted the program for its entire 35-year run before retiring from WGN-TV in December 1999.
- Creature Features, a local version of the horror film franchise which aired Saturday nights from September 19, 1970, until May 19, 1976, showcasing classic horror and science fiction films released between the 1930s and the 1950s (many of which were Universal Studios releases). The films were presented by a disembodied voice known only as "The Creature" (voiced, at respective times, by WGN news anchors Carl Greyson and Marty McNeeley). After the WGN version ended, the title (unpluralized as "Creature Feature") was used by WFLD for its weekend horror movie presentations until their replacement by the Son of Svengoolie showcase in 1979.
- Family Classics, a showcase of family-oriented feature films that originally ran from September 14, 1962, to December 25, 2000 and was co-created by Frazier Thomas and Fred Silverman (then a programming executive at WGN-TV). As host, Thomas also was responsible for selecting the program's featured film titles and edited them to remove certain scenes he deemed unfit for family viewing; Roy Leonard took over hosting duties following Thomas's death in April 1985 from complications tied to a stroke, and remained in that role until Family Classics ended its initial run. (After airing weekly throughout the fall-to-spring television season—first on Friday nights until 1986, and then on Sunday afternoons thereafter—for most of its run, the program began airing sporadically during the holiday season from November 1993 until the conclusion of the program's original run.) Family Classics was revived as an occasional series on December 8, 2017, with longtime entertainment reporter Dean Richards as host.
- Garfield Goose and Friends, a children's program that aired on WGN-TV from September 1955 to October 1976 (originating on WBKB/WBBM-TV and then WBKB/WLS-TV under the unpluralized title Garfield Goose and Friend from 1952 to 1955). Considered the longest-running puppet show on television, the series was hosted by Frazier Thomas as the "prime minister" to the titular clacking goose puppet (puppeteered by Roy Brown) who designated himself as "King of the United States". The WGN-TV run of the program featured a mix of puppet characters developed by Brown before and after the show's move to Channel 9 such as Romberg Rabbit, Macintosh Mouse, Christmas "Chris" Goose (Garfield's nephew) and sleepy bloodhound Beauregard Burnside III (a character named after two Civil War generals). In addition to skits, the show also featured animated shorts (such as Clutch Cargo and Space Angel) that were introduced by the camera zooming into the "Little Theater Screen," as well as educational feature segments.
- Issues Unlimited, a Sunday morning public affairs program moderated by Chicago Bulletin editor and columnist Hurley Green Sr. from 1971 to 1987; the program featured a panel of local media representatives interviewing local and national newsmakers.
- Ray Rayner and His Friends (originally Breakfast with Bugs Bunny from 1962 to 1964), a long-running children's program hosted by Ray Rayner from 1962 to 1980. The program featured animated shorts (including Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons), arts and crafts segments, animals (such as Chelveston the Duck, named after the military base where Rayner was stationed during World War II), science segments conducted with J. Bruce Mitchell of the Museum of Science and Industry and a viewer mail segment in which Rayner appeared alongside a talking orange dog puppet, Cuddly Dudley (voiced by Roy Brown), which was originally created by the Chicago Tribune as a promotional item.
The station's Bradley Place studios, in addition to housing a large number of its own programs, have also served as the production facilities for nationally syndicated programs, including Donahue (which shifted production from the Dayton, Ohio studios of WLWD [now WDTN] to the WGN-TV facilities in Chicago in 1974, where production of the daytime talk show remained before moving to WBBM-TV's Streeterville studios in January 1982), U.S. Farm Report (which originated from the Bradley Place facility from the agriculture program's national syndication debut in 1975 until production moved to South Bend, Indiana after Farm Journal's production unit assumed distribution rights from the defunct Tribune Entertainment in 2008), and At the Movies (which was produced from the facility from 1982 until 1990, three years after Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert left the program amid a 1986 contract dispute with Tribune Entertainment to develop Siskel & Ebert & the Movies with Buena Vista Television, which was produced out of WLS-TV's North State Street studios).
WGN-TV served as the originating station for the Illinois Lottery beginning at its July 1974 inception. Live drawings initially aired as a half-hour Thursday night broadcast (then hosted by Ray Rayner) held at its Bradley Place studios. Channel 9 shared the drawing rights with WSNS-TV from March to May 1975 and again from September 1975 until August 1977, when WGN gained exclusivity over the telecasts. With the introduction of the Daily Game (now Pick 3) in February 1980, drawings began airing on the station at 6:57 p.m. nightly. After a three-year run on WFLD (which assumed drawing rights in January 1984), the Lottery migrated the drawing telecasts back to WGN-TV in January 1987. In August 1992, the Lottery awarded the telecast rights to its drawings and game show to CBS-owned WBBM—which beat out competing offers from WGN and WLS-TV, and saw the move as a way to help improve viewership for its third-place-ranked 10:00 p.m. newscast—effective December 28. WBBM's bid was chosen for its offers to hold the drawings during its late newscast (which ultimately produced no beneficial ratings impact) and agreed to handle promotional responsibilities and production costs. Citing in part the station's statewide cable distribution (which, after the SyndEx rules were implemented, would occasionally subject the evening drawings to preemption associated with that of the delayed 9:00 p.m. newscast when sports clearance restrictions applied to the WGN national feed), the Lottery moved its telecasts back to WGN on January 1, 1994; with this move, citing declining revenues under the WBBM contract partly under the later drawing timeslot, the live evening results were shifted to 9:22 p.m. Midday drawings for Pick 3 and Pick 4 were added upon their introduction on December 20, 1994. (The 12:40 p.m. drawings were shown during WGN's noon newscast on weekdays, while the Saturday drawing was usually not shown live nationally because of programming substitutions).
In addition to the live drawing results, WGN also carried two lottery-produced weekly game shows. From September 16, 1989, to December 19, 1992, and from January 8 to July 2, 1994, the station aired $100,000 Fortune Hunt. It was originally hosted by Jeff Coopwood, with co-host Linda Kollmeyer, and subsequently with Mike Jackson as host. The program saw six contestants selected from a preliminary scratch-off entry ticket drawing choose panels from a numbered 36-panel game board containing various dollar amounts. The player with the highest prize amount after five rounds won $100,000 and their two chosen at-home partners won $500 each; the remaining on-air contestants kept their existing winnings, with their partners receiving $100. (Initially, each on-air contestant was given the option of keeping their winnings or trading them for other prizes.) Its successor, Illinois Instant Riches (retitled Illinois' Luckiest in 1998), ran from July 9, 1994, to October 21, 2000, with Mark Goodman and Kollmeyer as co-hosts. Produced in conjunction with Mark Goodson Productions (later Jonathan Goodson Productions), it featured a similar drawing format as its predecessor, but had individual contestants chosen randomly by a wheel spun by Kollmeyer each round (which was hooked to lights above each contestant's seat) play various mini-games.
In September 1996, the station began carrying The Big Game multi-state drawing (replaced by Mega Millions in May 2002) each Tuesday and Friday; Powerball drawings were eventually added upon Illinois joining that multi-state lottery in January 2010. WGN America ceased carrying the drawings nationally on December 12, 2014; the Lottery ceased televising its daily drawings outright and moved the results for the Pick 3, Pick 4, Lotto with Extra Shot and Lucky Day Lotto (formerly Little Lotto until 2011) games exclusively to its website on October 1, 2015, upon switching to a random number generator structure.
Main article: WGN Sports
Throughout its history, WGN-TV has had a long association with Chicago sports, with most of the city's major professional sports franchises—particularly the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks—and several local and regional collegiate teams (including the Illinois Fighting Illini, the Northwestern Wildcats, the DePaul Blue Demons and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as well as various Big Ten Conference universities) having regularly televised their games over channel 9.
The Cubs and White Sox were the first teams to be carried on the station, when on April 23, 1948, WGN aired a crosstown rivalry game that the Sox won, 4–1. (The Tribune Company wholly owned the Cubs from 1981 until 2008, and retained a minority interest in the team until January 2019.) Over the years, the number of Cubs and White Sox games on WGN had gradually decreased (down to about 70 per season for each team by 2008) as a result of the two Major League Baseball clubs—as well as the NBA's Bulls—migrating some of their local game telecasts to cable-originated regional sports networks, Fox Sports Net Chicago (later FSN Chicago) from 1999 until 2003 and then Comcast SportsNet Chicago (now NBC Sports Chicago) beginning in 2004. Beginning in 2015, WGN-TV began sharing the over-the-air rights to Cubs games with WLS-TV, resulting in Channel 9 reducing its coverage schedule to 45 games per season as part of a four-year contract involving the two stations. WGN carried the White Sox until 1972, before returning to the station for one season in 1981; the White Sox moved its local telecasts to WGN-TV after an eight-year absence in 1990.
The Bulls began carrying their games with its inaugural season in 1966; after airing their games on WFLD for four years, the Bulls returned to WGN-TV for the 1989–90 season, overlapping with the start of the team's NBA championship dynasty during Michael Jordan's tenure with the team. WGN initially carried Blackhawks NHL games (which, per prohibitions on televised home games imposed by then-owner Bill Wirtz in order to sustain ticket sales, were restricted to away games) from 1961 until 1975. The Blackhawks returned to the station during the 2008–09 season, with a package of both home and away games (the result of Rocky Wirtz's decision to end the home game television blackout after taking over the franchise's ownership following his father's death). WGN-TV carried Chicago Bears regular season football games as a DuMont affiliate during the 1951 NFL season, after which the team moved their telecasts to ABC (and by association, ABC O&O WBKB-TV [now WLS-TV]) under a limited contract; the Bears aired their first game on WGN in 55 years on October 1, 2012, when the station carried the team's Monday Night Football matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. (NFL rules require national games aired by cable networks to be syndicated to broadcast stations in the participating teams' home markets.) Although WLS-TV has right of first refusal to MNF due to its corporate parent The Walt Disney Company's majority ownership of ESPN, WLS passed on carrying the game in order to air that night's live broadcast of ABC's Dancing with the Stars.
From November 1978 until October 2014, WGN America frequently simulcast WGN Sports broadcasts (mostly Cubs, White Sox and Bulls games) nationwide, when permitted under the station's sports contracts. (Tribune's President and CEO at the time, Peter Liguori, cited the limited viewership and advertising revenue generated from televising sports on a national basis relative to their contractual expense for its decision to stop carrying WGN's sports telecasts over WGN America after the 2014 MLB season.) In addition, until it ceased offering sporting events in September 2019, WGN-TV also distributed its White Sox and Bulls telecasts to television stations in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa that are within their respective broadcast territories (including CW affiliate WISH-TV in Indianapolis and the subchannels of WGN sister stations WHO-DT in Des Moines and WQAD in Davenport, Iowa). WGN-TV's Cubs and White Sox game broadcasts also were often carried on the MLB Extra Innings feeds available to DirecTV subscribers, sometimes including local commercials and station promotions that were not shown during the WGN America telecasts from the imposition of the SyndEx rules until the 2014 separation of the national and local feeds. (This also was the case for WGN-produced games shown on WPWR-TV, as well as WLS-TV's Cubs broadcasts.)
On January 2, 2019, the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks agreed to an exclusive multi-year deal with NBC Sports Chicago to take effect that fall. This was followed on February 13 by the announcement of the formation of the Marquee Sports Network, a joint venture between the Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group that will launch in the Spring of 2020. As a consequence of the four teams electing to move their local game telecasts off broadcast television completely in favor of airing them exclusively over regional sports networks, WGN wound down its local sports coverage throughout the Spring and Summer of 2019—beginning with the April 1 game between the Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets, and continuing with its final game telecasts involving the Bulls (an away game against the New York Knicks on April 9) and the Cubs (an away game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals on September 27)—as the station's contracts with all four teams gradually expired. WGN-TV's final sports telecast involving any of the station's four legacy professional sports broadcast partners was the second game of a White Sox–Detroit Tigers doubleheader at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 28, 2019. However, on February 19, 2020, Chicago Fire FC announced a multi-year agreement with WGN-TV to broadcast their Major League Soccer (MLS) telecasts on the station, beginning with its March 7 match against the New England Revolution, returning regular sporting events to Channel 9 after a seven-month hiatus.
As of January 2020, WGN-TV presently broadcasts 72½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 12½ hours each weekday, 5½ hours on Saturdays and 4½ hours on Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the highest newscast output of any television station in the Chicago market and the state of Illinois, and the fourth-highest newscast output in the United States behind WHDH in Boston, WISH-TV in Indianapolis, and WGN-TV's sister station KTLA in Los Angeles. In addition to its conventional local newscasts, the station produces two late-evening sports news programs: GN Sports, a half-hour sports highlight and interview program (airing nightly at 10:30 p.m.), which is co-anchored by longtime sports director Dan Roan (who joined WGN as a weekend sports anchor and sports reporter in 1984) and Jarrett Payton (who joined the station in 2015 as the 4:00 p.m. sports anchor for the WGN Evening News); and Instant Replay, a 20-minute Sunday evening highlight program (airing during the final 20 minutes of the 9:00 p.m. newscast), which is solo anchored by Roan.
Until regular sports telecasts on WGN-TV ended in September 2019, the station's midday, early and late evening newscasts were subject to (at least, partial) preemption or delay due to local sports telecasts overrunning into that time period; from July 8, 2010, onward, CLTV had served as an alternate broadcaster of WGN-TV newscasts that were preempted by the latter's sports broadcasts and aired live half-hour editions of WGN News at Nine on nights when Channel 9 carried a sports event being held on the West Coast that started locally at 9:00 p.m. (An additional half-hour live newscast followed the game telecast on WGN-TV, which had originally been titled under the WGN News at Nine brand prior to the 2016 launch of its 10:00 p.m. newscast.) The WGN-TV weather staff also provides local weather updates for WGN Radio under an agreement that began on October 13, 2008, at the conclusion of The Weather Channel's ten-year content partnership with the radio station.
News department history
Although sports has been a major part of WGN-TV's identity, the station has also been well known in the Chicago area for its news programming, which, through its former co-ownership with the Chicago Tribune, has played an important role since its launch. WGN's news department—which shared operations and management with WGN Radio until the news division was split into separate departments maintained by the respective properties in 1983—began operations along with the station on April 5, 1948, with the launch of its first regular news program, the Chicagoland Newsreel, which was the first television newscast in the Chicago market to consist entirely of filmed coverage. The 15-minute broadcast—which originally aired weeknights at 6:45 p.m., with a midday edition at 11:30 a.m. being added in September 1949—was anchored by news director Spencer Allen (who had been a reporter and news writer for WGN Radio since 1938) and used a large staff of photographers and technicians, many of whom had previously worked for the Tribune; Allen also anchored a 15-minute midday news program for Channel 9, Spencer Allen and the News, from 1951 to 1953.
From 1948 to 1965, WGN also produced an additional 15-minute-long newscast at 6:30 p.m., with Austin Kiplinger (to be replaced by Allen in 1953 and then by Lloyd Pettit in 1956) reading the news summary and Frann Weigel as the weather anchor; the program was expanded to a half-hour in September 1955, when Newsreel was discontinued in favor of an amended sports news segment (anchored originally by Vince Lloyd). Under Allen's leadership, WGN-TV's newscasts evolved from a "police blotter/fire alarm-type of news operation" to incorporating more in-depth and investigative reports. WGN-TV also was the first Chicago television station to televise a local appearance by a U.S. President (carrying Harry S. Truman's 1948 visit to Chicago) and provided mobile coverage of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's visit to the city (in April 1951); it has also provided coverage of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions each election cycle since 1952, and provided extensive pool coverage of Pope John Paul II's Mass at Grant Park in 1979.
In September 1951, Channel 9 began carrying a 15-minute late night edition of Chicagoland Newsreel that followed its late evening movie presentations (which began at 10:00 p.m. at the time). By 1967, the program had evolved into Night Beat, a 30-minute overnight newscast that—until it was discontinued in 1983—featured the main anchor (which had included, among others, Greyson, McNeeley, Cliff Mercer and Jack Taylor) presenting a summary of local and world news headlines as well as a brief weather forecast summary. In February 1955, the station installed a coaxial cable link from the city room of the Chicago Tribune (originally done for the early newscast, First Edition, which aired from 1954 to 1956) to allow Tribune reporters and contributors to provide information on developing stories being covered by the newspaper and the WGN news department. After WGN-TV became an independent station in August 1956, the evening newscast was moved to 7:00 p.m.—becoming the market's first prime time newscast and often being subjected to sports-induced preemptions—before settling at 10:00 p.m. in September 1959, originally under the title 10th Hour News (known in later years as The Park-Ruddle News and [Jack Taylor/John Drury and] NewsNine). In May 1960, the late newscast (which, by that point, was anchored by Jim Conway, who also hosted a self-titled daytime talk show at the time) became the first local television news program in the U.S. to expand to a half-hour broadcast. Standard news updates presented by various on-staff anchors—under the title WGN Newsbreak—also ran during the late morning, early afternoon and prime time hours in-between programs.
In 1965, WGN appointed the first dual-anchor team ever employed in Chicago television news, as Gary Park (who came to the station from KCRA-TV in Sacramento) and Jim Ruddle (who previously worked at WTVT in Tampa) took the helm of the evening newscasts. On January 9, 1967, WGN shifted the 10:00 edition of the newscast by 15 minutes (concurrently reducing it to that length) in an attempt to improve viewership by placing the telephone quiz show The Name Game in the timeslot, reducing competition with late newscasts on WLS-TV, WMAQ-TV and WBBM-TV. (This experiment ended in May 1967, when WGN reverted to carrying the late newscast in its former 10:00 p.m. slot and expanded it to 25 minutes.) The Park-Ruddle combination was broken up in June 1967, when Ruddle left to join NBC-owned WMAQ-TV, to be followed two years later by Park taking a prime time anchor role at fellow independent KTVU (now a Fox owned-and-operated station) in San Francisco. Also in 1965, WGN premiered its first attempt at a morning news show with Top 'o' the Morning; Orion Samuelson—then a farm reporter for WGN Radio, who would eventually host the syndicated U.S. Farm Report starting in 1975—and Harold Turner (later replaced by Max Armstrong) provided agricultural news and weather. The program was replaced in May 1984 by a traditional morning newscast, Chicago's First Report, which was canceled due to low viewership that December.
The WGN news department has long been one of the most respected local television news operations in the United States and has earned several journalism awards throughout its history, including Emmy, Associated Press, United Press International and duPont-Columbia Awards. The station has also long established top-drawer talent for its newscasts, many of whom have worked at WGN-TV for more than ten years, including Jack Taylor (anchor/reporter, 1954–1984, whose run included a stint as primary weeknight anchor from 1970 to 1979), Carl Greyson (anchor, reporter and staff announcer, 1955–1980), Marty McNeeley (anchor/reporter, 1969–1986), Robert Jordan (anchor/reporter, 1973–1978 and 1980–2016), Muriel Clair (assignment reporter, 1978–present, part-time since December 2011), and Steve Sanders (anchor/reporter, 1982–2020). John Drury joined WGN-TV in 1967 for what would be a three-year stint as anchor of its 10:00 p.m. news as well as occasionally serving as anchor of Night Beat. After working for WLS-TV for nine years, Drury returned to his former role at WGN in 1979, displacing Jack Taylor as 10:00 p.m. NewsNine anchor. During his second stint at WGN, Drury took on an expanded role doing assignment and investigative reporting (often producing the reports with investigative reporter Alex Burkholder). In 1982, then-Mayor Jane Byrne, accompanied by members of her public relations and cabinet staff, tried to talk Drury into shelving a report on Byrne's use of public funds towards city festivals designed to promote her administration in relation to her stint residing in the Cabrini-Green housing project. Drury went forward with the investigative report, which aided in Byrne's loss to Richard M. Daley in that fall's mayoral election and would help earn Drury a Chicago Emmy Award for Individual Excellence (the first of four Emmys during his career).
Another mainstay of WGN-TV has been Tom Skilling, who joined WGN in August 1978 to succeed Harry Volkman (who had two stints at the station, first from 1967 until 1970 and again from 1974 until the summer of 1978) as the station's main evening meteorologist. Skilling—who is rumored to be the highest paid local television meteorologist in the United States—would become known for presenting his on-air forecasts with detailed but fairly easy-to-understand analysis and striking accuracy (most noted by his predictions of the Groundhog Day blizzard two weeks before it created paralyzing effects on the Chicago area in late January and early February 2011), and with routine usage of ensemble computer models to illustrate expected weather scenarios. Skilling has also occasionally hosted half-hour documentary specials explaining extreme weather phenomenon and advancements in forecasting technology (including 1991's It Sounded Like a Freight Train, focusing on the science of and the Chicago area's climatological history with tornadoes, and 1992's When Lightning Strikes, centering on the science and dangers of lightning), which have earned several Chicago Emmy nominations and award wins, as well as a weekly feature on the 9:00 p.m. newscast, Ask Tom Why, in which Skilling answers viewer-submitted weather questions (and which served as the basis for a similarly formatted column featured in the Tribune's weather page). Under Skilling, WGN also coordinated the centralization of its weather operations to encompass WGN-TV, WGN Radio, CLTV and the Tribune, and, in May 2007, became a broadcast partner in the WeatherBug real-time automated weather observation network (the largest station member by market size). Skilling holds the record as the longest-serving television meteorologist at a single station in the Chicago market, having served as chief meteorologist at WGN-TV for 42 years as of August 2020. (Volkman holds the record as Chicago's longest-serving television meteorologist overall, having worked in the market from 1959 until his retirement from broadcasting in 2004, including other stints at WMAQ-TV and WFLD as well as an 18-year run as chief meteorologist at WBBM-TV.)
The late newscast was moved into prime time on March 10, 1980, concurrently becoming known as The Nine O'Clock News (later retitled WGN News at Nine in May 1993, as part of a uniform retitling of its newscasts under the "WGN News" moniker used in some promotions and report sign-offs since 1981). The shift to the 9:00 p.m. hour briefly made it the first hour-long prime time newscast in the Midwest and, for its first seven years in that slot, it was the Chicago market's only local television newscast at 9:00. Initially airing five nights a week for one hour, the revamped weeknight-only newscast was first anchored by the prior NewsNine team of Drury, Skilling, sports anchor Bill Frink and commentator Len O'Connor. On June 9 of that year, the program switched to a hybrid local-national format that incorporated the Independent Network News (INN)—a Tribune-syndicated nightly news program originating from New York sister station WPIX, which was later retitled INN: The Independent News in September 1984 and USA Tonight in January 1987—in place of the locally produced segments that had occupied the 9:30 p.m. half-hour since the March format change. After briefly being relegated to weeknights following the shift to prime time, half-hour weekend editions of the 9:00 p.m. broadcast were added on October 4, 1980, anchored originally by Larry Roderick and Robert Jordan. By 1985, Drury (who returned to his previous role as main co-anchor at WLS-TV in late 1984) and Denise Cannon (who became the former's co-anchor in 1981 and departed at the end of 1984) were succeeded as principal anchors by Rick Rosenthal and Pat Harvey.
Since the reformatting as a prime time newscast, WGN-TV has been the ratings leader in the 9:00 p.m. timeslot, with or without news competition in the arena and even at times when weaker-rated shows led into the newscast, and typically holds a larger audience than the 10:00 p.m. newscast on WBBM-TV. The 9:00 p.m. newscast's dominance was to such an extent that, from 1984 until 1989 (when it was unseated by KTVU in San Francisco), it had the largest viewership of any prime time local newscast in the United States. Legitimate competition sprang up for The Nine O'Clock News on November 16, 1987, when Fox O&O WFLD consolidated the half-hour 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. newscasts that launched its full-scale news operation three months earlier into a single broadcast at 9:00. Although WFLD aggressively marketed its fledgling newscast towards younger audiences as having a fresher style compared to WGN's more traditional news format, viewer loyalty has continued to propel Channel 9 to #1 in the ratings at 9:00 to the present day (with one of the only exceptions being a tie with Channel 32 in the May 1996 sweeps period), even with the WFLD newscast having the Fox prime time lineup as its lead-in. For this reason, WFLD moved its newscast back to its original 7:00 p.m. timeslot in September 1988, only to return it to 9:00 the following year to accommodate the planned expansion of Fox's prime time lineup. A sports highlight and interview program, Instant Replay, which has been hosted since its debut by sports director Dan Roan, began accompanying the Sunday edition of the newscast in August 1987. WGN re-expanded its prime time newscast to one hour on June 4, 1990, after Tribune discontinued production of USA Tonight under a collaborative agreement between Tribune and Turner Broadcasting in which the Tribune stations were granted access to CNN Newsource content and began feeding video footage to the CNN video wire service.
WGN began programming long-form news outside its established 9:00 p.m. slot on September 19, 1983, when it debuted Midday Newscope, which grew out of the three-minute-long local news segments that had aired during the INN Midday Edition (which followed the newscast until that program's September 1985 cancellation) since January 1983. Originally anchored by Rick Rosenthal (who was replaced by Steve Sanders, after Rosenthal replaced Drury as 9:00 p.m. co-anchor in 1984), the newscast—a local version of Telepictures and Gannett Broadcasting's short-lived syndicated format, Newscope—featured a hybrid of local news headlines and weather forecasts and in-depth consumer, financial, entertainment and lifestyle features. The program was reformatted into a more traditional newscast, retitled Chicago's Midday News, on September 17, 1984, and later expanded to an hour in September 1985. The midday newscast—which concurrently rebranded from WGN News at Noon to the WGN Midday News with the expansion—would eventually expand to 90 minutes (moving to an 11:30 a.m. start) on September 15, 2008; it was subsequently expanded to two hours (moving to 11:00 a.m.) on October 5, 2009. On September 19, 1988, WGN became the first Chicago television station to closed caption its newscasts for the hearing impaired.
On January 25, 1992, the station debuted hour-long 8:00 a.m. newscasts on Saturdays and Sundays. To accommodate the launch of Chicago's Weekend Morning News (which marked the first major weekend morning news attempt in Chicago television and one of the only instances of a television station carrying a morning newscast on weekends without already having a weekday equivalent) and the concurring moves of Charlando and People to People to Sundays, WGN dropped three long-running religious programs—What's Nu (produced by the Chicago Board of Rabbis), Heritage of Faith (produced by Protestant group Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries) and Mass for Shut-ins (produced by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago)—from its Sunday morning lineup, a move that was criticized by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and other religious groups on grounds that the programs catered to diverse religious audiences in fulfillment of the station's public service programming obligations. (The latter two programs were subsequently acquired by WGBO-TV, under an agreement which allowed them to continue to be produced out of the WGN-TV studios.) The Sunday edition was discontinued after the September 4, 1994, broadcast; the Saturday edition would follow suit four years later on December 19, 1998, with then-news director Steve Ramsey citing the need to provide more resources for its weekday morning newscasts. Weekend morning newscasts returned on October 2, 2010, with the debut of hour-long editions at 6:00 a.m. (shifted to a two-hour block at 7:00 a.m. on September 10, 2016, following Channel 9's disaffiliation from The CW, and expanded to a third hour on Saturdays until 10:00 a.m. on January 11, 2020.).
Morning news programming was extended to weekdays on September 6, 1994, with the WGN Morning News debuting as a one-hour broadcast from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m., anchored originally by Dave Eckert, Sonja Gantt and meteorologist Paul Huttner. In an effort to improve viewership, the program—which replaced children's programs (including The Bozo Show, which displaced the Sunday edition of the morning newscast) that had previously aired in that time period—was soon reformatted from a more traditional newscast to feature a mix of straight news and entertainment and lifestyle features that use a looser style similar to morning radio programs. This reformatting helped the Morning News to eventually begin beating competing local and national morning news programs—including its closest initial competitor, WFLD's Fox Thing in the Morning (now Good Day Chicago)—in the 25–54 age demographic and in total viewers. (The program would expand to two hours, extending until 9:00 a.m., on January 8, 1996, with a later hour-long expansion [to 10:00 a.m.] on September 3, 2013.) An hour-long 6:00 a.m. "Early Edition" of the newscast debuted on August 5, 1996; this block of the newscast would gradually expand to three hours, beginning with the addition of a 5:30 a.m. half-hour in January 2001 and ending with its July 11, 2011, extension to 4:00 a.m. (The WGN Morning News became the first WGN-TV newscast to be denied clearance on the national feed in September 1996, with its forced removal reportedly being due to self-imposed exclusivity restrictions concerning the newscast's paid segments and rate charges that the station's sales department would have to pay if the segments aired nationally; simulcasts of the WGN Morning News temporarily returned to WGN America on February 3, 2014, when it began airing the 4:00 a.m. hour.)
In July 1996, WGN-TV began using a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter for newsgathering, "Skycam 9," which is used for certain breaking news events and traffic reporting. In October 1999, freelance reporter Jane Boal made headlines when she was hit from behind while trying to move away from a car attempting to drive away from an accident with another vehicle during a live midday report about a carbon monoxide leak that forced the evacuation of a school in the Rogers Park neighborhood; Boal (who was laid off by the station in May 2009) suffered cartilage and ligament injuries to both of her legs after being pinned between the car involved in the accident and a WGN live truck, but was able to resume work in early November. In 2000, WGN-TV constructed a new 26,000-square-foot (2,415 m2) newsroom covering two floors on the eastern portion of its studio facility, increasing the building's size to approximately 131,000 square feet (12,170 m2); the original newsroom was renovated for use by the station's weather department.
WGN scored a major coup in April 2008, when it persuaded veteran WMAQ-TV and WFLD anchor Mark Suppelsa—who turned down a contract with the latter station due to a proposed salary cut—to take over as lead anchor of the 9:00 p.m. newscast, replacing Steve Sanders (who was moved to the midday newscast and was later joined in September 2009 by his former co-anchor on the 9:00 p.m. broadcast from 1993 until Suppelsa's appointment, Allison Payne, after Micah Materre moved to the prime time newscasts full-time). Suppelsa remained a main co-anchor of the weeknight newscasts until his retirement from broadcasting in December 2017, and was replaced two months later by Joe Donlon (who served a similar role at KGW in Portland, Oregon, and would himself depart WGN-TV in June 2020 to become main co-anchor of sister network WGN America's fledgling prime time newscast NewsNation). On July 19, 2008, beginning with that night's edition of the 9:00 p.m. newscast, WGN-TV became the third television station in the Chicago market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. Video from remote and field equipment was initially broadcast in 480p standard definition following the transition; high definition cameras began to be used for field reports in July 2010, a move which made WGN-TV the first station in the market to broadcast all locally originated portions of its newscasts (including live field reports) in HD.
Starting under the direction of now-former news director Greg Caputo, WGN-TV spearheaded a major expansion of its news programming. In addition to the expansions of its existing newscasts, WGN first launched an early-evening newscast on September 15, 2008, when the WGN Evening News premiered as a half-hour weeknight broadcast at 5:30 p.m. The newscast expanded to one hour (starting at 5:00 p.m.) on October 5, 2009, with Saturday and Sunday editions being added on July 12, 2014. The weekday editions of the newscast were later expanded to include a second hour (starting at 4:00 p.m.) on September 8, 2014, and then to three hours (extending it to the 6:00 p.m. hour) on April 4, 2017. (The superstation feed did not clear any of the expanded newscasts up until the conversion of WGN America into a conventional cable channel.) In 2009, WGN-TV began streaming its weekday midday and 5:00 p.m. newscasts live on its website. On February 22, 2010, WGN-TV became the first television station in the Chicago market to allow iPhone users to watch live streams of its newscasts; the 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. block of the WGN Morning News, the midday and 5:00 p.m. newscasts were initially available for streaming to iPhone users. (At present, all newscasts are streamed through the station's website and on Apple devices, though sports segments are blacked out—presented only with the audio feed—due to streaming restrictions on sports highlights imposed by the major sports leagues.)
On October 5, 2015, the station restored a 10:00 p.m. newscast—originally only airing Monday through Friday nights—to its schedule after a 35-year absence; weekend editions of the 10:00 broadcast were added on January 11, 2020. A secondary live sports news show, GN Sports, premiered on January 28, 2020, as the lead-out program for the weeknight 10:00 p.m. newscasts; co-hosted by Roan and Jarrett Payton (son of late Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton, and brother of former Chicago's Best host and current WFLD anchor Brittney Payton), the program focuses on sports news and highlights, feature segments and in-studio interviews in a similar format as Instant Replay, as well as including sports gaming and fantasy sports analysis. (Payton formerly co-hosted the similar CLTV program Sports Feed—alongside WGN sports reporter Josh Frydman, who serves as a GN Sports contributor—from 2015 until Nexstar shut down the cable news channel in December 2019.) Weekend editions of GN Sports were added on August 14, 2021, with the Sunday broadcast replacing the cuisine and tourism program Chicago's Best (which had aired on WGN for ten years from January 2011 until August 8,
Notable current on-air staff
- Jackie Bange – weekend evening anchor
- Dan Ponce – weekday morning anchor (4:00–6:00 a.m.)
- Lourdes Duarte – weekday anchor 4:00 p.m.
In addition to providing weather forecasts for WGN-TV, the WGN Weathercenter Team also provides forecasts for the Chicago Tribune, WGN radio and CLTV.
- Tim Joyce – weekend morning meteorologist
- Tom Skilling (AMS Seal of Approval) – chief meteorologist
- Paul M. Lisnek – political analyst
- Dean Richards – entertainment reporter and film critic
Notable former on-air staff
- Fran Allison
- Mike Barz (now at WISH-TV in Indianapolis)
- Brigid Bazlen
- Bob Bell
- Steve Bell
- Lou Boudreau
- Thom Brennaman (was most recently at Fox Sports)
- Jack Brickhouse
- Marshall Brodien
- Lorn Brown
- Roy Brown
- Cheryl Burton (now at WLS-TV)
- Chip Caray (now at Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast)
- Harry Caray
- Susan Carlson (now with WMAQ-TV)
- Bob Collins
- Bob Costas (formerly at NBC Sports; currently with MLB Network)
- Joey D'Auria
- Merri Dee
- Phil Donahue
- Mike Douglas
- John Drury
- Jim Durham
- Judie Garcia
- Milo Hamilton
- Pat Harvey (now at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles)
- Frances Horwich
- Bill Jackson
- Bob Jordan (retired)
- Johnny "Red" Kerr
- Rich King
- Wayne Larrivee
- Roy Leonard
- Vince Lloyd
- Ned Locke
- Nancy Loo (now at NewsNation)
- Jim Lounsbury
- Joe McConnell
- Elaine Mulqueen
- Allison Payne
- Lloyd Pettit
- Jimmy Piersall
- Ray Rayner
- Ron Rivera (Now the head coach for the Washington Football Team in the NFL)
- Randy Salerno (Died in a snowmobile accident in 2008) was at WBBM-TV
- Don Sandburg
- John Schubeck
- Keenan Smith (now at WXYZ-TV in Detroit)
- Wendell Smith
- Mark Suppelsa (retired)
- Chuck Swirsky
- Jack Taylor
- Roseanne Tellez (now at WFLD in Chicago)
- Frazier Thomas
- Bob Trendler
- Robert Urich
- Harry Volkman
- Jenniffer Weigel
- Jim Williams (now at WBBM-TV in Chicago)
- Bill Weir (now at CNN)
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|09.1||1080i||16:9||WGN-HD||Main WGN-TV programming|
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|09.1||1080i||16:9||WGN-HD||Main WGN-TV programming|
WGN-TV began transmitting a digital television signal on UHF channel 19 on January 4, 2001, operating from a transmitter located 1,486 feet (453 m) atop the Sears Tower. (Incidentally, WGN-TV was one of six, originally eight, Chicago television stations that declined offers to move their analog transmitters to the Sears Tower antenna farm ahead of the building's 1973 completion.) The station shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 9, 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 WGN-TV digital signal continued to broadcast on its pre-transition UHF channel 19, with digital television receivers continuing to display WGN-TV's PSIP virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 9. As a consequence, WGN-TV permanently ceased transmissions from the John Hancock Center's west antenna tower, establishing its existing digital facilities at the Sears Tower digital antenna as its main transmitter.
Though not a participant in the SAFER Act, WWME-CA carried simulcasts of WGN-TV's 9:00 p.m. newscast—except in the event of sports delays—and WMAQ-TV's morning and early evening newscasts until July 12 to provide an analog "lifeline" for viewers that were unprepared for or who had reception issues following the digital transition.
In April 1985, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved eligibility for the signals of WGN-TV and fellow American superstations WTBS, WOR-TV and WPIX to be retransmitted as foreign services by multichannel television providers within Canada. Under CRTC linkage rules first implemented in 1983 that require providers to offer U.S.-based program services in discretionary tiers tied to Canadian services, WGN-TV/WGN America and other authorized U.S. superstations typically have been sold to prospective subscribers of one or more domestic premium services—such as Crave (formerly First Choice and The Movie Network), Starz (formerly Moviepix and The Movie Network Encore), Super Channel, Super Écran and Western Canada-based regional pay services Movie Central (the original user of the Superchannel name, now defunct) and Encore Avenue (also now defunct). However, some providers have chosen to offer WGN in a specialty tier under a related rule that allows for an eligible superstation of the provider's choice to be carried on a non-premium tier. (Although KWGN-TV has also been authorized for carriage by the CRTC since that point, the Denver sister station is not carried on any multichannel television providers within Canada.)
After United Video began offering a separate national feed of WGN upon the stateside implementation the Syndex rules in January 1990, most Canadian cable providers began to replace the Chicago signal with the superstation feed as well. (Among the country's satellite providers, Star Choice [now Shaw Direct] began carrying the national feed upon the satellite provider's 1994 launch; Bell ExpressVu [now Bell Satellite TV] began distributing the Chicago-area signal when it commenced operations in 1996.) As a network affiliate, WGN-TV provided WB and CW programs to areas of Canada distant from the Canadian–U.S. border that could not receive over-the-air signals of other WB/CW affiliates from American cities. The WGN local feed was subjected to fewer sports blackouts than WGN America had been subjected to prior to the separation of the national and local feeds, as blackouts of programming to which Canadian broadcasters hold domestic rights apply only to imported U.S.-based specialty channels. However, simultaneous substitution rules have applied to certain CW programs that were also carried by Canadian-based terrestrial networks (such as Global, Citytv and CTV Two). The WGN-TV feed had also previously been available as part of the NHL Centre Ice sports package, primarily for simulcasts of Chicago Blackhawks games that WGN-TV aired until the 2018–19 season.
On January 17, 2007, WGN's main Canadian uplink carrier, Shaw Broadcast Services, switched its distributed feed of the station to the Chicago signal, a decision believed to have resulted from increased licensing fees for the then-superstation feed; despite this, some providers (including MTS TV and Cogeco Cable) continued to carry the superstation feed in place of or in conjunction with the Chicago signal. Despite this, some providers continued to carry the national WGN channel in lieu of or—as was the case with providers such as MTS TV and Cogeco Cable—in tandem with the Chicago feed, resulting in the duplication of CW network and many syndicated programs that are available within the country on other networks (such as fellow superstations KTLA and Boston-based WSBK-TV). While the CRTC had approved the Chicago station's broadcast signal and its national cable feed for carriage on any domestic multichannel television provider (including cable, satellite, IPTV and MMDS services), because of the conversion of WGN America from a superstation into an independent general-entertainment service and its resulting programming separation from WGN-TV, on December 15, 2014, Tribune Broadcasting sent notice that it would terminate all Canadian distribution rights for WGN America, effective January 1, 2015; the move was likely done to comply with CRTC genre protection rules in effect at the time, which prohibited the utilization of general entertainment programming formats by domestic or foreign cable channels. The WGN-TV Chicago feed, however, remains authorized for domestic distribution as a superstation. It is carried on Bell Satellite TV channel 1232 across Canada.
|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|
|W40CN-D, Sugar Grove|
|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 (Inspire)
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-DT 60 (UMas)
WCHU-LD 61 (JTV)
WJYS 62 (Ind)
WGBO-DT 66 (UNI)