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.
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.
|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 (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)