WGNO, virtual and UHF digital channel 26, is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company, as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate WNOL-TV (channel 38). The two stations share studios at The Galleria on Galleria Drive (just south of I-10) in Metairie; WGNO's transmitter is located on East Josephine Street in Chalmette. On cable, the station is available on Cox Communications and AT&T U-verse channel 11.
As an independent station
The station first signed on the air at 5:00 p.m. on October 16, 1967, as WWOM-TV. The call sign stood for "The Wonderful World Of Movies," an adaptation of the "Wonderful World of Music" meaning used by co-owned radio station WWOM 600 AM, now WVOG, and 98.5 WWOM-FM, now WYLD-FM. The station inaugurated programming with a greeting by then-Mayor Victor H. Schiro, which was followed by its first program, the 1927 Al Jolson film The Jazz Singer. Originally owned by David Wagenvoord, it was the first independent station in the state of Louisiana and the first commercial television station to sign on in New Orleans since WWL-TV Channel 4 debuted as the market's CBS affiliate on September 7, 1957.
The station—which broadcast for eight hours a day from late afternoon to midnight during its first years of operation—maintained a general entertainment programming format consisting mostly of older movies, some theatrical cartoon shorts and a few off-network syndicated programs. During its first decade on the air, the station also cherry-picked several programs from NBC, ABC and CBS that WDSU (channel 6), WVUE-TV (then on channel 12, now on channel 8) and WWL-TV chose not to broadcast. In 1969, the station experimented with a 24-hour daily schedule, claiming to be the first television station in the United States to broadcast on such a schedule; however, this format was short-lived.
The station was sold to Communications Corp. of the South in 1971; after the purchase was finalized, the station changed its call letters to WGNO on March 9, 1972. Around this time, the station began running more off-network syndicated sitcoms and westerns, along with a moderate amount of cartoons. The station expanded its programming schedule to about 12 hours each day by 1972, then began signing on at 10:00 a.m. in 1974; WGNO expanded its daily programming hours to about 19 hours a day by 1975. The station was sold to Seymour Smith and his family in 1976, continuing to program a general entertainment format with vintage sitcoms, older movies and religious programs.
WGNO began to be carried on many cable providers in southern Louisiana (including within the Baton Rouge market) during the 1970s, before it was replaced by Atlanta-based superstation WTCG. In 1981, WGNO also ran business news programming from the Financial News Network. From 1982 to 1987, WGNO aired a series of public service announcements featuring a character called "Tom Foote"; Tom was a local entertainer seen in area schools and in the French Quarter. For a time, the station produced an hour-long program called Tom Foote's Video Clubhouse, as well as News for Kids, produced by Foote.
WGNO was purchased by Glendive Media in 1978, who would in turn sell the station to Tribune Broadcasting in 1983. By coincidence, the station's callsign reflects a connection with Tribune's flagship television station in Chicago, WGN-TV (whose own call letters stand for "World's Greatest Newspaper", in reference to the longtime slogan of the company's founding newspaper, the Chicago Tribune); however, channel 26 had the "WGN" lettering in its callsign twelve years before Tribune even bought the station; this connection, coupled with the fact that two other Tribune-owned television stations also incorporated the "WGN" name in their callsigns (Denver's KWGN-TV and Atlanta's WGNX (now WGCL-TV), the former of which remains owned by the company), channel 26 kept the WGNO call letters. Under Tribune, the station continued to grow, and WGNO remained the leading independent station in the market even as other competitors signed on the air—WNOL-TV (channel 38) in March 1984 and later, WCCL (channel 49, now Ion Television owned-and-operated station WPXL-TV) in March 1989. WGNO reportedly turned down an offer by Fox to become a charter affiliate of the network, prior to its October 1986 launch; Fox programming instead went to WNOL, which its then-owners TVX Broadcast Group used as leverage to get Fox to sign a deal to affiliate with the majority of the company's independent stations.
As a WB affiliate
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Television division of Time Warner announced the formation of The WB Television Network, in which the Tribune Company held a minority ownership interest (initially 12.5%, before eventually expanding to 22%). As a result, Tribune affiliated the majority of its independent stations with the network as charter affiliates. This effectively ended WGNO's 28-year run as an independent station upon The WB's launch on January 11, 1995. At that time, The WB only offered a few hours of programming each week (airing only for two hours on Wednesday nights at the time of its launch, before adding a three-hour Sunday evening lineup, and a Monday-Saturday children's program block in September 1995); as a result, WGNO continued to run syndicated programming for the remainder of the broadcast day.
As an ABC affiliate
That same year, Burnham Broadcasting sold longtime ABC affiliate WVUE-TV (now owned by Gray Television) and three other stations to SF Broadcasting, a joint venture between Savoy Pictures and Fox, resulting in all four stations dropping their "Big Three" affiliations and joining Fox. On August 14, 1995, ABC signed a 10-year affiliation agreement with Tribune Broadcasting for WGNO to become its New Orleans affiliate. WVUE switched its affiliation to Fox on January 1, 1996 (as SF Broadcasting's only ABC affiliate to join that network; KHON-TV in Honolulu, WALA-TV in Mobile and WLUK-TV in Green Bay were all affiliated with NBC prior to their switches), resulting in a three-way swap that resulted in WWWW becoming the market's new ABC affiliate, while the WB affiliation (along with cartoons and some syndicated programs that were part of WGNO's inventory) moved to former Fox affiliate WNOL-TV (channel 38).
As a result of joining ABC, channel 26 became the second Tribune-owned station to switch to a "Big Three" network (Atlanta sister station WGNX, now owned by the Meredith Corporation as WGCL-TV, was set to affiliate with The WB at its launch, but joined CBS one month prior in December 1994 after WAGA-TV switched from CBS to Fox through a deal with New World Communications) and only the third "Big Three" station in its portfolio (along with KDAL-TV (now KDLH) in Duluth, Minnesota, a CBS affiliate that Tribune had owned from 1960 to 1970). From 1999—when Tribune sold CBS affiliate WGNX (now WGCL-TV) in Atlanta to the Meredith Corporation—until 2013, WGNO was the only Tribune-owned television station that was affiliated with a "Big Three" network (by 2007, the company's other 22 stations were, and remain, affiliates of either Fox, The CW or MyNetworkTV). However, Tribune's December 2013 acquisition of Local TV added eleven additional "Big Three" stations to its portfolio; the purchase also displaced WGNO/WNOL as the company's smallest television stations by market size, with the Fort Smith, Arkansas duopoly of CBS affiliate KFSM-TV and MyNetworkTV affiliate KXNW filling that role.
Tribune Broadcasting began managing the operations of WNOL under a local marketing agreement in 1996. The company merged with channel 38's then-owner Qwest Broadcasting (a company run by a group of minority investors led by Quincy Jones) in 2000, creating the market's first television duopoly with WGNO. Despite now being placed under common ownership, WGNO and WNOL continued to operate separately from one another: WNOL continued to be based out of its existing studio facility on Canal Street. In July 2005, WGNO relocated from its studio facilities at the World Trade Center New Orleans in the city's Central Business District to a facility at the New Orleans Centre.
As Hurricane Katrina approached the Louisiana coast in August 2005, WGNO's operations were moved to fellow ABC affiliate WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge. For a time after the hurricane hit, the station's evening newscasts were produced out of various locations throughout the New Orleans area as the main studio at the World Trade Center New Orleans was inaccessible. WGNO eventually established temporary facilities (including a makeshift studio and control room) from two trailers outside of the Louisiana Superdome, with most of the station's broadcast equipment being purchased from eBay resellers. In April 2006, WGNO announced that its broadcast operations would temporarily relocate back to the World Trade Center building as New Orleans Centre management decided not to re-open the complex and terminated the station's lease agreement (WGNO had only moved into the facility a few weeks before Katrina hit the area).
In February 2007, Tribune announced that rather than move WGNO to WNOL's facility on Canal Street, the station would instead move its operations to The Galleria building in nearby Metairie; this made WGNO the first New Orleans area television station to move its studio facilities outside of the city proper. Station management indicated that they wanted to keep WGNO's operations in New Orleans, but could not find a facility that was suitable. The station began broadcasting from new high definition-ready studios inside The Galleria on August 29, 2007 (coinciding with the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina), which included a brand-new news set and weather center.
On April 1, 2012, Tribune Broadcasting removed all WGNO, WNOL, and its then 21 other television stations from satellite provider DirecTV due to a carriage dispute over an increase in payments to transmit the stations' signals. DirecTV signed a new carriage agreement with Tribune on April 4, 2012, restoring both stations as well as the other Tribune-owned stations on DirecTV.
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, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Had the deal received regulatory approval by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, the acquisition of WNOL-TV and WGNO would have marked Sinclair's entry into Louisiana (the virtual duopolies of fellow ABC affiliate WEAR-TV and NBC affiliate WPMI-TV in the Pensacola, Florida–Mobile, Alabama market and Fox affiliate KBTV-TV and CBS affiliate KFDM in the Beaumont–Port Arthur market are the closest existing Sinclair properties to New Orleans).
On July 18, 2018, hours after Sinclair submitted a revision to the acquisition proposal that rescinded plans for WGN-TV and CW-affiliated sisters KDAF in Dallas-Fort Worth and KIAH in Houston to be sold to closely tied third-party companies—WGN-TV LLC and Cunningham Broadcasting, respectively—in order to address concerns expressed by FCC chairman Ajit Pai concerning the partner licensees Sinclair proposed using to allow it to operate certain Tribune stations in circumvention of the 39% national ownership cap, 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, and concurrently 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 the WGNO/WNOL duopoly additional sister stations in Baton Rouge (Fox affiliate WGMB-TV, CW affiliate WBRL-CD, independent station KZUP-CD and NBC-affiliated SSA partner WVLA-TV), Alexandria (Natchez, Mississippi-licensed Fox affiliate WNTZ-TV) and Lafayette (CBS affiliate KLFY-TV). Factoring in Nexstar's existing properties in Shreveport (NBC affiliate KTAL-TV and SSA partners KMSS-TV [Fox] and KSHV-TV [MyNetworkTV]) and Monroe (Fox affiliate KARD and NBC-affiliated SSA partner KTVE), the combined company would have television stations in every media market within the state of Louisiana, except for Lake Charles, as a result.
|TV stations in Louisiana|
|WGNO, New Orleans|
|TV stations in Greater New Orleans|
|WWL 4 (CBS) |
WDSU 6 (NBC)
WVUE 8 (Fox)
WYES 12 (PBS)
WHNO 20 (CTN)
WTNO-LP 22 (AZA)
WGNO 26 (ABC)
KNLD-LD 28 (Daystar)
KFOL-CD 30 (Ind)
WLAE 32 (ETV)
WQDT-LD 34 (Buzzr)
WNOL 38 (CW)
KNOV-CD 41 (Info)
KGLA 42 (TLM)
K47JO-D 47 (HSN2)
WPXL 49 (Ion)
WUPL 54 (MNTV)