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WHO-DT, branded as WHO-HD, is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Des Moines, Iowa, United States. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on virtual and VHF channel 13 from a transmitter located in Alleman, Iowa. Owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company, WHO-DT maintains studio facilities on Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines. On cable, the station is available on Mediacom channel 13 in standard definition and on digital channel 813 in high definition.

WHO-DT was previously repeated on analog translators K27CV channel 27 in Ottumwa and K66AL channel 66 in Clarinda. The Ottumwa translator was operated by a local non-profit organization, and the Clarinda translator was owned by the City of Clarinda.


WHO-TV signed on the air on April 15, 1954 as the third television station in Des Moines, after WOI-TV (channel 5) and KGTV. It was signed on by the Tri-City Broadcasting Company, which was owned by the Palmer family, owners of WHO radio (AM 1040 and FM 100.3, now KDRB). The Palmers had competed with KIOA for the channel 13 license and won it after reaching a settlement. It has always been an NBC affiliate, having inherited this affiliation from WOI-TV and owing to WHO's long affiliation with the NBC Radio Network.

The Palmers sold off their broadcast holdings in 1996, with WHO-TV and sister station KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City going to The New York Times Company. Earlier that year, a joint plan by the Sinclair Broadcast Group (at the time in the process of purchasing Oklahoma City's then-UPN affiliate KOCB) and River City Broadcasting (then owner of Fox affiliate KDSM-TV) to purchase Palmer Communications, which since the 1970s had been the name of the Palmer family's holding company,[6] fell through; Sinclair would have purchased WHO outright while River City would have received KFOR. However, River City was in the process of being merged into Sinclair, which would have resulted in duopolies, which were at the time prohibited by Federal Communications Commission ownership rules, in both the Des Moines and Oklahoma City markets. Up to that time, channel 13 had been the last locally owned commercial station in Des Moines. WHO-AM, which was eventually acquired by Jacor Communications (which later merged with Clear Channel Communications), continued to occupy the same building until it moved to another building in 2005. While WHO-TV was co-owned with WHO-AM, it used an owl as its mascot.

On January 4, 2007, The New York Times entered into an agreement to sell its entire television division, including WHO-TV, to private equity group Oak Hill Capital Partners. Oak Hill created Local TV LLC as a holding company for the former New York Times stations. The sale closed on May 7, 2007.

On December 20, 2007, Local TV and Tribune Company entered into a letter of intent to create a third-party broadcast management company to provide shared services to all of the stations Local TV and Tribune Company own respectively. The company will function as a wholly owned subsidiary of Tribune Company, and will provide back-office services, administration, and a number of other functions to the stations. The most noticeable byproducts of this partnership are the redesigned websites of WHO-TV and Local TV's other stations, which were launched during late January and into February 2009, using the Tribune Interactive platform also used by the websites of Tribune-owned stations. However, on March 7, 2012, following the lead of Local TV's Fox-affiliated stations, WHO-DT became the first of Local TV's "Big Three" network-affiliated stations to migrate its Web site away from Tribune Digital (successor to Tribune Interactive) to a new host, VIP. On July 1, 2013, Local TV announced that its stations would be acquired by Tribune.

On July 1, 2013, Local TV announced that it would be acquired outright by Tribune Broadcasting, making WHO-DT and KFOR Tribune's first NBC affiliates. The sale was completed on December 27.

Aborted sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group[]

On May 8, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group—which has owned KDSM since it acquired the station from River City Broadcasting in 1996—entered into an agreement to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune, pending regulatory approval by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division. As WHO and KDSM rank among the four highest-rated stations in the Des Moines market in total day viewership and the creation of a second legal duopoly in the market would result in only seven owners of full-power stations in the Des Moines market (a minimum of eight is required to allow a duopoly), it was likely that the companies may be required to sell one of the stations to another broadcasting group in order to comply with FCC ownership rules preceding approval of the acquisition; however, a sale of either station to an independent buyer is dependent on later decisions by the FCC regarding local ownership of broadcast television stations and future acts by Congress. Alternatively, Sinclair may opt to take over the operations of either WHO or transfer ownership of and retain operational responsibilities for KDSM through a local marketing agreement with one of its partner companies, a situation that Sinclair already employs in the adjoining markets of Omaha, Sioux City and Cedar Rapids.

Reports surfaced as early as November 2017 suggested that groups such as Nexstar Media Group (which acquired WOI-DT in 2013 and CW affiliate KCWI-TV [channel 23] the following year, and owns stations in the nearby markets of Sioux City and Davenport), Tegna and the Des Moines-based Meredith Corporation were interested in purchasing other conflict stations spun off by Sinclair and Tribune. The Des Moines Register confirmed on March 5, 2018, that Meredith (whose headquarters are located 0.3 miles (0.48 km) southeast of the WHO-DT studios) was seeking to bid on some of the Sinclair conflict outlets, possibly including either WHO or KDSM, which could give the company a broadcast property in its corporate homebase. (Currently, the Kansas City duopoly of KCTV and KSMO-TV is the closest Meredith-owned television property within proximity to Des Moines.) However, on April 24, 2018, in an amendment to the Tribune acquisition through which it proposed the sale of certain stations to both independent and affiliated third-party companies to curry the DOJ's approval, Sinclair announced that it would sell KDSM and eight other stations – Sinclair-operated KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, WRLH-TV in Richmond, WOLF-TV (along with LMA partners WSWB and WQMY) in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and WXLV-TV in Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, and Tribune-owned WPMT in Harrisburg and WXMI in Grand Rapids – to Standard Media Group (an independent broadcast holding company formed by private equity firm Standard General to assume ownership of and absolve ownership conflicts involving the aforementioned stations) for $441.1 million. The transaction includes a transitional services agreement, through which Sinclair would have continued operating KDSM for six months after the sale's completion.

Less than one month after the FCC voted to have the deal reviewed by an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain conflict properties, on August 9, 2018, Tribune announced it would terminate the Sinclair deal, intending to seek other M&A opportunities. Tribune also 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. The termination of the Sinclair sale agreement places uncertainty for the future of Standard Media's purchases of KDSM and the other six Tribune- and Sinclair-operated stations included in that deal, which were predicated on the closure of the Sinclair–Tribune merger.

Pending sale to Nexstar Media Group[]

On December 3, 2018, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group—which has owned ABC affiliate WOI-DT (channel 5) since March 2014 and CW affiliate KCWI-TV (channel 23) since March 2016—announced it would acquire the assets of Tribune Media for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. Nexstar is precluded from acquiring WHO-DT directly or indirectly, as FCC regulations prohibit common ownership of more than two stations in the same media market, or two or more of the four highest-rated stations in the market. (Furthermore, any attempt by Nexstar to assume the operations of WHO-DT through local marketing or shared services agreements may be subject to regulatory hurdles that could delay completion of the FCC and Justice Department's review and approval process for the acquisition.) As such, Nexstar will be required to sell either WHO-DT or WOI-DT to a separate, unrelated company to address the ownership conflict. (As KCWI does not rank among the top four in total-day viewership and therefore is not in conflict with existing FCC in-market ownership rules, that station optionally can be retained by Nexstar regardless of whether it chooses to retain ownership of WOI or sell WOI in order to acquire WHO or, should it be divested, be sold to the prospective buyer of WOI.)

On March 20, 2019, it was announced that Nexstar would sell the WOI/KCWI duopoly to McLean, Virginia-based Tegna Inc. and buy WHO-DT, as part of the company's sale of nineteen Nexstar- and Tribune-operated stations to Tegna and the E. W. Scripps Company in separate deals worth $1.32 billion; the WOI/KCWI duopoly, along with Moline, Illinois sister station WQAD-TV (which Nexstar, on behalf of Tribune, also plans to divest to Tegna as part of the spin-offs), would mark Tegna's first television properties to serve Iowa.

News operation[]

WHO-TV presently broadcasts 36 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours each weekday and three hours each on Saturdays and Sundays); in regards to the numbers of hours devoted to programming, it is the largest local newscast output among any station in Des Moines and the state of Iowa.

It was in 1976 that WHO-TV formed its most popular news team: Jack Cafferty, Phil Thomas, Jerry Reno and Jim Zabel all were hired for the Des Moines variation of the Eyewitness News format. By 1977, Cafferty had become one of the nation's most sought after local TV anchors, even being represented by the William Morris Agency. Cafferty left WHO that year to join NBC's flagship station WNBC-TV in New York City and was with CNN until 2012. Knowing of his departure, WHO-TV ran a transitional ad where he was photographed next to Phil Thomas, who was in the foreground. Following Cafferty's departure, his place was taken by Greg Burden, a former college basketball player from Los Angeles who was hired away from KMOX-TV (now KMOV) in St. Louis. Although his personality clicked with fellow newscasters, Thomas complained that the fact that Burden was bigger than him had made him look like a circus midget. Later in the decade the humor on Eyewitness News, combined with the two anchors' constant ribbing, was a source of annoyance for the Palmers, particularly when audience research showed that viewers compared Phil Thomas to the then-budding comedian Steve Martin and bloopers from the news were on the inaugural show of NBC's Real People. (Said bloopers aired as part of the show locally on WHO-TV and have been uploaded to YouTube.)

By 1979, Phil Thomas had risen to become the news director at the station, as reported in the Guthrie Center Times, where he began his news career.

On September 2, 2008, WHO-TV entered into a news share agreement with Fox affiliate KDSM-TV (owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group). The big three station then began producing a Des Moines-based prime time newscast known as Channel 13 News at Nine on Fox 17. KDSM previously had its 9 p.m. broadcast produced by Sinclair sister outlet KGAN in Cedar Rapids. Originating from WHO-TV's primary set at its facilities on Grand Avenue in Downtown Des Moines (with separate duratrans indicating the Fox show), the nightly prime time program currently airs for an hour on weeknights and thirty minutes on weekends. KDSM features the majority of WHO-TV's on-air team but maintains a separate news anchor on weeknights. Unlike other outsourced news arrangements at Sinclair-owned television stations, KDSM uses the same music and graphics package scheme as seen on this NBC affiliate. WHO had also produced a primetime newscast for Pax TV (later i: Independent Television, now Ion Television) owned-and-operated station KFPX-TV in 2001, and later reran its 10pm news on that station.

For the better part of its history, WHO-TV was a solid, if usually distant, runner-up to CBS affiliate KCCI in the ratings. It managed to close the gap somewhat at the turn of the century. In February 2010, WHO-TV overtook KCCI in the mornings and at 6 p.m. The latter was significant, as it was the first time that channel 8 had lost the lead at 6 in decades.

In the May 2011 ratings period, WHO-TV surged ahead as central Iowa's news leader, claiming a ratings victory in the majority of weekday newscasts (morning, 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.) KCCI retained a narrow lead at 10 p.m. WHO-TV held the lead in most timeslots until February 2013, when KCCI beat WHO-TV by a decisive margin in every timeslot.

WHO-TV has many firsts in the market. It was the first area station to use videotape and the first to broadcast from news events live. It was also the first station to use live Doppler radar and the first to broadcast in high definition (during the 2002 Winter Olympics) and air local news segments in high definition. On April 22, 2009, Channel 13 became the second station in Des Moines broadcasting all in-studio news in widescreen standard definition. On May 19, 2010, WHO-HD became the first commercial station in Des Moines to launch fully into high definition television.

On September 8, 2014, the station premiered a 4 p.m. newscast with Ellen's move to KCCI. The station decided not to fill the timeslot with syndicated programming as all the ad revenue in the hour goes to the station, especially during popular political advertising seasons.

Newscast titles[]

  • WHO-TV News
  • Eyewitness News (1974–1979)
  • NewsCenter 13 (1979–1998)
  • WHO-TV 13 News (1998–2003)
  • Channel 13 News (2003–2020)
  • WHO 13 News (2020-present)

Station slogans[]

  • Colorful Channel 13
  • We Want You to Know
  • 13's Here for You
  • We're Channel 13, Just Watch Us Now (1982–1983; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • The News Source
  • It's WHO We Are (1985-1986)
  • Come on Home to TV-13 (1987-1988; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • Making a Difference (1988–1990)
  • TV-13, The Place to Be! (1990-1992; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • Your 24-Hour News Source (1990–1990s)
  • Where the News Comes First (24 Hours a Day)
  • Coverage You Can Count On (1990s–2004)
  • See the Difference (2004–2010)
  • Iowa's High Definition Leader (2010–2014)
  • Proud to call Iowa...Home (2012–2014)
  • The Local News Leader (2014–present)

External links[]

TV stations in Iowa
WHO, Des Moines

KWWL, Waterloo
KYOU-DT2, Ottumwa
KTIV, Sioux City
KWQC, Davenport

TV stations in central Iowa (including Des Moines and Ames)
WHO 13 (NBC)
KDSM 17 (Fox)
KCWI 23 (CW)
KAJR-LD 36 (Info)
KFPX 39 (Ion)
K41DD-D 41 (HSN)