WICU-TV, virtual and VHF digital channel 12, is an NBC/Ion Television-affiliated television station licensed to Erie, Pennsylvania, United States. The station is owned by SJL Broadcasting; Lilly Broadcasting, which owns CBS affiliate WSEE-TV (channel 35) and its CW-affiliated second digital subchannel, operates WICU under a shared services agreement (SSA). The two stations share studios on State Street in downtown Erie; WICU's transmitter is located on Waterford Road in Greene Township, Pennsylvania.
WICU's broadcast signal reaches the city of Erie, surrounding communities, and across Lake Erie in parts of Ontario, Canada. It is available on all cable systems in Erie, Warren and Crawford counties in Pennsylvania, and select providers in Venango County, Pennsylvania, southwestern New York State, and northeastern Ohio which are part of the Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Youngstown markets respectively. As recently as the 1990s, it was available on cable as far east as Olean, New York (well out of WICU's broadcast range and in competition with Buffalo NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV).
WICU-TV began broadcasting in Erie on March 15, 1949 as an affiliate of all four networks of the time (NBC, CBS, ABC, and DuMont). It was one of the last stations to be granted a construction permit before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) froze new applications. Channel 12 was founded by Edward Lamb, an attorney from Toledo, Ohio who also owned the now-defunct Erie Dispatch-Herald, and other broadcast properties including WTVN-TV (now WSYX) in Columbus, Ohio, which went on the air six months later. In 1952, Lamb purchased WIKK radio (1330 AM, later WICU and now WFNN), giving channel 12 a sister station on radio.
The station was a major beneficiary of a quirk in the FCC's plan for allocating stations. In the early days of broadcast television, there were twelve VHF channels available and 69 UHF channels (later reduced to 55 in 1983). The VHF bands were more desirable because they carried longer distances. Since there were only twelve VHF channels available, there were limitations as to how closely the stations could be spaced.
After the FCC's Sixth Report and Order ended the license freeze and opened the UHF band in 1952, it devised a plan for allocating VHF licenses. Under this plan, almost all of the country would be able to receive two commercial VHF channels plus one noncommercial channel. Most of the rest of the country ("1/2") would be able to receive a third VHF channel. Other areas would be designated as "UHF islands" since they were too close to larger cities for VHF service. The "2" networks became CBS and NBC, "+1" represented non-commercial educational stations, and "1/2" became ABC (which was the weakest network usually winding up with the UHF allocation where no VHF was available).
However, Erie was sandwiched between Pittsburgh (channels 2, 4, 11 and 13) to the south, Wheeling/Steubenville (channels 7 and 9) to the southwest, Cleveland (channels 3, 5 and 8) to the west, State College (channels 3, 6, and 10, later 8) to the southeast, Buffalo (channels 2, 4 and 7) to the northeast, and London, Ontario (channel 10) to the north. This created a large "doughnut" in Northwestern Pennsylvania where there could only be one VHF license. WICU-TV was fortunate to gain that license, and as a result has been the market leader in Erie for most of its history. Channel 12 held a monopoly on Erie television until WSEE-TV signed-on in 1954 as a CBS affiliate. The two stations, then separately owned, shared ABC programs until WJET-TV (channel 24) signed-on in 1966.
Edward Lamb nearly lost WIKK (renamed WICU [AM] in 1957) and WICU-TV in 1954 due to allegations that he associated with Communists, but was exonerated in 1957. A decade later, in August 1967, Lamb reorganized his business interests, selling off all non-broadcast holdings as well as WICU radio. Lamb's company, later renamed Great Lakes Communications, continued to hold channel 12. After Lamb's death in 1987, his family continued to own the station until 1996, when it was sold to SJL Communications, a subsidiary of SJL Broadcast Management and Alta Management. SJL purchased Alta's interest in 2005. A Consummation Notice was filed with the FCC in February 2007 to voluntarily transfer control of the station from SJL Communications to SJL Broadcast Management Corporation. This transaction was then authorized by the FCC.
In 2002, the station became the senior partner in a local marketing agreement with WSEE-TV. From that point until June 1, 2009, WSEE-TV continued to operate from its own studios on Peach Street in Downtown Erie. On that date, that station along with its CW subchannel merged into WICU-TV's facilities. WICU's broadcasts became digital-only, effective June 12, 2009, the day all television stations transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. It was the last analog station serving the Erie region to make the switch.
WICU-TV has aired an annual telethon for the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation since 2008.
WICU-TV and WSEE-TV merged their websites in June 2011.
|TV stations in Pennsylvania|
| WCAU, Philadelphia|
|TV stations in Pennsylvania|
| WPPX, Wilmington, DE/Philadelphia, PA|
|TV stations in Northwestern Pennsylvania, including Erie|
| WICU 12 (NBC)|