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WIS, virtual and VHF digital channel 10, is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Columbia, South Carolina, United States. The station is owned by Gray Television. WIS' studios are located on Bull and Gervais Streets (U.S. 1 and 378) in downtown Columbia, and its transmitter is located on Rush Road (southeast of I-20) in rural southwestern Kershaw County, outside Lugoff. On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channel 3 in both standard and high definition.

History

The station first signed on the air on November 7, 1953. The station's first telecast was a college football game between the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina. The station was originally owned by the Broadcasting Company of the South, a subsidiary of the Liberty Life Insurance Company, owners of WIS radio (560 AM, now WVOC). Charles Batson signed the station on the air, and remained the station's president and general manager until his retirement in 1983. It was the fourth television station to sign on in South Carolina and the third in the Columbia market, signing on just four months after WCOS-TV (channel 25)—which ceased operations in 1956—and two months after WNOK-TV (channel 67, now WLTX on channel 19, where it moved in 1961). WIS is the third-longest continuously operating station in the state, behind WCSC-TV in Charleston and WNOK/WLTX.

WIS radio (whose call letters stood for "Wonderful Iodine State," in reference to the abundance of iodine in the South Carolina soil) received the last new three-letter call sign in the U.S. on January 23, 1930, and the call sign was later shared with its television sibling. The station has been an NBC affiliate since its sign-on, owing to its radio sister's longtime affiliation with the NBC Red Network. However, until 1961, when channel 25 returned to the air as WCCA-TV (now WOLO-TV), it maintained a secondary affiliation with ABC, airing its programming outside of NBC network timeslots.

WIS-TV was a major beneficiary of an exception to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s "2½ + 1" plan for allocating VHF television bandwidth. In the early days of broadcast television, there were twelve VHF channels available, and 69 UHF channels (which was later reduced to 56 with the removal of high-band channels 70-83 in the early 1980s). The VHF bands were more desirable because signals broadcasting on that band traveled a longer distance. Because there were only twelve VHF channels available, there were limitations as to how closely the stations could be spaced. With the release of the FCC's Sixth Report and Order in 1952, the Commission outlined a new allocation table for VHF licenses and opened up the UHF band. Through these initiatives, almost all of the United States would be able to receive two commercial VHF channels plus one non-commercial allocation. Most of the rest of the country ("1/2") would be able to receive a third VHF channel. Other areas of the country 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 noncommercial educational (public television, usually affiliated with NET) stations, and "1/2" became ABC, which, as the smallest and weakest network then, usually wound up with the UHF allocation where no VHF allocation was available.

However, Columbia was sandwiched between Charlotte (which had respectively been awarded channels 3 and 9) to the north, Florence/Myrtle Beach (channel 8, later 13) to the east, Charleston (channels 2, 4, 5, and 7) and Savannah (channels 3, 9, and 11) to the south, and Augusta (channels 6 and 12) to the west. This created a huge "doughnut" in central South Carolina where there could be only one VHF license. WIS-TV was fortunate to gain that license, providing many people in that part of South Carolina with their first clear reception of a television signal. One of the country's most dominant television stations, it has been the far-and-away market leader for most of its history.

Channel 10 originally broadcast from a self-supporting tower atop its studios on Bull Street. In 1959, WIS-TV activated its current transmitter tower in Lugoff; the tallest structure located east of the Mississippi River at the time, it more than doubled the station's coverage area and provided at least secondary coverage as far north as Charlotte, as far south as Augusta, as far west as Greenwood and as far east as Florence. This included all but five of the state's 46 counties; in fact, until the arrival of cable television in the market in the late 1970s, channel 10 was one of only two stations that brought a clear signal to much of the outlying portions of the market—the other being WRLK-TV (channel 32), one of the two South Carolina Educational Television stations that serve the area. It would remain the tallest structure in South Carolina until Florence's WPDE-TV activated its signal in 1981. The station's original tower is still used as a backup; it is a longtime fixture of Columbia's skyline and is turned into a "Christmas tree of lights" during the holiday season.

For many years, WIS was one of two NBC affiliates that served the Florence/Myrtle Beach market, since that market was one of the few areas on the East Coast without its own NBC affiliate. It was the NBC affiliate of record for the Pee Dee (Florence) side of the market while Wilmington's WECT was the affiliate of record for Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand. However, most cable systems on the Myrtle Beach side of the market began carrying WIS in the mid-1980s. After the FCC passed the syndication exclusivity rule in 1989, WIS set up a "virtual station" for cable systems in the Florence–Myrtle Beach market that aired separate syndicated programming for the area. It also began selling advertising specific to the market as well, mostly on the Pee Dee side. This ended when Raycom Media signed on an NBC affiliate within that market, WMBF-TV, in August 2008.

WIS had modest viewership on the South Carolina side of the Charlotte market for several years, especially after that city's NBC affiliation moved to WRET (channel 36, later WPCQ-TV and now WCNC-TV) in 1978. WRET's UHF signal did not have nearly as much penetration as the VHF signal of former NBC affiliate WSOC-TV (channel 9). WIS was carried on many cable systems on the South Carolina side of the Charlotte market well into the 21st century. A similar situation prevailed in Augusta, where WIS provided a stronger signal than WATU/WAGT (channel 26, now defunct). It remained on most Augusta-area cable systems, including in Augusta itself, well into the new millennium.

The Broadcasting Company of the South acquired several other television stations over the years. It was renamed as the Cosmos Broadcasting Corporation in 1965, with WIS radio and television serving as its flagship stations. Later in the decade, Liberty Life reorganized itself as the Liberty Corporation, with Liberty Life and Cosmos as subsidiaries. Cosmos sold WIS radio in 1986, but kept the WIS calls for channel 10. Liberty sold off its insurance businesses in 2000, bringing channel 10 directly under the Liberty Corporation banner. In 1991, after being known on-air as "TV 10" for most of its history, the station began branding itself as simply "WIS" (this was one year before the "-TV" suffix was officially dropped from its callsign); this lasted until 2003, when it branded as WIS News 10 for both general and newscast branding purposes.

On August 25, 2005, Liberty agreed to merge with Montgomery, Alabama-based Raycom Media. At the time, Raycom had already owned Fox affiliate WACH (channel 57). Raycom could not keep both stations as FCC duopoly rules forbid common ownership of two of the four highest-rated television stations in a single market based on Nielsen total-day ratings data for a given calendar month. Additionally, Columbia has only eight full-power stations, one fewer than what ownership rules allow to legally permit a duopoly in any case. Raycom opted to keep WIS and sold WACH to Barrington Broadcasting.

In February 2003, the station signed on its digital signal, becoming the last "Big Three"-affiliated station in the Columbia market to broadcast a digital signal (after WLTX, which signed on its digital signal in May 2002, and WOLO, which signed on theirs later that year). WIS' broadcasts became digital-only, effective June 12, 2009. For a week after the transition, some viewers lost access to NBC programming because WIS used its backup transmitter, which was not operating at full power. The station signed on a full-time digital transmitter from its Lugoff tower on June 19.

Sale to Gray Television

On June 25, 2018, Atlanta-based Gray Television announced it had reached an agreement with Raycom to merge their respective broadcasting assets (consisting of Raycom's 63 existing owned-and/or-operated television stations, including WIS), and Gray's 93 television stations) under Gray's corporate umbrella. The cash-and-stock merger transaction valued at $3.6 billion – in which Gray shareholders would acquire preferred stock currently held by Raycom – will result in WIS gaining new sister stations in nearby markets, including CBS/NBC affiliate WRDW-TV and WAGT-CD in Augusta (while separating it from WFXG) in addition to its current Raycom sister stations. The sale was approved on December 20, and was completed on January 2, 2019.


TV stations in South Carolina
WIS, Columbia

WYFF, Greenville
WCBD, Charleston
WMBF, Myrtle Beach

TV stations in the Midlands of South Carolina, including Columbia
WIS 10 (NBC)
WLTX 19 (CBS)
WOLO 25 (ABC)
WRJA 27 (PBS)
WRLK 35 (PBS)
WZRB 47 (Ion)
WKDC-LD 50 (Daystar)
WACH 57 (Fox)
WKTC 63 (CW/MNTV)
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