WITI, virtual channel 6 (UHF digital channel 33), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. Its second digital subchannel serves as an owned-and-operated station of the classic TV network Antenna TV. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company. WITI's studios are located on North Green Bay Road (WIS 57) in Brown Deer (though with a Milwaukee postal address), and its transmitter is located on East Capitol Drive (just north of WIS 190) in Shorewood.
The station first signed on the air on May 21, 1956, operating as an independent station; it was originally owned by Independent Television, Inc., to whom the channel 6 construction permit was granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 11, 1955. The station was originally licensed to the North Shore village of Whitefish Bay on a technicality in order to address short-spacing concerns with Davenport, Iowa station WOC-TV (now KWQC-TV, which also broadcast on channel 6) before the FCC fully finessed spacing among television station signals in different markets. In October 1956, the station affiliated with the NTA Film Network, which provided the station with 52 films from the 20th Century Fox library and syndicated programs. Among the NTA programs aired by WITI were The Passerby, Man Without a Gun and This is Alice.
From 1956 to 1959, WITI used the DuMont Vitascan color system—which required a completely darkened set with a single strobe light, causing eye strain—for its locally produced programs. The situation was difficult for the on-air talent, according to Sid Armstrong, who worked at WITI as a news reporter during the station's early years. The station switched to monochrome cameras when it moved to the North 27th Street facility.
First tenure with CBS, and switch to ABCEdit
On August 8, 1958, Storer Broadcasting purchased WITI in hopes of affiliating the station with CBS. Storer had very good relations with CBS; company founder George Storer was a member of the CBS board, and most of its stations were CBS affiliates. At the time, CBS owned a local UHF station, WXIX (channel 18, now WVTV) as part of a corporate effort to determine if UHF station operation and ownership would be successful. Once the disadvantages of being on a UHF frequency became clear in the days before all-channel tuning, CBS wrote off the experiment as a failure. The network concluded it was better to have its programming on a VHF station, even if it was only an affiliate. CBS sold WXIX to Cream City Broadcasting president Gene Posner; WITI-TV then began its first stint as a CBS affiliate on April 1, 1959. At that time, WITI moved from its original studio facility in Mequon to WXIX's former studios on North 27th Street in Milwaukee (which were later used by WCGV-TV from 1980 to 1994). Storer also applied to move the channel 6 allocation from Whitefish Bay to Milwaukee; the request was granted on July 30, 1959.
In 1961, CBS decided to affiliate with WISN-TV (channel 12), as its sister radio station had been a longtime affiliate of the CBS Radio Network. As a result, WITI-TV and WISN-TV swapped networks: channel 6 became an ABC affiliate on April 2, 1961. In August 1962, the station moved to its current 1,078-foot (329 m) transmission tower located in Shorewood; for a short time, the transmitter had been the tallest free-standing tower in the world. The tower went into operation in 1963, finally putting WITI's signal on equal footing with Milwaukee's other television stations.
Second tenure with CBSEdit
During the 1975-76 season, ABC emerged as the highest-rated broadcast network in the United States–thanks in part to the success of two Milwaukee-set sitcoms, Happy Days and its spin-off Laverne & Shirley. However, Storer Broadcasting had developed a bitter relationship with the network stemming from ABC's June 1976 decision to move its affiliation in the San Diego market from Storer-owned KCST-TV (now KNSD) to former NBC outlet KGTV. Three years earlier KCST, a UHF independent station, won a long battle to strip the market's ABC affiliation from Tijuana, Mexico-based VHF outlet XETV. Storer purchased KCST the following year, but ABC was not happy with being forced to surrender an affiliation with VHF station in favor of a UHF outlet. Perhaps in protest, Storer announced on September 26, 1976 that it would re-affiliate WITI-TV with CBS. Without hesitation, WISN-TV aligned with ABC, officially reversing the earlier 1961 affiliation swap; the two stations switched networks once again on March 27, 1977.
In 1978, WITI moved its operations to a new facility located on North Green Bay Road in Brown Deer, just outside Milwaukee; the upstart WCGV-TV (channel 24), which would eventually air programming from CBS that WITI refused, purchased WITI's former studios and used them from 1980 until 1994. After Storer Broadcasting was bought out by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1985, the station underwent a series of ownership changes. KKR sold the stations to Racine native George N. Gillett Jr.'s Gillett Communications in 1987; shortly thereafter, SCI Television was spun off from Gillett to acquire the stations after the latter company filed for bankruptcy. After Gillett defaulted on some of its financing agreements in the early 1990s, its ownership was restructured and the company was renamed SCI Television.
Eventually, SCI ran into fiscal issues; on June 26, 1991, Gillett Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it failed to reach an agreement with the company's creditors before a court-imposed June 25 deadline. SCI Television also missed repayment of $162 million in bank loans before a June 30 deadline; as a consequence of its financial difficulties, Gillett/SCI decided to sell its broadcast holdings. On February 17, 1993, one day after SCI purchased WTVT in Tampa from Gillett Holdings in a separate agreement for $163 million, New World Pictures purchased a 51% ownership stake in SCI Television from Gillett for $100 million and $63 million in newly issued debt. The purchase was finalized on May 25, at which point, the film and television production company folded WITI and its six sister stations—fellow CBS affiliates WJW-TV in Cleveland and WTVT in Tampa–St. Petersburg, WJBK-TV in Detroit and WAGA-TV in Atlanta, NBC affiliate KNSD in San Diego and independent station WSBK-TV in Boston—into a new broadcasting subsidiary, New World Communications.
As a Fox stationEdit
New World Communications ownershipEdit
On May 23, 1994, as part of a broad deal that also saw News Corporation acquire a 20% equity interest in the company, New World Communications signed a long-term agreement to affiliate its nine CBS-, ABC- or NBC-affiliated television stations with Fox, which sought to strengthen its affiliate portfolio after the National Football League (NFL) accepted the network's $1.58 billion bid for the television rights to the National Football Conference (NFC) – a four-year contract that began with the 1994 NFL season – on December 18, 1993. WITI-TV was among the stations involved in the Fox agreement, which also initially included four of New World's other existing CBS-affiliated stations — WJBK-TV, WJW-TV, WTVT and WAGA-TV — and four additional stations — CBS affiliate KSAZ-TV in Phoenix, ABC affiliates WBRC-TV in Birmingham and WGHP in Greensboro–Winston-Salem–High Point, North Carolina, and NBC affiliate WDAF-TV in Kansas City — that were part of New World's concurrent $360-million acquisition of Great American Communications's television properties. (The agreement would subsequently be amended to include four additional stations that New World acquired later that month from Argyle Television Holdings.) At the time, Fox's owned-and-operated and affiliate stations were mostly UHF outlets that had limited to no prior history as major network affiliates, among them its existing Milwaukee outlet, WCGV-TV (channel 24), which had been affiliated with Fox since the network inaugurated prime time programming in April 1987. Although WCGV had become a formidable competitor to rival independent WVTV, Fox found the prospect to having its programming carried on a VHF station too much to resist, considering that WITI had a relatively stronger market position (although, at the time, channel 6 placed third – behind WTMJ-TV and WISN-TV – in total day and news viewership) and a long-respected local news operation.
With only a few months before WITI was set to switch to Fox, CBS began making plans to find a new Milwaukee affiliate and approached all of the market's major television stations to potentially reach an agreement, which was hampered partly because of the network's then-faltering ratings and older-skewing programming slate. CBS first entered into discussions with WTMJ for a contract; that station was subsequently eliminated as an option as NBC decided to approach Journal Communications to renew its contract with WTMJ. WISN-TV was automatically eliminated as an option for CBS as it was in the middle of a long-term affiliation agreement between ABC and that station's owner, Hearst Broadcasting. The respective owners of WCGV and WVTV at the time—ABRY Communications and Gaylord Broadcasting (the latter of which had already reached deals to switch two fellow independents, KTVT in Dallas–Fort Worth and KSTW in Seattle–Tacoma, to CBS)—also turned the network's offers down. This left the market's lower-rated independents—commercial outlets WJJA (channel 49, now independent station WMLW-TV) and WDJT-TV (channel 58) or religious outlet WVCY-TV (channel 30)—as the only viable options with which CBS could reach an affiliation agreement; WVCY owner VCY America would eliminate itself from the running after the owner of its parent licensee, Vic Eliason (in consultation with the VCY America board), declined an $10 million offer by CBS Inc. to acquire that station directly on grounds that the bid was "unreasonably" below market value in a letter that also objected to racy programming content carried by the major U.S. broadcast networks.
With just days before WITI was to join Fox, CBS was faced with the prospect of arranging to have out-of-market affiliates in nearby areas (either WISC-TV in Madison, or its two owned-and-operated stations in the region, WFRV-TV in Green Bay or WBBM-TV in Chicago) be made available for carriage to cable subscribers throughout Southeastern Wisconsin until it could or in case it did not secure a new affiliate in Milwaukee. Virtually out of desperation, on December 6, CBS reached a ten-year agreement with Weigel Broadcasting to affiliate with WDJT, despite the mediocre quality of its broadcast signal and the absence of a news department. (CBS faced a similar situation in Detroit where CBS wound up moving to a low-profile independent station after being displaced by a longtime affiliate involved in the New World agreement; the WDJT deal was one of two eleventh-hour deals in which Weigel landed a Big Three network affiliation, followed by its South Bend, Indiana low-power outlet W58BT [now WBND], which joined ABC in September 1995 after that network's longtime affiliate, WSJV, switched to Fox.) The last CBS network program to air on WITI was a first-run episode of Walker, Texas Ranger at 9:00 p.m. Central Time on December 10; this led into a message by then-station president and general manager Andrew Potos shortly before the start of that evening's edition of TV-6 News at 10:00, informing viewers about the pending network changes.
WITI-TV officially became a Fox affiliate on December 11, 1994, when the network's programming lineup moved to the station from WCGV; the first Fox network program to air on the station as a full-time affiliate was Fox NFL Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Central Time that day, leading into that afternoon's NFL doubleheader: the 1994 Chicago Bears–Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field (which served as one of Fox's early regional games that day and saw the Packers win in a 40-3 blowout victory) and a mid-afternoon national game between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. WCGV temporarily converted into an independent station in the run-up to affiliating with the upstart United Paramount Network (UPN) the following month (on January 16, 1995), though retaining Fox Kids, as WITI held no interest in carrying the network's children's lineup due to a successful weekday afternoon and Saturday morning lineup, as most New World stations did. As a result of CBS affiliating with WDJT, Milwaukee became one of only two television markets affected by the New World deal (along with Detroit) where the replacement Big Three affiliate did not displace some of its existing syndicated programming following the local affiliation switch.
In keeping with the branding conventions of most of the other New World-owned stations affected by the affiliation agreement with Fox, WITI-TV retained its longtime "TV-6" branding (which it adopted in 1974 as an ABC affiliate) upon the affiliation switch, with references to the Fox logo and name limited in most on-air imaging as well as the news branding it had been using before it joined Fox – in its case, TV-6 News, the base moniker of which the station adopted in November 1984 as a CBS affiliate. In addition to expanding its local news programming at the time it joined Fox, the station replaced CBS daytime and late night programs that migrated to WDJT with an expanded slate of syndicated talk shows as well as some off-network sitcoms, game shows and documentary-based reality series, and also acquired some syndicated film packages and first-run and off-network syndicated drama series for broadcast in weekend afternoon timeslots on weeks when Fox did not provide sports programming. Unburdened by having to carry Fox Kids, WITI's revamped programming schedule – as was the case with most of New World's other Fox stations – relegated children's programs to the regulatory minimum on weekends, with the station instead choosing to continue producing their popular local homebuilding and home maintenance programming (and in the case of Ask Gus, a do-it-yourself instructional program hosted by station announcer and Wake Up News contributor Gus Gnorski, expanding it to a full weekly program).
In the fall of 1995, WITI dropped its longtime branding as "TV-6" and began branding itself as "Six is News", in order to emphasize the station's newly expanded news schedule. Conversely, in a move to comply with the network's branding conventions, Fox and other entertainment programming on the station was promoted as "Fox is Six" to try to build an audience for the growing network on the stronger Milwaukee station. (Cleveland sister station WJW used a very similar branding technique at that same period, branding itself as "ei8ht is News" and "Fox is ei8ht", playing off the on-air branding that the station used as a CBS affiliate during the 1960s and 1970s.)
Fox Television Stations ownershipEdit
On July 17, 1996, News Corporation—which separated most of its entertainment holdings into 21st Century Fox in July 2013—announced that it would acquire New World in an all-stock transaction worth $2.48 billion. The purchase by News Corporation was finalized on January 22, 1997, folding New World's ten Fox affiliates into the former's Fox Television Stations subsidiary and making all twelve stations affected by the 1994 agreement owned-and-operated stations of the network. (The New World Communications name continues in use as a licensing purpose corporation—as "New World Communications of [state/city], Inc." or "NW Communications of [state/city], Inc."—for WITI and its sister stations under Fox ownership, extending, from 2009 to 2011, to the former New World stations that Fox sold to Local TV in 2007.) The transaction also made WITI the first Milwaukee television station to serve as an owned-and-operated station of a major network since CBS owned WOKY-TV/WXIX (now WVTV) from 1954 to 1959.
On January 26, coinciding with Fox's telecast of Super Bowl XXXI (Fox's first Super Bowl telecast, in which the Packers defeated the New England Patriots), WITI-TV changed its branding from the "Fox is Six/Six is News" moniker to simply "Fox Six" (with its newscasts concurrently rebranding as Fox 6 News), using a logo based on that used at the time for Fox's NFL telecasts. Subsequently, in April 1998, WITI simplified its branding to "Fox 6", (Coinciding with this, the station introduced the "Milwaukee's Newscenter" set that would remain in use until 2011, along with a "Weather Deck" located outside of Brown Deer Road studio facility that was used as an outdoor setting for forecast segments.)
Local TV and Tribune ownershipEdit
On December 22, 2007, Fox sold WITI and seven other owned-and-operated stations – WJW, WBRC, WGHP, WDAF-TV, KTVI in St. Louis, KDVR in Denver and KSTU in Salt Lake City – to Local TV (a broadcast holding company operated by private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners that was formed on May 7 of that year to assume ownership of the broadcasting division of The New York Times Company) for $1.1 billion; the sale was finalized on July 14, 2008. Through a management company formed between Local TV and the Chicago-based Tribune Company formed the day prior to the Fox station purchase (December 21) to handle the operation of its existing broadcast television properties and the Local TV stations as well as provide web hosting, technical and engineering services to stations run by the latter group, WITI began sharing newsgathering resources between WITI and Tribune's television flagship WGN-TV in the adjacent Chicago market. (In addition, channel 6 continues to share news footage and other resources with Fox's Chicago O&O WFLD through the Fox NewsEdge affiliate service.) Under this same agreement, WITI has also carried certain public interest programming carried by other Tribune/Local TV stations such as a May 6, 2011 telethon produced by Huntsville sister station WHNT-TV, which was carried by WITI over digital subchannel 6.2, to raise funds for organizations helping victims of the April 27 Super Outbreak that affected Alabama). On July 1, 2013, the Tribune Company announced it would acquire the assets of Local TV LLC for $2.75 billion; the sale was completed on December 27.
On August 28, 2014, WITI's affiliation with Fox officially became the longest network affiliation the station held, passing the station's 7,200 days (or near 19¾ years) over its two separate stints as a CBS affiliate.
Aborted sale to Sinclair; pending sale to NexstarEdit
On May 8, 2017, Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group – which owns CW affiliate WVTV (channel 18) and owned MyNetworkTV affiliate WCGV-TV at the time – entered into an agreement to acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Sinclair had already announced that it had sold WCGV's spectrum in April in the FCC's 2016 spectrum auction and it would cease operations in technicality, albeit with WCGV's main schedule and subchannel moving to WVTV's DT2 subchannel on January 8, 2018; that move effectively would have alleviated any regulatory complications involving the sale for the Milwaukee stations, outside any physical and employee assets that would have been sorted out prior to the deal's closure. The purchase of WITI would have given Sinclair control of the three Fox affiliates in Wisconsin's largest markets (Sinclair already owns WMSN-TV in Madison and WLUK-TV in Green Bay). On December 15, 2017, it was speculated that Sinclair would then re-sell WITI back to Fox Television Stations; however, on April 24, 2018, when Sinclair announced its list of the 23 stations that it would sell in order to alleviate conflicts with FCC ownership rules as well as those with Fox over the affiliate share it would have had if the purchase had not been modified, WITI was not included among them.
On July 18, 2018, the FCC voted to have the Sinclair–Tribune acquisition reviewed by an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain conflict properties; with the future of the deal still uncertain, 21st Century Fox reached a multi-year agreement with Tribune to renew the affiliations of WITI and five of the group's other Fox affiliates on August 6, 2018. Three days later on August 9, 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.
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 WITI additional sister stations in nearby markets including Green Bay (CBS affiliate WFRV-TV), La Crosse–Eau Claire (Fox affiliate WLAX and satellite WEUX) and Rockford (Fox affiliate WQRF-TV and ABC-affiliated SSA partner WTVO).
|TV stations in Wisconsin|
| WITI, Milwaukee|
|TV stations in Southeastern Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha|
| WTMJ 4 (NBC) |
WITI 6 (Fox)
WMVS 10 (PBS)
WISN 12 (ABC)
WVTV 18 (CW)
WMKE-CD 21 (Quest)
WVTV-DT2 24 (MNTV)
WVCY 30 (Rel)
WMVT 36 (PBS)
WTSJ-LP 38 (AZA)
WBME-CD 41 (MeTV)
WMLW 49 (Ind.)
WWRS 52 (TBN)
WPXE 55 (Ion)
WDJT 58 (CBS)
WYTU-LD 63 (TLM)
WIWN 68 (COZI)