WKAR-TV is a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) member station licensed to East Lansing, Michigan, United States and serving the Central Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Owned by Michigan State University and operated as part of its Broadcasting Services Division, the station broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 33, which redirects to its former analog channel 23 via PSIP.
WKAR-TV's studios and offices are located in the Communication Arts and Sciences Building, at the southeast corner of Wilson and Red Cedar Roads on the MSU campus in East Lansing. Its transmitter is located on Kinawa Road in Meridian Township, Michigan between East Lansing and Williamston. WKAR transmits its signal from an antenna with a height of 974 feet (297 m).
WKAR's SD channel is available on Comcast Xfinity's Flint system on channel 21 and on Charter Spectrum's Durand system on channel 10, but for unknown reasons, none of its digital subchannels are available.
WKAR-TV went on the air in January 1954, broadcasting on channel 60. It took its call letters from WKAR radio (which first went on the air in 1922 with the call letters being assigned randomly, and do not reflect Michigan's automotive heritage or the university's early agricultural roots). It is the second-oldest educational television station in the United States, and the oldest east of the Mississippi River. It was the third station on the air, but the second, in Los Angeles, went dark not long after it went on. KUHT in Houston is the oldest.
Despite MSU's long history in broadcasting, WKAR-TV struggled for viewers because television sets at that time were not required to have UHF tuning capability. Viewers needed an expensive converter to watch channel 60, and the picture was marginal at best even with one. With this in mind, MSU unsuccessfully tried to persuade the FCC to redesignate channel 10, the only other VHF channel allocated to the Lansing area, for noncommercial use. Instead, the license went to Jackson Telecasters, which used it to start Lansing's NBC affiliate, WILX-TV.
Eventually, MSU cut a deal with Jackson Telecasters to share channel 10 with WILX. So in 1959, WKAR-TV changed its call sign to WMSB (for Michigan State Broadcasting) and moved to channel 10. The two broadcasters maintained separate studios and offices, with WMSB continuing to air from a Quonset hut on the MSU campus while WILX operated from Jackson. However, they shared the same transmitting facilities in Onondaga. WMSB was on the air for 30 percent of the broadcast day, but WILX had all of prime time. WMSB would often give its time to WILX in case of breaking news, or if NBC aired sports or special events during WMSB's time.
In 1972, MSU resumed full-time broadcasting on channel 23 under its original call letters, WKAR-TV. This was made possible by the All Channels Act of 1961 (requiring all TV sets sold in the United States to receive UHF channels starting in 1964), the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and the subsequent development of PBS in 1969. The channel 23 dedication show was simulcast on both channels 10 (WMSB) and 23 (WKAR-TV), after which WMSB went silent and WILX began broadcasting on channel 10 full-time.
At approximately 3:36 p.m. on August 21, 1978, a fire broke out at WKAR's transmitter site, knocking the station off the air for the next two months and causing $900,000 (in 1978 dollars) in damage. WKAR-FM also went off the air at about 4 p.m. That station returned to the air by mid-September. While the transmitter was under repair, WJIM-TV (now WLNS) aired some of WKAR's programming, such as Sesame Street. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
In 1981, WKAR-TV moved from the Quonset hut it had occupied since the station first signed-on to the Communication Arts and Sciences Building. The Breslin Student Events Center occupies the former studio location today.
By November 14, 2003, MSU Broadcasting Services was cablecasting two community TV channels, KAR2 and KAR3. WKAR-DT began broadcasting on Channel 55 on January 15, 2004. By November 4, 2007, WKAR Life and World network, branded as WKAR World, were added to the digital and cable lineup as .3/KAR2 and .4/KAR3 respectively. On April 6, 2008 WKAR Life became WKAR Create.
WKAR-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 23, on January 13, 2009. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 55, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition, to UHF channel 40, using PSIP to display WKAR-TV's virtual channel as 23 on digital television receivers.
On June 18, 2010, construction of a new broadcast tower for WKAR-TV and WKAR-FM was approved during a Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting. The project was completed in August 2011. On September 10, 2012, WKAR-TV began transmission of its digital signal 24/7.
On January 11, 2016, WKAR announced that it would partner with WTVS in Detroit to launch a 24-hour children's television service to be carried by both stations. The station also confirmed that it will not participate in the FCC's spectrum incentive auction. On January 16, 2017, World was moved from the fourth subchannel to the second with PBS Kids replacing it on .4.
WKAR-TV announced on April 28, 2018 that it had filed an application with the FCC to launch a temporary ATSC 3.0 broadcast on UHF channel 35 for the purpose of getting to understand ATSC 3.0 better, and recognizing that it could only operate the channel until stage 3 of the repack (which begins on April 13, 2019; nearby broadcaster WAQP in Saginaw, Michigan would then be moving to UHF 36), at which point they would either apply to move the signal on UHF 35, or shut it down to prevent adjacent-channel interference to WAQP-TV. The broadcast began in September 2018.
|TV stations in Michigan|
|CMU Public Television:||Other stations|
|WCMU, Mt. Pleasant||WTVS, Detroit|
|WCML, Alpena||WNMU, Marquette|
|WCMW, Manistee||WDCQ, Bad Axe|
|WCMV, Cadillac||WGVU/WGVK, Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo|
|WKAR, East Lansing|
|TV stations in South Central Michigan, including Lansing and Jackson|
| WLNS 6 (CBS) |
WILX 10 (NBC)
WKAR 23 (PBS)
WZPX 43 (Ion)
WSYM 47 (Fox)
WLAJ 53 (ABC)