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WLS-TV, virtual channel 7 (UHF digital channel 44), is an ABC owned-and-operated television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the ABC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. WLS-TV's studios are located on North State Street near the Chicago Theatre in the Chicago Loop, and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive.

HistoryEdit

The station first signed on the air on September 17, 1948 as WENR-TV. It was the third television station to sign on in the Chicago market behind WGN-TV (channel 9), which debuted six months earlier in April, and WBKB (channel 4), which changed from an experimental station to a commercial operation in September 1946. As one of the original ABC-owned stations on channel 7, it was the second station to begin operations after New York City, and before Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The station's original call letters were taken from co-owned radio station WENR (890 AM), which served as an affiliate of the ABC Radio Network (WENR would eventually merge with WLS, with which it shared a frequency under a time-sharing arrangement until ABC purchased a 50% interest in WLS in 1954).

In February 1953, ABC merged with United Paramount Theatres (UPT), the former theater division of Paramount Pictures. UPT subsidiary Balaban and Katz owned WBKB (which shared a CBS affiliation with WGN-TV). The newly merged American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, as the company was known then, could not keep both stations because of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations then enforced that forbade the common ownership of two television stations licensed to the same market. As a result, WBKB's channel 4 license was sold to CBS, which subsequently changed that station's call letters to WBBM-TV; that outlet would move to VHF channel 2 several months later on July 5, 1953. The old WBKB's on-air and behind-the-scenes staff stayed at the new WBBM-TV, while the WBKB call letters and management moved to channel 7 (from 1965 to 1968, a "-TV" suffix was included in the station's calls, modifying it to WBKB-TV).

Sterling "Red" Quinlan served as the station's general manager from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, and became a giant in early Chicago television. Quinlan was instrumental in starting the careers of Tom Duggan, Frank Reynolds and Bob Newhart. The station courageously aired The Tom Duggan Show in the mid-1950s, which became the most popular show in the Chicago market, far outdrawing other network competition. Channel 7 had its call letters changed to WLS-TV on October 7, 1968, named after WLS Radio, which ABC had wholly owned since 1959 when the network bought the 50% interest it did not already hold in the station from the Prairie Farmer magazine. Ironically, ABC merged WLS with WENR, its shared-time partner, in 1954.

In 1963, Al Parker joined the station as an announcer and worked in that capacity for 26 years. Until his departure, he also served as an announcer for AM Chicago and The Oprah Winfrey Show. He died September 30, 2000 at the age of 74.

WLS-TV had claimed to be "Chicago's first television station" in its sign-ons and sign-offs during for its first three decades (implying a connection with the original WBKB on channel 4), but admitted to its true roots with WENR with its 30th anniversary in 1978.

On January 17, 1984, WLS-TV launched Tele1st, an ABC-owned overnight subscription television service that carried a mix of films and lifestyle programs for four hours per night six days a week after the station's sign-off at 2:00 a.m.; the service was similar in format to competitor ONTV (which was carried locally on WSNS-TV, channel 44 (now a Telemundo owned and operated station)) and other over-the-air pay services that existed during the early and mid-1980s. Tele1st was created with the concept of allowing users to record programming for later viewing; therefore, its decoder boxes were designed to unencrypt the signal only with the aid of a VCR. Scrambling codes that were sent to the box and relayed to the VCR were changed on a monthly basis, requiring subscribers to record additional footage airing immediately before and after that night's schedule to retrieve codes to play back the recorded programs properly; this resulted in any recordings being viewable only during that calendar month. Tele1st was deemed a failure, attributing only 4,000 subscribers at its peak, and ceased operations on June 30, 1984

Gallery Edit

ABC7-Chicago-3000px-BLK-TYPE-j
TV stations in Illinois
WLS, Chicago

WSIL, Harrisburg
WICS/WICD, Springfield/Champaign
WEEK-DT2, Peoria
WQAD, Moline

TV stations in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana
WBBM 2 (CBS)
WMAQ 5 (NBC)
WLS 7 (ABC)
WGN 9 (Ind)
WTTW 11 (PBS)
WOCK-CD 13 (Ind)
WYCC 20 (MHz)
WRJK-LP 22 (Diya TV)
WWME-CD 23 (MeTV)
WPVN-CD 24 (AZA)
W25DW-D 25 (HSN)
WCIU 26 (CW)
WLPD-CD 30 (Hillsong)
WFLD 32 (Fox)
WEDE-CD 34 (Ind)
WWTO 35 (TBN)
WCPX 38 (Ion)
WESV-LD 40 (ESTRELLA)
WSNS 44 (TLM)
WMEU-CD 48 (Ind)
WPWR 50 (MNTV)
WYIN 56 (PBS)
WDCI-LD 57 (Daystar)
WXFT 60 (UMas)
WCHU-LD 61 (JTV)
WJYS 62 (Ind)
WGBO 66 (UNI)
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