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WMAQ-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 33), is an NBC owned-and-operated television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of NBCUniversal, as part of a duopoly with Telemundo owned-and-operated station WSNS-TV (channel 44). NBCUniversal, a Comcast subsidiary, owns both networks, along with regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago. WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV share studio facilities and business offices at the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood and transmitter facilities atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.

On cable, WMAQ-TV is carried by Comcast Xfinity, RCN, WOW!, Mediacom, NITCO (Morocco and Rensselaer, Indiana, which is also served by South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU-TV), MTCO digimax TV (Marseilles), AT&T U-Verse, and Charter Spectrum (Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin, which are also served by Milwaukee NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV) channel 5. In the few areas of the eastern United States where an NBC station is not receivable over the air, WMAQ-TV is available on satellite via DirecTV and Dish Network.


Early years (1948–1964)[]

The station first signed on the air on October 8, 1948, as WNBQ; it was the fourth television station to sign on in Chicago. It was also the third of NBC's five original owned-and-operated television stations to begin operations, after outlets in New York City and Washington, D.C., and before Cleveland and Los Angeles. WNBQ initially broadcast a minimum of two hours of programming per day.

The station originally proposed WNBY as its call letters. At NBC's request, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an application filed by the network to change the station's calls to WNBQ, a move that was announced on March 3, 1948. NBC officials cited the need to avoid possible confusion with WMAQ-AM-FM competitor WMBI (1110 AM) and to obtain a callsign that was closer to co-owned NBC Red Network radio station WMAQ (670 AM, frequency now occupied by WSCR; and 101.1 FM, now WKQX) as the reasons for the change. The station's first mid-week broadcast came the month following its sign-on when Paul Winchell and Joseph Dunninger were featured on the NBC variety series, The Floor Show. The half-hour program was recorded via kinescope and rebroadcast on WNBQ at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

WMAQ-TV originated several programs for the NBC television network from its original studio facilities—a 170,000-square-foot (15,794 m2) studio on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart on the city's Near North Side—during the 1950s, including Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, featuring Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison; Garroway at Large, starring Dave Garroway; and Studs' Place, hosted by Studs Terkel. Television critics referred to the broadcasts—often low-budget with few celebrity guests but a good deal of inventiveness—as examples of the "Chicago School of Television".

The station installed equipment to produce and transmit its programming in color in late 1953; WNBQ's first notable color telecast occurred in January 1954, when the station carried NBC's telecast of the Rose Bowl parade in the format. Channel 5 aired its first local program to be broadcast in color when John Ott's How Does Your Garden Grow? debuted in March 1955, which utilized time-lapse color film. On April 15, 1956, WNBQ became the first television station in the world to broadcast all of its programs in color, an event described by Broadcasting-Telecasting as "a daring breakthrough the black-and-white curtain", completing a project that cost more than $1.25 million to make the upgrades; the first color telecast from the station on that date was Wide, Wide World, which was transmitted to 110 NBC stations across the country.

Reborn as WMAQ-TV (1964–1995)[]

Although NBC had long owned the WMAQ radio stations, the television station continued to maintain call letters separate from those used by its co-owned radio outlets; this changed on August 31, 1964, when the network changed the station's calls to WMAQ-TV. The call letters of its sister radio station were initially assigned by the government but were used to form the phrase "We Must Ask Questions", which the radio station took as its motto in the 1920s. Although the station's role as a program provider to NBC diminished in the 1960s, WMAQ-TV gathered and distributed more than 200 feeds of news footage per month from overseas and the Central United States to NBC News.

On December 3, 1985, NBC signed a $100 million+ agreement to lease office space in a three-story annex to the north of a planned 34-story, 1,000,000-square-foot (92,903 m2) skyscraper—a project developed by the Equitable Life Assurance Society and Tishman-Speyer Properties—that would be constructed as part of the Cityfront Center development on the northwest corner of Columbus Drive and North Water Street, in which WMAQ-TV's operations would occupy 251,000 square feet (23,319 m2) of the building. Under the plans for the project, NBC was given the option of acquiring an approximately 25% interest in the building. On October 1, 1989, after 40 years at the Merchandise Mart, the station officially relocated its operations and began broadcasting from the NBC Tower, located on 455 North Columbus Drive, six blocks east of the Mart. Ratings for WMAQ-TV's newscasts overtook those of WBBM-TV in the 1980s, but the station could not dethrone market leader WLS-TV during the period.

In 1986, WMAQ-TV became the first station in the Chicago metropolitan area to broadcast its newscasts in full stereo sound. All of the NBC network programs had begun their commercial stereo broadcasts in 1985.

In 1988, WMAQ-TV and the other NBC-owned stations began 24-hour broadcasting. WMAQ became the fourth station in the Chicago metropolitan area to begin airing 24 hours a day, following independent station WGN-TV, then-independent station (now The CW affiliated/MyNetwork TV owned-and-operated) WPWR-TV, and Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD. During the first years of the station's 24-hour schedule, the station signed off during the overnight hours on early Monday mornings for reasons other than necessary transmitter maintenance; the sign-off practice was discontinued in the mid-1990s, due to the station's rebranding and logo change.

In 1989, WMAQ-TV became the first station in the Chicago metropolitan area to adopt real-time closed captioning for the hearing impaired in all of its newscasts. Five years later, in 1994, closed-captioning was added to the station's morning newscast.

In the spring of 1992, the NBC Owned Television Stations division announced that they would no longer air paid programming on their owned-and-operated stations, including WMAQ-TV. the last infomercial aired on the station was a local weekly real estate show aired in 1992. Currently, the station runs infomercials on an occasional basis, mainly during overnights and weekends.


In 1995, WMAQ-TV changed its on-air branding from "Channel 5" to "NBC 5 Chicago". The station's logo was updated by removing its call letters and keeping the "Chicago" wordmark in its logo to reflect its on-air branding, with the call letters continuing in use during station identifications. Additionally, it became the first TV station in Chicago to launch a website, which provides news reports and information on the station's community initiatives and on-air staff members. The station expanded its Internet offerings in 2000, when they branded it as "Peacock Club". For most of its existence until 1995, the station had included the network's logo next to theirs, branding solely with the channel number and/or call letters vocally and visually (outside of network-created radio promos which listed the station as "NBC Channel 5" or "NBC Channel 5 Chicago"). The station is among the few in the nation which has their logo in a transparent bug, with time and temperature, at all times, including NBC network, syndicated programming, and news programming, though not during commercial breaks or paid programming.

On April 10, 1998, Rev. Michael Pfleger, a priest at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham and a group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders and clergy as part of the "Dump Jerry Springer!" coalition, called for a viewer and advertising boycott of WMAQ-TV due to one of its syndicated shows, The Jerry Springer Show, which was filmed at the station's NBC Tower studios until 2009. On April 23, 1998, Pfleger and the coalition organized a rally at the station's NBC Tower studios. On May 1, 1998, WMAQ-TV announced that they would cancel the show. Studios USA (now NBCUniversal Television Distribution), one of the show's distributors, said that the show would move to Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD the following month, ending a two-month boycott of the station. The show has since moved production to Stamford, Connecticut.

On June 5, 2000, to improve station reception, the station extended its Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) transmitter's western antenna height to 1,730 feet (527 m). In July 2000, NBC entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with WCPX-TV (channel 38) that indirectly resulted from NBC's partial ownership interest in WCPX-TV network partner Pax TV (now Ion Television) and a related management agreement with that network's owned-and-operated stations. Under the LMA, the two stations shared certain programs, while WMAQ handled advertising sales services for channel 38. The agreement also allowed WCPX to air rebroadcasts of channel 5's 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts on a half-hour delay. The LMA ended on July 1, 2005, upon Pax's rebranding as i: Independent Television.

In the fall of 2001, NBC acquired WSNS-TV outright, creating a duopoly with WMAQ-TV. After the acquisition, NBC converted that station into an owned-and-operated station of Telemundo, which NBC had purchased earlier that year. WSNS-TV subsequently integrated its operations into WMAQ-TV's NBC Tower facilities.

On September 6, 2003, WMAQ agreed to lease 4,000 square feet (372 m2) of space at the Equitable Building at 401 North Michigan Avenue (one block east of the NBC Tower), with the intent to build a streetside studio for the Chicago market, the first to be used for live broadcasting purposes by a Chicago television station. On February 26, 2004, WMAQ-TV garnered national attention when Katie Couric, Al Roker, and Lester Holt hosted the Today show on Cityfront Plaza to unveil the new studio (known as "Studio 5") at the building's northwest corner. The station's morning and noon newscasts were broadcast from the Michigan Avenue facility until February 2013, when the studio was closed and the space within the 401 Michigan Avenue building was put up for sale, at which time production of both newscasts was moved back to the NBC Tower.

In November 2007, the FCC proposed to fine WMAQ-TV $10,000 for "failure to publicize the existence and location of its children's television programming reports" because the station did not keep adequate records on commercial limits in children's TV programs.

In the fall of 2008, WMAQ-TV's website was relaunched, including a new layout, as part of a larger revamp of the websites of NBC's entire owned-and-operated station group. On January 18, 2011, the FCC and the Department of Justice approved the acquisition of WMAQ-TV's parent company NBCUniversal by Comcast (one of the largest cable providers in Chicago), with the deal being closed on January 28. As a result, WMAQ, WSNS, and regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago (now NBC Sports Chicago) became sister stations. In addition, WMAQ-TV's branding was shortened to "NBC Chicago" for a short period, and which was used only during mentions in some news reports, network and syndication program promotions, and public service announcements. However the station continued to use the "NBC 5" branding for news opens. Later in February 2012, after a year of using the "NBC Chicago" branding, the station reverted to its old "NBC 5" branding full-time. In January 2012, after 12 years of using the gold "5" logo, a new logo was officially introduced in some promos and in print ads; but the new, and current logo made its on-air debut on February 28, 2012, coinciding with new news graphics, music and set. On March 18, 2013, longtime WVIT president and general manager David Doebler was appointed president and general manager of WMAQ-TV, replacing longtime president and general manager Larry Wert, who later became president of WGN-TV's parent Tribune Broadcasting.

In December 2009, the Chicago local division of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communication Workers of America (NABET) launched a boycott of WMAQ-TV. The station spokeswoman told Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Sun-Times that they did not comment on the labor-related issues affecting the station. In October 1994, prior to the boycott of the station, the union, along with Republican candidate George Larney, had joined forces to boycott WMAQ-TV due to its negotiations involving its national contract with the network. In the summer of 1987, a handful of technicians at WMAQ-TV, WMAQ-AM, and WKQX-FM went on strike; technicians at other NBC-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland also went on strike as a result.

On February 3, 2012, the station rejected a political advertisement that contained anti-abortion talking points from activist and Democratic presidential candidate Randall Terry to air during Super Bowl XLVI, with the FCC's approval, the station determining that Terry did not have the bona fides of a serious candidate. The ad included the term "Democrat Party", which the Democratic National Committee considers a pejorative label, and it was contrary to the party's pro-choice platform in general.

In February 2015, WMAQ and the other NBC-owned stations offered live, web-based streaming of programming to subscribers of participating cable and satellite television providers, as provided through TV Everywhere Mobile Apps. A month later, in March 2015, WMAQ, WSNS, and Comcast SportsNet Chicago, along with sister stations WNBC, WNJU, and SportsNet New York in New York, KNBC and KVEA in Los Angeles, KXAS-TV and KXTX-TV in Dallas, WTVJ and WSCV in Miami, WCAU, WWSI, and NBC Sports Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and KNTV, KSTS, NBC Sports Bay Area, and NBC Sports California in San Francisco, went live on Sony's internet television service PlayStation Vue as part of its Access package. In the summer and fall of 2016, the other NBC owned-and-operated stations, including WVIT in Hartford, WRC-TV and NBC Sports Washington in Washington, D.C., KNSD in San Diego, and the company's regional cable news channel NECN, as well as Graham Media Group-owned NBC affiliates WDIV in Detroit and KPRC-TV in Houston, were also added to PS Vue's access package. 2 years later, in April 2017, WMAQ-TV, WSNS and NBC Sports Chicago, along with sister stations WNBC and WNJU in New York, KNBC and KVEA in Los Angeles, WCAU, WWSI and NBC Sports Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and KNTV, KSTS, NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California in San Francisco, were live on YouTube TV. The streaming service with live streams of programming from the 3 stations was officially launched on April 5, 2017.

Cable and satellite carriage disputes[]

Dish Network[]

On March 15, 2016, NBCUniversal pulled the signals of WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV, along with co-owned cable channels USA Network, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC, and CNBC, from Dish Network systems in the Chicago metropolitan area, due to a dispute between NBC and Dish in which Dish Network claimed that NBCUniversal demanded to renew its carriage of 10 NBC-owned stations and 16 Telemundo-owned stations, including those removed due to the dispute. Three days later, on March 18, 2016, Dish Network announced it would continue to carry WMAQ-TV, WSNS-TV, and five other cable channels for another 10 days, while seeking arbitration from the FCC.

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WRJK-LP 22 (Diya TV)
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WEDE-CD 34 (Ind)
WCPX 38 (Ion)
WMEU-CD 48 (Ind)
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