WPIX, virtual and VHF digital channel 11, is a CW-affiliated television station licensed to New York City and owned by Mission Broadcasting, and operated by Nexstar Media Group under LMA. Since its inception in 1948, WPIX's studios and offices have been located in the Daily News Building at 220 East 42nd St. (also known as "11 WPIX Plaza") in Midtown Manhattan and its transmitter is located at the Empire State Building. WPIX is also available as a regional superstation via satellite and cable in the United States and Canada. WPIX is the largest CW affiliate by market size that is not owned-and-operated by the network's co-owner, CBS Corporation.
As an independent station (1948–1994)
The station first signed on the air on June 15, 1948; it was the fifth television station to sign on in New York City and was the market's second independent station. It was also the second of three stations to launch in the New York market during 1948, debuting one month after Newark, New Jersey-based independent WATV (channel 13) and two months before WJZ-TV (channel 7). WPIX's call letters come from the slogan of the newspaper that founded the station, the Tribune-owned New York Daily News, whose slogan was "New York's Picture Newspaper". In its earliest years, WPIX maintained a secondary studio (called "Studio Five") at 110 Central Park South, where programs shot in front of a studio audience were produced.
Until becoming owned outright by Tribune in 1991, WPIX operated separately from the company's other television and radio outlets through the News-owned license holder, WPIX, Incorporated – which in 1963, purchased New York radio station, WBFM (101.9 FM) and soon changed that station's call letters to WPIX-FM. British businessman Robert Maxwell bought the Daily News in 1991. Tribune retained WPIX and WQCD; the radio station was sold to Emmis Communications in 1997. WPIX initially featured programming that was standard among independents: children's programs, movies, syndicated reruns of network programs, public affairs programming, religious programs and sports – specifically, the New York Yankees, whose baseball games WPIX carried from 1951 to 1998.
To generations of New York children, channel 11 was also the home of memorable personalities. In 1955, original WPIX staffer and weather forecaster Joe Bolton, donned a policeman's uniform and became "Officer Joe," hosting several programs based around Little Rascals, Three Stooges, and later Popeye shorts. Another early WPIX personality, Jack McCarthy, also hosted Popeye and Dick Tracy cartoons as "Captain Jack" in the early 1960s, though he was also the longtime host of channel 11's St. Patrick's Day parade coverage from 1949 to 1992. WPIX aired a local version of Bozo the Clown (with Bill Britten in the role) from 1959 to 1964; comic performers Chuck McCann and Allen Swift also hosted programs on WPIX during the mid-1960s before each moved to other entertainment work in Hollywood. Jazz singer Joya Sherrill hosted a weekday children's show, Time for Joya (later known as Joya's Fun School). Channel 11 produced the Magic Garden series, which ran on the station from 1972 to 1984. Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through Spring 1982, the station aired "TV PIXX", a television video game show played during commercial breaks of afternoon programs. Kids would call into the station for the chance to control a video game via telephone in hopes of winning prizes.
From its early years through the 1960s, WPIX, like the other two major independents in New York, WOR-TV (channel 9) and WNEW-TV (channel 5), struggled to acquire other programming. In 1966, WPIX debuted The Yule Log, which combines Christmas music with a film loop of logs burning inside a fireplace. Airing on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning initially until 1989, the film was made in 1966 and was shot at Gracie Mansion, with the cooperation of then Mayor John V. Lindsay. WPIX revived the Yule Log due to viewer demand in 2001, and has proven to be just as popular. Several of Tribune's other television stations (as well as WGN America and Antenna TV) have carried the WPIX version, complete with its audio soundtrack, on Christmas morning since the late 2000s, and is also streamed online on WPIX's website. Channel 11 also airs a live broadcast of Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral every Christmas Eve.
The station's famous "Circle 11" logo – predating the existence of the World Trade Center, which it closely resembled – was first unveiled in 1969 (an advertising billboard for WPIX with the "Circle 11" logo began appearing that year at Yankee Stadium). By the mid-1970s, WPIX emerged as the second highest-rated independent station in the area, behind WNEW-TV. WPIX dropped the "Circle 11" when it rebranded as "11 Alive" in September 1976, though it continued to appear during station editorials until around 1982 (the "Alive" slogan was popularized by such stations as Atlanta's WXIA-TV, which itself has branded as "11 Alive" ever since that point, with the exception of a brief removal in 1995); the "Circle 11" logo returned as part of the "11 Alive" branding in 1984, before being restored full-time in the fall of 1986. Its relaunch featured a series of humorous promos in which a fictional station employee, "Henry Tillman," was searching for a "big idea" for something uniquely New York in nature to serve as the perfect WPIX symbol. The running gag in these ads was the fact that Tillman was constantly surrounded by – but never noticed – objects resembling a giant "11", most notably the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
In 1978, WPIX was uplinked to satellite and became a superstation that was distributed to cable providers throughout the U.S. (many providers carried WPIX's signal until the early 1990s, when most systems outside of the Northeastern United States began replacing WPIX with the superstation feed of WGN-TV, though the station continues to be distributed through Dish Network domestically (which since it halted sales of the package to new subscribers in September 2013, is available only to grandfathered subscribers of its a la carte superstation tier) and on most cable and satellite providers throughout Canada). Two years later, WPIX began operating on a 24-hour programming schedule.
During the late 1980s, WPIX fell to sixth place in the ratings among New York's VHF stations, behind WNYW (which was now owned by Fox) and a resurgent WWOR (then owned by MCA–Universal). After president Leavitt Pope stepped down as general manager (though he remained as president and CEO of WPIX), Michael Eigner was transferred from Los Angeles sister station KTLA to become WPIX's general manager in August 1989.
Over the next few years the station engineered a slow turnaround that eventually resulted in WPIX becoming the leading independent station in the market. In 1994, the station became the exclusive home of the New York City Marathon, carrying the event for the next five years. It was during the initial broadcast of that event that WPIX unveiled a stylized "11" logo; the new numerical look eventually became the full-time logo, augmented with The WB's logo after the station affiliated with that network in 1995.
In mid-January 1994, the station began airing the Action Pack programming block with TekWar TV movie. WPIX earned the biggest ratings of all the stations airing the program, with an 11.7/17 rating.
WB affiliation (1995–2006)
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Television division of Time Warner and the Tribune Company announced the formation of The WB Television Network. Due to the company's ownership interest in the network (initially a 12.5% stake, before expanding to 22%), Tribune signed the majority of its independent stations to serve as The WB's charter affiliates, resulting in WPIX becoming a network affiliate for the first time upon its January 11, 1995 debut.
The station was verbally branded as "The WB, Channel 11" (simply adding The WB name to the "Channel 11" branding in use since 1986), until it was simplified to "The WB 11" in 1997, and further to "WB11" in 2000. Initially, WPIX's programming remained unchanged, as The WB had broadcast only primetime shows on Wednesday nights at its launch. As with other WB-affiliated stations during the network's first four years, WPIX ran feature films and select first-run scripted series prior to its 10:00 p.m. newscast on nights when The WB did not offer network programming.
WB network and syndicated daytime programs (such as Maury and Jerry Springer) became more prominent on channel 11's schedule starting in 1996 at the expense of most of its local-interest programming outside of news. In September 1999, when The WB completed its prime time expansion and the network began running its programming Sunday through Friday nights, Movies were limited to Saturday evenings and weekend afternoons.
On September 11, 2001, the transmitter facilities of WPIX, and several other New York City area television and radio stations were destroyed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center; both of the complex's main towers collapsed due to fires caused by the impact. WPIX lead engineer Steve Jacobson was among those who were killed in the terrorist attack. WPIX's satellite feed froze on the last video frame received from the WTC mast, an image of the North Tower burning and the start of the impact of the South Tower; the image remained on-screen for much of the day until WPIX was able to set up alternate transmission facilities (the microwave relay for WPIX's satellite feed was also located at the World Trade Center). Since then, WPIX has transmitted its signal from the Empire State Building.
CW affiliation (2006–present)
On January 24, 2006, the Warner Bros. Entertainment unit of Time Warner and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN and in their place, would combine the two networks' respective programming to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. As part of the announcement, Tribune signed ten-year affiliation agreements with the network for 16 of its 19 WB-affiliated stations, including WPIX. Tribune chose not to exercise an ownership interest in The CW—making WPIX the largest CW affiliate that is not owned by either CBS or Time Warner (although WPIX is the network's largest station by market size, CBS-owned WPSG in Philadelphia is The CW's official East Coast and main flagship station), and the largest English-language network affiliated station that is not an owned-and-operated station of its respective network, as well as the only major New York City television station that is not network-owned.
WPIX began transitioning its on-air branding to "CW 11" during the summer of 2006; prior to the start of the station's 10:00 p.m. newscast on September 17, 2006 (which aired following The WB's final night of programming and the night prior to The CW's official launch), the station aired a video montage of past WPIX logos, starting with a 1948 test pattern and concluding with the official unveiling of the new "CW11" logo.
On April 2, 2007, investor Sam Zell announced plans to purchase the Tribune Company, with intentions to take the publicly traded firm private. The deal was completed on December 20, 2007. Prior to the sale's closure, WPIX had been the only commercial television station in New York City to have never been involved in an ownership transaction (Tribune subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008, due to debt accrued from Zell's leveraged buyout and costs from the company's privatization; it emerged from bankruptcy in December 2012 under the control of its senior debt holders Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase). The station began gradually adopting a modernized "Circle 11" logo in mid-October 2008, featuring a slimmer version of the WB-era "11" (the CW logo is sometimes used next to the "Circle 11", primarily in station promos for CW programs). The station's branding was then changed to "PIX 11" on December 1, 2008 (the "PIX" in the call letters are pronounced phonetically, similar to the word "picks").
On August 17, 2012, Cablevision removed the station from its New York area systems, part of a carriage dispute with Tribune in which WPIX's Hartford, Philadelphia and Denver sister stations were removed from Cablevision's systems in those markets. Cablevision accused Tribune of demanding higher carriage fees (claiming to total in the tens of millions of dollars) for use to help pay off debt, and alleged that it illegally bundled carriage agreements for WPIX and Hartford's WTIC-TV (which was later pulled as well, but unlike co-owned WCCT, was initially unaffected due to a separate carriage agreement); the company denied the claims, stating its approach complied with FCC regulations. The stations and WGN America were restored in an agreement reached on October 26, following a plea by Connecticut State Senator Gayle Slossberg for the FCC to intervene in the dispute.
On May 23, 2016, WPIX owner Tribune Broadcasting and The CW reached a five-year affiliation agreement that renewed the network's affiliations with twelve of Tribune's CW-affiliated stations (including WPIX) through the 2020–21 television season; the deal came after a year-long disagreement between The CW's managing partner CBS Corporation and Tribune concerning financial terms, specifically the amount of reverse compensation that The CW had sought from the group's CW affiliates.
Aborted sale to Sinclair; pending sale to Nexstar and resale to Scripps
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Had the deal been able to receive regulatory approval by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, the deal would have marked the station's first change in ownership since its sign-on in 1948, and have resulted in WPIX becoming the Hunt Valley, Maryland-based company's largest television station by market size (supplanting ABC affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C.). In order to comply with FCC ownership restrictions, Sinclair would then sell WPIX and sister station WGN-TV in Chicago to a third party to be determined later. On February 28, 2018, Sinclair filed to sell WPIX to Cunningham Broadcasting for a below market-value price of $15 million; Sinclair planned to provide programming and sales to the station, and held an option to acquire WPIX outright. The sale of WPIX to Cunningham was withdrawn on April 24, 2018, with Sinclair opting instead to acquire WPIX outright.
On July 18, 2018, hours after Sinclair submitted a revision to the acquisition proposal that also abandoned plans for WGN-TV and CW-affiliated sisters KDAF in Dallas–Fort Worth and KIAH in Houston to be sold to Cunningham and another closely tied third-party in order to address concerns expressed by FCC chairman Ajit Pai concerning the partner licensees Sinclair proposed using to allow it to operate certain Tribune stations in circumvention of the 39% national ownership cap, the FCC Commissioners' Board voted unanimously, 4-0, to send the Sinclair-Tribune acquisition proposal to an evidentiary review hearing before an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain stations in markets where Sinclair and Tribune both had television properties. On August 9, 2018, 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, Nexstar Media Group announced it would acquire Tribune's assets for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. The deal—which would make the Irving, Texas-based company the largest television station operator by total number of stations upon its expected closure late in the third quarter of 2019—would mark channel 11's first ownership change since its sign-on (not counting Tribune's 1991 transfer of the station from the separate WPIX Inc. entity into the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary). On March 20, 2019, as part of the sale of 19 Nexstar and Tribune stations to Tegna Inc. and the E. W. Scripps Company in separate deals worth $1.32 billion, Nexstar announced that it would sell WPIX to Cincinnati-based Scripps for $75 million. A possible motive for the sale may have been the fact that the station operates on a VHF digital channel assignment, which, given that the New York City market accounts for 6.44% of U.S. television households according to Nielsen market tabulations, would put Nexstar over the 39% national ownership cap as WPIX cannot be counted for 50% of its total reach under the "UHF discount". (There was some assumption that the cap issues concerning WPIX could have been rectified through the purchase of several Tribune-owned Fox affiliates to Fox Television Stations [owner of WNYW and WWOR-TV], which announced on March 19, that it would not seek to acquire any of the stations that Nexstar planned to sell to adhere to FCC rules applying to the Tribune acquisition.) Because of this, following closure of the Nexstar–Tribune merger and sales associated with the deal, WPIX would become Scripps' largest station by market size (displacing ABC-affiliated WFTS-TV in Tampa–St. Petersburg) while its current sister station in Los Angeles, KTLA, will become Nexstar's largest station (supplanting MyNetworkTV-affiliated KRON-TV in San Francisco). Under the terms of the deal, Scripps provided Nexstar an option to buy back WPIX between March 31, 2020 and December 31, 2021. Nexstar partner licensee Mission Broadcasting exercised said option to buy WPIX on July 13, 2020—Nexstar had previously transferred to Mission said repurchase option—for $75 million plus accrued interest. This coincided with Scripps's eventual merger with Ion Media, owner of WPXN-TV. The sale to Mission was approved by the FCC on December 1 and completed on December 30.
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