WPSG, virtual channel 57 (UHF digital channel 32), is the East Coast flagship station of The CW Television Network, licensed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of ViacomCBS, and is part of a duopoly with CBS owned-and-operated station KYW-TV (channel 3). The two stations share studios on Hamilton Street north of Center City Philadelphia; WPSG's transmitter is located in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
The channel 57 frequency was originally assigned to Easton, Pennsylvania where it was home to WGLV-TV, a dual ABC/DuMont affiliate owned by the Easton Express newspaper, which first signed on the air June 26, 1953; it would later be affiliated to the NTA Film Network from 1956. The station struggled to get an audience mainly because it was a UHF station at a time when television manufacturers were not required to offer UHF tuners. Its fate was sealed in 1957, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) collapsed the Lehigh Valley into the Philadelphia television market. The Philadelphia stations built tall towers in the city's hilly Roxborough neighborhood, adding Easton and the rest of the Lehigh Valley to their city-grade coverage. WGLV went dark on November 1 of that year, and several years later the FCC reassigned the channel 57 allocation to Philadelphia.
Channel 57 as a Philadelphia station first signed on the air on June 15, 1981 as WWSG-TV, named for station founder William S. Gross. The station aired business news programming from the Financial News Network during the day and subscription television programming from SelecTV at night. The station's original studio facilities were located on North 20th Street in Philadelphia. The station ultimately dropped the FNN feed when it decided to switch to a full-time subscription format eighteen months later, picking up the now-defunct PRISM pay-cable service (a forerunner to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia) in 1983.
In March 1985, Gross sold channel 57 to Milton Grant, who immediately purchased an inventory of strong programming. Many of these shows were Viacom-syndicated programs that were formerly seen on WKBS-TV (channel 48) before that station ceased operations in August 1983. On October 20, 1985, Grant relaunched channel 57 as WGBS-TV, a general entertainment independent station with a typical mix of cartoons, sitcoms, movies, dramas and sports. Westerns also aired for several hours a day on weekends. Under Grant, WGBS adopted a very slick on-air look, even by major market independent standards. The station boldly branded itself as "Philly 57", and also used CGI graphics of near network-quality. The station's announcer, Kim Martin (then an announcer at WPEN radio, now WKDN), offered bold, brash and entertaining voice-overs. WGBS' then-sister stations, WBFS-TV in Miami and WGBO-TV in Chicago, adopted a similar look.
Early on, the new channel 57 competed with Vineland, New Jersey-based WSJT (channel 65, now Univision owned-and-operated station WUVP-DT) to fill the void left by the departure of WKBS two years earlier. However, channel 65 suffered from a poor signal in the northern portion of the market. At the same time, channel 57 became the broadcast home of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, remaining the hockey team's broadcast television home until the 2008–09 season (except for a brief period from 1993 to 1998, when the Flyers aired on WPHL-TV, channel 17). Additionally, Wilmington, Delaware-based WTGI (channel 61, now Ion Television O&O WPPX-TV) signed on in the summer of 1986 as a general entertainment independent station, but its schedule was composed largely of low-budget programs. At the end of 1986, WSJT's owners, the Asbury Park Press, conceded and sold the station to the Home Shopping Network while other stations picked up some of WSJT's syndicated shows. WTGI, meanwhile, switched to a format featuring paid programming and religious programs in January 1987. By then, WGBS had clearly established itself as the third independent in Philadelphia.
WGBS prospered even in the midst of a battle for its survival—and that of its owner. Milton Grant had hoped to have his stations become regional or national superstations. In his bid to boost his stations' status, Grant wound up overpaying for programming. He soon became so badly overextended that Grant Broadcasting was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 1986. Under the bankruptcy deal, WGBS cut back on the number of runs it had on each show causing programs to be seen at less duration. Still, in 1989, Grant Broadcasting was forced into receivership after the company failed to meet the terms of its bankruptcy agreement. Combined Broadcasting, a creditor-controlled holding company, took control of the former Grant stations. Combined put the stations up for sale in 1993, but it would be two years before Combined found a buyer, and only then in a roundabout way.
Attempted sale to Fox (1993)
Combined's first attempt to sell WGBS-TV came in August 1993, when Fox Television Stations announced that it would purchase channel 57 and make it Philadelphia's new Fox station. The deal would have left existing Fox affiliate WTXF-TV (channel 29) without an affiliation. WTXF's owner, Paramount Stations Group (a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures), strongly criticized Fox's plans to pull its affiliation, fueling existing speculation that Paramount was planning to join with Chris-Craft Industries to create a new network; when what eventually became the United Paramount Network (UPN) was announced that October as a joint venture of the two companies (with Paramount holding only a programming partnership until it purchased 50% of the network in 1996), WTXF was named as its Philadelphia affiliate.
However, on November 19, 1993; the New York City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a formal objection to Fox's planned purchase of WGBS due to concerns about Fox's ownership structure. The NAACP contended that Fox's then-owner, News Corporation—based in Australia at the time—was the de facto parent company of Fox Television Stations' holding company, Twentieth Holdings Corporation (THC). News Corp's chairman, Rupert Murdoch, owned 76 percent of THC's stock in his own name; he had become an American citizen in 1985 so he could buy U.S. television stations. The NAACP contended that News Corp owned at least 36% of THC's stock, including all of the common stock. FCC regulations limit foreign ownership of broadcast outlets to 25 percent. As FCC approval did not come before the planned January 30, 1994 completion of the deal, Combined walked away from the $57 million sale a few weeks later, preserving WTXF's Fox affiliation.
Later that year, Westinghouse Broadcasting, owners of then-NBC affiliate KYW-TV, reached an agreement with CBS to switch channel 3 and two of Westinghouse's other stations to CBS. New World Communications had recently partnered with Fox in most of the markets where the company owned stations, and emerged as a candidate to purchase CBS' longtime owned-and-operated station WCAU-TV (channel 10). Fox also entered into the bidding for WCAU just in case New World's offer either fell through or in case New World chose to affiliate WCAU with NBC. However, on August 31, 1994, Viacom (which had acquired Paramount several months earlier) announced that it would sell WTXF to Fox for over $200 million; NBC and CBS then opted to make a complicated multi-market station swap which gave WCAU to NBC. Using the cash received from Fox for channel 29, Viacom then bought WGBS and its Miami sister station, WBFS-TV. As soon as the deal was announced, Viacom announced that both stations would join UPN. The purchase effectively resulted in Viacom buying out its partners' stakes in Combined Broadcasting; as the owner of the majority of the programs seen on channel 57's schedule back in 1985, Viacom was one of Grant's former creditors and a part-owner of Combined. Grant had been under particularly strong pressure to repay his debt to Viacom prior to filing bankruptcy.
UPN 57 WPSG (1995–2006)
WGBS became Philadelphia's UPN station when the network launched on January 16, 1995. Soon afterward, the station began taking on the look of an O&O. The on-air branding changed to "UPN Philly 57", and finally "UPN 57", the graphics got simpler, and Martin was replaced by the more staid Larry Van Nuys. The "UPN 57" branding was kept for the remainder of the network's run, with the exception of a short-lived branding change to simply "UPN" in September 2002, when the network debuted a new logo and on-air identity. This lasted exactly one season, and by the fall of 2003, the station's branding reverted to "UPN 57".
Viacom officially became the sole owner of WGBS on August 25, 1995, the same day Fox closed on its purchase of WTXF. On December 11 of that year, Viacom changed the station's call letters to WPSG (reflecting its operation by the Paramount Stations Group subsidiary). Viacom bought CBS in 2000, creating a duopoly with KYW-TV; WPSG's operations later migrated into KYW-TV's studios at Independence Mall. That same year, Viacom also purchased Chris-Craft's 50% share of UPN for $5.5 billion, this resulted in WPSG becoming UPN's largest owned-and-operated station (taking that distinction away from Secaucus, New Jersey-licensed New York City station WWOR-TV, it and Chris-Craft's other UPN stations were stripped of their statuses as O&Os due to the Viacom buyout and were eventually sold to Fox Television Stations, one of which was subsequently traded to Paramount).
In recent years, WPSG tried to reposition itself as more of a local station, using the slogan So Philly, So You! (spelled as So Philly, So U! during the waning days of its UPN run). Weekend movie marathons, usually hosted by local personalities (or KYW/WPSG staff like Sean Murphy), have become commonplace, and during the late 2000s, the station broadcast the Philadelphia version of Gimme the Mike!, a competition for aspiring singers. In recent years, WPSG has become Philadelphia's leading sports station. Since the late 1990s, it has acquired over-the-air rights to Major League Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies and the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers in addition to its long-standing coverage of the Flyers (although the majority of those teams' games are broadcast on Comcast SportsNet). Phillies games moved to WPHL in November 2008. When Viacom split into two companies in 2005, WPSG became part of the CBS Corporation, along with the rest of Viacom's broadcasting interests (the original Viacom was renamed CBS Corporation, while the company that split from CBS and acquired the company's film and most cable television assets, save for Showtime Networks, took the Viacom name).
The CW (2006–present)
On January 24, 2006, WPSG parent CBS Corporation and the Warner Bros. Television unit of Time Warner announced that the two companies would shut down UPN and The WB and merge some of their programs onto a new, jointly-owned network called The CW Television Network. As part of the deal, the new network signed a 10-year affiliation contract with 11 of CBS' UPN stations, including WPSG. Channel 57 was the largest UPN owned-and-operated station to join the new network. However, it would not have been an upset had Philadelphia's WB station, WPHL (which joined another newly launched service called MyNetworkTV), been chosen instead. Representatives for The CW were on record as preferring The WB and UPN's "strongest" stations, and Philadelphia was one of the few markets where the affiliates of both networks were both relatively strong ratings performers. Since WPHL's owners Tribune Broadcasting does not maintain an ownership stake in The CW, and CBS is the only stakeholder in the network that owns a television station group, WPSG is considered to be the network's official flagship station (although The CW's New York City affiliate WPIX is the network's largest station by market size, CBS Corporation does not own WPIX; it is actually owned by Tribune).
WPSG continued to carry UPN programming until the network shut down on September 15, 2006; The CW commenced operations three days later on September 18. While the "Philly 57" branding was discontinued in 1995, it had been so effective that many continue call the station by that name today. It is probably for this reason that, in a surprising move, WPSG announced in the summer of 2006 that it would revive the "Philly 57" moniker as part of the station's new branding, "CW Philly 57", although on-air promotions refer to the station as "CW Philly". In addition, WPSG would continue to broadcast Phillies, Flyers and Sixers games, a move that had been uncertain after the station became a CW affiliate.
On April 2, 2007, WPSG and KYW-TV relocated their operations to new studios at 1555 Hamilton Street in Philadelphia, near the Community College of Philadelphia.
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