WRBU, virtual channel 46 (UHF digital channel 47), is a Ion Television owned-and-operated television station serving St. Louis, Missouri, United States that is licensed to East St. Louis, Illinois. The station is owned by Ion Media Networks. WRBU's transmitter is located near Missouri Route 21 and East Four Ridge Road in House Springs. On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channel 7 and AT&T U-verse channel 46.
The station first signed on the air on September 11, 1989 as WHSL, originally operating as a full simulcast of the Home Shopping Network (HSN). Unlike most full-time HSN affiliates of the period, it was not founded by the network's broadcasting arm, Silver King Communications; instead, it was originally owned by St. Louis-based Roberts Broadcasting, a family-owned firm owned by African American businessmen Steven and Michael Roberts. WHSL was the first television station to sign on in the St. Louis market since KNLC (channel 24) debuted in September 1982.
In June 2001, Roberts announced that it had signed an agreement to become an affiliate of UPN, a move that would give the network its first primary affiliate in St. Louis and end the market's status as the largest U.S. city by market size that did not have a full-time affiliate of the network. Despite the fact that St. Louis was large enough to support exclusive affiliations with all six major broadcast networks that were in operation after January 1995, WHSL's operation as an HSN affiliate created a stopgap from allowing UPN to air its entire programming schedule in pattern on an exclusive basis. This forced UPN to maintain part-time affiliations with other stations for the first six years of the network's existence. Its programming was originally broadcast in late night time slots on ABC affiliate KDNL-TV (channel 30) from August 1995 until September 1998; KNLC (channel 24)—an independent station with a mix of religious and family-oriented entertainment programs—took over the affiliation in September 1998, only to drop its affiliation after one year due to concerns over program preemptions dictated by the conservative content guidelines outlined for that station by its New Life Christian Church ownership. WB affiliate KPLR-TV (channel 11) took on a part-time affiliation with UPN—although delaying its prime time shows until after the station's 9:00 p.m. newscast—in September 1999.
In July 2002, KPLR decided to disaffiliate from UPN and exclusively align with The WB, a move which would have affected fans of two of the network's most popular series of the period, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Enterprise, forcing them to watch both shows either through UPN-affiliated superstations offered by Dish Network or by way of tape trading. Roberts management sought to remedy this by obtaining permission from HSN to allow WHSL to preempt two hours a week of programming during prime time to carry both shows starting in September 2002.
On January 17, 2003, the station changed its call sign to WRBU (a partial reference to its corporate parent). The remainder of the UPN programming lineup—including the Disney's One Too children's block, which would be discontinued by the network that August—moved to channel 46 three months later on April 1. On that date, WRBU replaced the HSN programming with a lineup of syndicated programs to fill out the schedule, consisting of a mix of sitcoms, drama series and first-run syndicated talk, court and reality shows. As a result of taking a full-time UPN affiliation, WRBU became the only conventional major network affiliate in St. Louis to be licensed to a Metro East community in the Illinois suburbs.
In February 2003, Roberts Broadcasting sold a 50% interest in WRBU to the TeleFutura subsidiary of Univision Communications, under the joint venture licensee St. Louis/Denver LLC; under the terms of the deal, Roberts continued to operate the station through a time brokerage agreement and was given right of first refusal on appointees for the directors of WRBU's licensee. Through its involvement in the venture, Roberts in turn transferred operational responsibilities for its station in Denver, KTVJ (now KTFD-TV), to Univision, which converted that station into a TeleFutura affiliate. Roberts Broadcasting would eventually acquire other television stations in the Midwestern and Southeastern U.S., signing on two UPN-affiliated stations (WRBJ-TV in Jackson, Mississippi in 2005 and WZRB in Columbia, South Carolina in 2006) and acquiring WB affiliate WAZE-TV in Evansville, Indiana from South Central Communications in 2006.
As a MyNetworkTV affiliate
On January 24, 2006, the respective parent companies of UPN and The WB, CBS Corporation and the Warner Bros. Entertainment division of Time Warner, announced that they would dissolve the two networks to create The CW Television Network, a joint venture between the two media companies that initially featured programs from its two predecessor networks as well as new series specifically produced for The CW. On that date, The CW also signed a ten-year affiliation agreement with Tribune Broadcasting, under which sixteen of the group's eighteen WB-affiliated stations would serve as the network's charter stations. One of the stations included in the agreement was KPLR-TV, which was announced as the network's St. Louis affiliate over WRBU; although since the network chose its affiliates based on which television station among The WB and UPN's respective affiliate bodies was the highest-rated in each market, it is likely that KPLR would have been chosen over WRBU in any event, as channel 11 had been the higher-rated of the two stations even before it became a network affiliate upon joining The WB in January 1995 and had been one of The WB's strongest affiliates for the near entirety of that network's eleven-year existence.
Subsequently, on February 22, 2006, News Corporation announced the launch of MyNetworkTV, a network operated by Fox Television Stations and its syndication division Twentieth Television that was created to primarily to provide network programming to UPN and WB stations with which The CW decided against affiliating based on their local viewership standing in comparison to the outlet that the network ultimately chose, allowing these stations another option besides converting to independent stations. On March 9, in a joint announcement by the network and Roberts Broadcasting, WRBU was confirmed as the charter MyNetworkTV affiliate for St. Louis.
Channel 46 became a MyNetworkTV affiliate when that network launched on September 5, and concurrently rebranded as "My 46"; like other UPN-affiliated stations that were committed to join MyNetworkTV, WRBU ceased carrying UPN's prime time programming, resulting in the network's final two weeks of programming—which largely consisted of repeats of network shows aired during the 2005–06 television season—not being carried in St. Louis. KPLR, meanwhile, remained a WB affiliate until September 17, and officially affiliated with The CW when that network debuted the following day on September 18. As a MyNetworkTV affiliate, the station began serving as a backup NBC affiliate during occasions when KSDK (channel 5) was forced to preempt programs from that network due to commitments to air St. Louis Cardinals baseball games or locally produced specials, or because of preemptions necessitated to provide breaking news or severe weather coverage. In March 2010, Roberts Broadcasting and Univision Communications filed to formally dissolve the St. Louis/Denver LLC venture, under which Roberts acquired full ownership of WRBU in exchange for selling its interest in KTFD to Univision as compensation for buying out the latter's share in WRBU.
Bankruptcy and sale
By 2010, the Roberts brothers had begun facing serious financial trouble with their various businesses. The Roberts' broadcasting unit, in particular, had become the subject of lawsuits by Warner Bros. Television, 20th Television and CBS Television Distribution over its failure to make fee payments for syndicated programs that it acquired for its CW- and MyNetworkTV-affiliated stations (Warner Bros. and CBS would win their court disputes against Roberts, which also later reached a settlement with 20th Television); the company also was unable to fund the construction of Evansville, Indiana CW affiliate WAZE-TV's digital transmitter facilities, an issue that led the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to cancel that station's full-power license in March 2011 (WAZE continued to operate through its three analog-only low-power translators until their shutdown in January 2013). This culminated in Roberts Broadcasting filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on October 7, 2011. The group cited the cause of its financial downturn on the loss of the UPN affiliations on WRBU, WZRB and WRBJ-TV, on the basis that much of UPN's programming slate at the time of its shutdown consisted of shows aimed at African Americans and other minority audiences that Roberts felt were compatible with the core viewership of the stations.
On February 20, 2012, Roberts announced that the company was exploring the sale of one or all four of its television stations in order to raise sufficient funding to pay off its creditors; the company would eventually sell WRBJ to the Trinity Broadcasting Network in October 2012 and WZRB to Tri-State Christian Television subsidiary Radiant Light Ministries on December 2, 2013, leaving WRBU as the last station that Roberts had yet to cut a divestiture deal.
On December 4, 2013, Roberts filed to sell WRBU to Tri-State Christian Television directly for $5.5 million; however, on December 11, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing gave initial approval for a plan by Roberts' creditors to instead transfer WRBU and its sister stations, WZRB and former WAZE-TV translator WAZE-LP, to a trust overseen by Gary Chapman with Ion Media Networks—a creditor in Roberts' bankruptcy proceedings—as its beneficiary. The attorney representing Roberts subsequently stated that Ion Media would purchase the three stations outright. The FCC approved the deal on February 2, 2014.
As an Ion affiliate-turned-O&O
WRBU became an Ion Television affiliate on February 10, 2014, marking the network's resumption of an over-the-air presence in the St. Louis market. Mount Vernon, Illinois-based WPXS (channel 13, now a Daystar owned-and-operated station) operated as an affiliate of Ion predecessors Pax TV and i: Independent Television during two separate tenures from 1998 to 2004 and 2005 to 2008 (Paxson Communications—which evolved into Ion Media following its 2005 reorganization – owned WPXS during the first tenure; Equity Media Holdings owned the station during its tenure as an i/Ion affiliate following a one-year affiliation deferral to Daystar preceding Paxson's sale of WPXS). The network had also been available in St. Louis proper through low-power repeater KUMO-LP (channel 51), which covered portions of the St. Louis metropolitan area that had inadequate reception of the WPXS signal but had sparse cable coverage in most of the market. After WPXS dropped Ion to become a Retro Television Network affiliate in 2008, most St. Louis viewers could only receive Ion programming via cable and satellite from the network's national feed.
Consequently, though, the sale to the Ion trust resulted in the company voiding WRBU's agreements with syndication distributors and with Fox Entertainment Group for the MyNetworkTV affiliation, with the network switch causing St. Louis to become the largest American television market at that time without a MyNetworkTV affiliate. The network would eventually return to the market when CBS affiliate KMOV (channel 4) relaunched its DT3 subchannel on November 17, 2014, acquiring both the MyNetworkTV affiliation and many syndicated shows formerly carried by WRBU that had lost local distribution in St. Louis because of the switch (through St. Louis' status as a top-25 market, KMOV-DT3 became the largest subchannel-only MyNetworkTV affiliate).
On January 29, 2015, Cedar Creek Broadcasting (a company controlled by Brian Brady, who also owns several other broadcasting companies operating as de facto arms of his flagship group, Northwest Broadcasting) agreed to purchase WRBU and WZRB from the trust for $6 million; Ion would have provided services to the stations, which would remain Ion affiliates. On May 9, 2017, the Broadcast Trust informed the FCC that the sale to Cedar Creek Broadcasting had been terminated. One month after the Cedar Creek purchase's termination (and with the FCC restoring the UHF discount), on June 20, 2017, Ion Media Networks announced that it would purchase WRBU from the Chapman-owned/Ion-managed trust, in a two-station deal with Columbia sister station WZRB, for an undisclosed amount. The sale was completed on October 19, 2017.
|TV stations in Illinois|
|TV stations in Missouri|
|WRBU, East St. Louis/St. Louis|
|TV stations in the Greater St. Louis and Metro East Illinois areas|
|KTVI 2 (Fox) |
KMOV 4 (CBS)
KSDK 5 (NBC)
KPTN-LD 7 (HSN)
KETC 9 (PBS)
KPLR 11 (CW)
WPXS 13 (Daystar)
KDTL-LD 16 (RTV)
KEFN-CD 20 (EWTN)
KNLC 24 (MeTV)
K25NG-D 25 (3ABN)
W29CI-D 29 (3ABN)
KDNL 30 (ABC)
KBGU-LP 33 (Buzzr)
K38HD-D 38 (HSN)
WODK-LD 45 (Cozi TV)
WRBU 46 (Ion)
W50CH 50 (Ind)