WRLH-TV is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Richmond, Virginia, United States. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 26 (remapped to former analog channel 35 via PSIP) from a transmitter at the studios of PBS member stations WCVE-TV and WCVW in Bon Air. Owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, WRLH maintains studios on Westmoreland Street in the North Side area of Richmond.
WRLH began its operation on February 20, 1982. It was Richmond's first general entertainment Independent station, and the first new commercial station in Richmond since WRVA-TV (channel 12, now WWBT) signed on 26 years earlier. The calls were previously used on a predecessor to WNNE in Hartford, Vermont. It aired an analog signal on UHF channel 35 from a transmitter southwest of the U.S. 60/SR 288 interchange. It was the second station owned by the TVX Broadcast Group, who had launched WTVZ in Hampton Roads three years earlier. The WRLH call letters stand for Richmond and the two TVX executives primarily responsible for getting the station on the air, Gene Loving and Harvey Hudson. Like most Independents, it initially offered a format consisting of cartoons, sitcoms, movies, drama shows, and religious programming in mid-mornings after the cartoons. WRLH also carried business news programming from the Financial News Network in the evenings until sign-off.
In 1984, WTLL signed on channel 63 with a religious format, and WRLH's religious programming moved there. Some of those shows moved back to WRLH when WTLL took on a general entertainment format in summer 1985 under a new call sign, WVRN-TV, and the two stations now competed under the same format. The competition took a toll financially, and as a result, TVX sold WRLH to the A. S. Abell Company of Baltimore, Maryland in 1985. Times Mirror then turned around and sold WRLH (along with WMAR-TV in Baltimore) to Gillett Broadcasting in 1986.
As a Fox affiliateEdit
On October 9, 1986, WRLH became a charter Fox affiliate, with the affiliation agreement having been inherited from TVX ownership. The station is the only major station in Richmond to have never changed its network affiliation, having been with Fox since the network's inception. Gillett then sold the station to Busse Broadcasting in 1987.
WVRN was put up for sale after its parent company, Sudbrink Broadcasting, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 1986. At that point, Act III Broadcasting purchased WVRN. However, both stations continued to suffer financially. Part of the problem was that Fox only offered eight hours of programming a week at the time, meaning WRLH was still programmed largely as an independent. At the time, Richmond was not big enough to support what were essentially two independent stations. Soon after Act III bought WVRN, it offered to buy WRLH's programming on the condition that channel 35 itself be sold to a different group that would run it as a non-commercial or home shopping type station. Busse declined but offered instead to sell WRLH outright to Act III in 1988, which then put WVRN back on the market. There were no takers for channel 63, however, and Act III merged WVRN's programming onto WRLH's schedule, took WVRN off the air and returned the channel 63 license to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for deletion.
The Act III group was purchased by Abry Communications in 1993. Sullivan Broadcasters (in which Sinclair had a minority stake) took over the station in 1996, selling it to Sinclair in 1996. It began carrying a secondary UPN affiliation at the network's inception on January 16, 1995. This moved to WZXK (now WUPV-TV) in 1998. Also that year, WRLH began to carry programming from Kids' WB with NBC affiliate WWBT carrying The WB programming out of rotation in late-night since there was no full-time affiliate with the network in Richmond. Gradually, the station began de-emphasizing its call letters except in legal IDs, referring to itself on-air as "Fox 35, Cable 5." In 2001, it rebranded as "Fox Richmond." A false WRLH newscast sporting the "Fox 35" logo is seen at the beginning of the 2001 film Hannibal, and the station has been shown as the Fox affiliate watched by the Smiths in the Fox/TBS series American Dad!.
On June 24, 2008, Sinclair announced that it was intending to purchase CBS affiliate WTVR-TV from Raycom Media and sell WRLH to the previously unknown Carma Broadcasting. Raycom had recently bought Lincoln Financial Media's three television stations, including NBC affiliate WWBT, and put WTVR on the market because FCC rules do not allow duopolies between two of the four largest stations in a market. However, Sinclair was to provide "sales and other non-programming related services" to WRLH after the sale was finalized. This could be seen by some as an attempt by Sinclair to sell WRLH to a shell corporation used for the purpose of circumventing FCC ownership rules, much as Sinclair has done for years with Cunningham Broadcasting.
In August 2008, the United States Department of Justice, under provisions of a consent decree with Raycom Media entered into as part of the Lincoln Financial Media deal, denied the company permission to sell WTVR to Sinclair. As a result, Raycom sought and was eventually granted a temporary waiver to keep both WTVR and WWBT until it could find a buyer for WTVR, which was eventually swapped to Local TV for WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama.
Nullified sale to Standard MediaEdit
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair entered into an agreement to acquire Chicago-based Tribune Media – which has owned WTVR since December 2013 – for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Because Sinclair and Tribune each owned two television stations in the Richmond market, with WTVR and WRLH both ranking among the market's four highest-rated stations in total day viewership, the companies were required to sell one of the two outlets to an independently-operated station owner in order to comply with FCC local ownership rules. On April 24, 2018, in an amendment to the Tribune acquisition through which it proposed the sale of certain stations to both independent and affiliated third-party companies to curry the DOJ's approval, Sinclair announced that it would sell WRLH-TV and eight other stations – Sinclair-operated KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, KDSM-TV in Des Moines, WOLF-TV (along with LMA partners WSWB and WQMY) in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and WXLV-TV in Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, and Tribune-owned WPMT in Harrisburg and WXMI in Grand Rapids – to Standard Media Group (an independent broadcast holding company formed by private equity firm Standard General to assume ownership of and absolve ownership conflicts involving the aforementioned stations) for $441.1 million. The transaction includes a transitional services agreement, through which Sinclair would have continued operating WRLH for six months after the sale's completion.
Less than one month after the FCC voted to have the deal reviewed by an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain conflict properties, on August 9, 2018, Tribune announced it would terminate the Sinclair deal, intending to seek other M&A opportunities. Tribune also 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. The termination of the Sinclair sale agreement effectively nullified the sale of WRLH-TV to Standard, leaving it among Sinclair's few 'orphan' stations (that is, a Fox, CW or MyNetworkTV station without a non-subchannel sister station in the same market).
|TV stations in Commonwealth of Virginia|
| WVBT, Hampton Roads/Norfolk|
|TV stations in Commonwealth of Virginia|
| WTVZ, Hampton Roads/Norfolk|
|TV stations in Central Virginia, including Richmond and Petersburg|
| WTVR 6 (CBS) |
WRIC 8 (ABC)
WWBT 12 (NBC)
WXOB-LP 17 (Ind)
WCVE 23 (PBS)
WRLH 35 (Fox)
WZTD-LD 45 (TLM)
WRID-LD 48 (Daystar)
WCVW 57 (PBS)
WUPV 65 (CW)