WTIC-TV, virtual channel 61 (UHF digital channel 31), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Hartford, Connecticut, United States and serving the Hartford–New Haven television market. The station is owned by the Tegna Inc. subsidiary of the Gannett Company, as part of a duopoly with Waterbury-licensed CW affiliate WCCT-TV (channel 20). The two stations share facilities with the formerly co-owned Hartford Courant newspaper on Broad Street in Downtown Hartford; WTIC's transmitter is located on Rattlesnake Mountain in Farmington, Connecticut. On cable, the station is carried primarily on channel 6 throughout the Hartford–New Haven television market.
Early history (1983–1986)
A group led by Arnold Chase and his company, Arch Communications, won a construction permit for channel 61 in September 1983. Chase originally planned to call his new station WETG, in memory of Ella T. Grasso, the first woman to serve as governor of Connecticut, who died in 1981; these call letters were assigned on February 3, 1984. Grasso's son was a minority partner in Chase's group.
However, changes in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations during this time allowed separately-owned stations in the same market to obtain consent to share a call sign. Chase then asked his father, owner of WTIC radio (1080 AM and 96.5 FM) to allow Arch to use the historic WTIC-TV call letters. After securing consent, Arch applied for a waiver to use the call sign in June 1984; the call change took effect on August 4 (the WETG call letters were subsequently used by a station in Erie, Pennsylvania, now fellow Fox affiliate WFXP). The WTIC-TV call sign had last been used by what is now WFSB (channel 3) from 1957 to 1974. In memory of Grasso, WTIC showed clips during their nightly sign-off of Grasso at work while church bells played "The Star-Spangled Banner". A graphic at the end of the sequence mentioned that the station was dedicated in Grasso's memory.
WTIC-TV began operation on September 17, 1984, with a special live broadcast of a gala event hosted by TV star Eddie Albert and longtime WTIC radio personality Bob Steele. On this date, the station became the first station in New England to broadcast a stereo audio signal. Former President Jimmy Carter was in attendance. Originally, it was a general entertainment independent station running cartoons, sitcoms, old movies, CBS shows pre-empted by WFSB, ABC shows pre-empted by WTNH (channel 8), NBC shows pre-empted by WVIT (channel 30), drama series, and sports in competition with the established independent station in the market, WTXX (channel 20, now CW-affiliated sister station WCCT-TV). During 1985 and 1986, the station invested in stronger programming.
As a Fox affiliate (1986–present)
WTIC later became a charter Fox affiliate when the network launched on October 6, 1986. However, by 1987, Arch encountered financial problems and WTIC nearly filed for bankruptcy. Many syndication distributors went unpaid and responded by pulling their programming from channel 61. Extensive litigation followed as the contracts that were standard in the industry at that time stated that if a single payment was missed, no more programs would be provided, but the station was still required to pay the full amount due under the contract. As the litigation progressed, the shows were replaced by low-budget barter programming. Central to the litigation were allegations of illegal "tie-in" sales by program syndicators that artificially drove up the cost of programming to WTIC. The cases soon settled on terms favorable to Chase and WTIC. From the time it joined the network, WTIC-TV had served as the default Fox affiliate for the Springfield–Holyoke market in western Massachusetts, as that area had been one of the few television markets in the Eastern Time Zone without an affiliate of its own. This changed on March 31, 2008 when ABC affiliate WGGB-TV added Fox programming on its second digital subchannel.
Chase Broadcasting (owned by Arnold Chase's father's organization) acquired WTIC on October 2, 1987. Although the barter programming continued, the station began to realize some sustained success in part due to the early success of the Fox network and shows like 21 Jump Street and Married...With Children. A milestone was reached in 1992, when WTIC began to regularly beat WTXX in the ratings. That year, Chase agreed to sell its four television stations—WTIC-TV, WATL in Atlanta, KDVR in Denver, and WXIN in Indianapolis—to Renaissance Broadcasting, owner of WTXX. The sale did not include the WTIC radio stations, which Chase retained until 1996. To comply with prevailing FCC regulations, Renaissance sold WTXX to a Roman Catholic non-profit group, Counterpoint Communications; both deals were completed in March 1993. Renaissance tried to negotiate a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Counterpoint in which it would buy WTXX's entire broadcast day, except for overnights and an hour during the day in which WTXX was to run Catholic programming. During negotiations, which lasted from the time the sale became final until July 1993, Renaissance agreed to have WTXX run The Disney Afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. and some off network sitcoms from 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays free of charge, as well as first run syndicated shows on weekends in this slot. However, Counterpoint wanted only a part-time arrangement, and negotiations ultimately fell through. Eventually, WTXX entered into a part-time LMA with WVIT (channel 30).
After talks with Counterpoint fell through, Renaissance moved most of WTXX's stronger programming to WTIC, creating a stronger lineup for channel 61. Some programming (such as older sitcoms), however, was returned to their syndication distributors and wound up first on WTWS (channel 26, now Ion Television owned-and-operated station WHPX-TV) and then WTVU (channel 59, now MyNetworkTV affiliate WCTX). The cartoons that did not move to WTIC were sold to WVIT, which ultimately moved them back to WTXX.
On July 1, 1996, Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting announced that it would acquire Renaissance Communications for $1.13 billion. Two years later, WTIC-TV replaced WVIT as the LMA partner for WTXX (then a UPN affiliate, later with The WB, currently a CW affiliate). In 2001, Tribune bought WTXX outright. Both stations became sister properties of the Hartford Courant after Times Mirror merged with Tribune in 2000. As time went on, WTIC began dropping cartoons, movies, and older sitcoms in favor of more talk and reality shows. The weekday cartoons ended at the end of 2001 when Fox ended its weekday kids' block.
On July 10, 2013, Tribune announced plans to spin off its publishing division into a separate company. Once the split was finalized in 2014, WTIC-TV and WCCT-TV remained with the Tribune Company (which retained all non-publishing assets, including the broadcasting, digital media and Media Services units), while its newspapers (including the Hartford Courant) became part of the similarly named Tribune Publishing Company.
On October 19, 2015, the station announced that it would drop the "Fox CT" name and return to its previous "Fox 61" designation (which had been phased out in 2010). The decision came after viewers were asked which title they preferred and to share their feelings in a special social media campaign. Responses were overwhelmingly in favor of a return to the original branding, with many citing the nostalgia of the broadcast's original analog signal appearing on channel 61.
Aborted sale to Sinclair; pending sale to Nexstar and resale to Tegna
On May 8, 2017, Hunt Valley, Maryland-based 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. Three weeks after the FCC's July 18 vote 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 U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division 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, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group—which has owned ABC affiliate WTNH and MyNetworkTV affiliate WCTX since January 2017—announced it would acquire the assets of Tribune Media for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. Nexstar is precluded from acquiring WTIC and WCCT directly or indirectly, as FCC regulations prohibit common ownership of more than two stations in the same media market, or two or more of the four highest-rated stations in the market. (Furthermore, any attempt by Nexstar to assume the operations of WTIC and WCCT through local marketing or shared services agreements may be subject to regulatory hurdles that could delay completion of the FCC and Justice Department's review and approval process for the acquisition.) As such, Nexstar was required to sell two of the stations (including one ranking among the top four in total-day viewership) to a separate, unrelated company to address the ownership conflict, potentially creating two new duopolies. On March 20, 2019, McLean, Virginia-based Tegna Inc. announced it would purchase WTIC and WCCT from Nexstar upon consummation of the merger, as part of the company's sale of nineteen Nexstar- and Tribune-operated stations to Tegna and the E. W. Scripps Company in separate deals worth $1.32 billion; this would make the WTIC/WCCT duopoly the first television properties in Connecticut and southern New England for Tegna.
|TV stations in New England|
|WTIC, Hartford/New Haven|
|TV stations in Hartford/New Haven|
|WFSB 3 (CBS) |
WTNH 8 (ABC)
WUVN 18 (UNI)
WRDM-CD 19 (TLM)
WCCT 20 (CW)
WEDH 24 (PBS)
WHPX 26 (Ion)
WVIT 30 (NBC)
WTXX-LD 34 (AZA)
WHCT-LD 38 (AZA)
WUTH-CD 47 (UMas)
WRNT-LP 48 (RTV)
WEDN 53 (PBS)
WCTX 59 (MNTV)
WTIC 61 (Fox)
WEDY 65 (PBS)