WTVR-TV is a CBS/Ion Television-affiliated television station licensed to Richmond, Virginia, United States. The station is owned by Tribune Broadcasting, a subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 25, using the virtual channel assignment of 6.1 via PSIP (to associate it with its 60-year former position on analog channel 6), and its studios and transmitter are located on West Broad Street in the West End of the city of Richmond. The tower is also the transmitter for former sister station WTVR-FM and NPR member WCVE-FM.
When the channel 6 license in Richmond came up for bids before the Federal Communications Commission, it was thought to be a foregone conclusion that the license would go to either Larus and Brother Company, owner of WRVA, or Richmond Newspapers, owner of WRNL, since they were reckoned as Virginia's leading broadcasters. However, for reasons that remain unknown, neither station submitted a bid. The only applicant turned out to be the Richmond Broadcasting Company, which was nowhere near as large as either WRVA or WRNL. Its owner, auto parts dealer Wilbur Havens, also owned WMBG (AM 1380) and WCOD (98.1 FM). FCC approval was a mere formality, and WTVR took to the air on April 22, 1948, as the first television station south of Washington, D.C. (WTVR's station ID famously proclaimed it to be "The South's First Television Station" as a result). It became an NBC affiliate June 1, 1948. For many years, it used a colorized version of its original ID slide to open newscasts. Then as now, the station operated from a converted bus garage on West Broad Street, where WMBG had been based since 1939.
In 1953, WTVR activated its tall tower, located adjacent to its West Broad studios. The 843-foot (257 m) (1,049-foot (320 m) above sea level) tower is considered part of the Richmond skyline, and can be seen for several miles around Richmond. WTVR used a graphical version of the tower in its news opens for several years in the 1980s and early 1990s.
As it was one of the last stations to get a construction permit before an FCC-imposed freeze on new permits, WTVR was the only station in town until 1955. It carried programming from all four networks of the time—NBC, CBS, ABC and DuMont—but was a primary NBC affiliate. In 1955, WXEX-TV (channel 8, now WRIC-TV) signed on from neighboring Petersburg and took the NBC affiliation. WTVR then had a brief stint as a primary CBS affiliate; this ended in 1956, when WRVA-TV (channel 12, now WWBT) signed on and took the CBS affiliation due to WRVA radio's long history as a CBS radio affiliate. WTVR then carried on as an ABC affiliate until 1960, when CBS cut a new deal with Havens due to channel 12's low ratings. WTVR has been with CBS ever since. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
Havens sold WTVR, WMBG, and WCOD to Roy H. Park Communications in 1966, earning a handsome return on his original $500 investment when he started WMBG in 1927. After taking ownership of the properties, the radio stations adopted the TV station's "WTVR" call letters. When Park died in 1993, the company's assets were sold to a Lexington, Kentucky group of investors that sold the radio properties separately to various owners, with WTVR-AM-FM going to Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) in 1995. WTVR-FM is now owned by Entercom, who acquired iHeartMedia's Richmond stations in 2017, while the AM station, bought by Salem Communications in 2001 and programmed as Christian talk, was later sold by Salem and is now Spanish religious station WBTK.
Channel 6 began suffering in the ratings in 1994 when CBS lost the rights to broadcast National Football League games to Fox (CBS returned to NFL broadcasting in 1998). However, it recovered by the turn of the century and since then has been a solid runner-up, sometimes waging a spirited battle for second place with WRIC in news ratings.
Park merged with Media General, successor to Richmond Newspapers, in May 1997. However, Media General could not keep WTVR-TV alongside its flagship newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, because FCC rules of the time did not allow cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same market. As a result, Media General swapped WTVR to Raycom Media in exchange for WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi, its semi-satellite WHLT in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and WSAV-TV in Savannah, Georgia two months later.
WTVR was the only CBS station between Richmond and Roanoke until WCAV-TV signed on in Charlottesville in 2004.
Local features and community programs have included "For Kids' Sake", "Paws for Pets", and Battle of the Brains and a 24-hour weather news channel called "CBS 6 Xtra" broadcast on broadband, digital cable, and digital sub-channel 6.2 in the area. The station carried Raycom's 24/7 music television format "The Tube" on WTVR-DT3 until its shutdown on October 1, 2007. In March 2011, WTVR-DT3 became the new home of CBS 6 Xtra, while 6.2 carries Antenna TV (see below).
Swap to Local TV; Tribune ownership; aborted sale to Sinclair
On November 12, 2007, Raycom Media announced its intention to purchase the television broadcasting and production properties of Lincoln Financial Media, including rival WWBT. Since FCC rules do not allow one person to own two of the four largest stations in a single market, Raycom decided to keep WWBT and sell WTVR to another owner. On June 24, 2008, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced its intent to purchase WTVR and sell local Fox affiliate WRLH-TV (channel 35). However, the Justice Department, under provisions of a consent decree with Raycom Media, denied Raycom permission to sell WTVR-TV to Sinclair in August 2008.
On January 6, 2009, Raycom and Local TV LLC announced that they would be swapping stations in Richmond and Birmingham. In this deal, Raycom transferred WTVR plus $83 million to Local TV in exchange for that company's Fox affiliate WBRC in Birmingham. The transfer closed on March 31, 2009. As a result of the trade, Local TV owned Virginia's two largest CBS affiliates; it already owned WTKR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Norfolk, the market just to the east of Richmond. Local TV added Hampton Roads CW affiliate WGNT in 2010 after buying it from CBS.
For three months after the swap deal was completed, WTVR's Web site remained in the old Raycom-era format. This changed in late June 2009, a few days after WBRC relaunched its Web site, when WTVR migrated its Web site to the Tribune Interactive platform used by the Web sites of other Local TV-owned stations. As of 2012, Local TV migrated its Web sites to WordPress.com VIP. On July 1, 2013, Local TV announced that its stations would be acquired by the Tribune Company. The sale was completed on December 27.
On August 21, 2015, WTVR's newsroom was named in honor of Stephanie Rochon, who anchored the weeknight newscasts from 1999 to 2014. Rochon had died that June after a long struggle with cancer.
On May 8, 2017, Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group – which has owned Fox affiliate WRLH-TV (channel 35) since 1996 – announced that it would acquire Tribune Media 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 places uncertainty for the future of Standard Media's purchases of WRLH and the other six Tribune- and Sinclair-operated stations included in that deal, which were predicated on the closure of the Sinclair–Tribune merger.
Pending sale to Nexstar Media Group and possible resale
On December 3, 2018, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group—which has owned ABC affiliate WRIC-TV (channel 8) 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 WTVR directly or indirectly, as FCC regulations prohibit common ownership of two or more of the four highest-rated stations in the same media market. (Furthermore, any attempt by Nexstar to assume the operations of WTVR 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 be required to sell either WTVR or WRIC to a separate, unrelated company to address the ownership conflict. The station was sold to E. W. Scripps Company.
|TV stations in Commonwealth of Virginia|
|WTKR, 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)