WTXF-TV, virtual channel 29 (UHF digital channel 42), is a Fox owned-and-operated television station licensed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The station is owned by the Fox Television Stations subsidiary of Fox Corporation. WTXF's studios are located on Market Street in Center City, and its transmitter is located on the Roxborough tower farm.
The station signed on the air on May 16, 1965, as independent station WIBF-TV. The station was founded by the Fox family, who held real estate interests in the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown; William L. Fox was the station's principal shareholder, along with his brother Irwin C. Fox, their father Benjamin Fox, and business associate Dorothy Kotin. The Fox family, who had already been operating WIBF-FM (103.9, now WPHI-FM) since November 1960, was awarded a construction permit to build channel 29 in August 1962. Channel 29's original studio was co-located with WIBF-FM in the Fox family's Benson East apartment building on Old York Road in Jenkintown. WIBF-TV was the first commercial UHF station in Philadelphia, and the first of three UHF independents in the Philadelphia market to sign-on during 1965, with WPHL-TV (channel 17) and WKBS-TV (channel 48) both making their debuts in September. WIBF-TV struggled at first, in part because it signed on only a year after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required television manufacturers to include UHF tuning capability.
It should be noted that prior to the debut of WIBF-TV, there was an earlier attempt to put a channel 29 station on the air in Philadelphia. WIP radio, then owned by Gimbels department store, was granted an FCC construction permit in November 1952 as part of a wave of UHF station applications and assignments following a four-year-long freeze on permit awards. Intended to be called WIP-TV, this station did not make it to air as WIP relinquished its construction permit in May 1954.
By the fall of 1968, the Foxes disclosed that their broadcasting operations were operating with a deficit of more than $2 million. It would prove to be a major factor in the decision to sell WIBF-TV to Cincinnati-based Taft Broadcasting, a transaction which closed in May 1969 for $4.5 million (including assumption of debt), at the time the most spent for a UHF facility. Taft also owned WNEP-TV (channel 16) in Scranton, whose signal area also included coverage of the Lehigh Valley, which is part of the Philadelphia market; indeed, WNEP has operated a translator there for years. When applying to acquire channel 29 at the FCC, Taft sought a waiver to keep both stations; the FCC at that time normally did not allow common ownership of two stations with overlapping coverage areas, even if they were in different markets. The FCC granted the waiver and the two neighboring outlets were co-owned until 1973, when Taft sold WNEP-TV to a group composed of the station's executives and employees.
Taft assumed control of channel 29 in mid-1969 and changed the call letters to WTAF-TV in November. Under Taft's ownership, WTAF-TV soon established itself as a local powerhouse. Channel 29 ran programs from Taft's archive, such as Hanna-Barbera cartoons, which from 1979 onward were distributed by Worldvision Enterprises (which Taft had purchased), and later on the Quinn Martin library. By the start of the 1980s, WTAF had passed WKBS-TV as Philadelphia's leading independent station. From the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, it was also carried on several cable providers on the New Jersey side of the New York City market, as far north as The Oranges. When WKBS-TV wend dark in the late summer of 1983, the station placed advertisements in TV Guide and local papers reminding Philadelphia viewers that channel 29 was still around and that channel 48's former audience was welcome to sample channel 29. However, the station passed on picking up any of channel 48's shows, most of which went to WPHL-TV. Channel 29 also aired network shows that ABC affiliate WPVI-TV (channel 6) and then-NBC affiliate KYW-TV (channel 3) preempted in favor of local programming.
WTAF-TV also became a strong sports station. At various times, it owned the broadcast rights to Major League Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies (Taft also owned a small portion of the team for much of the 1980s), the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. The station also carried games of the Philadelphia Bell of the short-lived World Football League in 1974–75. (On August 29, 1975, the Bell were playing a televised contest against the Southern California Sun in Anaheim. Already starting late at night due to the time difference, WTAF viewers never got to see the end of the 58-39 Sun victory, as the station signed off before the game was completed.)
On October 9, 1986, WTAF-TV became a charter affiliate of the fledgling Fox television network. Initially channel 29's schedule did not change drastically, as Fox didn't air a full week of programming until 1993; for all intents and purposes, it was still programmed as an independent outlet.
Taft sold its independent and Fox-affiliated stations, including WTAF-TV, to the Norfolk, Virginia-based TVX Broadcast Group in February 1987. On June 1, 1988, the new owners changed channel 29's calls to WTXF-TV. The Taft purchase created a large debt load for TVX, and as a result, the company sold a number of its smaller stations. Paramount Pictures purchased a majority stake in TVX in 1989. The following year, after branding itself as TV 29 for many years, the station changed its on-air branding to Fox 29. In 1991, Paramount acquired the remaining stock in TVX that it did not already own, and the company's name was changed to the Paramount Stations Group, with WTXF as its largest station by market size.
Becoming a Fox-owned outlet
In August 1993, Fox shockingly announced its intention to purchase rival independent WGBS-TV (channel 57, now WPSG) and move its programming there in April 1994. As staffers at WTXF-TV continued to reel in the aftermath of that announcement, its corporate parent was undergoing a transition of its own. Only one month later in September, the original Viacom agreed in principle to merge with Paramount. Not long after that, West Chester-based home shopping giant QVC mounted a competing bid and the two firms entered into an intense bidding war, in which Viacom ultimately prevailed in February 1994, with the deal closing on March 11.
Meanwhile, in late October 1993, Paramount announced plans to create a new network, the United Paramount Network (UPN), which it would co-own with Chris-Craft Industries. The initial affiliation plans called for WTXF, which was set to lose Fox to WGBS, becoming the Philadelphia outlet for the new network, which was targeted to launch in January 1995. However, Fox's purchase of WGBS fell through in early 1994, making it increasingly unlikely that Paramount would want to drop Fox programming from channel 29 (particularly after Fox acquired the rights to show games from the NFL's National Football Conference, including most Philadelphia Eagles games); nonetheless, during the spring, WTXF gradually de-emphasized its Fox affiliation, changing its branding to simply "29".
Several months later, the shoe dropped on the biggest affiliation shuffle in Philadelphia television history. In the summer of 1994, Westinghouse Broadcasting, owners of KYW-TV, entered into a longterm affiliation agreement with CBS. This resulted in KYW-TV dropping NBC in favor of CBS, which would then sell its longtime owned-and-operated station, WCAU-TV (channel 10). Several months earlier, Fox entered into a multi-station, multi-year partnership with New World Communications. New World and NBC emerged as the leading bidders for WCAU, with New World intending to switch WCAU to Fox if it emerged victorious. Meanwhile, then-WGBS-TV parent Combined Broadcasting ended sales negotiations with Fox due to the FCC's concerns over Fox's foreign ownership. Fox then joined the bidding for WCAU in case New World's bid failed. However, Paramount/Viacom changed its Philadelphia plans and decided to sell WTXF-TV to Fox, making channel 29 a Fox-owned station; this effectively handed WCAU-TV to NBC. Almost simultaneously, Viacom bought WGBS-TV and made it Philadelphia's UPN outlet. Both transactions involving Viacom and Fox closed on the same day—August 25, 1995.
Soon after taking control of channel 29, Fox rebranded it as Fox Philadelphia (similar to how Chicago sister station WFLD was branded as Fox Chicago) with the channel number used sparingly and the call letters mostly relegated to legal IDs; this was because WTXF, to this day, is normally not on channel 29 on area cable systems (though for the first few months, it was merely branded as "Fox" with the call letters below a color-changing Fox logo in promos). As a Fox owned-and-operated station, WTXF immediately added more first run talk and reality shows to the schedule. Throughout the mid-to-late 1990s, WTXF was available nationally to satellite television providers as the East Coast Fox feed, most notably on PrimeStar.
In 2003, WTXF rebranded back to Fox 29 for the first time since 1994 to create a consistent use of the Fox (channel number) branding across all Fox-owned stations. WTXF also underwent a major overhaul of its studio facilities in Old City Philadelphia, with a "Window on the World"-type studio making its debut on June 6, 2005. The "Window of the World" studio was originally intended to be used for the station's morning newscast.
It is a historical irony that the station, originally owned locally by the Fox family as WIBF-TV, is now owned by Los Angeles-based Fox Broadcasting Company.
On December 14, 2017 the Walt Disney Company, owner of ABC and WPVI-TV, announced its intent to buy WTXF's parent company, 21st Century Fox, for $52.4 billion, pending regulatory approval; the sale will exclude the Fox Television Stations unit (including WTXF), the Fox network, Fox News, Fox Sports 1 and the MyNetworkTV programming service, which will be transferred to a separate company.
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