WVTV, virtual and UHF digital channel 18, is a CW-affiliated television station licensed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. The station is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. WVTV's studios are located on Calumet Road in the Park Place office park near the I-41/U.S. 45 interchange on Milwaukee's northwest side; its transmitter is located on North Humboldt Boulevard in Milwaukee's Estabrook Park neighborhood as part of the Milwaukee PBS tower.
WVTV operates a second digital subchannel affiliated with MyNetworkTV which brands as "My 24". It uses virtual channel 24.1, formerly utilized by separately-licensed WCGV-TV until January 2018, when Sinclair turned in WCGV's license and merged its subchannels onto WVTV's spectrum after selling WCGV's spectrum in the 2016 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) incentive auction.
WVTV is the second-oldest continuously operating station in Milwaukee. The station first signed on the air on October 3, 1953 as WOKY-TV, broadcasting on UHF channel 19. It was owned by Bartell Broadcasters, along with WOKY radio (920 AM). The station originally operated as a primary ABC and secondary DuMont affiliate. On October 21, 1954, CBS purchased WOKY-TV for $335,000 and announced it was moving its programming there from its original affiliate in the city, WCAN-TV (channel 25, now defunct). The purchase resulted in a call letter change to WXIX (referencing the Roman numeral for 19) on February 27, 1955. It then moved into WCAN's former studio on North 27th Street, where it remained until being sold by CBS less than four years later.
This made the station the first network owned-and-operated station in the Milwaukee market. WXIX's tenure as a CBS O&O, however, was not successful. Only a small percentage of television sets in the Milwaukee area were even capable of receiving UHF stations at the time, as set manufacturers were not required to equip televisions with UHF tuners until 1964 as a result of the 1961 passage of the All-Channel Receiver Act. Those viewers not lucky enough to get a signal from WBBM-TV in Chicago, WISC-TV in Madison, or WBAY-TV in Green Bay were forced to rely on expensive UHF converters to watch channel 19, and even then the picture quality left a lot to be desired. However, unlike many early UHF stations, it managed to survive into the All-Channel era.
The station moved to channel 18 in 1958 in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) channel alignment change. However, this saw little improvement in the ratings. CBS concluded that it was better to have its programming on a VHF station, even if it was only an affiliate. The obvious candidate was independent station WITI-TV (channel 6), which had just signed on two years earlier. CBS officially moved its programming to WITI on April 1, 1959. WITI also took over the WXIX studio facilities on North 27th Street, the same facilities once occupied by former CBS affiliate WCAN-TV. WXIX went dark that same day but returned on July 20, 1959 after being purchased by Gene Posner, the owner of Cream City Broadcasting and others. The WXIX studios moved to a small area at the top of Milwaukee's Schroeder Hotel (renamed the Sheraton Schroeder Hotel in 1965; renamed the Marc Plaza in 1972; currently known as the Hilton Milwaukee City Center hotel). From this point on, WXIX was an independent station, and in 1963 changed its call letters to WUHF after another ownership change.
As an independent station
The WKY Television System, based in Oklahoma City and the forerunner to Gaylord Broadcasting, bought the station in 1966 and changed its call letters to WVTV. The new owners also built new studio facilities at the corner of North 35th Street and Capital Drive. This started the station on its path to becoming one of the most popular independent stations in the country, with strong local programming such as The Bowling Game (which would eventually be syndicated across the Midwest), along with a strong slate of syndicated programs such as cartoons, classic off-network sitcoms, more recent sitcoms, drama series, sports, and movies. Like its Gaylord stablemates, channel 18 focused on programming geared towards rural and suburban audiences located in Milwaukee's outer ring, opposed to the more urban fare presented by Milwaukee's other stations. Longtime staples on WVTV included Hee Haw (which was produced by sister division Gaylord Entertainment), The Lawrence Welk Show as well as syndicated reruns of Green Acres and The Andy Griffith Show. The station also aired All Star Wrestling during the 1970s and 1980s.
The station aired the CBS version of The Merv Griffin Show after WISN-TV (channel 12) rejected it. After Griffin was canceled by CBS, WVTV aired The Dick Cavett Show, which had been preempted by WITI. The station also aired The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 1984 to 1988, due to WTMJ-TV (channel 4) being denied permission by NBC to air the program in a later timeslot so that it could air syndicated programs after its late evening newscast.
As cable television became more popular, WVTV became a regional superstation in the mold of sister stations KTVT in Fort Worth, KHTV (now KIAH) in Houston and KSTW in Tacoma. At its height, it was available on nearly every cable system in Wisconsin, as well as a few providers in Michigan, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. This resulted in the station rebranding as "Super 18, Wisconsin's Superstation" in 1987. WVTV was also the longtime home of the Milwaukee Brewers (1981–1988; 1993–1997), Milwaukee Bucks (1976–1988; 1994–1999), Big Ten Conference men's basketball, and area college sports teams. The station was carried on Green Bay area cable providers until June 2007, when WWAZ-TV (channel 68, now WIWN) replaced it for a short time before terminating analog operations the next year and a four-year build-out of digital operations in Milwaukee. Despite its status as one of the strongest independent stations in the country, channel 18 was passed over by the upstart Fox Broadcasting Company for an affiliation in 1986, which instead went to then-competitor WCGV-TV. However, Gaylord would have likely passed on being a multi-market Fox affiliate in any event. Most of the smaller markets in WVTV's cable footprints had enough stations to provide a local Fox affiliate at the outset; sister station KSTW passed on the Fox affiliation for this reason.
WVTV continued to be the leading independent station in the market until Fox came into its own, resulting in a boost in WCGV's ratings. The station's ownership went into a state of flux after Gaylord began easing out of the television business (except for its stake in The Nashville Network). In 1994, Gaylord entered into a local marketing agreement with WCGV, which was owned by Abry Communications. Although WCGV was the senior partner, the two stations' operations were merged at WVTV's original studio facilities.
WVTV was originally tapped to be a charter affiliate of The WB Television Network along with Gaylord's other independent stations. The new network was due to launch in 1994, but when it was delayed to 1995 instead, Gaylord sued to void the agreement. However, the New World/Fox affiliation deal in 1994 shifted network affiliations in many markets. Locally, the deal included WITI, which would switch from CBS to Fox in December 1994. After being turned down by WISN-TV and WTMJ-TV, CBS approached WVTV. However, WVTV turned the offer down as well. CBS then aligned itself with then low-profile independent WDJT-TV (channel 58). When The WB launched in January 1995, Milwaukee became the second-largest market in the country without an affiliate. Milwaukee viewers were forced to watch The WB's programming on cable through Chicago-based WGN-TV, which was then carrying the network nationally (although the station could also be received via antenna in the southern edges of the Milwaukee market). By this time, channel 18 was airing more syndicated talk shows during the day, and aired first-run syndicated programming such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in primetime under the branding "VTV Prime".
On July 24, 1995, Gaylord sold WVTV to Glencairn Ltd. Glencairn had tried to buy WVTV a year earlier, but the sale had fallen through. A few months earlier, Sinclair Broadcast Group had become WCGV's owner as a result of the company's merger with Abry. Glencairn, in turn, was owned by a former Sinclair executive. For all intents and purposes, Sinclair owned both stations even though FCC rules forbade duopolies at the time. Sinclair further circumvented the rules by continuing the LMA.
Affiliation with The WB
WVTV continued to be an independent station until May 19, 1997, when The WB was pushing for more national distribution beyond the Tribune Company's broadcast stations and the superstation feed of Tribune-owned WGN. After Sinclair struck a large affiliation deal with The WB for several of the UPN affiliates and independent stations it either owned or controlled, WVTV finally picked up the WB affiliation on May 19, 1997 and changed its on-air branding to "WB 18". With The WB's drive to have stations in other markets take the network and pushing market exclusivity for those stations, Sinclair made the decision to begin winding down carriage agreements with providers outside of the Milwaukee and Green Bay markets, ending WVTV's status as a regional superstation. Sinclair also wanted to push viewership to WCGV, which had been a UPN affiliate since 1995.
WVTV finally became wholly owned by Sinclair in 2000, after a long legal battle between Sinclair and Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH coalition about the racial issues of one concern holding two broadcast licenses in a market. Jackson argued that Glencairn ownership was making an end-around by passing itself off as a minority-owned company (its president, Edwin Edwards, was black) when it was really an arm of Sinclair, and used the LMA to gain control of the station. By this point, however, the FCC had overturned regulations that had disallowed television duopolies, and the sale to Sinclair went through despite these objections.
Switch to The CW
Following Time Warner and CBS Corporation's January 24, 2006 announcement of The WB and UPN's shutdown and the launch of the jointly owned CW Television Network, Sinclair announced on May 2, 2006 that WVTV would become The CW's Milwaukee affiliate upon the network's September 18 launch. Sister station WCGV affiliated with MyNetworkTV two weeks before on September 5, creating one of five Sinclair-owned and/or controlled CW/MyNetworkTV duopolies in the country at the time. WVTV continued to identify as "WB 18" during the summer months, officially switching to the new "CW 18" branding on September 18, though the station's logo bug was changed the week before to the "CW18" logo while promoting the network's pending launch.
On June 28, 2007, Time Warner Cable began carrying WVTV's high definition digital signal on its southeastern Wisconsin systems on digital channel 1018, along with WCGV on channel 1024 (formerly 518 and 524, respectively, before an October 2009 channel remapping), after Sinclair and Time Warner struck a compensation agreement for the stations. Charter Communications, the other major cable provider in the area, reached a compensation agreement in April 2007, but the HD signal was not added until June 9, 2009, when the station began to air on digital channel 618 throughout Charter's southeastern Wisconsin systems.
July 2010 flooding incident and studio move
On July 22, 2010, the Milwaukee area experienced a major flash flooding event which caused major damage in several parts of Milwaukee County. The studios of WVTV/WCGV were then located a half-mile south of Lincoln Creek, on the corner of North 35th Street and Capital Drive, and the building and technical equipment belonging to the stations suffered major damage, forcing channels 18 and 24 off the air for the majority of the time after 6 p.m. on July 22 until the early morning of July 24; the two stations, once they returned to the air, had their programming fed into their master control facilities via another unknown Sinclair master control. For both stations, this resulted in most of the station's paid programming and other timeslots where the Sinclair facility did not have an episode of a particular series within the schedule replaced with reruns of Coach and advertisements were replaced with direct response national advertising. Both stations eventually resumed local operations later during the week of July 25, but broadcast in 480i standard definition and did not display digital on-screen bugs at all due to damage to the station's high definition broadcasting equipment for most of the following month. HD programming was restored on August 20, 2010.
Because the flooding caused irreparable damage to the building, forcing most operations for the stations up to transition to smaller facilities on the second floor of the building, Sinclair immediately began a search for new facilities for WVTV and WCGV, which would allow locally produced and syndicated programs to be broadcast in high definition full-time without the complexities of rewiring an older and flood damaged studio and master control facility. On June 6, 2012, Sinclair received approval from the Milwaukee Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee to move to an existing building near the 41/45 Interchange on Milwaukee's northeast side on Calumet Road in the Park Place office park and install receiving satellite dishes, generators and a studio/transmitter link tower, with full Common Council approval coming a week later on June 12. The stations moved to the new building in December 2013, with the new master control coming online in the last week of the month.
From June 2012 until the end of December 2013, the engineering and master control of WVTV/WCGV transmitted 16:9 syndicated programming in full screen, but in standard definition as a stopgap solution until the move to the new studios. Upon the opening of the new master control, all syndicated programming available in the format now is aired in high definition.
Current station status
Despite its long broadcasting history, WVTV has been one of The CW's weaker affiliates in terms of viewership. In the past, Sinclair put more promotional effort into WCGV. While this trend dated back to the mid-1990s, it became more pronounced from 2006 onward, as WCGV's affiliation with MyNetworkTV allowed more experimentation with its schedule. Both stations have seen their talk-heavy daytime lineups struggle against the classic television programming of Weigel's WBME-CD (channel 41), which is one of the flagships of the MeTV network. Despite this, WVTV and all of Sinclair's CW stations were renewed in a long-term agreement with the CW on July 9, 2015, which keeps the network on the station in the long term. By the 2014–15 season, Sinclair had settled on having WVTV's daytime schedule dependent on talk show programming, while WCGV features a mixed schedule of court shows, sitcoms and lifestyle programming, with WVTV's ratings eventually stabilizing as the CW has found better success in subsequent seasons.
Beginning in the fall of 2015, former WKLH morning show host Carole Caine (who left that role in June 2015 after her contract was not renewed, to much local criticism against the station) began to perform various roles for Sinclair's Milwaukee operations, but mainly with WVTV, including acting as a station liaison for public events and taking over as the station's voiceover announcer, replacing various centralcasted voices which had come out of Sinclair's various national deals with announcers for their stations.
On January 18, 2016, tying into the launch of the new CW/DC Comics series Legends of Tomorrow and Sinclair's growing emphasis of using local heritage brandings of their stations rather than generic "network/channel number" brandings, the station was rebranded as Super 18, The CW, reviving the branding it used from 1987 to 1995. (WVTV reinstated the "CW 18" branding in September 2017, mainly in order to streamline its promotions with those of Sinclair's other CW affiliates.)
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair entered into an agreement to acquire Tribune Media – owner of Fox affiliate WITI (channel 6) – for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune, pending regulatory approval by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division. Sinclair had already announced that WCGV's license was sold in April in the FCC's 2016 spectrum auction and later announced that in technicality, WCGV would go off the air completely with its schedule moved to WVTV's second subchannel. The transaction would have alleviated any regulatory complications involving the sale within Milwaukee, outside any physical and employee assets which would have needed to be sorted out later on (including the then-likely move of the WVTV/My 24 intellectual unit to WITI's Brown Deer facility).
On July 18, 2018, the FCC voted to have the Sinclair–Tribune acquisition reviewed by an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain conflict properties. Three weeks later on August 9, 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.
|TV stations in Wisconsin|
|TV stations in Southeastern Wisconsin, including Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha|
|WTMJ 4 (NBC) |
WITI 6 (Fox)
WMVS 10 (PBS)
WISN 12 (ABC)
WVTV 18 (CW)
WMKE-CD 21 (Quest)
WVTV-DT2 24 (MNTV)
WVCY 30 (Rel)
WMVT 36 (PBS)
WTSJ-LP 38 (AZA)
WBME-CD 41 (MeTV)
WMLW 49 (Ind.)
WWRS 52 (TBN)
WPXE 55 (Ion)
WDJT 58 (CBS)
WYTU-LD 63 (TLM)
WIWN 68 (COZI)