Independent station (North America)
An independent station is a type of television station broadcasting in the United States or Canada that is not affiliated with any broadcast television network. Stations affiliated with My Network TV, The CW, or even Fox are considered by some to be quasi-independent stations being these networks provide only a couple hours a day of programming. Even the management of Fox affiliate WSVN 7 Miami consider them an independent rather than a Fox station (though that station runs Fox's entire schedule except for the Infomercial Saturday block). Such stations opt to fill their daily schedules with programming (such as feature films, sitcoms and drama series) acquired from syndication distributors as well as brokered programming.
Independent radio is a similar concept with regards to community radio stations, although with a slightly different meaning (as many non-"indie" commercial broadcasting radio stations produce the vast majority of their own programming, perhaps retaining only a nominal affiliation with a radio network for news updates or syndicated radio programming).
During the 1950s and 1960s, independent stations filled their broadcast hours with movies, sports, cartoons, newsreels, filmed travelogues, and some locally produced television programs, including newscasts, and children's programs. Independents that were on the air during this period would sign-on at times later than stations affiliated with a television network, some not doing so until the early or mid-afternoon hours.
By the start of the 1970s, independent stations typically aired children's programming in the morning and afternoon hours, and movies and other adult-oriented shows (some stations aired paid religious programs) during the midday hours. They counterprogrammed local network stations' news programs with syndicated reruns – usually sitcoms and hour-long dramas – in the early evening, and movies during prime time and late night hours. In some areas, independent stations carried network programs that were not aired by a local affiliate.
In larger markets such as New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, independent stations benefited from a Federal Communications Commission ruling that barred network-affiliated stations within the top 50 television markets from airing network-originated programs in the two hours preceding prime time. This legislation, known as the Prime Time Access Rule, was in effect from 1971 to 1995, and as a result independents faced less competition for syndicated reruns. Some stations in larger markets (such as WGN-TV in Chicago, KWGN-TV in Denver and (W)WOR-TV, WPIX and WNEW-TV in New York City) ventured into local news broadcasts, usually airing at 10:00 p.m. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, and 9:00 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones. Network stations aired their late newscasts an hour later.
From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, independent stations in several U.S. cities, particularly those that had yet to receive a cable television franchise, carried a form of a network affiliation through subscription television networks (such as ONTV, Spectrum and SelecTV); these services – which were formatted very similarly to their pay cable counterparts – ran sports, uncut and commercial-free movies (both mainstream and pornographic, broadcasts of the latter often resulted in legal issues that were defeated due to an FCC statute that designated programs that would otherwise be deemed indecent was "in the clear," defined as being legal to broadcast if the encrypted signal was not visible or audible), and on some services, television specials. Independents usually ran the services during the evening and overnight hours in lieu of running movies and other programs acquired off the syndication market by the station, although a few eventually began to carry these services for most of the broadcast day. The services required the use of decoder boxes to access the service's programming (some of which were fairly easy to unencrypt because of how stations scrambled the signal during the service's broadcast hours), some required the payment of an additional one-time fee to receive events and adult films. As cities added cable franchises, thus allowing people to subscribe to conventional premium television networks like HBO and Showtime, the over-the-air subscription services eventually shuttered operations by the end of the 1980s.
Until the late 1970s, independent stations were usually limited to the largest markets in the country. This was due to several factors. Most smaller markets weren't large enough to support a fourth commercial station. Even in the ones that were large enough, the only available license was on a UHF channel. UHF stations' reception is not nearly as good as those of VHF stations, especially in areas with rugged terrain. Since independent stations had to buy an additional 16 hours of programming per day--a burden not faced by network stations--these factors made perspective owners skittish about starting an independent station. By the 1970s, however, cable had gained enough penetration to make independent stations viable in smaller markets.
In the 1980s, television syndicators began offering original, first-run series such as Fame, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Star Search and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and made-for-television movies and miniseries like Sadat. This trend primarily benefited independent stations. Independents scheduled these first-run programs during prime time and on weekends.
Nearly 300 independent stations existed in the United States by the mid-1980s. Many of these stations belonged to the Association of Independent Television Stations, a group similar to the National Association of Broadcasters, and which lobbied the FCC on behalf of independents.
In the United States, many independent stations were commonly owned. Companies that operated three or more independents included:
- Chris-Craft Industries, and its subsidiary BHC Communications
- Christian Broadcasting Network
- Clear Channel Communications
- Cox Enterprises
- Gaylord Broadcasting
- Grant Broadcasting
- Kaiser Broadcasting, and its successor Field Communications
- Meredith Corporation
- Pappas Telecasting Companies
- Renaissance Broadcasting
- RKO General
- Scripps-Howard Broadcasting
- Sinclair Broadcast Group
- Taft Television and Radio Company
- Tribune Broadcasting
- TVX Broadcast Group, and its successor Paramount Stations Group
In 1986 several independent outlets, led by the Metromedia stations, formed the Fox Broadcasting Company, the fourth U.S. broadcast television network. Fox made efforts, slowly at first, to have its affiliates emulate a network programming style as much as possible, but in turn, the network only programmed two hours of prime time programming each night (and, beginning in the 1990s, some children's programming through Fox Kids). However, the lack of programming in other dayparts forced most Fox affiliates to continue to maintain the same programming model during non-prime time slots as independent stations. Though Fox coerced most of its affiliates to air late local news (there were some holdouts as late as 2013) as well as news programming in other dayparts common with other major network affiliates, many still programmed the bulk of their days with syndicated programming (which, by the 1990s, consisted primarily of tabloid talk shows and eventually court shows in addition to sitcoms, formats that continue to be the norm for these stations into the 2010s).
True independent stations have become a rarity. In 1995, many remaining independents joined the WB and UPN networks, and other stations banded together become charter outlets of the Pax TV (now Ion Television) network in 1998 (although some of the stations that aligned with Pax had earlier affiliated with its predecessor, the Infomail TV Network – or inTV, two years before). Several stations affiliated with The WB and UPN became independent again when those networks merged to form The CW in September 2006. Some of the newly independent stations subsequently found a new network home through MyNetworkTV. The smallest stations, which in the past would have been forced to adopt a locally originated independent program schedule, now have other options – 24-hour-a-day networks that require no local or syndicated programming; some of these networks, such as AMG TV or America One, follow a full-service variety format, while others take a rerun-driven approach (such as Me-TV) or carry mainly niche programming (such as the primarily movie-oriented This TV). Many stations that are affiliated with the larger post-1980s networks still behave much like independents, as they program far more hours a day than a station affiliated with one of the Big Three television networks.
Current independents follow a very different program format from their predecessors. While sitcom reruns are still popular, expanded newscasts and other syndicated product such as talk shows; courtroom shows; reruns of recent scripted comedy and drama series; and no-cost public domain programming are common. Also being added to many independent station lineups has been brokered programming, including infomercials, home shopping and televangelist programs; the Federal Communications Commission did not allow infomercials to be broadcast on American television until 1984, but since then, it has proven to be a lucrative, if somewhat unpopular or popular with viewers, way to fill airtime. During the 1990s when infomercials gained popularity, many stations began broadcasting 24 hours a day rather than signing off at night. By filling the overnight hours with informercials, the station would be able to generate extra revenue where they had previously been off the air. Home shopping programs (mainly simulcasts of cable services that also have over-the-air distribution such as QVC and the Home Shopping Network) or syndicated programs fill overnight time periods on stations that do not run infomericals during that daypart.
Religious independent stations also exist, which in lieu of being affiliated with a religious broadcaster (such as the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Daystar or 3ABN), instead carry televangelist programs that are acquired off of the syndication market and other religious study programs, some of which are produced locally.
List of notable independent stations, past and present
- Partial listing: bold text denotes a current independent station while italic text indicates a defunct station
List of notable U.S. independent stations
List of notable Canadian independent stations
While independent stations were not as common in Canada, there were several notable examples of such:
|Halifax, Nova Scotia||CIHF-DT|
|Montreal, Quebec||CFHD-DT, CFTU-DT, CJNT-DT|
|St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador||CJON-DT|
|Toronto, Ontario||CKXT-DT, CITY-DT, CFMT-DT|
|Vancouver, British Columbia||CKVU-DT, CIVT-DT, CHNM-DT, CHNU-DT|
|Victoria, British Columbia||CHEK-DT|
|Winnipeg, Manitoba||CKND-DT, CHMI-DT, CIIT-DT|
Since the mid-1990s, most independent television stations in Canada have merged into television systems (such as CTV Two) or have become fully owned-and-operated stations of networks with which they had previously had more informal programming arrangements as with CIHF, CICT and CITV, all now Global stations. However, this trend was partially reversed in 2009 with the demise of Canwest's E! television system, which resulted in three of its stations, Hamilton's CHCH, Montreal's CJNT, and Victoria's CHEK, becoming independent; CJNT subsequently affiliated with City in 2012, later becoming a full-time O&O in 2013.
CHCH and CHEK are the only television stations in Canada currently operating as independent stations in the American sense of the term. However, since fall 2010, these two stations (previously along with CJNT) have resumed sharing some common American programming.
CJON in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, while officially unaffiliated with a network, in practice airs a mix of programming sublicensed from two of Canada's main commercial networks, CTV (which it was formally affiliated with until 2002, with only CTV's news programming being carried since then) and Global, rather than purchasing broadcast rights independently.
CFTU and CFHD in Montreal are also independent. However, each of these stations has a specific programming focus: educational television in the case of the former, and multicultural television in that of the latter.
Apart from these, some additional independent stations exist in Canada which are community-oriented specialty stations. These stations, such as CFTV-TV in Leamington, Ontario and CHCO-TV in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, transmit at low power.
- List of independent television stations
- List of United States television networks
- Operation Prime Time
- Prime Time Entertainment Network
- Kanner, Bernice (1985-06-17). "Thinking About a Fourth Network". New York Magazine (New York): 19–23. Retrieved 2009-10-04.