|Channels||Digital: 21 (UHF)|
|Owner||Byrne Acquisition Group, LLC|
|Founded||April 26, 1989|
First air date
|July 5, 1999|
Former call signs
Former channel number(s)
57 (UHF, 1999–2009)
32 (UHF, until 2019)
Call sign meaning
|HAAT||454 m (1,490 ft)|
Public license information
WIFS, virtual channel 57 (UHF digital channel 21), is an Ion Television-affiliated station serving Madison, Wisconsin, United States that is licensed to Janesville. The station is owned by Byrne Acquisition Group. WIFS' studios are located on Syene Road on Madison's far south side, and its transmitter is located in the Middleton Junction section of the town of Middleton.
As a UPN/WB/CW affiliate
The station's original construction permit was granted on May 2, 1998 with the call letters WJNW. After a few delays and an aborted attempt to become Wisconsin's first digital-only broadcast TV outlet, the station, now under the WHPN call sign, would begin analog broadcasting on channel 57 in the summer of 1999, with partial test airings occurring the week before the station's full-time launch on July 5, 1999. The location of its then-transmitter, outside the Rock County community of Evansville, accorded WHPN to serve as the UPN affiliate for both the Madison and Rockford TV markets. Prior to WHPN's launch, UPN programming in Madison had aired on CBS affiliate WISC-TV on a secondary basis.
In the spring of 2002, after WHPN's owners had declared bankruptcy, the station's assets were acquired by ACME Communications, a station group run by Jamie Kellner, a founder of The WB network and former CEO of that network and TBS. Though they would not close on the acquisition until the end of 2002, ACME took over operations immediately through a local marketing agreement. The most evident change resulting from ACME's takeover was a network affiliation swap with WISC-owned cable channel/digital subchannel TVW the final week of August 2002; at that time, TVW became Madison's UPN affiliate, while WHPN joined The WB and adopted a new call sign, WBUW (an acknowledgement to its new affiliation and Madison's University of Wisconsin).
In 2004, WBUW moved its transmitter to a new tower located on property owned by Gray Television and next to the studios of Gray-owned WMTV in the Greentree neighborhood of Madison's southwest side. The stronger signal the new tower provided WBUW allowed the station's coverage reach to extend throughout south-central Wisconsin and well into Northern Illinois, allowing WBUW to remain Rockford's default WB affiliate until the launch of The CW in September 2006, when Rockford's WREX-TV (channel 13) added The CW to its secondary subchannel.
In March 2006, WBUW was confirmed as Madison's affiliate of The CW, the result of the WB and UPN networks amalgamating. WBUW, branded as "Madison's CW," was one of eight ACME-owned WB affiliates who joined The CW as a group at the network's September 2006 launch.
On December 13, 2011, ACME announced a deal to sell WBUW to Byrne Acquisition Group; the $1.8 million transaction was part of ACME's gradual exit from the TV business (ACME would formally dissolve at the end of 2016). The deal, which was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and consummated in February 2012, gave the Byrne Group its second TV property (after low-power station "WHHI-TV" in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina). The Byrne Group would rebrand WBUW from "Madison's CW" to "CW 57" later in 2012. By that time, it would also subsequently upgrade the station's master control (to accommodate local and syndicated high-definition programming) and begin an expansion of locally focused content. By 2015, the station would add its first two digital subchannels.
As an independent station
An affiliation agreement announced by The CW and Gray Television in December 2015 included the addition of the network to the DT2 subchannel of Gray-owned Madison NBC affiliate WMTV. WMTV-DT2 formally joined The CW on September 12, 2016, when WBUW's 10-year affiliation deal with the network, reached by then-owner ACME Communications at the network's 2006 launch, reached its expiration. The September 10 airing of The CW's One Magnificent Morning E/I block (ending with Calling Dr. Pol) was the final CW program on WBUW. (Penn & Teller: Fool Us, airing the night before, was the final CW prime time show on the station.)
On-air wise, WBUW would begin its post-CW transition during the first quarter of 2016, when it first applied a simple "Channel 57" brand to its local programming. During its last week as a CW affiliate, it unveiled a new branding of "Wisconsin's 57 Television" ("Your Home for Local"), and would adopt a new call sign to go along with that brand—WIFS—on December 1, 2016. WIFS would retain its mix of locally produced and syndicated programming as an independent, mostly utilizing the latter to fill the prime time void left by The CW's departure.
As an Ion Plus and Ion affiliate
On February 1, 2019, WIFS added a ninth digital subchannel, affiliated with Ion Television, whose programming had been carried for the two years prior to that on WISC-DT3. That same day, primary channel 57.1 added a round-the-clock feed of Ion's sister network, Ion Life (which would rebrand to Ion Plus the following summer). The changeover was done without any advance word to viewers or local media. The only social media announcement occurred two days after WIFS joined Ion, when the station's Facebook profile picture change to the default Ion Television logo.
The placement of Ion Plus on WIFS' main channel and Ion on a lower-location subchannel, instead of the other way around, was rather unusual. One reason was to preserve WIFS' commitments to air the Weigel Broadcasting-owned Movies! and Heroes & Icons networks at their respective 57.2 and 57.3 locations. Exposure strategy may have been another reason: During the late 2010s, in markets where network parent Ion Media acquired a second station (mainly involving purchases and shuffles related to the 2016 FCC incentive auction), the company would keep Ion on one station's primary channel and move Ion Plus to the newly acquired signal, thereby taking advantage of the stations' must-carry provisions required of local cable/satellite providers. In the Madison market, WIFS' addition of Ion Plus put that network on equal footing with the national Ion feed that had been on Madison's TV lineups for several years. It also gave WIFS the distinction of being the only full-powered station that was not owned or operated by Ion Media to carry Ion Plus on its primary channel.
WIFS' move to Ion Plus meant the displacement of all syndicated programs, local features, and local advertising that ran on the station. Jessa Jeremiah, who had been the station's general manager and an on-air host, confirmed to the Northpine.com website that she and station manager Tony Virga were among those no longer employed at WIFS. However, Jeremiah noted that the lifestyle and other local programming that had been produced through WIFS would relaunch in February 2019 as a part of the schedule of TVW, WISC's MyNetworkTV-affiliated subchannel (3.2), either as originally titled (namely the horror movie showcase Bordello of Horror) or under different names (most notably Talk of the Town becoming Talk Wisconsin). A handful of the syndicated content WIFS had carried would also move to TVW that same February.
WIFS would continue its primary affiliation with Ion Plus until February 27, 2021, the weekend E. W. Scripps Company, Ion Media's new owner, indicated it would shut down both Ion Plus and Qubo (the station had just added the latter network at the beginning of 2021). On the morning of the 27th, the programming of both Ion Plus on main channel 57.1 and Qubo on subchannel 57.5 were replaced with the Ion Television feed already shown on 57.9. It would be a permanent move for the main channel, but would lead to a shuffling of networks on the subchannels (see Digital channels below).
As WBUW, the station would begin multiplexing its signal with its first two digital subchannels in the summer of 2015, carrying the Weigel Broadcasting-owned Movies! and Heroes & Icons. After becoming WIFS, the station would add two more subchannels in the first quarter of 2017, the QVC shopping channel and the American Sports Network (the latter being superseded by Stadium the following September).
In May 2018, WIFS would add three more channels, all owned by Katz Broadcasting: Laff, Escape (now Court TV Mystery), and Grit. Another Katz-owned channel, Bounce TV, would replace Stadium in December 2019, while Ion Media-owned Qubo would replace QVC in January 2021.
On February 1, 2019, the same day channel 57.1 began carrying Ion Plus, WIFS would add a ninth programming stream, affiliated with Ion Television. At the time, it was the most streams of any TV station in the state of Wisconsin, a distinction WIFS would keep until WIWN, in the Fond du Lac/Milwaukee area, expanded to 10 streams in September 2020.
On March 1, 2021, after Ion Plus and Qubo ceased programming and Ion was relocated to 57.1, WIFS would readjust its subchannel lineup, moving Laff, Court TV Mystery, and Grit down one position each (with Laff moving to the 57.5 position Qubo had occupied). Subchannels 57.8 and 57.9 would remain dark until the second week of July 2021, when they respectively joined the Scripps-owned Defy TV and TrueReal networks.
On September 1, 2021, another rearrangement would see the 7 Scripps-owned networks carried by WIFS grouped together in the lower subchannel positions, while H&I and Movies! would be pushed back to the rear channels Defy TV and TrueReal initially occupied.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|57.1||720p||16:9||ION HD||Ion Television|
|57.3||MYSTERY||Court TV Mystery|
|57.8||H&I||Heroes & Icons|
WIFS (as WBUW) discontinued programming on its analog signal, over UHF channel 57, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). From February 17, the analog station acted as a "nightlight", broadcasting a loop of digital transition instructions until signing off for good the first week of March 2009.
WBUW's (and later WIFS') digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 32. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 57, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the digital transition. As part of the FCC's reallocation and repackaging of station signals, WIFS relocated to UHF channel 21 on October 18, 2019.
Just prior to joining Ion Life in February 2019, WIFS' programming schedule included syndicated series Access Live, The Doctors, and TMZ as well as The King of Queens, How I Met Your Mother, and Bones. The station also carried live college football and basketball broadcasts from the ACC Network, Chicago Bears preseason football, and tape-delayed broadcasts of Madison Radicals ultimate and Notre Dame Fighting Irish football. WIFS also featured nighttime second airings of Dr. Phil, The Dr. Oz Show, and Entertainment Tonight, all three of which air earlier in the day on other Madison stations (Phil on WKOW, Oz and ET on WISC-TV).
Local news and features
In September 2003, WBUW launched The WB57 Nine O'Clock News, a 35-minute, Monday-thru-Friday newscast produced in partnership with the news operations at NBC affiliate WMTV. Geared toward The WB's younger, female-skewing audience, the newscast offered what WBUW station manager Tom Keeler called "a different energy" than that found on other newscasts in Madison. Presented with anchors standing in a desk-free studio, WBUW's newscast featured a fast-paced format (most stories lasted 30 to 60 seconds in length) that largely emphasized entertainment and lifestyle features. Nightly email contests and sweeps-month "free gas giveaways" were also included, as were in-studio performances by local musicians during Friday editions of the newscast. Never gaining notice against competing 9 p.m. newscasts on WMSN-TV and UPN14, WBUW canceled The WB57 Nine O'Clock News and its news-share relationship with WMTV in December 2005, restoring syndicated programming to the time slot.
At the beginning of 2007, local content on WBUW resumed in the form of "Buzzed Into Madison." Airing each day during WBUW's broadcasts of The Daily Buzz (usually around 20 minutes after each hour), the "Buzzed Into Madison" vignettes included "positive" (the station's term) features on Madison-area news, events, and personalities, as well as features with and promotions from station sponsors. The success of "Buzzed into Madison" would lead ACME Communications, The Daily Buzz's then-producer (and WBUW's then-owner), to permit other Daily Buzz affiliates to insert their own local segments if they so desired. Emmy Fink served as the original host and producer of "Buzzed into Madison," doing so from the feature's 2007 launch until she departed WBUW in June 2011. "Buzzed" would air on a limited basis in the subsequent 12 months, with content that included entertainment previews from the Isthmus newspaper and, during the 2011-2012 academic year, a series of "junior reporters" from area schools, with a different student reporter each month. (Emmy Fink would resurrect "Buzzed Into Madison" as a recurring segment for Madison CBS affiliate WISC-TV in Summer 2016.)
When it acquired what was then WBUW in 2012, The Byrne Group would begin a gradual yet eventually significant expansion of the station's local content, using an advertiser-friendly approach similar to that used by its South Carolina sister station. Such local content would occupy significant blocks of WIFS' non-syndicated daily schedule until its move to Ion Plus, featuring discussion programs, sporting events, and other content that featured station sponsors, other businesses, and community/non-profit organizations from Madison and Southern Wisconsin.
Programs produced at WIFS would include the following over the years (shows with underlined titles were part of the schedule as of January 2019):
- Entertainment and lifestyle programming
- Community Connections – Two-minute featurettes profiling local events and businesses throughout the broadcast day
- Dane Buy Local TV - A shopping channel-style program showcasing products and services offered by members of the same-named local business organization
- Destination – The Byrne Group's first major addition to Channel 57's schedule after purchasing the station, this half-hour series of specials profiled businesses in specific communities in Madison and Southern Wisconsin (e.g. Destination Monona, Destination Wisconsin Dells)
- Fusin' It with Joe Perkins – A Dinner and a Movie-style film showcase, with cutaway studio features on recipes and menu offerings presented by Joe Perkins, owner of the Cold Fusion restaurants.
- Girl Talk – Discussions on issues and topics affecting women along with showcases of women-owned or women-oriented businesses
- Inside Badger Nation – A weekly half-hour show produced with Badger Nation magazine that offered highlights and profiles of University of Wisconsin—Madison athletics
- Joyriding with Jokers – Two-minute vignettes in the vein of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, with performers from Madison's Comedy on State club conversing while test driving vehicles from local dealerships
- Madison in the Morning – A partial simulcast of WIBA radio's weekday morning news and information show
- MaxLiving Madison – Advice and insight on health, nutrition, fitness, and personal wellness from Dr. Patrick Andersen, a chiropractic orthopedist based at Madison's Maximized Living clinic
- Open Seating – A precursor to The Restaurant Show, hosted by Brian Lee of the website EatDrinkMadison.com and emphasizing profiles of and interviews with Madison-area restaurateurs
- The Real Estate News – Information about the real estate industry and advice from Southern Wisconsin realtors
- The Restaurant Show – Profiles, menu items, and recipe tips from area restaurants and culinary experts
- The Sports News – A sportscast spotlighting Southern Wisconsin sports, primarily focusing on high school and college athletics
- Talk of the Town – Interviews with and profiles of local newsmakers, personalities, businesses, organizations, and upcoming events
- Wisconsin CrossFit Affiliates – Profiles of businesses involved in CrossFit-style fitness regimens; produced during the summer of 2017, the first year the CrossFit Games were staged in Madison
- Wisconsin Doctors – Information, advice, and discussions on health, fitness, and well being from area physicians and health experts
- Wisconsin Family – Advice and business profiles oriented to helping families live better lives
- Workout Wisconsin – Features on exercise, physical fitness, and healthy lifestyles hosted by Reggie Davis
- Sports broadcasts
Tape-delayed, in-their-entirety broadcasts of the following sporting events:
- Chosen Few Fighting Championships – Periodic broadcasts of events staged by the Madison-based mixed martial arts promotion group
- High school sports – Seasonal broadcasts primarily featuring schools from the Big Eight and Badger conferences
- Mad Rollin' Dolls – Home bouts from Madison's flat track roller derby league
- The exact sign-on date in 1999 is unclear; the Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook says June 28, while the Television and Cable Factbook says July 5.
- "Station's air time nears after two years of delays," from Wisconsin State Journal, May 21, 1999 (via HighBeam Research, accessed August 25, 2016)
- "WHPN/57 On Air Monday," from The Capital Times, June 30, 1999 (via HighBeam Research, accessed August 25, 2016)
- "Janesville TV station to be sold," from Milwaukee Business Journal, April 2, 2002
- "Acquisition of Madison TV station completed," from Milwaukee Business Journal, January 2, 2013
- "Lights change color depending on time of day," from Madison.com, May 16, 2006
- "Channel 57 Officially Now CW Affiliate", from Capital Times, March 10, 2006
- "Acme Selling WBUW Madison, Wis.," from TVNewsCheck, December 13, 2011
- Malone, Michael (December 13, 2011). "Byrne Grabs Acme's Madison CW Station". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved December 14, 2011.
- Press release from ACME Communications dated December 20, 2016
- Consent to License Assignment (File# BALCDT-20111220AEX), posted by FCC February 10, 2012
- "Acme to Byrne Madison TV deal is done". Television Business Report. February 22, 2012. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
- Kuperberg, Jonathan (December 15, 2015). "Gray TV, The CW Ink Affiliate Agreement Extension, Add 4 New Stations". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
- Source: WMTV Engineering on Twitter (posted September 9, 2016)
- ACME Communications 10-K filing for 2007 on WikInvest (accessed August 7, 2016)
- Source: Wisconsins57 on Facebook (posted February 3, 2019 and accessed February 16, 2019)
- "ION Affiliation Moves in Madison," from Northpine.com, 2/4/2019
- TVW website (accessed May 21, 2019).
- Source: Krista Hatcher Uelmen on Facebook (posted February 1, 2019 and accessed February 4, 2019)
- Source: Bordello of Horror on Facebook (posted February 1, 2019 and accessed February 4, 2019)
- "Scripps takes first steps to realize ION synergies with multicast networks move," press release from E. W. Scripps Co., 1/14/2021
- RabbitEars TV Query for WIFS
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and the Second Rounds" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 29, 2013. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
- Source: WMTV Engineering on Twitter (posted 10/17/2019)
- List of Chicago Bears preseason stations Archived August 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine from ChicagoBears.com (accessed July 8, 2016)
- "NBC 15 and WBUW 57 Team Up for Local News in Madison, Wisconsin," news release from Globe NewsWire, June 26, 2003
- "The Changing Faces of TV News," from Wisconsin State Journal, January 23, 2005
- "From Campus to Capital", from Broadcasting & Cable, June 9, 2006
- "Why Local News Is in a Sharing Mood", from Broadcasting & Cable, August 4, 2006
- "Catching a Homespun Buzz", from Broadcasting & Cable, March 3, 2008
- "New host selected for 'Discover Wisconsin,'" from Wisconsin State Journal, June 16, 2011
- "Buzzed Into Madison" on Channel3000.com Archived July 27, 2016, at the Wayback Machine (accessed August 2016)
- Source: Wisconsin's 57 on Facebook (posted March 14, 2017)
- Joyriding with Jokers: Jackson Jones/Joey Bednarski on Facebook (May 17, 2018)
- Joyriding with Jokers: Nick Hart/Vanessa Pants on Facebook (June 1, 2018)
- "Open Seating" on Facebook
- Workout Wisconsin official website