|Branding||ABC 7 Chicago (general)
ABC 7 Eyewitness News (newscasts)
|Slogan||People make the difference (general)
Chicago's number-one news (news)
Your news. Your way. (general)
|Channels||Digital: 44 (UHF)
Virtual: 7 (PSIP)
(WLS Television, Inc.)
|First air date||September 17, 1948|
|Call letters' meaning||derived from former sister station WLS radio|
|Sister station(s)||WMVP, WRDZ|
|Former callsigns||WENR-TV (1948–1953)
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
7 (VHF, 1948–2009)
52 (UHF, 1996–2009)
7 (June–October 2009)
7 (VHF, 2009–2013)
|Transmitter power||1000 kW|
|Height||518 metres (1,699 feet)|
|Public license information:||Profile
WLS-TV, channel 7, is an ABC owned-and-operated television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the ABC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. WLS-TV broadcasts from studios located on North State Street in the Chicago Loop, and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower.
- 1 History
- 2 Programming
- 3 Digital television
- 4 News operation
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The station first signed on the air on September 17, 1948 as WENR-TV, it was the third television station in Chicago. It was named after WENR radio, ABC's Chicago radio affiliate. As one of the original ABC-owned stations on channel 7, it was the second station after New York City to begin operations, followed by Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In February 1953, ABC merged with United Paramount Theatres (UPT), the former theater division of Paramount Pictures. UPT subsidiary Balaban and Katz owned WBKB on channel 4 (which shared a CBS affiliation with WGN-TV) but the new American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, as the company was known then, could not keep both stations because of Federal Communications Commission regulations at that time that barred duopolies. As a result, WBKB's channel 4 license was sold to CBS and the station's call letters were changed to WBBM-TV; that outlet moved its frequency to channel 2 several months later. The old WBKB's talent stayed at the new WBBM-TV, while the WBKB call letters and management moved to channel 7 (from 1965 to 1968, the station's calls were modified to WBKB-TV).
The general manager from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s was Sterling "Red" Quinlan, who was a giant in early Chicago television. He was instrumental in the careers of Tom Duggan, Frank Reynolds and Bob Newhart. The station courageously aired The Tom Duggan Show in the mid-1950s, which was the most popular show in Chicago far outdrawing other network competition. Channel 7 became WLS-TV on October 7, 1968, after WLS radio (890 AM), which ABC had wholly owned since 1959. Ironically, ABC merged WLS radio with WENR, its shared-time partner, in 1954.
WLS-TV had claimed to be "Chicago's first television station" in sign-ons in the 1980s (implying a connection with the original WBKB on channel 4), but admitted to its true roots with WENR with its 30th anniversary in 1978.
On January 17, 1984, WLS-TV launched Tele1st, an ABC-owned overnight subscription television service that carried a mix of films and lifestyle programs six days a week for four hours after its 2 a.m. sign-off, and was similar in format to competitor ONTV (which was carried locally on WSNS-TV, channel 44) and other over-the-air pay services that existed during the early and mid-1980s. Tele1st was created as a service that allowed users to record programming for later viewing; therefore, its decoder boxes were designed to unencrypt the signal only with the aid of a VCR. The scrambling codes sent to the box that would relay to the VCR were changed on a monthly basis; this required subscribers to record additional footage airing immediately before and after that night's schedule to retrieve codes to play back the recorded programs properly, and resulted in any recordings being viewable only during that calendar month. Tele1st was deemed a failure, attributing only 4,000 subscribers at its peak, and ceased operations on June 30, 1984.
- Jimmy Kimmel Live! aired on a one-hour delay at 12:02 a.m. since WLS-TV aired reruns of The Oprah Winfrey Show at 11:02 p.m. after Nightline (this practice ended after the Oprah reruns ended on September 9, 2011; Jimmy Kimmel was moved to 11:02 p.m. on September 12, 2011).
- For many years WLS-TV was the only ABC owned-and-operated station not to carry Live! with Kelly and Michael, and is the only ABC-owned station not to air the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with the Disney-ABC-produced shows, prior to September 2013, airing on WGN-TV instead. Live's traditional 9 a.m. timeslot was not available on WLS as the station carried Oprah, and later Windy City Live, at that hour; the New York-based program had, however, occasionally aired in an overnight timeslot on WLS during periods when no other local station carried the program in a daytime slot. On September 2, 2013, Live with Kelly and Michael moved to WLS-TV (with Windy City Live bumped to 11 a.m.), while Millionaire was picked up by WPWR-TV to air at 4 pm.
- WLS-TV in recent years has aired Chicago Bears preseason football games as well as the team's ESPN Monday Night Football games, which has meant preemption, and rescheduling, of network programming. These mark the only NFL games on WLS-TV, as ABC no longer airs NFL games; during the regular season, Bears games are rotated between WBBM-TV (through the NFL on CBS), WMAQ-TV (through NBC Sunday Night Football) and especially WFLD (through Fox NFL Sunday and NFL Network's Thursday Night Football). Since 2010, however, it has deferred the right of first refusal due to the popularity and live voting requirements of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, and WCIU-TV (Channel 26) has carried MNF games instead during the DWTS season, though WLS carried the MNF game against the Dallas Cowboys on December 9, 2013 when the team honored Mike Ditka.
- On December 12, 2014, the station and the Chicago Cubs baseball team signed a new five-year broadcast agreement, in which WLS will televise 25 games per season, starting with the 2015 season. The arrangement partially replaces one with WGN-TV (which has broadcast Cubs games since its inception), who voluntarily pulled out of its existing deal of the team for the 2015 season.
Former syndicated programming produced in Chicago
- At the Movies - nationally syndicated film review program, produced at WLS-TV's studios, and syndicated by Disney-ABC Domestic Television. It aired Saturdays 10:35 p.m. with reruns Sundays 10:30 a.m. The program aired its final original broadcast on August 14, 2010.
- The Oprah Winfrey Show - formerly the local program A.M. Chicago, it retained the name about one year after Oprah Winfrey became host. The program was originally created by WLS-TV, but it was later produced by Harpo Productions and CBS Television Distribution at Oprah's Harpo Studios. It aired weekdays at 9 a.m., in both its local and syndicated incarnations. The program ended with its final original broadcast airing on May 25, 2011. Reruns continued weeknights at 11:02 p.m. until September 9, 2011.
Other WLS-TV produced programs
- 190 North - local lifestyle program named after the station's studio address at 190 N. State St. in the Loop and hosted by Janet Davies; began broadcasting in HD on May 6, 2007. The show ran on Sundays at 11 p.m. with a rebroadcast on Saturday nights from 1998 to 2013. It will return later in 2013 in a retooled format, only airing a few times a year.
- Let's Dish, for the Live Well Network. Shown locally on Channel 7.2.
- Windy City Live - local morning talk show hosted by Ryan Chiaverini and Valerie Warner that launched on May 26, 2011, replacing The Oprah Winfrey Show. It initially aired weekdays at 9 a.m. but the live telecast moved to 11 a.m. on September 2, 2013. Reruns air weekdays at 12 noon (on Channel 7.2) and weeknights at 12:07 a.m. (after ABC's Nightline).
Former WLS-TV produced programs
- The Chicago Huddle - local sports program about the Chicago Bears hosted by Ryan Chiaverini. The program aired Sundays 10:30 a.m. during football season. It last aired during the 2009-2010 season.
- Chicagoing - local public affairs program hosted by Bill Campbell, aired Sunday mornings at 11:30 a.m. The program aired its final broadcast on December 26, 2010.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|7.1||720p||16:9||WLS-DT||Main WLS-TV programming / ABC|
|7.2||LivWell||Live Well Network|
Prior to February 24, 2011, WLS-DT3 aired ABC 7 News Now with weather programming from The Local AccuWeather Channel. The ABC O&Os discontinued their Local AccuWeather channels in February 2011, replacing its programming with a letterboxed standard-definition simulcast of their Live Well subchannels; however, the partnership between ABC and AccuWeather continues to this day as the branding for the stations' weather reports.
WLS-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 7, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 52, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition, to its analog-era VHF channel 7 for post-transition operations.
WLS operated its digital signal at low power (4.75 kW) to protect the digital signal of WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which also broadcasts on channel 7, but at a much higher radiated power). As a result, many viewers were not able to receive the station. The FCC sent extra personnel to Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City to deal with difficulties in those cities. WLS had received 1,735 calls just by the end of the day on June 12 (WBBM only received 600), and an estimated 5,000 calls in total by June 16.
WLS-TV was just one station which needed to increase its signal strength or move its frequency to solve its problems, but a power increase required making sure no other stations were affected. WLS received a two-week experimental permit for a power increase late in June. WLS had also applied for a permit to construct a low-power fill-in digital translator station on UHF channel 32 (the former analog frequency of WFLD), but abandoned that plan (the channel 32 RF frequency has since been claimed by WMEU-CD). Eventually the FCC granted it a permit to transmit on a second frequency, UHF channel 44, formerly occupied by WSNS-TV; WLS announced the availability of that frequency on October 31, 2009.
Throughout construction of the new maximized transmitting facilities at the Willis Tower, WLS operated both channels 7 and 44 from its auxiliary facilities at the John Hancock Center under an STA. WLS operated channel 7 as a fill-in translator with a power of 7 kW, and operating their full power operations on channel 44 with a power of 1 MW. Through the use of PSIP technology, both operating frequencies were re-mapped and displayed as virtual channel 7, which would cause some digital tuners to have two versions of virtual channels 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3, while tuning sequentially. In October 2012, WLS-TV completed construction from the Willis Tower and its operating channel 44 at the 1 million watt power level. The station continued its dual-frequency operations until 12:03 p.m. on March 18, 2013 when WLS-TV formally ceased operations on VHF channel 7, leaving UHF channel 44 as its permanent allotment. Since WLS-TV officially moved its full-power operations to channel 44, it is the only ABC-owned station to vacate its former analog allotment for its digital operations and the second ABC O&O to operate its full-power operations on the UHF band, after KFSN-TV.
WLS-TV presently broadcasts 38 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours on weekdays and two hours each on Saturdays and Sundays). WLS-TV, like the other ABC owned-and-operated stations, adopted the Eyewitness News format in the late 1960s – with WLS adopting it in 1969, after it became a hit at New York City flagship WABC-TV. Beginning in 1968, the station's main evening newscasts were co-anchored by Fahey Flynn, a bowtie-wearing broadcaster who had spent the previous 15 years at WBBM-TV; and Joel Daly, hired away from WJW-TV in Cleveland in 1967. The duo served as the anchormen of the station's 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts until Flynn's death in August 1983. In 1970, they were joined by John Drury, who helmed the 5:00 newscast. By 1973, Eyewitness News surpassed NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (channel 5) to become Chicago's top-rated news operation, a lead it held until WBBM-TV surpassed it in 1979. For much of the 1970s and 1980s, it waged a spirited battle for second place in the Chicago news ratings.
By 1983, a disastrous anchor change had dropped channel 7 into third place. That prompted two major changes; ABC brought in Dennis Swanson from its Los Angeles station KABC-TV to serve as WLS-TV's new general manager. Swanson, in turn, hired Bill Applegate as the station's news director. Secondly, ABC commissioned Frank Gari to write an updated version of the Cool Hand Luke "Tar Sequence" theme widely associated with the Eyewitness News format. The result was News Series 2000, which was quickly picked up by the other ABC O&Os.
Swanson was instrumental in hiring Oprah Winfrey to host its then low-rated morning talk show, AM Chicago, in 1983. Within a year, it had shot to first place. It entered into national syndication in 1986 and was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. Channel 7 aired it, along with most of ABC's other O&Os, until September 2011. Swanson also rehired lead anchor John Drury, who had left for WGN-TV in 1979; and Floyd Kalber, who had led WMAQ-TV to the top of the ratings in the 1960s. Drury and Mary Ann Childers were a popular anchor team at WLS-TV during the 1980s and 1990s, accompanied by weatherman Steve Deshler and sportscaster Tim Weigel. In March 1986, channel 7 passed WBBM-TV as the highest-rated news station in Chicago. It has held the lead ever since, aside from a brief period when WBBM-TV managed to forge a tie for first.
In 1992, the station replaced News Series 2000 (as the other ABC O&Os did over the following year, due partly to increased royalties for use of the Cool Hand Luke theme and its variants by Lalo Schifrin) with a new news music package, also by Gari, called News Series 2000 Plus (since renamed Stimulus), which has remained in use by WLS since then and was updated in 2013. In 1996, WLS-TV dropped the Eyewitness News brand after 26 years, in favor of the network-centric ABC 7 News; the move was part of a standard branding effort imposed by ABC across its owned-and-operated stations which saw the incorporation of the ABC name into their local brands (not every ABC O&O dropped their news branding, as stations such as WABC-TV/New York City and WPVI-TV/Philadelphia retained their Eyewitness News or Action News identities).
WLS-TV officially debuted a new studio on State Street on April 10, 2006, during the station's morning newscast, although it had begun broadcasting its newscasts from that studio on April 8, 2006. On the weekend of April 29–30, 2006, WLS-TV upgraded its news helicopter with a high definition camera, rebranding it as "Chopper 7 HD." On January 6, 2007, WLS-TV became the first Chicago television station to broadcast its all of its local programming – including newscasts – in high definition, although most remote field footage remained in 16:9 widescreen standard definition at the time. Since then, WLS-TV upgraded most of its field footage to HD, although some field reports remain in widescreen SD.
On December 23, 2007, a minivan drove through a reinforced studio window at the State Street Studio two minutes into the 10 p.m. newscast, startling anchor Ravi Baichwal on air and creating a 20° draft; no one was injured in the crash. On November 11, 2012, WLS-TV expanded its Sunday 8 a.m. newscast from 1½ to two hours, leading into ABC's This Week. The 8 a.m. portion of the Saturday morning newscast was expanded to two hours from 8:00-10:00 a.m. on August 24, 2013. Nearly a week later on August 30, WLS-TV discontinued its hour-long weekday 11:00 a.m. newscast after 21 years, and replaced it on September 2 with Windy City Live, whose original 9:00 a.m. slot became occupied by Live! with Kelly and Michael when it moved to WLS from WGN-TV on that date. With the move and the midday newscast's cancellation, news and weather cut-ins were incorporated into Windy City Live.
On October 26, 2013, WLS-TV reintroduced the Eyewitness News brand (as ABC 7 Eyewitness News), as part of an overall rebranding of its newscasts that included new graphics and a modernized update to the Stimulus theme. In an interview with media columnist Robert Feder, WLS-TV president/general manager John Idler cited the reasoning behind the restoration of the Eyewitness News brand, was that it "[still] resonated strongly with [viewers in] the Chicago market," despite being dropped by the station 17 years earlier. On November 2, 2013, WLS expanded the early block of its weekend morning newscasts, with the extension of its hour-long 6 a.m. newscast on Saturdays and Sundays to two hours at 5 a.m.
Weatherman Mike Caplan was let go on Thursday, January 22, 2015, after 21 years at WLS-TV.
According to the Nielsen local news ratings for the February 2011 sweeps period, WLS-TV remained in first place overall, with the 10 p.m. newscast getting a 9.7 rating share, down a tenth of a point from a 9.8 during the same time the previous year. The station remained in second place for its prime-time lead-in.
Notable current on-air staff
- Ravi Baichwal – weekends anchor; also weekday reporter
- Kathy Brock – weeknights anchor
- Cheryl Burton – weeknights anchor
- Alan Krashesky – weeknights anchor
- Ron Magers – weeknights anchor
- Linda Yu – weekday mornings and weekday afternoons
- Jerry Taft (AMS Seal of Approval) – chief meteorologist; weeknights
- Mark Giangreco – sports director; weeknights
- Jim Rose – sports anchor; weeknights
- Chuck Goudie – chief investigative reporter
Notable former on-air staff
- Mike Adamle
- Diane Allen
- Jim Avila (now at ABC News)
- Roberta Baskin
- Diann Burns
- Jann Carl
- Mary Ann Childers
- Lauren Cohn
- John Coleman
- Joel Daly (retired)
- Alex Dreier†
- John Drury †
- Tom Duggan †
- Roger Ebert†
- Steve Edwards (now at KTTV)
- Fahey Flynn†
- Bill Frink†
- Judie Garcia
- Rob Johnson (now at WBBM-TV)
- Jack Jones†
- Floyd Kalber†
- Terry Murphy
- Kent Ninomiya
- Sylvia Perez
- Kim Peterson
- Dan Ponce
- Frank Reynolds†
- Charlie Rose (now at CBS News) & host of Charlie Rose)
- Jim Rosenfield (now at WCAU)
- Warner Saunders (retired)
- Mark Schanowski
- Tim Weigel†
- Oprah Winfrey
- Rafer Weigel
- Robb Weller
- Larry Yellen
† - deceased
- Television News section, Chicago Tribune, October 6, 1968.
- "AB-PT buys rest of WLS; purchases Prairie Farmer publishing empire." Broadcasting, Nov. 23, 1959, pg. 76. 
- "WLS, WENR Chicago merge – now WLS." Broadcasting - Telecasting, February 8, 1954, pg. 52. 
- Cable Notes; Cities are waking up to what were empty promises, The New York Times, December 11, 1983.
- ABC Testing Pay-TV, The New York Times, January 17, 1984
- Daytime drama: How will ABC 7 make room for Katie & Kelly?, Time Out Chicago, May 13, 2012.
- ABC 7 Replacing 11:00 a.m. News with Windy City LIVE Facebook, June 20, 2013.
- "Windy City Live" revamps its moving plans, Chicago Business Journal, 7 August 2013
- "Chicago stations gear up for new syndication season". T Dog Media. T Dog. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
- Channick, Robert (November 6, 2013). "Cubs exercise option to end WGN-TV contract after next season". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 1, 2014.
- "It's official: WLS-Ch. 7 to air 25 Cubs games". Chicago Tribune. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2014.
- "Live Well HD Network debuts". abc7chicago.com. April 2009.
- "TV Schedule for Chicago, Illinois". Live Well HD Network.
- RabbitEars TV Query for WLS
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- Eggerton, John (2009-06-17). "Weigel's Analog Nightlight Could Help Chicago Stations With Reception Issues". Broadcasting & Cable.
- Wong, Wailin (2009-06-17). "DTV Transition Problems Linger; FCC Beefs Up Role". Chicago Tribune.
- Eggerton, John (2009-06-29). "Boise Station Gets Power Boost". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2009-07-01.
- "ABC7 is adding a DTV frequency; UHF frequency should help reception". ABC7Chicago.com. October 31, 2009.
- "ABC7 making improvements to over-the-air signal". ABC7Chicago.com. February 28, 2013.
- Feder, Robert. "ABC 7 looks forward to return of ‘Eyewitness News’". robertfeder.com. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- ABC7 Unveils State Street Studio, ABC 7 Chicago, April 25, 2006
- YouTube - WLS-TV Studio Car Crash
- "PROGRAM NOTE: ABC7 Sunday AM broadcast expanding". WLS. November 4, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-09.
- Channel 7 to drop 11 a.m. newscast in September, Chicago Tribune, June 20, 2013.
- WLS-Channel 7 adding more weekend morning news, Chicago Business Journal, October 18, 2013.
- Johnson-Sullivan anchor duo paying off for WBBM-Channel 2, Chicago Sun-Times, March 4, 2011.
- Official website
- 190 North Web site
- Windy City Live Web site
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WLS-TV
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WLS-TV