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WMAQ Logo 2012.png
Chicago, Illinois
United States
Branding NBC 5 Chicago (general)
NBC 5 News (newscasts)
Slogan We are Chicago
Channels Digital: 29 (UHF)
Virtual: 5 (PSIP)
Subchannels 5.1 NBC
5.2 Cozi TV
Affiliations NBC (O&O)
Owner NBCUniversal
(NBC Telemundo License LLC)
First air date October 8, 1948 (1948-10-08)
Call letters' meaning derived from former sister station WMAQ radio (now WSCR)
Sister station(s) WSNS-TV
Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Former callsigns WNBQ (1948–1964)
Former channel number(s) Analog:
5 (VHF, 1948–2009)
Former affiliations DT2: NBC Weather Plus (2005-2008)
NBC Plus (2008-2012)
Transmitter power 350 kW
Height 508 m (1,667 ft)
Facility ID 47905
Transmitter coordinates 41°52′44″N 87°38′10″W / 41.87889°N 87.63611°W / 41.87889; -87.63611
Licensing authority FCC
Public license information: Profile
Website www.nbcchicago.com

WMAQ-TV, channel 5, is an NBC owned-and-operated television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, and is part of a duopoly with Telemundo station WSNS-TV (channel 44). It is also co-owned with regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago. WMAQ-TV maintains primary studios and business offices at the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood, and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower.


See also WMAQ (AM) for pre-1948 history of the station.
Station camera in 1951. Singer-actress Connie Russell from Garroway at Large and her daughter are pictured.

The station signed on October 8, 1948, as WNBQ; it was the last of Chicago's four commercial VHF stations to launch.[1] WNBY were the call letters originally designated for the station, but at NBC's request, the Federal Communications Commission approved the change to WNBQ, which was announced March 3, 1948. NBC officials cited two reasons for the change: 1) avoiding possible listener confusion with radio station WMBI and 2) obtaining call letters closer to the network's WMAQ radio.[2]

WNBQ is also the third of the five original NBC owned-and-operated stations to begin operations, after New York City and Washington, D.C. and before Cleveland and Los Angeles. Eight years later, it became the first station in the world to broadcast all of its programs in color. Though NBC had long owned WMAQ radio (670 AM, frequency now occupied by WSCR; and 101.1 FM, now WKQX), it did not change the television station's call letters to WMAQ-TV until August 31, 1964.[3][4] The calls of its sister radio station were initially assigned by the government, but went on to form the phrase "We Must Ask Questions," which the radio station took on as its motto in the 1920s.

The station's first midweek broadcast came in 1948, when Paul Winchell and Joseph Dunninger were featured on Floor Show on NBC. The program was recorded via kinescope and replayed on WNBQ from 8:30 p.m to 9 p.m. on Thursdays.[5]

WMAQ-TV originated several programs for the NBC television network from its studios in the Merchandise Mart during the 1950s, including Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, featuring Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison; Garroway at Large, starring Dave Garroway; and "Studs' Place," hosted by Studs Terkel. Television critics referred to the broadcasts – often low-budget with few celebrity guests but a good deal of inventiveness – as examples of the "Chicago School of Television."[6][7]

WMAQ-TV gained fame for its newscasts during the 1960s, anchored by Floyd Kalber, John Palmer, Jim Ruddle, and Jorie Lueloff, with weatherman Harry Volkman (later of WBBM-TV, WGN-TV and WFLD), sports reporter Johnny Morris, and commentator Len O'Connor. Though its role as a program provider to NBC diminished in the 1960s, WMAQ-TV gathered and distributed more than 200 feeds per month of news footage from overseas and the central United States to NBC News.[8]

In 1975, Jane Pauley, later of NBC's Today Show, briefly co-anchored WMAQ-TV's 10 p.m. newscast with Kalber. Carol Marin joined WMAQ-TV in 1978; Ron Magers followed in 1981. Magers and Deborah Norville (later host of Inside Edition) co-anchored the station's hour-long 4:30 p.m. newscast during the 1980s, and Magers and Marin co-anchored WMAQ-TV's 10 p.m. newscast. On October 1, 1989, the station began broadcasting from the NBC Tower after 40 years at the Merchandise Mart. WMAQ-TV's newscast ratings overtook those of WBBM-TV in the 1980s, but the station could not dethrone ratings leader WLS-TV during the period.

WMAQ logo, 1992–1995

On February 26, 2004, WMAQ-TV garnered national attention when Katie Couric, Al Roker, and Lester Holt hosted the Today show on Cityfront Plaza to debut the station's streetside studio at 401 N. Michigan Ave. Named "Studio 5", it was the first of its kind in Chicago. The station's morning and noon newscasts were broadcast from there until late 2012, when the space was put up for sale.

Digital television[edit]

Digital channels[edit]

The station's digital signal is multiplexed:

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[9]
5.1 1080i 16:9 NBC 5 Main WMAQ-TV programming / NBC
5.2 480i COZI-TV Cozi TV

WMAQ-TV also has a Mobile DTV feed of subchannel 5.2, labelled "NBCMobile", broadcasting at 1.83 Mbit/s.[10][11]

NBC Weather Plus ceased national broadcasts on December 1, 2008, but weather maps and traffic reports continued to run on channel 5.2 as NBC Plus. "Raw" coverage of various live events, including Barack Obama's victory rally in Grant Park[12] and Governor Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial have also been carried on 5.2.[13] On November 1, 2010, WMAQ launched NBC Chicago Nonstop, a news and lifestyle network;[14] NBC Nonstop was relaunched as Cozi TV in December 2012.

Analog-to-digital conversion[edit]

WMAQ-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 5, 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 remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 29.[15] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 5.

From June 13 to July 12, 2009, WMAQ-TV had simulcast most of its newscasts as a contributor to WWME-CA (channel 23)'s analog lifeline service for the Chicago area, in an "unprecedented" four-station partnership. The "lifeline" programming on analog Channel 23 included WMAQ's weekday and Saturday morning, weeknight 6 p.m. and weekend 5 p.m. newscasts along with WGN-TV (channel 9)'s 9 p.m. newscast. The lifeline continued only as a simulcast of entertainment programming from WWME's sister station WCIU-TV until January 2011, when it was switched to a simulcast of WCIU's The U Too subchannel.[16][17]


As typical for a network-owned station, WMAQ-TV generally carries the entire NBC network schedule, the station does not clear the entirety of NBC's weekday overnight lineup but does not clear the network's broadcast of CNBC's Mad Money and the rebroadcast of the fourth hour of Today. In addition, WMAQ-TV also airs the NBC Kids block on a one-hour delay due to the 9:00 a.m. hour of its Saturday morning newscast (which bookends the Saturday edition of Today), resulting in the third hour of the block being shifted to Sundays whenever network sports telecasts are scheduled on Saturdays during the noon hour in order to meet FCC educational programming quotas. Syndicated programming seen on WMAQ-TV including The Meredith Vieira Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Extra and Access Hollywood among others. All of the programs mentioned are distributed by NBC Universal.

Station oddities[edit]

  • Days of Our Lives aired on a one-hour delay at 1:00 P.M. than the network's other Central Time Zone affiliates since WMAQ-TV aired their half-hour newscast at noon (this practice ended after the noon newscast was moved to 11:00 a.m.; Days of Our Lives was moved to noon on September 8, 2014).

Current syndicated programming produced in Chicago[edit]

Former syndicated programming produced in Chicago[edit]

Other WMAQ-TV produced programs[edit]

  • 24/7 City Secrets - formerly 24/7 Chicago, local lifestyle program hosted by Catie Keogh and Pete McMurray. Aired every Saturday after Saturday Night Live.

Former WMAQ-TV produced programs[edit]

  • In the Loop with iVillage - national lifestyle program exclusively to NBC owned-and-operated stations, WMAQ-TV tooking control of the production in 2007 from WTVJ in Miami, Florida. It aired locally weekdays at 11:00 a.m. The Final episode was aired on March 28, 2008.

News operation[edit]

WMAQ's helicopter – Sky5

WMAQ-TV presently broadcasts 33½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours on weekdays, four hours on Saturdays and 4½ hours on Sundays). The station has launched national careers for Jane Pauley, Deborah Norville, CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel, HLN morning anchor Robin Meade, Maury Povich, PBS reporter Ray Suarez, and Access Hollywood and The Insider host Pat O'Brien.

On January 14, 2008, WMAQ-TV became the second television station in Chicago (after WLS-TV) to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. Only in-studio footage and some of the remote field footage are in HD; most other remote field footage remains in standard definition using a mix of 16:9 widescreen and 4:3 cameras.

On January 12, 2009, WMAQ and Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD entered into a Local News Service agreement, in which the two stations share helicopter footage; this agreement has reportedly paved the way for a larger pooling effort between the two stations.[18]

After years in second place behind WBBM-TV and, later, WLS-TV at 10 p.m., at the conclusion of the November 2009 Nielsen Ratings sweeps period, WBBM-TV's 10 p.m. newscast overtook WMAQ-TV for second place for the first time in many years, largely due to the low ratings of the latter station's lead-in The Jay Leno Show. WLS-TV continues to dominate the local newscast ratings in the Chicago media market.[19] It has since regained second place at 10 p.m., although closer to third-place WBBM-TV than to WLS-TV. However in the November 2010 sweeps period, WMAQ's 10 p.m. newscast slipped back to third behind WBBM-TV in that time slot (and fourth among Chicago's late night newscasts, behind WGN-TV's 9 p.m. newscast), although WMAQ continues to place second in other time slots.

For several years, WMAQ differed from most NBC stations in the Central Time Zone in that it did not carry a newscast in the weekday midday time period, this changed on September 12, 2011, when it debuted a half-hour newscast at noon (now an hour long newscast at 11 a.m.). On December 6, 2011, WMAQ-TV announced a partnership with The Chicago Reporter as part of a larger effort by NBCUniversal to partner with non-profit news organizations following its acquisition by Comcast.[20]

On February 28, 2012, WMAQ-TV unveiled a new studio for its newscasts at NBC Tower along with new music, and a graphics package similar to that of other NBC-owned stations. Its logo was also updated by placing the new 3D glassed version of the peacock logo on the left side of the "5" logo (although the new version of the logo was launched by the network in May 2011), becoming the first NBC O&O to add the revised peacock to its logo. Months later, five, adjacent 21-foot-wide Panasonic plasma displays were installed in the studio behind the anchor desk to resemble windows, displaying a wide view overlooking North Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, the footage is fed by a camera mounted on the building which formerly housed the streetside studio. The setup is similar to that of sister station WNBC in New York City.

On July 27, 2013, WMAQ expanded its weekend morning newscasts; it expanded the early edition of the program on both days to two hours by moving its start time from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., with an additional half-hour added at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays.[21]

In 2015, WMAQ became the first in the local Chicago TV market to install and upgrade the Camera system on its Helicopter (Sky5) to UltraHD.

On August 24, 2015, WMAQ is the second station in Chicago to expand its weekday morning newscast to three hours by moving its start time from 4:30 a.m. to 4:00 a.m., possibly to compete with WGN-TV who expands its morning newscasts in July of 2011.[22]


Len O'Connor[edit]

Veteran newsman Len O'Connor worked his way up from a news writer for NBC Radio's Blue Network to his position as WMAQ-TV commentator.[23] O'Connor, who was well known for his often-acerbic political commentary, ran afoul of station management in 1974, when he reported on Governor Dan Walker's appointment of Bruce Sagan as head of the Illinois Arts Council. O'Connor was troubled by the council's funding grant to the Chicago Dance Foundation, which was headed by Mr. Sagan's wife. Sagan was invited to rebut O'Connor's statements after they were originally made in January 1974 and declined. Sagan proceeded to file a complaint with the FCC in May 1974, saying he had been personally attacked and that the station was not enforcing the FCC's Fairness Doctrine. He was again offered an opportunity to refute O'Connor's comments but declined once more, after the FCC had dismissed the charges he made. Sagan appealed the FCC verdict, and O'Connor's belief was that the company's attorneys had secretly met with Sagan and offered him airtime in exchange for Sagan's dismissing the appeal. Station management said they had been open with O'Connor.[24][25]

O'Connor proceeded to deliver three commentaries on the 10PM local news from September 25–27, 1974, severely critical of WMAQ-TV's management's handling of the matter. In the commentaries, O'Connor claimed he had been deprived of his Freedom of speech, that the station compromised his integrity, and that station management had made secret plans to fire him within a short time after his broadcasts. O'Connor left the station and continued his policital commentaries on WGN-TV until his 1980 retirement from broadcasting.[24][25]

Jerry Springer[edit]

WMAQ achieved notoriety in 1997 when the station, in an effort to boost ratings for its newscasts, hired Jerry Springer as a commentator.[26] At the same time, the station adopted a more tabloid news format by bringing in Joel Cheatwood as news director. Cheatwood was previously known for establishing fast-paced tabloid newscasts at WSVN in Miami and WHDH in Boston (both owned by Sunbeam Television).

Though Springer was once a two-term mayor of Cincinnati before becoming a news anchor for that city's NBC affiliate WLWT, his association with his infamous syndicated talk show (which, until 2009, was broadcast from WMAQ's NBC Tower studios, and is now distributed by NBCUniversal) led to the belief that the newscast was being dumbed down. There were a handful of Springer supporters; nevertheless, the incident triggered a lot of negative publicity, both locally and nationally. The station's longtime anchor team, Carol Marin and Ron Magers, resigned in protest. News broadcasts at that time originated from a studio that opened onto the station's newsroom. As Marin signed off her last newscast, station personnel stood en masse in the newsroom behind her in a symbolic show of support for her decision to resign. The station saw a drop in its news ratings. Springer only made two commentaries before he resigned, feeling unhappy with the criticism he received.[27][28]

Magers wound up at rival WLS-TV, where he remains today. Marin joined rival WBBM-TV while contributing reports at CBS before returning to WMAQ in 2004 as a special correspondent.

Amy Jacobson[edit]

On July 10, 2007, Amy Jacobson, who had been a reporter at WMAQ-TV for 10 years, negotiated her exit with WMAQ-TV, after being videotaped in a bikini with her two sons at the home of Craig Stebic; the video was obtained by rival station WBBM-TV. Craig's wife Lisa was missing and had not been found as of that date. The incident raised the issue whether Jacobson crossed a journalistic ethical line in being friendly with a subject of the story.[29] The video of her at Craig Stebic's home was either taken by or given to WBBM-TV, which has the entire six-minute video on its website. In 2008, Jacobson filed a libel lawsuit against WBBM for $1 million after the video was posted by the rival station; the suit was thrown out by an Illinois judge in July 2013.[30]


In the February 2011 Nielsen local news ratings, WMAQ ranked in third place overall in late news with a 5.5 rating share, dropping substantially from the 6.8 share it scored in February 2010 that was propelled by a lead-in from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. WMAQ had the second-lowest lead-in number among all news stations in the market with a 4.7 lead-in share (WGN-TV's primetime lead-in for its late newscast was the lowest, scoring a 2.2 rating lead-in, though its 9 p.m. newscast remained strong).[31]

Notable current on–air staff[edit]

Notable former on-air staff[edit]

† — deceased


  1. ^ NBC Silver Jubilee (PDF). Broadcasting. November 26, 1951. Retrieved March 6, 2014. (PDF)
  2. ^ "WNBY Now WNBQ" (PDF). Broadcasting. March 8, 1948. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  3. ^ "Media reports..." Broadcasting, August 31, 1964, pg. 45. [1](PDF)
  4. ^ "WNBQ to Become WMAQ-TV Today." Chicago Tribune, August 31, 1964.
  5. ^ "NBC Chicago Adds Three TV Shows" (PDF). Broadcasting. November 15, 1948. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  6. ^ "Early Chicago Originations to the NBC Network from WNBQ (later WMAQ-TV)". Retrieved June 2, 2010. 
  7. ^ Railton, Arthur (October 1951). They Fool You Every Night. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved July 5, 2010. 
  8. ^ "News at WMAQ-TV in 1968". Retrieved June 2, 2010. 
  9. ^ RabbitEars TV Query for WMAQ
  10. ^ http://www.rabbitears.info/market.php?request=atscmph
  11. ^ http://www.mdtvsignalmap.com/
  12. ^ "We're Your On-air, On-line Election Headquarters". NBCChicago.com. November 6, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Watch Blago Impeachment Trial Online and on NBC Chicago's Digital Channel". NBCChicago.com. January 23, 2009. 
  14. ^ WMAQ-TV to Launch Local 24-Hour Diginet, Television Broadcast, July 26, 2010
  15. ^ "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24. 
  16. ^ "WMAQ-TV, WGN-TV partner with Weigel Broadcasting for analog 'lifeline'". Chicago Tribune. June 11, 2009. 
  17. ^ http://www.wciu.com/about.php?section=press&releaseID=14
  18. ^ "Fox, NBC Share Chicago Chopper". Retrieved January 12, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. [dead link]
  20. ^ Channick, Robert (December 6, 2011). "Ch. 5 teams up with Chicago Reporter to boost local news". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 10, 2011. 
  21. ^ WMAQ News Adds 2 1/2 Hours on Weekends TVNewsCheck, July 9, 2013.
  22. ^ Feder, Robert (August 17, 2015). "‘NBC 5 News Today’ sets 4 a.m. wake-up call". Retrieved August 26, 2015. 
  23. ^ Samuels, Rich. "Meet Len O'Connor...Chicago's Pioneer Broadcast Street Reporter". WMAQ History. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  24. ^ a b Wilts, Teresa (July 7, 1991). "Len O`connor, 79, Tv Commentator". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  25. ^ a b "Fairness doctrine escalates into civil war at Chicago's WMAQ-TV" (PDF). Broadcasting. October 14, 1974. pp. 42–44. Retrieved March 6, 2014. (PDF)
  26. ^ Johnson, Steve (July/August 1997). How Low Can TV News Go?. Columbia Journalism Review.
  27. ^ The New York Times: Springer Quits News Show, Citing Attacks, Friday, May 9, 1997. Retrieved on May 25, 2009.
  28. ^ E! Online: Jerry Springer Quits News Job. Retrieved on May 25, 2009.
  29. ^ Rosenthal, Phil (July 10, 2007). "Jacobson out at WMAQ". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 10, 2007. 
  30. ^ Judge Throws Out Former WMAQ Reporter's Libel Lawsuit Against Rival WBBM TVSpy, July 5, 2013.
  31. ^ Johnson-Sullivan anchor duo paying off for WBBM-Channel 2, Chicago Sun-Times, March 4, 2011.

External links[edit]