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Chicago, Illinois
United States
Branding WTTW 11
Channels Digital: 47 (UHF)
Virtual: 11 (PSIP)
Affiliations PBS (since 1970)
APT Exchange
Owner Window to the World Communications, Inc.
First air date September 6, 1955 (1955-09-06)
Call letters' meaning Window
Sister station(s) Radio: WFMT
Former callsigns Digital:
WTTW-DT (2000s–2009)
Former channel number(s) Analog:
11 (VHF, 1955–2009)
Former affiliations NET (1955–1970)
Transmitter power 300 kW
Height 465 m
Facility ID 10802
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.wttw.com

WTTW, virtual channel 11 (UHF digital channel 47), is a PBS member television station and the primary PBS member station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by not-for-profit broadcasting entity Window to the World Communications, Inc., and is sister to classical music radio station WFMT (98.7 FM). The two stations share studio facilities located at the Renée Crown Public Media Center on North Saint Louis Avenue (adjacent to Northeastern Illinois University) in the city's North Park neighborhood; WTTW maintains transmitter facilities located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop. It also owns and operates The Chicago Production Center, a video production and editing facility that is operated alongside the two stations.

Serving as the local flagship outlet for the service, it is one of three PBS member stations in the Chicago market, alongside WYCC (channel 20) and Gary, Indiana-licensed WYIN (channel 56). WTTW, along with Wisconsin Public Television flagship station WHA-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, serve as default PBS member stations for Rockford as that market does not have a PBS station of its own; both stations are available in that market on local cable providers.


WTTW first signed on the air on September 6, 1955, as a member station of National Educational Television (NET). The station was founded by a group of civic-minded Chicagoans, led by Inland Steel executive Edward R. Ryerson. Channel 11 came to life during the first year of the inaugural term of Mayor Richard J. Daley; Daley, Ryerson and businessman Irving B. Harris were responsible for creating WTTW, which began its life as an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago's Jackson Park. The WTTW call letters were chosen as the founders wanted the station to be Chicago's "Window To The World". The station's transmitter was given to WTTW by the staff and management of the defunct KS2XBS, a pay television station on VHF channel 2 that was forced to shut down as a result of CBS owned-and-operated station WBBM-TV's relocation to that channel in July 1953.

Ryerson recruited a young communications lawyer, Newton N. Minow, to join the station's Board; Minow would both serve as chairman of the WTTW board and as Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the administration of President John F. Kennedy. Irving B. Harris, Henry W. "Brick" Meers, John W. McCarter, Jr., Martin J. "Mike" Koldyke and Sandra P. Guthman have served as Chairman of the Board for the public broadcaster in subsequent decades. Guthman, a member of the famous Polk Brothers family of Chicago, is the current Chairman of the Board, having served in that post since October 2003.

Birgit Ridderstedt with son Lars (left of her) and other children after their appearance on the Totem Club program in 1959.

Minow stated that the only really important decision that he made during his tenure as Chair of WTTW was the recruitment of William J. McCarter, Jr. as president and chief executive officer, a post which he held for 27 years. Having run public station WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., McCarter – a decorated Korean War hero and a veteran television pioneer – got his start in the broadcasting industry as a cameraman for American Bandstand and then as a part of the Army-McCarthy hearings on Capitol Hill. McCarter developed the concept of the political roundtable that is now a staple of television news. In non-commercial television circles, McCarter is referred to as the "architect" of public television (his friends know him as the man who kicked Bob Dylan – who was set to tape an episode of SoundStage and was found by McCarter asleep on the couch in the room – out of his office, waking the bearded Dylan up and ushering him out of the office after McCarter returned from a meeting).

During the 1960s, WTTW aired educational programming during the daytime hours, showing programs produced under the auspices of Chicago Area Schools Television (CAST). Programs from "TV College", covering college subjects, were also shown on weekdays. Other afternoon shows included a locally produced series titled The Storyteller, which featured a children's story presented weekdays at 5:30 p.m., and was sponsored by the locally based Marshall Field & Company department store chain. On October 5, 1970, WTTW became a charter member station of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

WTTW did not broadcast programming on Saturdays until the summer of 1972, when it began airing a limited schedule of programming on that day until 2:00 p.m.; the station expanded its Saturday programming scheduled to a full broadcast day in 1974. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, WTTW was used during the overnight hours as a test vehicle in the development of stereophonic sound for television audio broadcasts. In 1981, the Chicago Educational Television Association founded Chicago magazine as the program guide for WTTW and WFMT; the publication was sold to a joint venture between Metropolitan Detroit Magazine and Adams Communications in 1986 for $17 million.[1]

On November 22, 1987, WTTW's signal was hijacked by an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask – the second such signal interruption incident to occur in the Chicago area that night, with the first taking place during the 9:00 p.m. newscast on independent station WGN-TV (channel 9)'s two hours prior to the hacker's intrusion of the WTTW signal. While WGN-TV's analog transmitter was located atop the John Hancock Center at the time, allowing for engineers to almost immediately thwart the video hacker by changing the studio-to-transmitter frequency, WTTW's transmitter was located atop the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower), which made it harder to stop the hacker before the interruption voluntarily concluded after almost two minutes.[2][3]

On June 4, 2010, Window to the World Communications announced that it would lay off around 12% of WTTW and WFMT's employee base and extend a salary freeze instituted in 2009 for one additional year, in an effort to cut $3 million in operating costs due to declining revenue, effects from the economic downtown and the loss of $1.25 million in grant money from the Illinois General Assembly.[4]

On April 15, 2014, Window to the World Communications renamed the broadcasting facilities for WTTW and WFMT-FM as the Renée Crown Public Media Center, following a monetary gift of an undisclosed amount by the family of Renée Crown (who has served as a trustee for Window to the World since 1981).[5][6]

Technical achievements[edit]

WTTW has long been a pioneer in many technical aspects of television broadcasting, particularly in broadcast audio transmission. The station, in particular, participated in the trend of pop music-focused programs on television during the early 1970s (a few of which were also simulcast on local FM radio stations). When WTTW began production on Made in Chicago, the station made the decision to transition from monoaural audio to stereo for the FM broadcasts. However, stereo recording equipment for television production did not exist at that time. Because of this, WTTW engineers chose to modify existing Ampex quadruplex recorders to provide a stereo medium in sync with the video portion of the program. This innovation earned the station's staff a local Technical Emmy Award in 1973.

Further refinements to this system resulted in improvements to both frequency response and noise reduction, and eventually led to the ability to edit stereo audio as the video was being edited electronically. Dolby Laboratories noise reduction technology (Type C, and then Type A) was introduced as the staff was driven to make improvements in the audio specifications. WTTW began syndicating Made in Chicago to other public television stations under the new title Soundstage, with the first official taping of that program in June 1974 featuring Jim Croce. The station was broadcast in simulcast FM stereo – with WXRT (93.1 FM) and WBBM-FM (96.3) as participating stations – in the manner of its predecessor.

In 1975, WTTW management was approached by a startup company called Telesonics with an idea to develop an audio system for television broadcasts that used a mono-compatible, stereo audio channel. Around this time, the Sears Tower had been completed and WTTW became one of the first broadcasters to move its transmitter facilities atop the new building; WTTW had broadcast from a temporary antenna as the now familiar twin towers that adorn the top of the building had not yet been completed.[7]

Digital television[edit]

Digital channels[edit]

The station's digital channel is multiplexed:

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[8]
11.1 720p 16:9 WTTW-HD Main WTTW programming / PBS
11.2 480i PRIME WTTW Prime
11.3 Cr-Wo Create/World
11.4 4:3 V-me V-me

WTTW also plans to operate a Mobile DTV feed of subchannel 11.1, which will broadcast at 1.83 Mbit/s.[9][10] WTTW's main channel and all of its subchannels are available on Comcast systems in the market.

In May 2015, WTTW downgraded the resolution of its main channel from 1080i to 720p, which the station had previously transmitted its high definition content in prior to September 2009, during which time it downconverted HD content provided by PBS from their native 1080i format.


From the sign-on of its digital signal in 2004 until 2009, WTTW branded its main digital channel on 11.1 as "WTTW-Digital", featuring a full schedule of programs available in high definition, while digital subchannel 11.2 rebroadcast the main programming schedule of analog channel 11. In September 2008, digital channel 11.1 was converted into a simulcast of the analog signal's programming, resulting in it carrying the same programing schedule as 11.2. On March 30, 2009, 11.2 was relaunched with a separate schedule as "WTTW Prime", which features a mix of PBS primetime programs and WTTW's locally produced programming – particularly during the period from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., when children's programming airs on the main channel. WTTW Prime carries some PBS programs in their traditional timeslots (most notably, a block of the service's public affairs programs that run on Friday evenings and a weekdaily airing of the Nightly Business Report at 5:30 p.m.) WTTW Prime is also available on Comcast digital channel 370.[11][12]

Analog-to-digital conversion[edit]

WTTW shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 11, 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 47.[13] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 11. The "WTTW" callsign was also officially transferred from the now-defunct analog channel 11 to digital channel 47, with and the "WTTW-DT" callsign used to identify digital channel 47 during the pre-transition era officially being discontinued.


Programming on WTTW is funded in part by financial support of viewers and by other not-for-profit organizations such as the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. WTTW also distributes several programs to public television stations independently of PBS. Its most prominent productions include political discussion program The McLaughlin Group and the music program Soundstage. WTTW has produced over 110 SoundStage episodes from its Chicago studios, the first of which featured Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters surrounded by his young proteges: Dr. John, Junior Wells, Michael Bloomfield, Koko Taylor, Rollo Radford, Buddy Guy, Nick Gravenities, Buddy Miles and his long-time collaborator, pianist Otis Spann among others.

WTTW also produced the popular cooking series The Frugal Gourmet during the 1980s. Other popular programs produced by WTTW for public television syndication have included the early art-video show Image Union; CEO Exchange; restaurant review show Check, Please! cooking show Mexico: One Plate at a Time; children's programs Lamb Chop's Play-Along, Kidsongs and WordWorld'; and the irreverent magazine series Wild Chicago.

The most well-known program ever to have been originated by WTTW was Sneak Previews, the first movie review show to air on television. It began in 1975 with film critics Roger Ebert (then a critic for the Chicago Sun-Times) and Gene Siskel (then with the Chicago Tribune) as its hosts and was later hosted by Michael Medved and Jeffrey Lyons when Siskel and Ebert moved into syndication (starting the show At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert and later Siskel & Ebert & the Movies); Sneak Previews was cancelled in 1996. In January 2011, WTTW produced a new movie review program created by Ebert, Ebert Presents At the Movies, which was hosted by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Ebert himself hosting a segment called "Roger's Office"; the program lasted one season, before being cancelled due to funding constraints and the subsequent death of Ebert.[14][15][16][17]

Among its local programs, WTTW also produces the newsmagazine and analysis program Chicago Tonight, hosted by Phil Ponce. The program began in 1984 as a half-hour panel interview program with local broadcast journalist John Callaway, but was later expanded to an hour-long show with the addition of various feature segments including arts and restaurant reviews. The series Chicago Matters – which is underwritten by the Chicago Community Trust – is considered to perhaps be the preeminent local journalism collaboration in the United States, involving television, radio and print, and dialogue at the highest levels of articulation.

The station has produced hundreds of significant arts programs, highlighting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Ravinia Festival. In addition, WTTW features documentaries hosted by Geoffrey Baer, spotlighting the history and culture of various parts of the Chicago area. These programs popularity has often resulted in a high volume of monetary pledges to the station. It also produces The Artsiders, an arts-focused program produced by Kai Harding, Inc. and created by former Big Idea director Chris Olsen.


  1. ^ Charles Storch (January 18, 1987). "THE CHICAGO MAGAZINE STORY HOW DEAL PUT DETROIT OUTFIT IN, LEFT OTHERS PUT OUT". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Publishing). p. 1. 
  2. ^ Don Hayner (November 24, 1987). "2 channels interrupted to the Max". Chicago Sun-Times (Adler & Shaykin). p. 3. CHI265386. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Bogus 'Max Headroom' Interrupts Broadcasts On 2 Chicago Stations". Philadelphia Inquirer (Knight Ridder). November 24, 1987. p. C05. 8703130089. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  4. ^ Phil Rosenthal (June 4, 2010). "WTTW, WFMT parent to cut 12% of staff, $3 million in costs". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Publishing). Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  5. ^ Ruth L Ratny (April 7, 2014). "Renee Crown Media Center new name of WTTW building". Reel Chicago. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Window to the World is recipient of large Crown family gift". Chicago Business Journal (American City Business Journals). February 24, 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  7. ^ Multichannel television sound#References
  8. ^ "RabbitEars TV Query for WGBO-DT". RabbitEars. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Mobile DTV Service List". RabbitEars. Retrieved September 3, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Mobile DTV Station Guide". National Association of Broadcasters. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  11. ^ "WTTW Prime Highlights". WTTW. Window to the World Communications. 
  12. ^ "WTTW Schedules". WTTW. Window to the World Communications. 
  13. ^ "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and the Second Rounds" (PDF). U.S. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Roger Ebert to appear on movie review show". WTTW (Window To The World Communications). October 4, 2010. Retrieved October 5, 2011. 
  15. ^ James Hibberd (September 10, 2010). "Roger Ebert reviving "At the Movies" on public TV". The Hollywood Reporter. Penske Media Corporation – via Reuters. 
  16. ^ "See you at the movies". Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert's Journal) (Sun-Times Media Group). March 25, 2010. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 
  17. ^ Yvonne Villarreal (September 10, 2010). "Roger Ebert and PBS bring back 'At the Movies'". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Publishing). Retrieved September 10, 2010. 

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