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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; 59 years ago (1955-09-06)
Call letters' meaning Window
Sister station(s) 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
Website www.wttw.com

WTTW, virtual channel 11 (UHF digital channel 47), is a flagship 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 studios located on North Saint Louis Avenue, adjacent to Northeastern Illinois University, in the city's North Park neighborhood, WTTW's transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower 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.

WTTW, along with WHA-TV out of Madison, Wisconsin, serve as default PBS member stations for Rockford, Illinois as that market does not have a PBS member station of its own and both are available in that market on local cable providers. It is one of three PBS member stations in the Chicago market, alongside WYCC (channel 20) and Gary, Indiana-licensed WYIN (channel 56). 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 began broadcasting on September 6, 1955. The station was founded by a group of civic-minded Chicagoans, led by Inland Steel executive Edward R. Ryerson. The station came to life in the first year of the first 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. The call letters came about because 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 that was bumped off the air from channel 2 by WBBM-TV (now a CBS owned-and-operated station).

Mr. Ryerson recruited a young communications lawyer to join the station's Board, and Newton N. Minow would both chair the WTTW board and also serve President John F. Kennedy as FCC Commissioner. Irving B. Harris, Henry W. "Brick" Meers, John W. McCarter, Jr., Martin J. "Mike" Koldyke and Sandra P. Guthman are the other individuals who have served the public broadcaster as Chairman of the Board. Guthman, a member of the famous Polk Brothers family of Chicago, is the current Chairman of the Board.

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

Newt Minow stated that the only really important decision that he made as Chair of WTTW was to recruit William J. McCarter, Jr., as President and CEO, a post 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, began 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 formats. In public television circles, McCarter is referred to as the "architect" of public television (his friends know him as the man who kicked Bob Dylan out of his office – Dylan was there to tape a SoundStage and had found McCarter's office, which had a couch, and off he went to sleep; McCarter, returning from a meeting, found a sleeping bearded guy on his couch, woke him up, and ushered him out of his office).

During the 1960s, WTTW aired educational programming during the day, showing programs produced under the auspices of Chicago Area Schools Television (or CAST). Programs from "TV College", covering college subjects, were also shown on weekdays. Other afternoon shows included the locally produced The Storyteller, which featured a children's story presented weekdays at 5:30 p.m., and was sponsored by local department store Marshall Field & Company. WTTW was a member station of National Educational Television (NET) and continued its affiliation when that organization became the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

WTTW did not broadcast on Saturdays until mid-1972, when WTTW began airing programming on that day only until 2:00 p.m. In 1974, Saturday programming was extended to a full broadcast day. Chicago magazine started as the program guide for WTTW; it was sold to private interests in 1986.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s WTTW was used during the overnight hours as a test vehicle in the development of stereo television audio.

Technical achievements[edit]

WTTW has long been a pioneer in many technical aspects of TV broadcasting. Audio has been one area which stands out in its history. Popular music programs became very popular during the early 1970s and WTTW was no exception. A few of these programs also simulcasted on local FM radio stations. When WTTW moved into production on "Made in Chicago" the decision was made to move from mono TV audio to stereo for the FM stereo broadcast outlets. However, no stereo TV recorders existed at that time. WTTW engineers then modified existing Ampex quadruplex recorders to provide a stereo medium in sync with the video portion of the program. This garnered a local technical Emmy award for the staff in 1973. Further refinements to this system made 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 noise reduction (Type C and then Type A) was introduced as the staff was driven to make improvements in the audio specifications. When WTTW offered "Made In Chicago" to the network, the name was changed to "Soundstage" with the first official taping of that program with Jim Croce in June 1974. Soundstage was broadcast in simulcast FM stereo as its predecessor had been. WXRT-FM and WBBM-FM were two stations that participated in these broadcasts. In 1975, WTTW management was approached by startup company Telesonics with an idea to develop a system for TV broadcast that used a mono-compatible, stereo audio channel. About this time, the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) was completed and WTTW became one of the first broadcasters to move to the new building. WTTW broadcast from a temporary antenna as the now familiar twin towers had not yet been completed.[1]

Max Headroom pirating incident[edit]

See Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion

On November 22, 1987, WTTW had its signal hijacked by an unknown person wearing a Max Headroom mask. This was the second incident of that night involving the interruption of a Chicago television station's broadcast signal, with the first taking place during WGN-TV (channel 9)'s 9 p.m. newscast two hours before the WTTW signal intrusion incident. While WGN-TV's analog transmitter was located atop the John Hancock Center and allowed 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 almost two minutes of the interruption. These stations are two of only three existing victims of what is called broadcast signal intrusion. Premium cable channel HBO was the other victim of such signal overriding; its signal was intercepted during a movie broadcast in April 1986.

Digital television[edit]

Digital channels[edit]

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[2]
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 has plans for a Mobile DTV feed of subchannel 11.1, broadcasting at 1.83 Mbit/s.[3][4]

Local cable provider Comcast currently retransmits the main WTTW and all subchannels.

Beginning in May, 2015, WTTW returned to transmitting HD programming at 720p. Previously WTTW transmitted its HD programming in 1080i. Prior to the fall of 2009, WTTW transmitted its primary over-the-air signal in 720p, with HD programming converted from the original 1080i.

Previously, WTTW-HD/11.1 was branded as WTTW-Digital and featured a full-time schedule of high definition programs, while 11.2 transmitted the same schedule as analog channel 11. Starting in late 2008, channels 11.1 and 11.2 shared the same programing schedule. On March 30, 2009, WTTW Prime was launched on 11.2, which includes a combination of PBS primetime programs and WTTW's locally produced programing, including during the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. period when the main channel runs children's programming. The WTTW Prime schedule returns some PBS programming to its traditional times, including a public affairs block on Friday evenings and the Nightly Business Report at 5:30 p.m. WTTW Prime is also available to Comcast digital cable subscribers on channel 370.[5][6]

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.[7] 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 and the "WTTW-DT" callsign used to identify digital channel 47 during the pre-transition era was officially discontinued.


WTTW distributes its programs to public television stations independently of PBS. Its most prominent productions include The McLaughlin Group and the music program SoundStage.

WTTW produced The Frugal Gourmet with Jeff Smith in the 1980s. The station produced hundreds of significant arts programs, highlighting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Ravinia Festival. Its Chicago Matters series is perhaps the preeminent local journalism collaboration in the country, involving television, radio and print, and dialogue at the highest levels of articulation; the series is underwritten by the Chicago Community Trust.

However, the most famous program ever to originate at WTTW was Sneak Previews, the first movie review show on television. The show began in 1975 with hosts Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel 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 called Ebert Presents At the Movies, hosted by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Ebert himself hosting a segment called "Roger's Office".[8][9][10][11]

WTTW has produced over 110 SoundStage shows 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 produces the newsmagazine and analysis program Chicago Tonight, hosted by Phil Ponce. The program began as a half-hour panel interview program with local broadcast journalist John Callaway, but was later expanded to one hour with the addition of arts and restaurant reviews and other features.

Other popular programs produced by WTTW 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. In addition, WTTW features documentaries hosted by Geoffrey Baer, spotlighting the history and culture of various parts of the Chicago area. These programs are very popular and often result in a high volume of monetary contributions to the station. One of the popular shows on WTTW is The Artsiders, produced by Kai Harding, Inc. and created by former Big Idea director Chris Olsen.


External links[edit]