KDNL-TV, virtual channel 30 (UHF digital channel 31), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to St. Louis, Missouri, United States. Owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, KDNL maintains studio facilities located on Cole Street in the Downtown West section of St. Louis, and its transmitter is located in Shrewsbury. On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channels 12 (standard definition) and 712 (high definition), and on AT&T U-verse channels 30 (SD) and 1030 (HD).
As an independent station
Channel 30 first signed on the air on June 8, 1969 as the first UHF television station in the St. Louis market in more than twelve years. Though its construction permit was awarded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1966 to a group of local investors under the banner Greater Saint Louis Television Corporation, the station was signed-on under the ownership of Evans Broadcasting, a New York City-based company which acquired the permit in 1968. Initially KDNL-TV ran a format of business news, religious shows, rejected network programs from NBC affiliate KSD-TV (channel 5, now KSDK) and then-ABC outlet KTVI (channel 2), and classic movies. By 1976, the station's schedule became more of the then-standard for independent stations of the era, including cartoons, westerns, sitcoms, religious shows during the early mornings and movies in primetime and late nights. Also in 1976, KDNL began televising St. Louis Blues hockey games, which ran on the station for five seasons.
In 1977, the business news block was gradually eliminated, making way for the addition of a few more second-hand classic sitcoms. It also phased out English dubs of Japanese programs. By this time, the station had evolved into a more conventional general entertainment independent, but its viewership was far behind that of established independent KPLR-TV (channel 11), as KDNL's big disadvantage that at the time was it was the only UHF station in St. Louis.
In March 1981, Evans Broadcasting agreed to sell the station to Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises. Programming during this time continued to consist of classic sitcoms, a couple of rejected network shows, and some religious programs during the day. Also in 1981, Channel 30 began carrying business news programming from the Financial News Network. On June 1, 1982, not long after Cox took control of the station, KDNL-TV began running subscription television service Preview during the nighttime hours, leaving KPLR-TV as the only full-time independent station in the St. Louis market. Preview was dropped nine months later, and the station resumed running the usual primetime fare of movies and classic sitcoms until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Channel 30 regained the broadcast rights to the Blues in 1983 for an additional three seasons. In 1984, cartoons were added to the lineup and the station reduced the number of religious programs on its schedule. Also under Cox ownership, the station won bids to acquire stronger off-network sitcoms.
As a Fox affiliate
On October 9, 1986, KDNL-TV and Cox's other two independent stations, KTVU in Oakland and WKBD-TV in Detroit, joined the Fox Broadcasting Company as charter affiliates. It eventually began branding as "Fox 30" by the early 1990s. However, the station was still programmed as an independent, as Fox would not air a full week's worth of programming until September 1993. Still, during this time, it began edging closer to KPLR (which had turned the Fox affiliation down before the network approached KDNL) in the ratings after having been well behind channel 11 for most of its first two decades on the air. In 1989, Cox sold channel 30 to St. Louis-based River City Broadcasting, a new company formed by two former KPLR employees.
In 1994, New World Communications bought St. Louis' longtime ABC affiliate, KTVI, and three other stations from Argyle Television. On May 22 of that year, New World signed an affiliation deal to switch the majority of its stations, including KTVI, to Fox. ABC originally wanted to affiliate with the longer-established KPLR. However, that station opted to affiliate with The WB (in preparation for that network's January 1995 launch) instead. More or less by default, ABC cut a deal to affiliate with KDNL and moved its programming there on August 7, 1995. Soon after joining the network, KDNL began showing UPN programming during the late night hours. Despite its large size, the St. Louis market did not have enough commercial stations at the time to support a full-time UPN affiliate. The station gradually began taking on the look of a major-network affiliate, picking up more first-run syndicated programs and reducing its reliance on older sitcoms.
On April 11, 1996, River City announced that it would merge with the Sinclair Broadcast Group for $2.3 billion. KDNL dropped the secondary UPN affiliation in January 1998, leaving the network without an outlet in St. Louis until religious station KNLC (channel 24) affiliated with the network in May 1999 (the UPN affiliation would subsequently move to KPLR the following year; St. Louis did not have a full-time UPN affiliate until East St. Louis-based WRBU (channel 46, now an Ion Television owned-and-operated station) joined the network in April 2003). In June 1999, Sinclair tried to sell KDNL to Emmis Communications as part of a sale that included six local radio stations that the company also owned in St. Louis at the time – KPNT (105.7 FM); KXOK-FM (97.1 FM, now KFTK-FM); WVRV (101.1 FM, now WXOS); WRTH (1430 AM, now KZQZ); WIL-FM (92.3); and KIHT (96.3 FM, now KNOU); Sinclair later pulled KDNL from the Emmis deal, opting to only sell the radio properties to the Indianapolis-based broadcaster for $220 million in June 2000. Sinclair once again tried to sell the station in June 2002, as part of the company's eventually aborted attempt to sell all seven of its ABC-affiliated stations to focus on its Fox and WB stations.
For most of its tenure as an ABC affiliate, KDNL has been among the network's weakest affiliates (this is in stark contrast to KTVI, which had been one of ABC's strongest affiliates). Several ABC shows, such as Good Morning America and World News Tonight, have garnered ratings so low in the St. Louis market that A.C. Nielsen cannot even rate them since the sample sizes are too small to generate a rating. As a result, KDNL has typically placed fifth among the St. Louis market's television stations, behind KPLR (a rare fourth-place finish for KDNL in 2013 played a factor in KPLR owner Tribune Broadcasting being able to buy KTVI as part of its purchase of Local TV, which given KDNL's usual ratings performance, would have otherwise not been allowed under FCC duopoly rules). Ironically, given its status, KDNL was actually the local broadcaster for the St. Louis Rams' victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, which had aired on ABC.
The station was also known to preempt ABC prime time programming in favor of paid programming. In November 2004, KDNL preempted ABC's telecast of the film Saving Private Ryan, following the lead of other Sinclair-owned ABC affiliates, over concerns regarding the violent battle scenes and graphic profanity that were left intact as ABC aired the film uncut (this occurred nine months after the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show controversy).
Sinclair refused to allow Charter Communications to carry KDNL's high definition signal until April 19, 2007 (when KDNL-DT began airing on Charter digital channel 780 as part of a three-year national retransmission agreement between Sinclair and Charter), making the station the longest holdout in the area to make its high definition digital feed available on the provider (not counting CBS affiliate KMOV pulling its HD signal from Charter in January 2007). On June 23, 2011, KDNL upgraded its severe weather ticker to be overlaid on high definition programming without having to downconvert HD content to standard definition.
Because of the station's lackluster performance, there have been recurring rumors about KPLR pursuing the ABC affiliation (despite owner Tribune Broadcasting's strong affiliation ties to The CW, and that group's near lack of any Big Three network affiliates among its stations until it acquired the Local TV station group) after KDNL's affiliation agreement expired due to that station's management agreement with (and now, outright ownership of) KTVI and their downplaying of references to its CW affiliation as part of that station's on-air branding, along with experimentation with The CW primetime schedule to maximize ratings. However, Sinclair has continued to include KDNL as part of affiliation agreement renewals with the group's other ABC-affiliated stations. Most recently, the network extended its affiliation agreement with KDNL and Sinclair's other ABC stations for five years on September 30, 2014, which will keep KDNL affiliated with the network until at least August 2020. As of 2014, through the company's various station acquisitions over the prior three years, Sinclair is now the largest ABC affiliate group, making it unlikely the station will lose its affiliation with the network in the near future.
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group entered into an agreement to acquire Tribune Media—which has owned KTVI and KPLR since 2013—for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune, pending regulatory approval by the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division. While KPLR is not in conflict with existing FCC in-market ownership rules and would be acquired by Sinclair in any event, the group is precluded from acquiring KTVI directly as broadcasters are not currently allowed to legally own more than two full-power television stations in a single market, and KTVI and KDNL both rank among the four highest-rated stations in the St. Louis market in total day viewership (Sinclair CEO Christopher Ripley cited St. Louis as one of three markets out of fourteen where ownership conflicts exist between the two groups, and the proposed acquisition would likely result in divestitures). As such, the companies may be required to sell either KDNL or KTVI to another station group in order to comply with FCC ownership rules and alleviate potential antitrust issues preceding approval of the acquisition; however, a sale of either station to an independent buyer is dependent on later decisions by the FCC regarding local ownership of broadcast television stations and future acts by Congress. Alternatively, Sinclair may opt to either take over the operations of KTVI or transfer ownership of and retain operational responsibilities for KDNL-TV through a local marketing agreement with one of its partner companies.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|30.1||720p||16:9||KDNL-DT||Main KDNL-TV programming / ABC|
On October 1, 2010, KDNL began carrying TheCoolTV on digital subchannel 30.2; it carried the music video network until Sinclair dropped TheCoolTV from 32 of its approximately 70 stations at the time on August 31, 2012. On October 28, 2010, KDNL began to carry The Country Network (now ZUUS Country) through a separate affiliation agreement with Sinclair, until some point in summer 2014, it was carried on digital subchannel 30.3. In July 2014, KDNL reactivated 30.2 to carry the classic movie network GetTV. In late December 2014, KDNL reactivated 30.3 to carry the male-oriented network Grit.
KDNL-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 30, on February 17, 2009, the original date in which full-power television stations in the United States were scheduled to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (the official date was pushed back to June 12). The station's digital signal continued to broadcasts on its pre-transition UHF channel 31. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 30.
As part of the SAFER Act, KDNL kept its analog signal on the air until February 26 to inform viewers of the digital television transition through a loop of public service announcements from the National Association of Broadcasters.
In addition to carrying the entire ABC network schedule, syndicated programs broadcast on KDNL-TV include Steve Harvey, The Simpsons, The People's Court, Family Feud, and Maury. For much of its tenure as an ABC affiliate, especially after shutting down its in-house news department in 2001, KDNL's schedule outside ABC programming has more closely resembled that of an independent or minor network-affiliated station than that of a major market Big Three network affiliate. The station's schedule heavily relies on syndication mainstays seen more often on CW and MyNetworkTV stations, along with a heavy schedule of paid and religious programming, leaving the ABC schedule without many solid lead-ins.
KDNL aired hourly news cut-ins during regular programming for most of its first 25 years on the air. In 1994, around the time that Fox began pushing its affiliates to start airing newscasts. KDNL established a full-scale news department. Initially, KDNL offered a nightly local news program at 9:00 p.m. that debuted on January 1, 1995. The program's original anchors were Jim Wicks (who came to St. Louis from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) and Leslie Lyles (who had been anchoring in Charleston, South Carolina).
When the station switched to ABC seven months later on August 7, the station moved the 9:00 p.m. newscast to 10:00 p.m.; the late newscast remained the only local program on channel 30 at the time, as it continued to carry children's programs on weekday mornings (with an hour-long block of World News This Morning being added as a lead-in to Good Morning America) and syndicated programming in midday and early-evening time slots. At the same time, the station fired Wicks and hired longtime KTVI anchor/reporter Don Marsh to join Leslie Lyles on the weeknight newscasts. In September 1996, KDNL expanded its news programming, adding early-evening newscasts at 5:00 p.m. daily and at 6:00 p.m. weeknights, along with weekday morning cut-ins during GMA. Ratings for the station's news programming steadily plummeted over the next few years, and did not even approach those of KTVI during its latter tenure as an ABC affiliate; for the first Nielsen sweeps month after the affiliation switch, in November 1995, KDNL's 10:00 p.m. newscast averaged only a 2 rating and 5 share. KDNL's newscasts were never able to become competitive with KMOV, KSDK (both have garnered at least 20% viewership shares over the years), or even KTVI due to the fact that many of the station's on-air staffers came from outside the St. Louis market and were not familiar to viewers. In KDNL's defense, the station was not able to hire on-air talent away from competing stations within the market, as KSDK, KMOV and KTVI included either six-month or one-year non-compete clauses in the contracts of its anchors, reporters and meteorologists; Marsh was one of the few prominent staffers with any history in the market. The early weeknight newscast had its time slot fluctuate between 5:00 and 6:00, and was even canceled outright for a time. Turnover in the newsroom was very high and this showed in the ratings.
In the spring of 2001, a transmitter failure left KDNL off-the-air for a number of days (or at least broadcasting at a lower power than it did normally). What little audience its newscasts had ended up switching to other sources and never returned. The station finally shut down its news department altogether on October 12, 2001. For the next nine years, KDNL was one of the very few major network affiliates that did not air any local newscasts, with the only news programming on the station consisting of national news programs from ABC News. Until January 2011, the station had been the largest major network affiliate in terms of market size without any local newscasts (CBS O&O WWJ-TV in Detroit was the largest until May 5, 2009, when it launched a now-canceled weekday morning show that was originally produced in partnership with the Detroit Free Press). Most major network affiliates are contractually obligated to air local news, but KDNL's affiliation agreement does not have such a clause.
KDNL occasionally employs its former news set for commentary on sporting events. It also airs local weather cut-ins on weekday mornings during Good Morning America. These updates were formerly compiled and presented by meteorologist Tony Pagnotti at Sinclair's News Central headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland. The forecasts are now compiled and presented from Columbus, Ohio sister operation WSYX/WTTE by those stations' evening meteorologists.
On January 3, 2011, NBC affiliate KSDK began producing weeknight 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts for KDNL through a news share agreement. The newscasts, known as "STL Now on ABC 30", aired in high definition from a virtual set at KSDK's Market Street studios in Downtown St. Louis and required the hiring of additional personnel. KDNL general manager Tom Tipton stated that the station did not want to run simulcasted or repurposed newscasts in its efforts to return daily news broadcasts to the station. The KSDK-produced newscasts on KDNL were pre-taped in advance. There was no sports report featured during the program. The news share agreement between the two stations was quite unusual given the rarity of a Big Three network affiliate producing newscasts for another Big Three station. In this case, KDNL and KSDK competed against one another in both timeslots. Although KDNL only aired local news programming on weekdays, the station did air replays of KSDK's entertainment/features program Show Me St. Louis on weekends. The agreement with KSDK was to end on December 31, 2013, however the last newscast produced by KSDK aired on January 31, 2014. On February 3, 2014, the 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts were respectively replaced with Family Feud and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
On February 10, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the station intended to restart an in-house news department, with 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts slated to be anchored by KFTK (97.1 FM) morning host and former KMOV reporter Jamie Allman. On November 24, 2014, KDNL officially announced that it would launch its new news program, The Allman Report, in January 2015. KDNL and Allman described the program as an extension of his radio show, with a conservative, "debate-driven format" that focuses on local headlines and issues. The Allman Report originates from the studios of Pelopidas in Brentwood rather than from KDNL's facilities.