WEAU is the NBC-affiliated television station for Western Wisconsin, United States including the Chippewa Valley. Licensed to Eau Claire, it broadcasts a high definition digital on UHF channel 38 (or virtual channel 13 via PSIP) from a transmitter, north of Fairchild, along the Eau Claire–Clark county line. Owned by Gray Television, the station has studios on South Hastings Way/U.S. 53 Business in Altoona (with an Eau Claire postal address).
Western Wisconsin is one of the few markets in the United States to receive NBC programming from multiple over-the-air affiliates as La Crosse is also served by W50DR-D (channel 50), a repeater of KTTC (channel 10) from Rochester, Minnesota. This low-powered station airs from a transmitter in La Crescent, Minnesota and provides over-the-air service of NBC to viewers in La Crosse unable to receive WEAU due to area topography. However, WEAU is considered the primary NBC affiliate for that area and is the only affiliate available on cable and satellite television providers.
WEAU-TV signed-on December 17, 1953 under the ownership of Central Broadcasting Company. This ownership group was led by a predecessor to Morgan Murphy Media and also included the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram along with WEAU radio (790 AM now WEAQ at 1150 AM, and 94.1 FM now WIAL). It has always been a primary NBC affiliate but initially carried programs from CBS, ABC, and DuMont. During the late-1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. One of the first well-known personalities on WEAU was "Sheriff Bob" Dawson who hosted a children's show during the 1950s and 1960s.
The station initially broadcast from a tower immediately behind the WEAU studios on South Hastings Way in Eau Claire. A new tower, approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) tall, was built in the same location in 1956 before an approximately 2,000-foot (610 m) tower was constructed near Fairchild in 1966. The tower in Eau Claire is now topped by the digital transmitter of rival ABC affiliate WQOW.
Morgan Murphy sold off WEAU radio in 1959; in 1962, it sold WEAU-TV to The Post Corporation of Appleton (Morgan Murphy would later purchase rival WKBT). WEAU's departure from radio proved short-lived as The Post Corporation purchased Chippewa Falls radio station WAXX (1150 AM) in 1963, and two years later, established a new WEAU-FM at 100.7 (moving to 104.5 when the Fairchild tower was built) which largely simulcasted WAXX's country music format. WEAU-FM's call letters were switched to WAXX-FM in 1977, and in 1978, the country format was moved exclusively to WAXX-FM with the AM station becoming WAYY (which later moved to 790 AM in a swap with WEAQ).
In 1984, George N. Gillett Jr. purchased the Post Corporation stations including WEAU-TV. WAXX and WAYY were spun off to Central Communications at the same time, and in 1985, the two radio stations moved out of the WEAU building to a new facility behind its parking lot. Despite being under separate ownership, WEAU continued to provide weather forecasting services for WAXX and WAYY as well as other stations purchased by Central Communications (which included WEAU's original radio properties, WEAQ and WIAL, in addition to WECL and WDRK) until December 31, 2001. WEAU resumed providing weather services to those same six stations, now under the ownership of Maverick Media, on September 11, 2006.
Gillett began defaulting on some of his purchases in the late-1980s culminating in 1990 when he sold WEAU to Busse Broadcasting, owner of KOLN in Lincoln, Nebraska and KGIN in Grand Island, Nebraska (and at one point also owned WWMT in Kalamazoo, Michigan and KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City). In 1998, Gray Communications Systems (which was subsequently renamed Gray Television) and Cosmos Broadcasting (the broadcasting division of The Liberty Corporation which has since been merged into Raycom Media) teamed up to purchase the Busse stations with WEAU going to Cosmos and KOLN/KGIN going to Gray. Cosmos then traded WEAU back to Gray in exchange for WALB (Gray's original flagship station) in Albany, Georgia. Technology was the highlight of the following decade as WEAU-DT, which originally transmitted on channel 39, signed-on April 30, 2002 with the digital transmitter located at the top of the tower in Fairchild.
The station turned off its analog transmitter at 12:30 p.m. on February 16, 2009. At around 1 o'clock, WEAU's digital signal relocated from channel 39 to channel 13. On October 1, 2012, WEAU dropped the -TV suffix from its call sign. The transmission tower for WEAU was the tallest structure in the state of Wisconsin topping out at 2,000 feet (610 m), or over 500 feet (150 m) taller than the Empire State Building. The tower was shared with former sister radio station WAXX. On March 22, 2011, this tower collapsed during an intense winter storm that brought a mixture of terrible weather conditions. A replacement tower was completed by December 15, 2011 and broadcasts resumed on UHF channel 38 in late-December.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming |
|13.1||1080i||16:9||WEAU-DT||Main WEAU programming / NBC|
|13.2||480i||Antenna||Antenna TV |
|13.3||H&I||Heroes & Icons|
WEAU constructed its own Doppler weather radar in 1979, becoming the first television station in the market to have its own device and no longer rely on delayed data from the National Weather Service. It premiered a 5 o'clock weeknight newscast on September 14, 1981. A satellite truck to provide live remote broadcasts came into use by 1983. The station was met with tragedy in September 1991 when weeknight news anchor Cindy Schott died unexpectedly. Her death was later the subject of a story on Real Life with Jane Pauley and Dateline NBC. WEAU resorted to a solo anchor format for the 6 and 10 p.m. news (John Froyd) following Schott's death but returned to a co-anchor format for their weeknight 10 o'clock program (Pat Kreitlow and Judy Clark) in August 1998 upon Froyd's retirement.
On August 28, 2006, WEAU entered into a news share agreement with Fox affiliates WLAX/WEUX (then owned by Grant Broadcasting System II). The arrangement resulted in those stations airing a weeknight prime time newscast produced by this NBC outlet. Known as Fox 25/48 News at 9, the half-hour broadcast would eventually be expanded to weekends starting January 20, 2007.
WLAX/WEUX features a majority of WEAU's on-air team except for maintaining a separate weeknight meteorologist and weekend news anchor (although they can fill-in on the NBC outlet when needed). Fox 25/48 News at 9 originates from a secondary set at WEAU's studios and is fed to the WLAX/WEUX facility through a fiber-optic link. On August 5, 2011, WEAU upgraded its newscasts to high definition level. However, the WLAX/WEUX newscasts were not included in the change because they were produced from a secondary set that lacked HD cameras. As of fall 2015, Fox 25/48 News is broadcast in High Definition.
Notable former on-air staff
- Craig Coshun: FSN North Broadcaster/Big Ten Play-By-Play Announcer; WEAU Reporter/Anchor: 1988–90
- Pat Kreitlow: Wisconsin State Senator, 23rd District (D-Chippewa Falls), 2007–2011; WEAU Anchor/Reporter: mid 1990s–2005
- Cameron Sanders: CNN Correspondent & Host of public radio's Marketplace; WEAU Reporter: 1979–80