WGN-TV, virtual channel 9 (UHF digital channel 19), is an independent television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. It is the flagship television property of the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of Tribune Media, which also owns radio station WGN (720 AM) and local cable news channel Chicagoland Television (CLTV).
WGN-TV maintains studio facilities and offices at 2501 West Bradley Place in Chicago's North Center community area (as such, it is the only major commercial television station in Chicago with studio facilities located outside the downtown business district), and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.
WGN-TV is also a pioneering superstation, and formerly programmed an alternate feed for cable and satellite subscribers throughout the United States and select areas of Canada. The former "superstation" feed, WGN America, was converted by Tribune into a conventional basic cable network in December 2014 through the channel's removal of all WGN-TV-produced news, sports and event programs and its concurrent addition to cable providers within the Chicago market (including Comcast Xfinity, AT&T U-verse, WOW! and RCN)—in addition to its existing local carriage on the DirecTV and Dish Network satellite services. However, WGN-TV regained national availability as the Chicago area feed was included as part of the initial offerings of Channel Master's LinearTV service, which launched in the spring of 2015.
WGN's longtime slogan, "Chicago's Very Own" (which has been used by the station since it was introduced in 1983), was the basis for a popular image campaign of the 1980s and 1990s, as performed by Chicago native Lou Rawls.
WGN Television began test broadcasts in February 1948 and began regular programming on April 5 with a two-hour special, WGN-TV Salute to Chicago, at 7:45 p.m. that evening. It was founded by the Chicago Tribune – whose slogan "World's Greatest Newspaper" was the basis for the call letters used by the television station and its radio sister. WGN-TV originally held dual primary affiliations with CBS and the DuMont Television Network, sharing both networks with WBKB (channel 4). For its first 13 years on the air, WGN-TV had operated from an annex of the Tribune Tower with their sister radio station at 435 North Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, a space currently filled by Dylan's Candy Bar.
Channel 9 lost its CBS affiliation as a sidebar to the February 1953 merger of ABC and United Paramount Theatres; at the time, CBS had purchased the VHF channel 4 license in Chicago (now WBBM-TV, which later moved to channel 2, forcing Phonevision off the air) from United Paramount Theatres – which absorbed WBKB's founding owners, Balaban and Katz in 1949, after a U.S. Supreme Court order forced Paramount Pictures to divest its chain of movie theaters – for $6.75 million, as the newly merged entity could not keep both WBKB and ABC owned-and-operated station WENR-TV (channel 7, now WLS-TV) due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations then enforced that forbade common ownership of two television stations that were licensed to the same market. Following a two-month cancellation clause, all of the CBS programs that WGN-TV had been airing were moved to the rechristened WBBM-TV, leaving channel 9 exclusively with DuMont.
WGN-TV soon became one of DuMont's strongest affiliates, as well as a major production center for that network. Several DuMont programs were produced from the station's facilities, including The Al Morgan Show, Chicago Symphony, Chicagoland Mystery Players, Music From Chicago, The Music Show, They Stand Accused, This is Music, Windy City Jamboree and Down You Go. WGN-TV had also telecast performances of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, beginning in 1953, when Fritz Reiner was the orchestra's music director.
The station lost the DuMont affiliation when the network ceased operations on August 6, 1956; at that point, WGN-TV became an independent station. Channel 9 then spent much of the next two decades as the top-rated independent in Chicago, offering a variety of general entertainment programs including movies, sports, off-network reruns and children's programs. For much of its existence, WGN-TV produced a large number of its own programs at its studios. A historic moment in Chicago television occurred when Sheldon Cooper launched The All-Time Hits, a musical variety show that ran for 13 weeks and featured The Buckinghams; the program was broadcast in color. During the late 1950s, the station was briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. In 1957, WGN-TV became one of the first television stations in the Chicago market to broadcast live programming in color.
Notable WGN-TV productions during the 1960s through the 1980s included several incarnations of the immensely popular Bozo's Circus, Ray Rayner and His Friends, Garfield Goose and Friends (which was hosted by Frazier Thomas, who also hosted a popular family movie showcase on the station titled Family Classics), The Mulqueens, and the popular children's educational series The Space Explorers. WGN-TV served as the Chicago affiliate of the United Network for its one month of existence in 1967, airing The Las Vegas Show. From 1974 to 1982, Phil Donahue's syndicated daytime talk show Donahue originated from the WGN-TV studios. In 1975, the agriculture program U.S. Farm Report debuted in national syndication, also originating from WGN-TV's studios.
In 1961, the WGN stations moved to studio facilities on West Bradley Place in the North Center neighborhood, a move undertaken for civil defense concerns in order to provide the station a safe location to broadcast in case of a hostile attack targeting downtown Chicago. WGN radio eventually moved back to North Michigan Avenue in the Pioneer Court extension in 1986, then back into Tribune Tower in October 2012; the television station, however, remains at the Bradley Place facility to this day.
In 1968, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) barred companies from owning newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same market; the FCC granted the Tribune Company permission to grandfather its combination of the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV and WGN radio through a cross-ownership waiver. In 2014, Tribune entered into a local marketing agreement with Venture Technologies Group, owners of WKQX-LP, a low-power analog television station on VHF channel 6 which uses a quirk in the FM bandplan to broadcast an audio format on the radio over 87.7 FM; this became a sports talk station that operated as a sister station to WGN radio. The station, which changed its calls to WGWG-LP, was not covered under the FCC restrictions (this issue became moot with the Tribune's separation from the Tribune Company); Tribune's LMA with WGWG-LP (now WRME-LP) ended on February 23, 2015, when it was transferred to Weigel Broadcasting and converted into an oldies/beautiful music format as a radio extension of the company's MeTV brand.
WGN-TV began to be distributed across the United States through cable television in October 1978, after Tulsa, Oklahoma-based United Video Satellite Group uplinked the station's signal via satellite. This signal was picked up by many fledgling cable television providers, as well as directly to satellite dish owners, turning WGN-TV into one of the first superstations, alongside New York City's WOR-TV (now WWOR-TV) and Atlanta's WTBS (now WPCH-TV).
As WGN-TV gained national exposure, the station became vulnerable in the Chicago area and underestimated the ability of UHF competitor WFLD (channel 32, now a Fox owned-and-operated station) to acquire top-rated syndicated programs (such as M*A*S*H, Happy Days and All in the Family). As a result, WFLD edged ahead of WGN-TV in the ratings by the end of 1979. WGN-TV continued with its programming format, competing with WFLD and another UHF independent station, WSNS-TV (channel 44, now a Telemundo owned-and-operated station). WSNS would leave the competition when it affiliated with the subscription television service ONTV during the nighttime hours in 1980, becoming a full-time affiliation in 1982. On November 10, 1984, WGN-TV became an affiliate of the MGM/UA Premiere Network, a film-based ad hoc television network, with the showing of Clash of the Titans.
On May 19, 1988, the FCC passed the Syndication Exclusivity Rights rule (or "SyndEx"), requiring cable providers to black out syndicated programs shown on any out-of-market stations, if a television station obtains the exclusive local rights to air a particular program. When the law went into effect on January 1, 1990, WGN-TV launched a separate national feed supplied with alternate programming that no stations claimed exclusive rights to in any market (along with sporting events, newscasts and several shows airing on WGN-TV that were also not subject to exclusivity claims). In September 1994, the station moved The Bozo Show from its longtime weekday morning slot to Sunday mornings, where it remained and was eventually reformatted to fit the FCC's educational programming guidelines until the program was controversially discontinued by station management in 2001.
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Television division of Time Warner and the Tribune Company announced the formation of The WB; through its part-ownership of the network, Tribune signed deals to affiliate the majority of the company's independent stations with the network. Even though its parent company would be a partner in The WB, WGN-TV had initially planned to remain an independent station due to concerns by station management with balancing a network affiliation and fulfilling the station's sports broadcast commitments. However, despite that reason, the station competed with WPWR-TV (channel 50) to become the Chicago charter affiliate of the United Paramount Network (UPN), another planned network founded by Chris-Craft/United Television in partnership with Paramount Television; UPN opted to sign an affiliation agreement with WPWR on November 10, 1993.
WGN-TV then reversed course on its earlier decision to turn down the WB affiliation, and signed an affiliation agreement with that network one month later on December 3, 1993; prior to the signing of the agreement, the network had planned to affiliate with competing independent WGBO-TV (channel 66), which instead joined Univision two weeks prior to The WB's launch on December 30, 1994. As part of the agreement, WGN would carry The WB's prime time schedule (and upon its September 1995 debut, Kids' WB children's programming) on its national superstation feed, with the purpose of making the network available to areas of the United States where The WB did not have an affiliate early on.
WGN-TV became a charter affiliate of The WB when it launched on January 11, 1995. Channel 9 only aired the network's prime time programming until 2004; the Kids' WB weekday and Saturday blocks aired locally on former Univision affiliate WCIU-TV (channel 26), which had converted into an English-language independent station on the same date that WGBO became a Univision owned-and-operated station, through a separate deal reached on February 19, 1995. As was the case with other WB-affiliated stations during the network's early years, WGN-TV initially continued to essentially be programmed as a de facto independent station. WGN's programming upon becoming a WB affiliate remained unchanged, as the network had only broadcast prime time shows on Wednesday nights at its launch and would not carry six nights a week of programming until September 1999 (running Sunday through Fridays). Feature films filled the time period leading into the station's late-evening newscast on nights when network programs did not air, eventually being relegated to Saturdays by 1999.
The WB expanded its over-the-air affiliate coverage over time, and launched a cable-only affiliate group for areas where it could not align with an over-the-air station; this made using the superstation feed as a default affiliate no longer necessary as a result, leading to the network's October 1999 request that WGN stop carrying The WB's programming outside the Chicago market. In 2000, WGN-TV constructed a new newsroom on the eastern portion of its studio facility, increasing the building's space to 29,000 square feet (the original newsroom was converted into the station's weather center). In 2004, WGN-TV began broadcasting Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Bulls home games in high definition.
On January 24, 2006, Time Warner's Warner Bros. unit and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN. In their place, the companies would combine the respective programming of the two networks to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. On that same date, The CW signed WGN-TV as the network's Chicago affiliate as part of a ten-year agreement that saw Tribune Broadcasting sign 16 of its 18 other WB-affiliated stations at the time to serve as the network's charter stations. WGN switched to The CW when it launched on September 18, 2006 (WGN America never carried The CW's programming during its final years as WGN-TV's superstation feed, as the network has sufficient broadcast coverage through over-the-air stations, digital multicast channels and cable-only affiliates negating the need for WGN America to provide The CW with additional nationwide coverage).
On April 2, 2007, Chicago investor Sam Zell announced plans to purchase the Tribune Company, with intentions to take the publicly traded firm private; the deal was completed on December 20, 2007. Prior to the close of the sale, WGN-TV was one of two commercial television stations in Chicago (not counting network-owned stations) to have never been involved in an ownership transaction (WCIU is the other, having been owned by Weigel Broadcasting since its sign-on in February 1964). Tribune subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008, due to debt accrued from Zell's leveraged buyout and costs from the privatization of the company; Tribune emerged from bankruptcy in December 2012 under the control of its senior debt holders Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase.
On October 13, 2008, WGN-TV began a partnership with WGN radio to provide weather forecasts for the station; it replaced The Weather Channel as a content partner, as the cable network ended its ten-year forecast partnership with WGN radio on that date. On February 4, 2009, Tribune Broadcasting announced it would merge CLTV's operations with channel 9's news department (in addition to sharing resources with WGN-TV, CLTV also shares newsgathering resources with the Chicago Tribune). In 2009, WGN-TV began streaming its weekday midday and 5:00 p.m. newscasts live on its website. On February 22, 2010, WGN-TV became the first television station in the Chicago market to allow iPhone users to watch live streams of its newscasts; the 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. block of the WGN Morning News, the midday and 5:00 p.m. newscasts were initially available for streaming to iPhone users; at present, all newscasts are streamed through the station's website and on Apple devices, though sports segments are blacked out (presented only with the audio feed) due to rights restrictions with the major sports leagues.
WGN-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 9, 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 continued to broadcasts on its pre-transition UHF channel 19. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 9. Though not a participant in the SAFER Act, WWME-CA (channel 23) simulcast WGN-TV's 9:00 p.m. newscasts (except in the event of sports delays) and WMAQ-TV (channel 5)'s morning and early evening newscasts until July 12 to provide an analog "lifeline" for viewers that were unprepared for or who had reception issues following the digital transition.
On January 1, 2011, Tribune launched its Antenna TV programming services on the station's .2 subchannel. On May 13, 2013, Tribune Broadcasting announced that it would replace Weigel Broadcasting (which like Tribune, is headquartered in Chicago and decided to leave the joint venture with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to concentrate on the similarly formatted movie channel Movies! and its existing classic television network MeTV) as a partner in This TV on November 1 of that year. As a result, the network's Chicago affiliation moved to WGN-TV on that date on a new 9.3 digital subchannel.
On July 10, 2013, Tribune announced plans to spin off its publishing division into a separate company. Once the split was finalized on August 4, 2014, ending the station's co-ownership with the Tribune after 66 years, WGN-TV and WGN radio remained with the renamed Tribune Media Company (which retains all non-publishing assets). Additionally in December 2013, the station gained new sister stations in nearby markets as part of Tribune's purchase of the Local TV station group – ABC affiliate WQAD-TV in the Quad Cities and Fox affiliate WITI in Milwaukee – both of which had already shared news stories from their markets with WGN-TV as part of an existing content and broadcast management agreement between Local TV and Tribune.
As a CW affiliate, WGN-TV had been one of the network's higher-rated affiliates in terms of viewership, often drawing more viewers than Fox-owned WFLD, even in prime time despite the latter's Fox programming. As was the case during its final two years as a WB affiliate, WGN-TV aired the entire CW network schedule, including the network's children's program blocks (Kids' WB, The CW4Kids/Toonzai, Vortexx and One Magnificent Morning); however, from September 2013 until it disaffiliated from the network, it had aired The Bill Cunningham Show – which aired as part of The CW Daytime – one hour earlier (at 2:00 p.m.) than the network's other Central Time Zone affiliates, aligning with its airtime in the Eastern Time Zone.
Return to independence
On May 23, 2016, Tribune Broadcasting and The CW reached a five-year affiliation agreement that renewed the network's affiliations with twelve of Tribune's CW-affiliated stations through the 2020-21 television season; the deal came after a year-long disagreement between The CW's managing partner CBS Corporation and Tribune concerning financial terms, specifically the amount of reverse compensation that The CW had sought from the group's CW affiliates.
While negotiating the terms of its agreement with CBS Corporation, Tribune Broadcasting decided not to renew The CW's affiliation with WGN-TV after the network's initial ten-year agreement with Tribune expired on August 31, 2016. With this, Tribune announced that Channel 9 would become an independent station on September 1, filling time slots previously occupied by CW network shows with additional syndicated programs and expanded weekend morning newscasts, as well as most notably, an increased number of prime time game telecasts involving the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks during the calendar year. The CW affiliation would then move to MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated station WPWR-TV (which would mark the second time that Fox Television Stations had owned a CW-affiliated station, as it operated Charlotte sister station WJZY as a CW affiliate for approximately 3½ months after the closure of its purchase of that station in April 2013, honoring an existing affiliation contract that was already scheduled to expire before WJZY's conversion into a Fox O&O was announced).
The impetus of the move – which marked the first time in 21 years that WGN-TV would not be affiliated with a major broadcast network – was to alleviate scheduling issues with the station's sports programming because of contractual stipulations set by The CW (and by The WB beforehand) that limited the number of daytime and prime time programming preemptions that it could make on an annual basis (outside of those necessitated by coverage of breaking news), which resulted in WGN having to maintain time-buy agreements with other local stations – WCIU-TV from 1999 until 2015, and then WPWR-TV afterward – to defer some game telecasts that it was assigned to produce and broadcast. During its tenures with The WB and The CW, WGN had to tape delay network programs that were deferred due to sports events scheduled during designated programming hours for broadcast later in the week (usually on Saturday and/or Sunday evenings, as The CW does not air any prime time programming on weekends; the station did not air certain deferred CW programs on Sunday nights until the network turned over the five-hour prime time slot to its affiliates in September 2009).
On July 12, 2016, Tribune Broadcasting appointed Paul Rennie as President and General Manager of WGN-TV. The final CW program to air on WGN-TV was Whose Line Is It Anyway? at 8:30 p.m. Central Time on August 31, 2016, leading into the station's prime time newscast. All CW network programs moved to WPWR the following day on September 1, beginning with that day's airing of The Bill Cunningham Show, with that station's existing MyNetworkTV programming being shifted to air after The CW's prime time schedule on Monday through Friday nights. As such, WPWR displaced WLVI in Boston (which Tribune Broadcasting owned from 1994 until it sold the station to Sunbeam Television in 2006) as the largest CW station that is not owned by either Tribune or CBS Corporation (the latter's television station subsidiary, CBS Television Stations, owns WBBM-TV (channel 2), which is the largest CBS owned-and-operated station that is not operated as part of a duopoly).
On May 8, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, subject to government approval. The prospect of Sinclair acquiring WGN was met with consternation among station employees, due to concerns over the influence the company might have on the station's news content. Sinclair has been known for requiring its stations to run news reports and commentaries that reflect a conservative perspective; the city of Chicago and some adjacent suburbs are predominately liberal, while some outlying areas elsewhere in the market lean conservative.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|9.1||1080i||16:9||WGN-DT||Main WGN-TV programming|
Due to its news-intensive schedule, WGN, despite returning to its status as an independent after ending 21 years of network affiliation, airs only four hours of syndicated programs within its weekday daytime schedule. Syndicated programs on WGN-TV (as of September 2017) include Maury, Crime Watch Daily, Rachael Ray, Two and a Half Men, Mom, and Last Man Standing.
Prior to the effective separation of the two services in December 2014, WGN-TV and its superstation feed-turned-basic cable channel WGN America had vastly different program offerings due to syndication exclusivity rules; although the local and national feeds initially shared a significant amount of common programming after the SyndEx law was implemented, WGN-TV and WGN America's schedules became increasingly disparate during the 1990s and 2000s. By 2013, the only WGN-TV programs that Tribune held full-signal national broadcast rights to air on WGN America included local newscasts and sports programming, select news specials and special events (such as the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade and the Mummer's Parade); public affairs programs People to People and Adelante, Chicago; a limited inventory of off-network syndicated reruns; religious programs Singsation!, Discover the Truth and Tomorrow's World; and select feature films (which aired in different timeslots from those on WGN-TV/Chicago). Likewise, WGN-TV did not carry WGN America's original drama series Salem or Manhattan outside of promotional preview promos (as a result and prior to the channel being added by Chicago-area cable systems, WGN America's original programming was only viewable in the Chicago market by subscribers of DirecTV and Dish Network, though WGN America has also made arrangements to stream both series through Hulu).
WGN-TV presently broadcasts 70½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 12½ hours on weekdays and four hours each on Saturdays and Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to locally produced news programming, it is the highest newscast output of any television station in Chicago and the state of Illinois. In addition, the station produces Instant Replay, a 20-minute sports highlight program that airs on Sunday evenings during the final 20 minutes of the 9:00 p.m. newscast and is hosted by longtime sports director Dan Roan. Since July 8, 2010, CLTV airs live half-hour editions of WGN-TV's 9:00 p.m. newscast on certain nights in which WGN-TV is scheduled to telecast a sports event being held on the West Coast at 9:00 p.m. (an additional half-hour live newscast then airs following the game on WGN-TV). WGN-TV's news department is notable for the longevity of its on-air news staff, with many of its news anchors having worked for channel 9 for at least ten years. WGN-TV is also the largest television station by market size that is a broadcast partner in the WeatherBug real-time automated weather observation network.
News has played an important role on WGN-TV since the station's beginnings, due in part to its ties to the Chicago Tribune. From the station's sign-on, WGN produced a nightly late evening newscast as well as Nightbeat, a 15-minute overnight newscast (by the time the program was canceled in 1983, Nightbeat usually served as the lead-out of the station's late evening movie presentations). In 1965, WGN-TV introduced the first news anchor team, Gary Park and Jim Ruddle. On March 10, 1980, WGN-TV debuted the first hour-long primetime newscast in the Midwest, when it moved its half-hour 10:00 p.m. newscast (then titled John Drury and Newsnine) to 9:00 p.m. and expanded it to one hour, relaunching it as The Nine O'Clock News. The second half-hour of the program was dropped on June 9, 1980, with the newscast being accompanied at 9:30 p.m. by the nationally syndicated Independent Network News, which was produced by sister station WPIX in New York City; INN was paired with the local prime time newscast until the national program's cancellation in June 1990.
Since the reformatting as a prime time newscast, WGN-TV has been the ratings leader in the 9:00 p.m. timeslot, with or without news competition in the arena. In the spring of 1988, however, The Nine O'Clock News (which was eventually retitled WGN News at Nine in 1993, when the station unified the branding of all of its newscasts under the "WGN News" moniker) gained competition when Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD – which launched its news department in August 1987 with the premiere of half-hour 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. newscasts – consolidated those programs into a single broadcast that went up against WGN's established newscast at 9:00 p.m. Although WFLD aggressively marketed its fledgling newscast towards younger audiences and as having a fresher style compared to WGN's more traditional news format, viewers remained loyal to channel 9, which has remained #1 in the ratings at 9:00 ever since. For this reason, WFLD moved back its prime time newscast to an earlier timeslot in September 1988, leaving WGN as the only 9:00 newscast in the Chicago market; the two stations would become competitors again in September 1989, when WFLD reverted to placing its newscast up against WGN's in the 9:00 slot, in anticipation of the planned expansion of Fox's prime time schedule.
In 1984, WGN debuted an hour-long midday newscast at noon each Monday through Friday, originally under the title Newscope. The midday newscast would eventually expand to 90 minutes (starting at 11:30 a.m.) on September 15, 2008, and then to two hours (at 11:00 a.m.) on October 5, 2009. The station made its first foray into weekend morning news with the debut of hour-long 8:00 a.m. newscasts on Saturdays and Sundays in 1992 (an unusual situation considering that the weekday morning newscast would not debut for another two years); the Sunday edition was cancelled in September 1994 – concurrent with the move of The Bozo Show to Sunday mornings due to the launch of the WGN Morning News in the program's weekday morning timeslot; the Saturday edition eventually followed suit in 1998. Weekend morning newscasts returned on October 2, 2010, with the debut of hour-long editions at 6:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
The station dropped its weekday morning children's programs on September 6, 1994, replacing them with the then one hour-long WGN Morning News; that newscast gradually expanded over time: first to two hours in January 1996, then to three hours from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. eight months later, with half-hour expansions in January 2001 (to 5:30 a.m.), January 2004 (to 5:00 a.m.), August 16, 2010 (to 4:30 a.m.), and July 11, 2011 (to 4:00 a.m.), with an hour-long expansion (to 10:00 a.m.) on September 3, 2013. In July 1996, WGN-TV began using a Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter for newsgathering, "Skycam 9," which is used for certain breaking news events and traffic reporting.
On November 1, 2007, WGN debuted a new custom news music package Chicago's Very Own by 615 Music (which shares its name with a John Hegner-composed news theme that the station used from 1993 to 1997). On July 19, 2008, WGN-TV became the third television station in the Chicago market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition (as of July 2010, WGN-TV is the first station in the market to broadcast all locally originated portions of its newscasts, including live field reports, in HD; this is in contrast to the other major English-language news stations in Chicago, which all broadcast in-studio segments in HD and some or all of their live field footage in 16:9 widescreen standard definition).
WGN first launched an early-evening newscast on September 15, 2008, when it premiered the WGN Evening News, a half-hour program at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Fridays. The early-evening newscast expanded to one hour (starting at 5:00 p.m.) on October 5, 2009, and then to Saturday and Sunday evenings on July 12, 2014; the weekday editions of the newscast were later expanded to include a second hour (starting at 4:00 p.m.) two months later on September 8, 2014, and then to three hours (extending it to the 6:00 p.m. hour) on April 4, 2017. On October 5, 2015, the station restored a 10:00 p.m. newscast – which only airs Monday through Fridays – to its schedule after 35 years.
National carriage on WGN America
From 1978 until the channel's conversion into a conventional cable network in 2014, WGN America carried select local news and public affairs programs from WGN-TV. As WGN-TV's superstation feed, it originally simulcast the first incarnation of the 10:00 p.m. newscast, and then the current prime time newscast when it launched in March 1980, as well as Nightbeat and the previous incarnation of the station's weekend morning newscasts it produced during the 1990s. From 1990 until the program was dropped from the channel on January 30, 2014, WGN-TV's nightly 9:00 p.m. newscast was occasionally preempted outside Chicago if rights issues prevented a sports telecast that was scheduled to start at or run past 9:00 p.m. Central Time from being cleared for broadcast on WGN America. The midday newscast was also occasionally preempted – albeit, far less often – due to Cubs or White Sox games starting on WGN-TV/WGN America at 12:00 p.m. local time. Syndication exclusivity rules on paid segments featured within the newscast (as WGN-TV's sales department negotiates appearances and terms, which would result in the charging of a higher rate if the segments aired nationally) reportedly resulted in the initial removal of the WGN Morning News from WGN America in September 1996 (the only known incidence in which SyndEx rules resulted in a news program's preemption on cable providers outside its primary broadcast area); simulcasts of the WGN Morning News returned to the national channel on February 3, 2014, when WGN America began airing the 4:00 a.m. hour.
For unknown reasons, the superstation feed never cleared the 11:00 a.m. hour of the midday newscast, the early-evening and weekend morning newscasts that were added by WGN-TV between 2008 and the start of WGN America's conversion into a conventional cable channel. From 2008 to 2014, WGN-TV's news anchors referenced the WGN America telecast at the start of the news simulcasts on weekdays (except in instances when a newscast was preempted by the superstation feed). All news simulcasts were dropped from WGN America on December 13, 2014, although some cable providers carrying the channel on their limited basic programming tiers continued to simulcast the first two hours of the weekday morning newscast in the interim until carriage agreements were amended to allow the national WGN to move to their expanded basic tiers.
The station's 9:00 p.m. newscast usually receives significantly higher viewership than WFLD's competing newscast in that slot, despite the latter's Fox programming lead-in, and generally has a larger audience than the 10:00 p.m. newscast on CBS-owned WBBM-TV. The WGN Morning News also draws in a sizeable number of viewers in the Chicago market, often coming in first place overall, over WFLD's morning news program Good Day Chicago.
In the May 2015 local Nielsen ratings, WGN's newscasts placed third overall among Chicago's television stations. The 9:00 p.m. newscast dominated over that of its sole prime time news competitor WFLD with a 4.3 rating (up 5% from the May 2014 sweeps period) and placed first in the timeslot across all key demographics (including adults, men and women ages 25–54, and adults 18-49), in addition to beating WBBM-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscast for third place among the Chicago market's late-evening newscasts. The morning newscast tied (with WLS-TV) in all demographics at 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., second in total viewers at 7:00 a.m. and first among major age demos for the final four hours of the broadcast; while the midday newscast beat the WLS-TV talk show Windy City Live in all key demographics during the 11:00 a.m. The station also placed second among the early-evening newscasts in all younger demographics (behind WLS-TV) with a 50% increase in viewership at 4:00 p.m. compared to the syndicated programming that filled that hour in May 2014. In the February 2015 local ratings, the 9:00 p.m. newscast placed first among the market's prime time newscasts with a 5.0 rating, which although down a share of 0.3 compared to February 2014, was still ahead of WFLD's 2.5 rating for its late newscast.
- Weather team
In addition to providing weather forecasts for WGN-TV, the WGN Weathercenter Team also provides forecasts for the Chicago Tribune, WGN (720 kHz) and CLTV.
Notable former on-air staff
- Mike Barz
- Bob Bell
- Thom Brennaman (now at Fox Sports and Fox Sports Ohio)
- Jack Brickhouse
- Lorn Brown
- Roy Brown
- Cheryl Burton (now at WLS-TV in Chicago)
- Susan Carlson (now with WMAQ-TV)
- Chip Caray (now at Fox Sports South and SportSouth)
- Harry Caray
- Bob Collins
- Bob Costas (now at NBC News and MLB Network)
- Joey D'Auria
- Merri Dee
- Phil Donahue
- John Drury
- Jim Durham
- Milo Hamilton
- Pat Harvey (now at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles)
- Bob Jordan (retired)
- Johnny "Red" Kerr
- Rich King
- Wayne Larrivee
- Roy Leonard
- Vince Lloyd
- Ned Locke
- Joe McConnell
- Allison Payne
- Lloyd Pettit
- Jimmy Piersall
- Ray Rayner
- Randy Salerno
- Don Sandburg
- John Schubeck
- Keenan Smith
- Wendell Smith
- Chuck Swirsky
- Jack Taylor
- Roseanne Tellez
- Frazier Thomas
- Harry Volkman
- Jim Williams
- Bill Weir
Throughout its history, WGN-TV has had a long association with Chicago sports. Each of the city's major professional sports franchises, along with several local collegiate teams, have had their games regularly televised on channel 9. WGN-TV maintains contracts with the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks for the right to broadcast their games (with some local television rights shared with Comcast SportsNet Chicago); due to WGN's network affiliation contracts that limit the number of programming preemptions annually, some games produced by the station may instead air locally on WPWR-TV (certain game telecasts produced by WGN-TV had previously aired on WCIU-TV from 1999 to 2014). WGN-TV also distributes its telecasts of White Sox and Bulls games to television stations in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa that are within each team's designated market area (including sister stations WHO-DT in Des Moines and WQAD in Davenport, Iowa, which both carry games on digital subchannels; and fellow CW affiliate WISH-TV in Indianapolis).
WGN Sports has historically had a long relationship with the Chicago Cubs, dating to the two organizations' mutual ownership under the Tribune Company from 1981 to 2008. In November 2013, the team exercised an option to terminate its existing deal with WGN after the 2014 season (it was originally set to end in 2022), and demanded a higher-valued contract lasting through the 2019 season. On January 7, 2015, WGN-TV announced that it would maintain broadcast rights to 45 Cubs games per-season through the 2019 season, all of which would air within the Chicago market; the remaining games are aired by Comcast SportsNet Chicago and ABC owned-and-operated station WLS-TV.
When permitted under its contracts, WGN America occasionally aired national simulcasts of WGN's sports programming. In May 2014, Tribune announced that it would no longer carry WGN Sports telecasts on WGN America beginning in 2015. Tribune Media president and CEO Peter Liguori cited limited viewership and advertising revenue generated from the sports broadcasts relative to its expense (the Cubs package cost five times as much for rights fees alone as the revenue it brought in), and his personal dislike of the Cubs in particular, as the reasoning for the change.
However, WGN-TV broadcasts of Cubs and White Sox games often are available on the DirecTV version of the MLB Extra Innings package, complete with local commercials and station promos not shown on WGN America in recent years. This also is the case for WGN-produced games shown on WPWR-TV, as well as WLS-TV broadcasts.
On October 1, 2012, WGN-TV aired a Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys locally (NFL rules require national games aired by cable networks to be syndicated to broadcast stations in the participating teams' home markets). Although WLS-TV has right of first refusal to MNF due to its corporate parent The Walt Disney Company's majority ownership of ESPN, WLS passed on carrying the game in order to broadcast Dancing with the Stars live instead.
Other locally produced programming
In addition to its newscasts, WGN-TV also produces other local non-news or topical programs; these include public affairs programs People to People (hosted by anchor Micah Materre, covering community events and major local and national news stories from the past week) and Adelante, Chicago (hosted by anchor Lourdes Duarte, featuring topical discussions and feature segments focusing on Chicago's Hispanic community), which air bi-weekly on Saturday mornings; and lifestyle program Chicago's Best (hosted by Brittney Payton and Elliott Bambrough, focusing on cuisine, attractions and events throughout Chicago). In addition, the station broadcasts several local events including the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade, and the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia (by arrangement with its MyNetworkTV-affiliated sister station in that market, WPHL-TV); WGN-TV previously held rights to the Bud Billiken Parade from 1978 to 2012, with WLS-TV (which had also been airing the parade since 1984) gaining primary rights to the broadcast beginning in 2013.
WGN-TV was the final originating station for the Illinois Lottery, whose twice daily drawings were held at the station's Bradley Place studios, until October 1, 2015, when the lottery began to use random number generators from their headquarters to draw winning numbers. WGN-TV lost the rights to the Illinois Lottery drawings to Fox-owned WFLD in 1987, and then reacquired the rights from CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1994. Except for instances in which the evening drawing could not air due to sports clearance restrictions that prevented news simulcasts from airing outside Chicago, all drawings (including those of the multi-state Mega Millions and Powerball) were simulcast on WGN America, which until they were dropped by the channel on December 12, 2014, made Illinois the only state-run lottery in the U.S. whose drawings are broadcast nationwide.
WGN-TV in Canada
In Canada, WGN-TV is available on most cable television providers as well as on satellite providers Bell TV and Shaw Direct, typically as part of a la carte superstation packages available to subscribers of premium cable channels (such as The Movie Network and its sister service The Movie Network Encore, Movie Central, Super Channel and Encore Avenue). Bell TV has always carried the Chicago area feed, in lieu of the station's now-former superstation feed; however, Shaw Direct and many cable providers in that country replaced WGN America with WGN-TV/Chicago on January 17, 2007, due to Shaw Broadcast Services (the primary supplier of the WGN superstation feed in Canada) switching the WGN feed distributed in that country from the superstation feed to the Chicago area signal.
As a result of its carriage by Canadian cable and satellite providers, WGN-TV provided CW network programs to most areas of Canada that are located farther away from the U.S. border and therefore may be out of reach from the over-the-air signals of other CW affiliates from American cities located near the Canada–US border. WGN's sports output is also available in Canada through these means, as complete blackouts of programming whose rights are owned by Canadian broadcasters only apply to U.S. specialty channels carried in Canada, and not over-the-air channels. However, simultaneous substitution rules may still apply to CW programming that is also being aired by Canadian terrestrial channels. The WGN feed has at times been used for NHL Center Ice on some systems.
Due to the channel's conversion from a superstation into a basic cable channel the day prior, Tribune Broadcasting sent notice on December 15, 2014, that it would terminate all national distribution rights for WGN America within Canada, effective January 1, 2015. While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) had approved the Chicago station's broadcast signal and its national cable feed for carriage on any domestic multichannel video programming distributor (including cable, satellite, IPTV and MMDS providers), the move was likely due to genre protection rules then enforced by the Commission that prohibited general entertainment programming formats by domestic or foreign cable channels. WGN-TV's distribution in the country was not affected by the change, as it is still authorized for domestic distribution as a superstation.