WGTU is the ABC-affiliated television station for the northern Lower and eastern Upper peninsulas of Michigan in the United States. Licensed to Traverse City, it broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 29 (also the station's virtual channel via PSIP) from a transmitter east of Kalkaska. Owned by Cunningham Broadcasting, WGTU is operated through a local marketing agreement (LMA) by Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of NBC affiliate WPBN-TV and full-time satellite WTOM-TV. However, Sinclair effectively owns WGTU/WGTQ due to Cunningham's ownership structure. The two stations share studios on M-72 just west of Traverse City.
Like other network affiliates in this vast rural area, it operates a full-time, full-power satellite, WGTQ. Licensed to Sault Ste. Marie, this station broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 8 from a transmitter approximately 30 miles (48 km) SSE of Sault Ste. Marie near Goetzville in Southeastern Chippewa County. Together, the two stations are known on-air as ABC 29&8 and serve the largest television market by land area east of the Mississippi River: 23 counties in the Northern Lower Peninsula, three counties in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, and portions of Northern Ontario including Sault Ste. Marie's Canadian sister city.
WGTU began broadcasting on August 23, 1971. Before that, ABC programming in Northern Michigan was split between CBS affiliates WWTV/WWUP (soap operas, game shows) and WPBN/WTOM (weekend sporting events). During mid-1975, translator K55AW, channel 55, was added to serve the Alpena area. On October 29, 1976, it added WGTQ in Sault Ste. Marie to bring the full ABC schedule to the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
For many years, WGTQ was available in large portions of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. However, it has not been seen in Canada since the early-2000s. In Sudbury, the Persona cable system pulled WGTQ in favor of WXYZ-TV from Detroit. In Rouyn-Noranda and Val-d'Or, Quebec, Cablevision replaced WGTU with Boston's WCVB-TV. In the Canadian Sault, local cable provider Shaw Communications opted instead for Flint's ABC affiliate WJRT-TV though it was later replaced by WXYZ.
From the start, WGTU was locally owned, most recently by Tom Scanlan (who at one time also owned Marquette's WBUP until its 2003 sale to Max Media. In 1998, the station began to provide promotional and advertising services for cable-only WB affiliate "WBVC" which was based at WGTU's original studios on East Front Street in Downtown Traverse City. In early November 2006, WGTU and WGTQ upgraded their digital signals to begin offering ABC in high definition which can also be seen on Charter digital channel 788.
On September 19, 2007, an application was filed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by Max Media to sell WGTU/WGTQ and its CW cable-only station to Tucker Broadcasting for $10 million. After FCC approval, Tucker entered into a shared sales agreement with Barrington Broadcasting. According to the FCC filing, WPBN would sell advertising time and provide other programming for WGTU. The same was approved in April 2008. After WPBN renovated its studios over the summer, WGTU moved its operations from its longtime studios in Traverse City into WPBN's studios.
At some point in time, what had become CW affiliate "WBVC" was added to a new second digital subchannel of WGTU. This was done to offer non-cable viewers access to its programming. It also began using the WGTU-DT2 call sign in an official manner.
On June 12, 2009, WGTU and WGTQ reverted their digital signals back to the previous analog signal locations as part of the switch to digital-only broadcasting. On the same day, WGTU dropped WBVC from its second digital subchannel, replacing it with a simulcast of WPBN. This is because WTOM's digital signal no longer covers the Upper Peninsula side of the market. WGTU no longer operates WBVC.
On February 28, 2013, Barrington announced that it would sell its entire group, including WPBN/WTOM, to Sinclair Broadcast Group. At the same time, WGTU/WGTQ were acquired by Cunningham Broadcasting. Sinclair also acquired the LMA with WGTU/WGTQ; all but one of Cunningham's stations are operated by Sinclair under LMAs. The sale was completed on November 25. Nearly all of Cunningham's stock is held by trusts for the Smith family, founders and owners of Sinclair. Thus, for all intents and purposes, Sinclair owns both stations. Cunningham, previously known as Glencairn, has long been used as a shell corporation to allow Sinclair to operate duopolies where Sinclair cannot legally own them. The Traverse City/Cadillac/Sault Ste. Marie has only seven full-power stations, too few to legally permit a duopoly. Also, even if the Traverse City/Cadillac market had enough full-power stations to allow a duopoly, a WPBN/WGTU duopoly still wouldn't be legal as both stations are among the top four stations in the market.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|29.1 / 8.1|
7.2 / 4.2
|720p||16:9||WGTU-DT / WGTQ-DT|
WGTU7.2 / WGTQ
|Main WGTU/WGTQ programming / ABC|
|29.2 / 8.2|
7.1 / 4.1
|WPBN / WTOM|
WPBN7.1 / WTOM DT
|Simulcast of WPBN/WTOM / NBC|
|29.3 / 8.3|
7.3 / 4.3
Syndicated programming on the station includes The Dr. Oz Show, The Insider, Meredith and Judge Judy. It clears the entire ABC schedule, even though through 2008, network programming on the last Sunday in January was preempted for the yearly CBN/700 Club telethon as a part of its commitment to airing The 700 Club weekday mornings since the 1980s. This was also due to CBN personality Tim Robertson (son of Pat) owning an interest in former station owner Max Media. This caused complaints about the pre-empted ABC Sports programming. The issue became moot when Tucker/Barrington discontinued airing the show in fall 2008 when it moved to Fox affiliates WFQX/WFUP.
WGTU initially had a full-fledged news department. However, it made little headway against WWTV and WPBN. The news department was significantly cut back in 1984, and for more than a quarter-century it aired almost no local newscasts at all. The only local news on the station were weekday morning news, weather, and sports cut-ins at :25 and :55 past the hour during Good Morning America as well as a ten-minute news and weather update seen weeknights at 11.
After WGTU consolidated its operations with WPBN, it became possible that a full-fledged local newscast would return to WGTU. On September 13, 2010, that station finally took advantage of this channel being housed in the same facility and launched a weeknight newscast at 6:30 on WGTU, known as UpNorthLive News. The news/weather update seen weeknights at 11 remains as well but it is taped in advance as was the case before this station merged with WPBN.
One notable former news anchor from WGTU is Marc Schollett who is now the weeknight anchor on WPBN, and in 2013 began to anchor UpNorthLive News at 6:30 on WGTU/WGTQ.