WRLH-TV is a Fox-affiliated television station located in Richmond, Virginia. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 26 from a transmitter at the studios of PBS affiliates WCVE-TV and WCVW in Bon Air. The station can also be seen on Comcast's Xfinity channel 26 and Verizon FiOS channel 11. There is a high definition feed offered on Comcast's Xfinity digital channel 511 and Verizon FiOS digital channel 805. Owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, it has studios on Westmoreland Street in the North Side area of Richmond.
WRLH began its operation on February 20, 1982. It was Richmond's first general entertainment Independent station, and the first new commercial station in Richmond since WRVA-TV (channel 12, now WWBT) signed on 26 years earlier. The calls were previously used on a predecessor to WNNE in Hartford, Vermont. It aired an analog signal on UHF channel 35 from a transmitter southwest of the U.S. 60/SR 288 interchange. It was the second station owned by the TVX Broadcast Group, who had launched WTVZ in Hampton Roads three years earlier. The WRLH call letters stand for Richmond and the two TVX executives primarily responsible for getting the station on the air, Gene Loving and Harvey Hudson. Like most Independents, it initially offered a format consisting of cartoons, sitcoms, movies, drama shows, and religious programming in mid-mornings after the cartoons.
In 1983, WRNX signed on channel 63 with a religious format, and WRLH's religious programming moved there. Some of those shows moved back to WRLH when WRNX took on a general entertainment format in Summer 1985 under a new call sign, WVRN, and the two stations now competed under the same format. The competition took a toll financially, and as a result, TVX sold WRLH to the A.S. Abell Company of Baltimore, Maryland in 1985. Times Mirror then turned around and sold WRLH (along with WMAR-TV in Baltimore) to Gillett Broadcasting in 1986. By then, WRLH was already a charter Fox affiliate, with the affiliation agreement having been inherited from TVX ownership. The station is the only major station in Richmond to have never changed its network affiliation, having been with Fox since the network's inception. Gillett then sold the station to Busse Broadcasting in 1987.
WVRN was put up for sale after its parent company, Sudbrink Broadcasting, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late-1986. At that point, Act III Broadcasting purchased WVRN. However, both stations continued to suffer financially. Part of the problem was that Fox only offered eight hours of programming a week at the time, meaning WRLH was still programmed largely as an independent. At the time, Richmond was just barely big enough to support what were essentially two independent stations. Soon after Act III bought WVRN, it offered to buy WRLH's programming on the condition that channel 35 itself be sold to a different group that would run it as a non-commercial or home shopping type station. Busse declined but offered instead to sell WRLH outright to Act III in 1988, which then put WVRN back on the market. There were no takers for channel 63, however, and Act III merged WVRN's programming onto WRLH's schedule, took WVRN off the air and returned the channel 63 license to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for deletion.
The Act III group was purchased by Abry Communications in 1993. Sullivan Broadcasters (in which Sinclair had a minority stake) took over the station in 1996, selling it to Sinclair in 1996. It began carrying a secondary UPN affiliation at the network's inception on January 16, 1995. This moved to WZXK (now WUPV-TV) in 1998. Also that year, WRLH began to carry programming from Kids' WB with NBC affiliate WWBT carrying The WB programming out of rotation in late-night since there was no full-time affiliate with the network in Richmond. Gradually, the station began de-emphasizing its call letters except in legal IDs, referring to itself on-air as "Fox 35, Cable 5." In 2001, it rebranded as "Fox Richmond."
On March 14, 2008, the Virginia High School League championships basketball tournament was televised for the first time by WRLH and other Virginia television stations.
On June 24, Sinclair announced that it was intending to purchase CBS affiliate WTVR-TV from Raycom Media and sell WRLH to the previously unknown Carma Broadcasting. Raycom had recently bought Lincoln Financial Media's three television stations, including NBC affiliate WWBT, and put WTVR on the market because FCC rules do not allow duopolies between two of the four largest stations in a market. However, Sinclair was to provide "sales and other non-programming related services" to WRLH after the sale was finalized. This could be seen by some as an attempt by Sinclair to sell WRLH to a shell corporation used for the purpose of circumventing FCC ownership rules, much as Sinclair has done for years with Cunningham Broadcasting.
In August 2008, the United States Department of Justice, under provisions of a consent decree with Raycom Media entered into as part of the Lincoln Financial Media deal, denied the company permission to sell WTVR to Sinclair. As a result, Raycom sought and was eventually granted a temporary waiver to keep both WTVR and WWBT until it could find a buyer for WTVR, which was eventually swapped to Local TV for WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama.
WRLH-DT2, a digital subchannel that carries MyNetworkTV, added This TV on day one. Sinclair and Fox recently finalized a six-year affiliation contract extension for the 19 Fox affiliates either owned or controlled by Sinclair, including WRLH. Channel 35's affiliation contract now expires in March 2012. It requested and received permission from the FCC to switch-off analog broadcasting on the original transition date of February 17, 2009, at 11:59 p.m. It was the only station in the Richmond market that ended analog broadcasting before the new date of June 12. WRLH did provide "nightlight" analog service for thirty days after. A false WRLH newscast sporting the "Fox 35" logo is seen at the beginning of the 2001 film Hannibal, and the station has been shown as the Fox affiliate watched by the Smiths in the Fox/TBS series American Dad!.
On May 15, 2012, Sinclair and Fox agreed to a five-year extension to the network's affiliation agreement with Sinclair's 19 Fox stations, including WRLH-TV, allowing them to continue carrying Fox programming through 2017.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|35.1||720p||16:9||WRLH-DT||Main WRLH-TV programming / Fox|
|35.2||480i||MyTV||MyNetworkTV / This TV|
WRLH-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 35, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 26. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 35.
On September 19, 1994, WWBT (then owned by the Jefferson-Pilot Corporation) entered into a news share agreement with WRLH. This resulted in a nightly prime time newscast being launched on WRLH known as Fox News at 10. On January 8, 2001, the weeknight broadcast was expanded to an hour. This made it the only station in the area to have a late-night hour-long news show. Friday nights at 10:45, there is a fifteen-minute sports highlight show that airs known as Fox First Sports.
WWBT became the first television station in the market to transition local news to high definition level on July 27, 2008. The nightly Fox News at 10 broadcast, however, remained in pillarboxed 4:3 standard definition for over four years because WRLH lacked a high definition-capable master control at its separate studios in order to receive the newscast in HD. In September 2012, WRLH underwent a master control upgrade so that the WWBT newscasts and some syndicated programming could now be received and transmitted in HD. This station did not face any competition to the prime time newscast until March 5, 2007, when WUPV launched a 35-minute weeknight newscast at 10 produced by WTVR. Thirty minute weekend shows on the latter outlet began October 20, 2007, and ended almost a year later on October 19.
The final weeknight newscast was November 7, and three days later, WUPV announced the agreement with WTVR had been canceled due to high financial costs producing the shows. On January 16, 2012, WRLH launched an hour-long extension of WWBT's weekday morning news. The production is known as Fox Richmond Morning News and can be seen from 7 until 8 airing against national morning programs on Richmond's big three affiliates. Both WRLH broadcasts feature the same music package and graphics theme used on other Sinclair-owned stations operating news departments.