WUSA, virtual and VHF digital channel 9, is a CBS-affiliated television station licensed to the American capital city of Washington, District of Columbia. The station is owned by Tegna, Inc. (based in the Virginia suburb of McLean) and effectively serves as the flagship television property of the company. WUSA's studios and transmitter are located at Broadcast House on Wisconsin Avenue in the Tenleytown neighborhood on the northwestern side of Washington. WUSA is the largest CBS affiliate by market size (sister station KHOU in Houston being the second-largest and Meredith's WGCL-TV in Atlanta being the third-largest) that is not owned and operated by the network.
The station's signal is relayed on a low-powered digital translator station, W50BD-D, in Moorefield, West Virginia (which is owned by Valley TV Cooperative, Inc.). It also maintains a channel share arrangement with Silver Spring, Maryland-licensed WJAL, channel 68 (owned by Entravision Communications), a current LATV affiliate which sold its original spectrum in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 2016 FCC spectrum auction and arranged to share WUSA's channel frequency and transmitter.
The station first went on the air on January 11, 1949 as WOIC, and began full-time operations on January 16. The fourth-oldest station in the nation's capital, channel 9 was originally owned by the Bamberger Broadcasting Service, a subsidiary of R.H. Macy and Company. Bamberger also owned WOR-AM-FM in New York City, and was working to put WOR-TV (channel 9, now WWOR-TV in Secaucus, New Jersey) on the air at the same time. Nine days later, WOIC broadcast the first televised American presidential inaugural address, given by President Harry S. Truman. WOIC picked up the CBS affiliation upon signing on, replacing WMAL-TV (channel 7, now WJLA-TV) as the network's Washington outlet. However, WOR was a shareholder in the Mutual Radio Network, which had plans to enter television with WOIC and WOR-TV as the flagship stations of its network; these plans never came to fruition. At the start of 1950, Bamberger Broadcasting changed its name to General Teleradio.
In June 1950, a joint venture of CBS and the Washington Post purchased WOIC from Bamberger/Macy's for $1.4 million. The new owners, WTOP Incorporated (the Washington Post owned 55%, with CBS holding the remaining 45% stake), changed the station's call sign to WTOP-TV, after its new sister station WTOP radio (then at 1500 AM). Since WTOP took the callsign from the radio partners at the time, the callsign was a coincidence under ownership of the publisher, since they never stood for "WashingTOn Post"; they instead stood for the fact that what was then known as WTOP was "at the TOP of [the city's] radio dial" (WTOP has been known as WFED since 2006, and is now owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, not by the Post). In July 1950, WTOP-TV became the first television station in Washington authorized to broadcast color television in the 405-line field sequential color standard, which was incompatible with the black-and-white 525-line NTSC standard. Color broadcasts continued for nearly 30 months, when regulatory and commercial pressures forced the FCC to rescind its original color standard and begin the process of adopting the 525-line NTSC-3 standard, developed by RCA to be backwards compatible with the existing black-and-white televisions.
In 1954, the WTOP stations moved into a new facility, known as "Broadcast House", at 40th and Brandywine streets NW in Washington. The building was the first in the country designed as a unified radio and television facility. Its name was in honor of Broadcasting House, home of the BBC in London. The building was well known to WTOP's president, since he had spent much of World War II assigned to the BBC. Previous to the move to Broadcast House, the radio stations operated out of the Earle Building (now the Warner Building, home of the Warner Theatre), and WTOP-TV had operated out of the small WOIC studios at the same location. When Broadcast House was completed and the new television studios were inaugurated, the old studio became the garage for Broadcast House and the old master control room became both the master control and transmitter room for channel 9, since Broadcast House had been built around the station's original, four-sided tower. The building with the tower remains in the middle at the same location, although it is now an office building and retail store front.
The WTOP-TV tower was known in Washington for two things. First, at Christmas time, the tower was strung with Christmas lights and glowed brightly on top of Mount Reno, the tallest point in the District of Columbia. Second, the tower tended to sway much more than three-sided towers. In a strong wind, the tower could be seen swaying back-and-forth, and during the winter ice from the tower fell quite often on the streets below.
In October 1954, CBS sold its share of WTOP Inc. to the Washington Post to comply with the FCC's new seven-station-per-group ownership rule. CBS's partial ownership of WTOP radio, KQV radio in Pittsburgh and WCCO radio in Minneapolis exceeded the FCC's limit for AM radio stations. CBS opted to sell its share of WTOP, which it had purchased in whole in 1932 before selling controlling interest to the Post in 1949.
After the sale closed, the Post merged the WTOP stations with its other broadcast property, WMBR-AM-TV in Jacksonville, Florida and changed the name of the licensee from "WTOP Inc." to "Post Stations, Inc." WMBR radio was sold off in 1958, and WMBR-TV became WJXT. The Post renamed its broadcasting group "Post-Newsweek Stations" in 1961 after the Post bought Newsweek magazine. Post-Newsweek acquired its third television station, WLBW-TV (now WPLG) in Miami in 1970 and in 1974 added WTIC-TV (now WFSB) in Hartford, Connecticut to the group. In 1972, WTOP-TV joined with the Evening Star Broadcasting Company (owned by the Post's rival, the now-defunct Washington Star and licensee of WMAL-TV) to build the Joint Tower, a 1,040-foot (320 m), three-sided tower across the alley from Broadcast House at 4010 Chesapeake Street NW. Transmission lines were extended from Broadcast House's transmitter area to the new tower for both WTOP-TV and WHUR-FM (the former WTOP-FM, which had been donated by Post-Newsweek to Howard University in 1971). The old tower continued to serve as the backup antenna for channel 9 until the station sold Broadcast House in 1996.
In 1974, WTOP and the other Post-Newsweek stations adopted the slogan "The One and Only". The moniker was part of a trend toward group identification of stations, with each station being "The One and Only Channel (channel number)". Staff members from the "One and Only" period usually refer to themselves as "the one and onlies" as a source of pride. The slogan was dropped from active use in the late 1990s and has not been used as part of an image campaign since 1996. The slogan no longer appears on-air, but was revived in a sense when channel 9 adopted its slogan in the mid 2000s, First and Only with Local News in HDTV. WTOP was one of the few CBS stations that declined to carry the popular game show The Price Is Right during the early years of the program's run (although Washington, D.C. ABC station WMAL-TV/WJLA-TV 7 did carry The Price Is Right and some other CBS daytime game shows that WTOP didn't carry during the mid 1970s).
Additionally, when CBS began carrying NFL games in 1956, Channel 9 became the Washington Redskins' station of record; this was an alliance which would continue until 1993, when WTTG gained the rights to air the games, thanks to Fox's acquisition of the NFC broadcast rights. Today, the station airs Redskins games when the team hosts an AFC opponent at FedExField, if the Redskins play on a Thursday Night Football telecast carried by CBS, or starting in 2014, with the institution of 'cross-flex' broadcast rules, games that are moved from WTTG to WUSA.
On June 26, 1978, Post-Newsweek exchanged WTOP-TV with the Evening News Association's WWJ-TV (now WDIV-TV) in Detroit. That same day, WTOP-TV changed its call letters to WDVM-TV, with the new call letters representing the initials of the areas which channel 9 serves: District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland. Post-Newsweek parent the Washington Post Company, and the Evening News Association, which published the Detroit News, decided to swap their stations for fear that the FCC would force them to sell the stations at unfavorable terms or revoke their very valuable licenses because the FCC at the time was considering forbidding ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market.
In 1985, the Gannett Company purchased the Evening News Association. On July 4, 1986, Gannett changed WDVM's call letters to WUSA both in honor of the station being located in the nation's capital and Gannett's ownership of USA Today (the same connection is noted with Gannett's NBC-affiliated Denver station, KUSA-TV). The WUSA callsign had previously been used by Gannett's station in Minneapolis, which changed its callsign to KARE. While the station's current call sign is commonly printed as "W★USA", particularly in Gannett press releases, the asterisk or star between the "W" and "U" is not officially recognized as part of the call sign, as FCC records list the station as WUSA. The star device was used to denote its connection to USA Today (KUSA-TV employs a similar practice). The star was replaced on-air with the CBS Eyemark in the late 1990s as CBS began to considerably relax their formerly strict branding guidelines for their affiliates (which had not allowed blending the logo into call letters), and to reduce confusion with the WUSA-initialized Women's United Soccer Association, which was also visually represented as "W★USA" within their logo.
WUSA moved to a new Broadcast House at 4100 Wisconsin Avenue NW in January 1992. WTOP-FM had left the old Broadcast House in 1971, but kept its transmitter there. WTOP radio departed in 1978; the Post had sold it a year earlier to the Outlet Company. The move to the more modern building was tinged with sadness due to the death from a brain tumor of channel 9's popular sportcaster, Glenn Brenner, just days before the move. In 1998, WUSA launched its website, wusatv9.com, but later removed the "TV" reference in the domain name to become wusa9.com.
During the September 11 attacks in 2001, WUSA made the decision to preempt CBS' national coverage of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center with its own local coverage; this decision proved controversial. As a local affiliate, WUSA did not possess the resources to cover the attacks as extensively as the national network, and its decision to institute a "CBS blackout" prevented its audience from viewing much of the national reporting anchored by Dan Rather. The Washington Post criticized this decision, writing, "The city was subjected to a CBS blackout by the local affiliate, Gannett-owned Channel 9. The station chose to view this, incredibly enough, as a local story and reported it initially as if it were a winter snow day and school closings were of the utmost importance." In May 2008, The McLaughlin Group, a nationally syndicated half-hour weekly public affairs television program, moved its production to the WUSA studios.
Around the first week of October 2012, Gannett entered a dispute against Dish Network regarding compensation fees and Dish's AutoHop commercial-skip feature on its Hopper digital video recorders. Gannett ordered that Dish discontinue AutoHop on the account that it is having a negative effect on advertising revenues for WUSA. Gannett threatened to pull all of its stations (such as WUSA) should the skirmish continue beyond October 7 and Dish and Gannett fail to reach an agreement. The two parties eventually reached an agreement after extending the deadline for a few hours.
On June 29, 2015, the Gannett Company split in two, with one side specializing in print media and the other side specializing in broadcast and digital media. WUSA was retained by the latter company, named TEGNA.
In July 2007, WUSA launched a second website at . The site focused on topics relating to young mothers in the Washington, D.C. area. Gannett also rolled out similar sites targeted at moms in other select markets where it owns a television and/or newspaper properties. In February 2008, WUSA launched a third website at . The site is fronted by noon anchor J. C. Hayward and provides local restaurant and business discounts as well as news and events targeted towards baby boomers.
In 2008, Gannett and the Tribune Company partnered to expand the Metromix brand that has been successful for many years in Chicago at the Chicago Tribune. WUSA's local Metromix.com site launched in July 2008. There are 35 other Gannett and/or Tribune properties that have a Metromix site. In August 2008, Gannett revamped its moms sites, and DVMmoms.com was renamed . Like the previous versions, the site features topics related to young moms and includes technology from Ripple 6, which was recently acquired by Gannett. There were MomsLikeMe.com sites in 85 other markets throughout the country. MomsLikeMe was phased out in 2012.
In September 2008, WUSA's fifth website was launched, called . The site features, among other things, high school sports rankings, schedules, and scores for high school football, soccer, basketball and baseball games around the United States. The site is also a Gannett-owned property that was launched in many markets throughout the country.
In June 2010, Gannett Broadcasting and DataSphere Technologies announced a partnership to create community-focused websites in 10 of their television station markets. WUSA was one of the first to launch these sites in August 2010. The sites are integrated within the existing website and feature hyperlocal news and user-generated content about area happenings and events. In addition to powering the community websites, DataSphere provides enhanced functionality, including market-leading site search, coupons, a business directory and ad targeting. WUSA created 53 different neighborhood sites in the Metro D.C. area.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|9.1||1080i||16:9||WUSA-HD||Main WUSA programming / CBS|
|68.1||LATV||WJAL via channel sharing arrangement|
In August 2017, WUSA temporarily stopped carrying their subchannels due to technical considerations involving their channel sharing arrangement with WJAL (channel 68), which moved their signal to WUSA's transmitter on October 1, 2017 and moved their city of license from Hagerstown, Maryland to Silver Spring. In the interim, Bounce arranged a new affiliation agreement with Univision to be carried on WFDC-DT, and moved their Capital Region affiliation to WFDC-DT4. Justice Network returned later in the month on WUSA-DT2 once the move was completed.
WUSA stopped transmitting on 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 relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 34 to VHF channel 9 for post-transition operations.
On April 20, 2009, it was announced that Washington, D.C. would become the first market to receive free mobile digital television signals via cell phones and other mobile devices. In July 2009, Washington, D.C.'s television stations became a test market for Mobile DTV, and WUSA was one of the participating stations. Like all of the D.C.-area Mobile DTV broadcasters, WUSA-TV commenced full-time ATSC-M/H broadcasting on February 27, 2011. WUSA's Mobile DTV feed of subchannel 9.1, labelled "WUSA 9", broadcasts at 3.67 Mbit/s.
Syndicated programs broadcast by WUSA include Inside Edition, Right This Minute, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider and Dr. Phil. With the exception of Right This Minute, all of the syndicated shows listed are distributed by CBS' sister company CBS Television Distribution.
From May 2008 until the show's ending in 2016, WUSA served as the production facilities for the program The McLaughlin Group which is also broadcast on some selected CBS stations (including its New York City owned-and-operated station WCBS-TV) beginning in May 2007 and on some PBS member stations (locally via WETA-TV and WHUT-TV), the show was distributed by WTTW out of Chicago, while the production facilities was taking over from NBC owned-and-operated station WRC-TV since the show's premiere in 1982.
WUSA-TV presently broadcasts 32 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 5½ hours on weekdays, 2 hours on Saturday and 2½ hours on Sunday); in addition, the station produces a sports highlight program called Game On!, which airs Sunday evenings after the 11 p.m. newscast. WUSA was the launchpad for several well-known news anchors. Sam Donaldson and Warner Wolf are among WUSA's most successful alumni. Max Robinson was co-anchor of Eyewitness News with Gordon Peterson from 1969 to 1978 before he became the first black anchorman on network television and one of the original anchors of ABC World News Tonight. James Brown of CBS Sports was a sports anchor at the station in the 1980s.
In 1989, WUSA debuted an hour-long newscast at 4 p.m. (replacing The Oprah Winfrey Show, which the station chose not to continue carrying due to the program's licensing fees, it then moved to WJLA-TV), which created a three-hour local news block from 4 to 7 p.m., resulting in a half-hour delay of the CBS Evening News to 7 p.m. The 4 p.m. newscast was dropped in 2000, with WUSA also cutting a half-hour off the end of its 4–7 p.m. news block, moving the CBS Evening News to 6:30 p.m., the recommended timeslot for the network newscast for CBS stations located in the Eastern Time Zone.
In February 2012, WUSA launched its investigative unit with Chief Investigative Reporter Russ Ptacek. Ptacek's investigations led to reform after uncovering millions in unreported government bonuses, a utility allowed to charge customers during disconnections caused by storms, taxis refusing passengers based upon race, and potentially deadly restaurant food safety risks. Ptacek and WUSA9 parted ways in 2016 when the station announced changes to its investigative direction.
in 2017, WUSA9 rebranded the investigative unit and launched "special assignments" featuring investigative reporters Erick Flack, Whitney Wild and Anchor Lesli Foster.
Anchor and consumer correspondent Lesli Foster reported on a petition filed by the Center For Auto Safety asking government safety regulators to recall millions of older model Jeep Grand Cherokees. The consumer group believes the placement of the plastic gas tanks in those vehicles can lead to fires and deaths when they are struck from behind. The gas tank is located behind the rear axle—literally in the crush zone of the vehicle. Chrysler says the vehicles are safe and not defective. The automaker points out that in the 26 fatal accidents cited by NHTSA where they can calculate kinetic energy, the deaths in all those vehicles involved speeds that exceed today's crash test requirements. But the company agreed to recall over 1 million of the remaining 1993–1998 models, along with 2002–2007 Jeep Liberty's back in June of last year. Lesli Foster was acknowledged for her hard hitting investigative report in 2013 with a NCCB-NATAS Emmy Award.
Beginning with the noon newscast on January 17, 2013, WUSA unveiled a new graphics package for the station's newscasts designed for Gannett's news-producing stations by design firm The Mill; the new graphics are designed to reduce on-screen clutter, which viewers complained about prior to the change to the new standardized graphics. With the change, WUSA began using the AFD #10 broadcast flag to present their newscasts in letterboxed widescreen for viewers watching on cable television through 4:3 television sets. Additionally, the station unveiled its new logo, which is now stylized as "wusa⋆9", in lower-case lettering.
Notable current on-air staff
- Ellison Barber – general assignment reporter
- Kristen Berset – anchor; also sports reporter
- Darren M. Haynes - sports director (since August 2017)
- Jan Jeffcoat – anchor
- Bruce Johnson – anchor & reporter
- Andrea McCarren – general assignment reporter (previously with WUSA from 1992 to 1995)
- Andrea Roane – anchor & reporter
- Topper Shutt (AMS Seal of Approval) – chief meteorologist
Notable former on-air staff
- Martin Agronsky – journalist/host of Agronsky and Company 1969–1988 now deceased
- Louis Allen – weather 1974-1976 (after many years at WMAL-TV); now deceased
- Jess Atkinson – sports anchor (2000–2002, now works with the Maryland Terrapins)
- Anita Brikman – anchor/health reporter (2007–2013; now Senior Vice President of Strategic Communications for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in Alexandria, Virginia)
- Maureen Bunyan – anchor/reporter (1973–1995; last at WJLA-TV)
- Glenn Brenner – sports anchor and later sports director (1977–1992); now deceased
- James Brown – sports anchor (1984–1990; now at CBS Sports)
- Walter Cronkite – Channel 9's first anchorman (1950–1954); now deceased
- Chet Curtis – reporter (later at WCVB-TV, and NECN, died in January 2014)
- Sam Donaldson – anchor/reporter (1961–1967; now retired)
- John Douglas – anchor/weather reporter 1961-1970
- Kristin Fisher, reporter; now at Fox News Channel
- Angie Goff – now at WRC-TV
- Erica Grow – meteorologist (now at WNBC in New York City)
- Brett Haber – sports director (2004–2011; now editor-at-large at Washingtonian magazine and Tennis Channel play-by-play commentator)
- Frank Herzog – sports anchor and reporter (1969–1983 and 1992–2004, retired)
- Hillary Howard (Statter) – meteorologist (2000–2004; now at WTOP radio)
- Doug Llewelyn – anchor/reporter (1970–1976; later known as host/court reporter for the original People's Court)
- Davey Marlin-Jones – film critic and entertainment reporter (1970–1987); now deceased
- Todd McDermott – anchor (2004–2008, now at WPBF in West Palm Beach)
- Derek McGinty - anchor (2003–2015)
- Andrea Mitchell – reporter (1976–1978, now at NBC News)
- Ralph Penza – reporter (1979–1980); now deceased
- Gordon Peterson – anchor/reporter (1969–2004, retired)
- Russ Ptacek - investigative reporter (2012-2016) now president of .
- Levan Reid – sports reporter/weekend sports anchor (2003–2008; now in the same position at WBZ-TV in Boston)
- Max Robinson – anchor/reporter (1969–1978); now deceased
- Lee Shepherd – weather/announcer and host of Cadence 1961–1969
- Ruth Todd – meteorologist/anchor (1991–1992; was most recently at KTVX in Salt Lake City until February 2007)
- Warner Wolf – sports anchor (1968–1976 and 1992–1996, was most recently at WABC (AM) in New York City until December 2016)
- Eun Yang – reporter/anchor (1995–2001, now at WRC-TV)