WXFT-DT, virtual channel 60 (UHF digital channel 50), is an UniMás owned-and-operated television station serving Chicago, Illinois, United States that is licensed to Aurora. The station is owned by the Univision Local Media subsidiary of Univision Communications, as part of a duopoly with Univision owned-and-operated station WGBO-DT (channel 66).
The two stations share studio facilities located on Fairbanks Court (near Columbus Drive and Illinois Street) in the Streeterville neighborhood, with WXFT's transmitter located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop. On cable, the station is available on Comcast Xfinity and RCN channel 15; there is a high definition feed offered on Xfinity digital channel 194 and RCN digital channel 614.
Prior history of UHF channel 60 in Chicago
The UHF channel 60 allocation in the Chicago market was originally occupied by WLXT-TV, which signed on in 1969 and broadcast only during the evening hours and on weekends. Operating as an independent station, WLXT carried Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts and tape-delayed telecasts of Northern Illinois Huskies football games, among other programs; these and other programs carried by WLXT were transmitted in black-and-white. WLXT carried remote broadcasts of fast-pitch softball games from the Aurora Sealmasters team and quarter-mile drag racing from nearby Oswego Raceway.
By 1970, WLXT purchased two RCA TK-60 color studio cameras held by NBC owned-and-operated station WNBQ-TV (channel 5, now WMAQ-TV). These cameras were said to be the first ever to be delivered and carried serial numbers 001 and 002. With a color studio, the station began carrying a hosted afternoon children's programming block and an exercise show (Nanette). The station also maintained a news department and aired half-hour early and late-evening newscasts, which were anchored by Christine Lund, who became a well-known news anchor in Los Angeles just over two years after WLXT ceased operations in August 1970. Tom Skilling, longtime chief meteorologist at WGN-TV (channel 9), got his start in television broadcasting at WLXT and presented daily weather forecasts for the station, during his junior year of high school; his brother, Jeff Skilling (then a high school sophomore, who later became known as a member of the management team of the ill-fated Enron Corporation), was also a part-time employee.
WXFT station history
Metrowest Corporation—owned by Fred Eychaner—originally applied for a new license to operate a station on channel 60 in 1978; however, the license soon attracted competition from Marcelino Miyares (doing business as Hatco-60, "HATCO" standing for "Hispanic-American Telecasters of Chicago"). Ultimately, the two parties would reach a compromise: the Metrowest-licensed station would be licensed to Aurora and broadcast daily from 2:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., while the Hatco-60-licensed station would be licensed to West Chicago and broadcast daily from 7:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., giving channel 60 the distinction of being the only split-licensed station in the United States (and the first to operate in more than 20 years).
With the arrangement in placed, the two stations signed on in April 1982, sharing transmitter facilities atop the Sears Tower. Eychaner signed on independent station WPWR-TV, which dedicated a large percentage of its schedule to a new subscription television service called Sportsvision (a companion service to ONTV), which Eychaner had developed through a deal with Chicago White Sox co-owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn. In order to access the service, viewers had to purchase a set-top descrambling converter and pay a monthly subscription fee in order to view sporting events such as White Sox games. However, Sportsvision achieved little success on WPWR, and converted into a cable channel in January 1984. With Sportsvision removed from the station, WPWR ran public domain movies, cartoons and classic sitcoms from the early to mid-1950s to fill its schedule. In 1984, more popular classic sitcoms and newer barter cartoons were mixed into the lineup.
At the same time WPWR debuted, Miyares signed on WBBS-TV (a callsign assigned to the station by the Federal Communications Commission over the objections of CBS owned-and-operated station WBBM-TV, channel 2), which maintained a Spanish-language entertainment format as an affiliate of NetSpan (which would evolve into Telemundo in 1987). WBBS featured various programming aimed at Hispanic audiences including local news programming, telenovelas and variety series as well as other locally produced shows, such as the popular music video program Imagen, hosted by local Spanish-language television personality (and now media executive) Rey Mena and Vivianne Plazas. One of the notable events for WBBS occurred in 1983, when the station introduced the Latin teen pop group Menudo (which included a young Ricky Martin), to Chicago's Latino community. The station's primary competitor was WCIU-TV (channel 26, now an English language independent station), which was then a part-time affiliate of the Spanish International Network (the forerunner to the present-day Univision).
In the spring of 1985, WSNS-TV (channel 44) ended its five-year run as an affiliate of the ONTV subscription service and announced that would affiliate with SIN. In response to losing access to SIN programming, WCIU chose to align with NetSpan. Miyares, realizing that the loss of the NetSpan affiliation would be crippling for his station, reduced WBBS' programming schedule to 8:00 p.m. to its late-night sign-off on weekend evenings late that year, selling the rest of the weekday time periods that his station had occupied to Eychaner, allowing WPWR to broadcast full-time on weekdays.
Meanwhile, Eychaner acquired the construction permit for WGMI, a proposed station that would be licensed to Gary, Indiana and broadcast on UHF channel 56, for $1.5 million. The permit had been held by a group of Indiana businessmen since 1976, but the station was never built and effectively, never signed on; in 1982, Eychaner opted to launch channel 60 in conjunction with Marcelino Miyares. However, in 1985, Eychaner acquired the educational broadcast license for Gary-licensed WCAE (channel 50), whose license belonged to the St. John-based Lake Central School Corporation, who had not been able to make WCAE viable—resulting in the station being shut down the following year. He successfully petitioned the FCC to move the non-commercial allocation from channel 50 to 56, which would eventually become WYIN (now licensed to Gary) under the auspices of a new group, Northwest Indiana Public Broadcasting Co. when that station signed on in November 1987. Eychaner then swapped the licenses for the two stations with channel 50 becoming a commercial license, with plans to use WPWR's assets (including the call letters) to put that station on the air. The primary impetus for the license swap for UHF channels 50 and 56 was that the channel 50 transmitter could be relocated to the Sears Tower. This was not the case for channel 56, as FCC rules required full-power analog UHF stations in close proximity to one another be positioned at least six channels apart and channel 60 was already transmitting from downtown Chicago.
HSN/USA Networks ownership
In October 1985, Eychaner purchased WBBS for $11 million, and WBBS aired its last programs in August 1986 when the sale was approved. Channel 50 was ready to sign on as a commercial outlet by October 1986, at which point Eychaner then sold the channel 60 allocation to the Home Shopping Network for $25 million. HSN, which owned the station through its Silver King Television arm, changed the station's call letters to WEHS (originally planned to be changed to WHSI). WPWR moved to channel 50 on January 18, 1987, at which time the channel 60 signed on as an HSN owned-and-operated station.
Barry Diller—then-owner of the USA Network—acquired Silver King Communications in November 1995; the sale was finalized on December 19, 1996, ten months after its March 11 approval by the FCC. By 1997, the company was known as USA Broadcasting. In January 1999, USA Broadcasting considered converting WEHS into a general entertainment independent station under the "CityVision" programming model infusing local and syndicated programming that was adopted by its Miami sister station WAMI-DT in June 1998; under such a change, it also proposed changing the station's call letters to WNDE (meaning "Windy", in reference to Chicago's nickname, "The Windy City").
Univision Communications ownership
However, before the proposed conversion into an independent station could occur, the plans were put into question after USA Broadcasting announced that it would sell off its television station group in 2000. Among the prospective buyers for the group was The Walt Disney Company, which placed a bid to acquire the thirteen USA-owned stations (had Disney's bid been successful, it would have created the market's first television duopoly with ABC owned-and-operated station WLS-TV, channel 7); however, Disney was outbid by Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications, which purchased the USA Broadcasting stations in a $1.1 billion group deal on December 7, 2000; the sale was finalized on May 21, 2001. As a result, channel 60 changed its call letters to WXFT, and became a charter owned-and-operated station of Univision's new network, Telefutura (the forerunner to UniMás), when that network launched on January 14, 2002.
WXFT's five million watt transmitter malfunctioned in the early hours of December 6, 2006, causing an alarm which forced action by the Chicago Fire Department to extinguish the smoldering equipment. The transmitter was destroyed, leaving only one-half of its power available. The station also remained available via cable, which were fed via a direct connection from the station. A new transmitter was commissioned on January 11, 2007, restoring normal operation.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|60.1||1080i||16:9||WXFT-DT||Main WXFT programming / UniMás|
In December 2009, WXFT and sister station WGBO, along with most of Univision's other owned-and-operated stations, upgraded their main digital channels to transmit in 16:9 1080i high definition, in preparation for the launches of Univision and Telefutura's HD simulcast feeds in 2010.
WXFT shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 60, 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 moved from its pre-transition UHF channel 59 to channel 50. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 60, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.