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FOX 32/WFLD STATION HISTORY
WFLD, channel 32, is an owned-and-operated television station of the News Corporation-owned Fox Broadcasting Company, located in Chicago, Illinois. WFLD is owned as half of a duopoly with Gary, Indiana-licensed WPWR-TV (channel 50), the Chicago market's CW affiliate. The two station share studios and offices in Chicago's Loop neighborhood, and WFLD's transmitter is based at the Willis Tower.
WFLD broadcasts almost 40 hours of local newscasts every week, along with airing syndicated first-run talk, court and reality shows, off-network sitcoms, Fox's primetime network programming and sports.
WFLD-TV began broadcasting on January 4, 1966 from its original studios within the Marina City complex on State Street.The station was founded by a joint venture of parties who each competed individually for the station's license and construction permit. Field Enterprises, publishers of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News and owned by heirs of the Marshall Field's department store chain, was the station's majority (50 percent) partner and responsible for managing WFLD's day-to-day operations; they were led by veteran broadcasting executive Sterling C. (Red) Quinlan. The station was christened the "Station of Tomorrow" by the Sun-Times in an April 1966 article because of its innovative technical developments in broadcasting its signal. It also broadcast news from the Sun-Times/Daily News newsroom.
Field Enterprises sold controlling interest in WFLD to Kaiser Broadcasting in 1972, and the two companies' new partnership resulted in WFLD joining Kaiser's stable of UHF independent stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit. In 1977, Kaiser ended the partnership by selling its share of the stations back to Field Enterprises.
The station also aired movies, initially European made films dubbed into English, and local public affairs programming. To counter-program against its more established VHF rivals, channel 32 offered documentaries, adult dramas, westerns, and live sports, though for much of the time it trailed WGN-TV (channel 9) in the ratings among Chicago's independent stations until the late 1970s. When it won bids to air shows in syndication such as M*A*S*H (which it continues to air to this day,) All in the Family, Happy Days, Wonder Woman, Star Trek and others, the station finally beat WGN-TV in the ratings, and the two stations continued to go head-to-head throughout the 1980s.
In 1968, WFLD acquired broadcast rights to the Chicago White Sox baseball team from WGN-TV, carrying them initially until 1972, and again from 1982 to 1989. From 1985 to 1989, WFLD also aired games of the National Basketball Association's Chicago Bulls, until WGN-TV acquired broadcast rights to both teams in late 1989 (Chicago-area attorney and real estate investor Jerry Reinsdorf owns both franchises). WFLD was also noteworthy as the longtime home of the local B-movie program Svengoolie. There were two versions of this show; the original began in 1971 as Screaming Yellow Theatre with local disc jockey Jerry G. Bishop doing scary voices and later wearing a long blond wig. Bishop became such a hit with viewers that the show was popularly called "Svengoolie" after his character (although the name didn't change), and this version lasted until 1973. The second version began in 1979 with Rich Koz as "Son of Svengoolie", and it ran until 1986. The show currently airs on WCIU-TV (channel 26).
In 1983, Field sold WFLD to Metromedia as part of a company-wide liquidation. The Metromedia acquisition ended a long courtship by that company for channel 32. An earlier transfer of WFLD-TV between the two firms was first announced in March 1969, but the deal fell through nearly a year later. At that time, the Field interests were concerned about running afoul of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s recent scrutiny of co-owned multiple local media outlets. Following the collapse of the Metromedia deal Field instead purchased the other half of WFLD from its minority partners. As a condition of the 1983 sale Metromedia was forced by the FCC to divest its Chicago radio station, WMET (95.5 FM, now WNUA), which was sold to Doubleday Broadcasting. WFLD's programming changed slightly but graphics were abruptly changed to reflect the new ownership.
Metromedia's television stations, including WFLD, were sold to the News Corporation in 1986, and they formed the core of the new Fox Broadcasting Company. Following the 1986 sale to Fox, the station continued to compete aggressively in the market. Now known on-air as "Fox 32", the station expanded its news presence as well. Fox's news presence began in 1987 with the premiere of the half-hour Fox 32 News at 7 (touted as "the news that doesn't get home before you do") along with a half-hour 11 p.m. newscast which lasted until both newscasts were consolidated to compete with then-independent WGN's 9 p.m. newscast. The newscast was moved back to 7 p.m. by the fall of 1988, and returned to 9 p.m. by the fall of 1989, in anticipation of Fox's expanding prime time schedule. Sometime in 1991, the newscast rebranded its news operation from "Fox 32 News" to "Fox News Chicago" (though most verbal references are to simply "Fox News"). The station started airing a morning newscast first called Good Day Chicago, which later became Fox Thing in the Morning in place of the morning cartoon block.
The afternoon cartoon block, which became Fox Kids by 1992, continued on the station, as well as the top-rated off-network sitcoms in the evening. It also added more first-run talk shows and court shows. When Fox ended the weekday kids block in January 2002, WFLD added more first-run reality and talk shows to the lineup.
In the mid-1990s, after several years of being known on the air as "Fox 32" (or even "Fox Thirty-Two"), the station rebranded itself as "Fox Chicago" due to the perceived embarrassment of being on a UHF analog channel in the third-largest market in the US where The WB (now The CW) is on a VHF analog channel, WGN-TV on channel 9. WFLD is currently the only Fox O&O that does not use the usual Fox branding of "Fox (Channel Number)", even though most Chicagoans still refer to WFLD as "Fox 32" or "channel 32." (Its Philadelphia sister station did this same practice for some time when Fox bought it from Paramount in the mid-1990s.)
In 1995, WFLD became the unofficial "home" station of the Chicago Bears when Fox acquired the television rights to the National Football Conference of the NFL, of which the Bears are a member. It is now the official station of the Bears, airing preseason telecasts in addition to most regular season tilts, as well as Bears Gameday Live and Gamenight Live, which follows The Final Word on Sunday evenings during the season. Fox purchased WPWR-TV in 2002, and WPWR's operations were integrated into WFLD's facilities in downtown Chicago.
In January 2003, WFLD dropped the Fox Saturday morning cartoon block, by then outsourced by Fox to producer 4Kids Entertainment and subsequently rebranded 4Kids TV, and the programs were moved to WPWR which aired them in the same four-hour time block until the block went off the air on December 27, 2008. WFLD was the first of the original six Fox-owned stations (owned prior to the New World stations purchase) to drop Fox's Saturday children's programming, and one of the few non-New World Fox O&Os (the other is KMSP in the Twin Cities) that currently does not run Weekend Marketplace, which WPWR now airs.
On September 11, 2006, WFLD, alongside with other Fox-owned stations, relaunched its website under the My platform, now located at FOX32Chicago.com.