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A Brief History of Milwaukee Television (the Analog Years)

Compiled by: Dick Golembiewski

Last Updated: 29 April 2008

Click here for a link to a discussion of radio frequency allocations, as well as the digital television (DTV) transition.

On 19 May 1922, Charles Francis Jenkins demonstrated a system which transmitted still photographs via radio waves (fascimile). On 13 June 1925, he demonstrated a crude mechanical television system which used revolving prisms.

With the Radio Act of 1927, the federal government officially retained ownership of the airwaves, but allowed private interests to operate broadcasting facilities under licenses it issued. Provision was made for the renewal of such licenses after three years, depending on the holder’s ability to serve the "public interest, convenience, and necessity." The act established the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to regulate and oversee radio broadcasting.

That same year, the FRC allowed experimental television broadcasting to begin in what had been the "standard" radio band (550-1500 kHz), using a 10 kHz bandwidth. It also allowed television experiments to take place in the 1500-2000 kHz band. Such broadcasts were limited to one hour per day. None were allowed between 6:00 and 11:00 p.m., in order to prevent interference with commercial radio. By 1929, experimental television broadcasting was limited to 1:00-6:00 a.m.

In 1928, the Radio Manufacturers Association (now the Electronic Industries Association) established a committee to study television standards. Those recommended were based on mechanical systems, and did not take into account fully-electronic versions which were just starting to show promise. The proposed standards did not include guidance on all issues needed to establish commercial broadcasting. As a result, the FRC refused to accept the RMA standards, and instead chose to allow continued experimentation until such time as the technical development would result in a quality level sufficient to allow commercial broadcasting to begin.

As a result of such experimentation, 100 kHz bandwidths were recommended in order to provide sufficient picture definition. In 1929, the FRC allocated four channels for experimentation: 2-2.1, 2.1-2.2, 2.75-2.85, and 2.85-2.95 MHz. It also allocated 2.2-2.3 MHz, but specified that it could only be used in the southern and southwestern portions of the country, so as to avoid interference with Canadian radio. Since these were shortwave frequencies, stations 100s of miles apart could interfere with each other. As such, experimental stations avoided the problem by agreeing to broadcast only at pre-scheduled times.

The Journal Company began experiments in the transmission of images by radio waves in 1929. In April of that year, it began experiments with a process called Rayfoto, which transmitted still photographs. It was the first station west of New York to broadcast any pictures.

On 5 May 1930, the company applied for an experimental television broadcasting license. On 19 December 1930, it received a construction permit for an experimental television station, with facilities located in the Journal Company building. There technicians constructed a 500 Watt transmitter and a 10 ft. antenna which was 35 feet above the ground. The experiments utilized a mechanical, spinning disc system developed by the Western Television Co. of Chicago. Developed by Ulises Sanabria, the disc scanned alternate lines which were broadcast to the receiver. When broadcast sufficiently fast, human vision could not detect the fact that the alternate lines had changed, and as such the "interlacing" of the lines produced what appeared to be a higher definition picture, without flicker, using the same bandwidth.

In 1931, the FRC allocated television to what is now the VHF band. Experimental broadcasts were authorized in the 43-46 MHz, 48.5-50.3, and 60-80 MHz bands with no limits on the bandwidth used. In the summer of 1931, the Journal Company’s experimental facilities were moved to the 25th floor penthouse of the Schroeder (later the Sheraton-Schroeder, Marc Plaza, and now the Hilton) hotel. A license was received for experimental station W9XD on 4 September 1931. The station broadcast 1.5 hours before and after sunset.

During late 1932 and early 1933 the experimental work was moved back to the Journal Company building, and then back to the Schroeder Hotel in late 1933. Television experimentation ended that year, as mechanical television was being replaced by an all-electronic version. The Journal Company retained its license, however. The transmitter was later converted to an experimental high-fidelity, VHF, AM radio (Apex) unit in 1934.

The Communication Act of 1934 established the Federal Communications Commission, which replaced the FRC. At the Commission’s 1936 hearings on television standards, the RMA Allocations Committee recommended that seven channels between 42 and 90 MHz be allocated for television - each with a bandwidth of 6 MHz. the recommendation also included a provision for television experimentation above 125 MHz. The RMA Standards Committee recommended RCA’s proposed standards, which called for 441 lines of definition.

As a result of the hearings, the FCC allocated 19 VHF channels between 44 and 294 MHz for TV. Each channel was 6 MHz wide. (Apex radio was allocated between 41 and 44 MHz.) The new allocations became effective on 13 October 1938. 12 of the 19 channels were above 150 MHz. Those frequencies were thought at the time to be useful only for television relay networks, but some manufacturers thought that the seven channels allocated between 44 and 108 MHz were sufficient for commercial television to begin. The FCC still refused to issue technical standards, and wanted experimental development to continue. In April of 1938, the Commission promulgated Rule 103.8, which limited experimental television licenses to those stations engaged in R&D in the technical phases of broadcasting. As such, the Journal Company’s license for W9XD was allowed to lapse on 28 March 1938, as the company was unable to continue the experimental research work required to maintain it under the new rule. (During this time the experimental laboratories were moved from the Schroeder Hotel to the 22nd floor of the Wisconsin Tower on North 6th Street and West Wisconsin Avenue.)

Manufacturers (primarily RCA), wanted to profit from their research and development investment, and advocated that the Commission allow commercial broadcasting to begin. Despite the lack of standards, RCA announced in October of 1938 that it would make its television equipment available for purchase by broadcasters, and would authorize its licensees to manufacture receivers under its patents. It also announced that it would begin regular television programming on 30 April 1939 - the opening of the World’s Fair in New York. As a direct result, on 5 November the Journal Company announced its intention to apply, and on 14 November 1938, it filed the first application for a commercial television construction permit in the U.S. On 9 November, the company received a telegram from RCA chairman David Sarnoff praising them for their actions. Since the FCC had not issued technical specifications, nor authorized commercial broadcasting to begin, it referred the Journal Company’s application to a committee on 3 January 1939.

On 2 October 1939, Philo Farnsworth and RCA announced that they had entered into a cross-licensing agreement with each other. Each would be allowed to use the other’s patents.

Bowing to pressure from the manufacturers, the FCC published draft rules for limited commercialization on 22 December 1939. In January of 1940, the Commission held television hearings, and the following month it voted to allow limited commercial broadcasting to begin in September. However, the FCC still did not issue technical standards. That March RCA began to aggressively market television receivers in NYC based on the proposed RMA standards. The FCC (and RCA’s competitors) feared that if the number of receivers in public hands got too large, the RMA proposal would become the de facto technical standards. (Philco had demonstrated a system with higher definition - 605 lines, which used the same frame rate as motion pictures - 24.) As a result, on 23 March 1940 they rescinded their decision to allow limited commercial television broadcasting, and demanded industry agreement on standards before it would be reinstated.

To solve the problem, the RMA and the FCC formed the National Television System Committee (NTSC), which was charged with recommending technical standards. On 18 June 1940, the FCC announced tentative approval for twenty-three television applications. It also announced that it would consider nineteen other outstanding applications. One of those was the Journal Co.’s. On 29 October 1940, The Journal Co. received a construction permit for experimental television station W9XMJ. The new station was to broadcast on channel 3 (66-72 MHz), at 1 kW of power for both its visual and aural signals.

On 27 January 1941, the NTSC recommended standards which included 525 lines of definition, 30 frames per second, and frequency modulation (FM) for sound. The FCC accepted the NTSC’s recommendations, and issued new regulations for television. Because the general public eventually invested in many receivers, those standards remain in effect until digital television replaces them. The new regulations called for 18 VHF channels between 50 and 294 MHz. (FM was between 42 and 50 MHz at the time.) Each channel was 6 MHz wide. Because higher definition, color broadcasts would require more bandwidth, some (primarily CBS, who sought to delay television development begun by RCA and its network NBC) advocated that television be moved to the untried ultra-high frequency (UHF) band.

In April of 1941, the FCC authorized commercial broadcasting to begin as of 1 July. The Journal Company filed an application for a commercial TV construction permit on 15 July. On 16 September, it received one for WMJT (Milwaukee Journal Television). It also executed plans to build a new facility suitable for AM radio, FM radio, and television broadcasting (Radio City on East Capitol Drive). Ground was broken on 25 June 1941, and the cornerstone laid on 27 September. Construction was completed the following year, with all radio operations moved to the facility on 5 August. The formal opening was on 23 August 1942.

After the outbreak of WWII, television construction was frozen by the Defense Communication Board. That occurred on 24 February 1942. The 300 foot tower, slated for television, was used to receive short wave remote broadcasts for WTMJ radio. Some of the needed equipment had been received and installed by 1942, but the rest was assigned to NBC for use in its already completed New York studios.

Although new television applications were frozen, the FCC held hearings re: television technical standards. Those who held patents, or had major investments in black-and-white, VHF, TV (RCA, Philo Farnsworth, Du Mont, and General Electric) wanted the FCC to expand commercial VHF service. Others (primarily CBS) still advocated that TV be moved to the UHF band where the RCA patents weren’t applicable.

Despite the fact that the FCC had frozen the processing of new television applications, Hearst Radio, Inc. (which once had an evening newspaper called The Wisconsin News, and at the time owned both WISN radio, and the morning newspaper, The Milwaukee Sentinel) filed an application for television channel 4 (which at the time was 78-84 MHz) on 13 June 1945. In August of that year, the FCC announced that it would lift the freeze on the processing of new applications for radio and television as of 7 October. First it had to adopt new regulations and standards of good engineering practice for FM and television. (Pending were 486 FM, 25 educational radio, and 125 TV applications.)

In September of 1945, the FCC released its draft rules and regulations for post-war television and assigned New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, seven channels each. Channels were also assigned to 33 other cities. Milwaukee was assigned channels 3, 5, 8 and 10. Madison was also assigned channel 3. After a hearing on 4 October, the FCC issued a revised assignment table. To eliminate possible co-channel interference, Madison was assigned channel 6 instead of channel 3. Milwaukee lost a channel and was assigned channels 3, 8 and 10. After further discussion, the Commission adopted new assignments on 21 November 1945. Milwaukee gained a channel back, and received channels 3, 6, 8 and 10. Madison received channel 9. Those assignments became effective on 25 February 1946. New channel frequency allocations became effective on 1 March 1946. Only 13 VHF channels were now allocated to TV. Channel 3 was now 60-66 MHz. FM moved to 88-108 MHz (between TV channels 6 and 7), and TV channel 1 was now in what had been the FM band. The FCC allocations allowed for three different types of licenses: Metropolitan, Community and Rural. Metropolitan licenses covered a single, major city and were allowed the most power. Community stations covered smaller cities and were allowed less radiated power. Channels 1, 12 and 13 were allocated to Community stations - one of which (using channel 1) was assigned to Racine-Kenosha.

The FCC admitted that thirteen channels might be insufficient, and that television might eventually have to be moved to the UHF portion of the spectrum. On 22 March 1946, Hearst asked the FCC to return its application for channel 4. Compounding the uncertainty was CBS’ submission of a proposal for a UHF, color system in September of 1946. The Journal Company, like many other broadcasters waited to see where in the frequency spectrum the FCC would allocate television before investing further. It withdrew its construction permit (without prejudice) for WMJT on 14 May of that year. Nationwide, 80 of 158 applications were withdrawn by the end of 1946. On 16 May, the company applied for a construction permit for an experimental station in the UHF band, which was granted by the FCC on 21 June.

On 6 December 1946, The Journal Company applied for another commercial television license. On 24 January 1947, the FCC issued them a construction permit. Since the FCC changed its previous rules on call letters, and now allowed radio and television stations to use suffixes to distinguish between AM, FM and TV stations, it requested WTMJ-TV. Although the post-war regulations were based on 500 foot-tall towers, the company elected to use the 300 foot unit it constructed in 1941. (At the time it was built, it was the tallest structure the manufacturer would guarantee that would support the weight of a TV antenna.)

On 7 and 10 February 1947, members of the Journal Company staff were treated to demonstrations of the new television equipment. The following month, the FCC rejected the CBS color, UHF proposal. That was seen as the "go" signal for B&W, VHF television.

That same month, Milwaukee residents got their first look at television when WTMJ-TV held demonstrations at the Milwaukee Home Show. 14 through 19 April, public demonstrations were held using the station’s portable equipment at Schuster’s department store on 12th Street. Various household appliances were demonstrated. Private demonstrations for various clubs were held at Radio City the same month. In early May, demonstrations were held at the downtown Boston Store. Later that month, the portable equipment was used to televise a speech by presidential candidate Harold Stassen to the overflow portion of the crowd at the Wisconsin Press Association banquet held at the Pfister Hotel. The same was done for a speech given to the Milwaukee Advertising Club by Eleanor Roosevelt at the Schroeder Hotel that month. "T-Day" was tentatively set for 1 December, and TV set manufacturers guaranteed that stores would have an adequate supply. In October, the station held another series of demonstrations in which government officials, educators, and interested others viewed test programs in the Radio City auditorium. In late October, WTMJ-TV began broadcasting test patterns. That same month, tests of portable microwave pickup equipment were made from the South Side Armory (from where professional wrestling shows would be televised) and the Marquette University Gymnasium.

Channel 3 logo

(Courtesy of WTMJ-TV)

On 3 December 1947 WTMJ-TV began broadcasting on channel 3. It was the first television station in the state of Wisconsin, and the eleventh in the nation. On 3 May 1948 (after a series of microwave relay towers were constructed between Chicago and Milwaukee) WTMJ-TV affiliated with the NBC Midwest television network. (The relay network was one-way, so WTMJ-TV could receive from, but not transmit to the network.) On 11 September 1948, it announced that as the only television station in the city it would also carry programming from CBS, and ABC. On Monday, 20 September 1948, WTMJ-TV broadcast its first network program at 5:00 p.m. when it broadcast a one-half hour variety show originating from Chicago station WENR-TV by the ABC Midwest network. Although ABC broadcast two more network shows that evening, WTMJ-TV chose to switch to NBC at 6:00 p.m. when its Midwest network broadcast its first two hours of programming. Those programs originated from KSD-TV in St. Louis. From 6:30-7:30 p.m., kinescopes of various NBC features were shown. That was followed by a local program highlighting WTMJ’s long affiliation with NBC, which also featured a congratulatory message from Mayor Frank Zeidler. At 8:00 p.m., the station rejoined the NBC network. The first ten minutes of the ABC show were blurred, as was the first NBC program, but the problems were solved by the time network programming resumed at 8:00 p.m.

Click here for a link to a promotional article circa 1948 http: //www.broadcast.net/~sbe28/wmjt.html

Click here for a link to the Early Television Foundation and Museum for more information on early TV systems. http://www.earlytelevision.org

Once WTMJ-TV started broadcasting, residents began purchasing television receivers. Broadcasting reported that by 1 April 1948, 2050 sets had been installed - of which 74 percent were in private homes. Radio stations, not knowing if television would replace them as primary broadcast outlets, jumped on the bandwagon. The Wisconsin Broadcasting System, Inc. (owners of WFOX radio) applied for a construction permit for channel 8 on 16 March 1948. Hearst Radio, Inc. (which had filed an application for channel 4 in June of 1945) filed an application for channel 10 on 24 March. The Kapital City Broadcasting Co. of Des Moines, Iowa applied for channel 6 on 12 April. (One of the company’s principals had a construction permit for an FM station in Milwaukee, WMIL, and transferred it to Kapital.) WEXT, Inc. (Owned by the Bartell Brothers, who later changed the frequency and the call letters to WOKY) also applied for channel 6 on 12 April. Finally, Milwaukee Broadcasting Co. (WEMP) applied for channel 6 on 21 May.

Consolidated hearings were scheduled by the FCC for 29 July. Prior to the hearings, Kapital Broadcasting amended its application to change the name of the applicant to Majestic Broadcasting Co. Since there were three applicants for channel 6, Milwaukee Broadcasting Co. petitioned the FCC "for leave to amend its application to specify channel 6 or such other channel as may be available for assignment in area in lieu of request for channel 6 only". That petition was denied on 23 July. Also denied was a petition by the Midwest Broadcasting Co. (owner of WMAW - later WCAN - radio) asking for a continuance of the hearings. It is likely that was because Midwest intended to apply for one of the available channels.

Just prior to the start of the hearings, Majestic Broadcasting asked the FCC to dismiss its application for channel 6. That it did without prejudice. After the first round of hearings, several petitions were filed with the FCC: WEXT, Inc. asked the FCC to dismiss its application for channel 6. The FCC granted that petition on 10 September 1948. That left three channels and three unopposed applicants. All three were granted a joint petition for an indefinite continuance of the consolidated TV hearings, which had been scheduled for 8 September, and asked that the FCC immediately grant them construction permits. The Commission was considering the request when other factors intervened.

There were a number of problems: The FCC proposed new channel allocations in 1948, but those were still inadequate to provide coverage across the entire country. (Milwaukee’s allocations wouldn’t have changed. Madison would have received two channels, rather than one.) On 6 May of that year, the Commission eliminated channel 1 from the TV spectrum and allocated it to land mobile, emergency services. There simply weren’t enough available channels to meet the demand.

Dr. Allen Du Mont contended that many of the proposed allocations would lead to serious co-channel interference. He proposed adding eight additional channels - although getting bandwidth allocated to television would likely prove difficult. Besides the interference questions, Du Mont wanted all major cities to have enough channels so that his network would have affiliates. He also contended that it was too early to use the UHF band as the transmitters then available couldn’t develop the same power as their VHF counterparts, and the receivers weren’t capable of the degree of "selectivity" needed to tune in individual channels.

Adding to the controversy were comments from the FCC’s acting chief engineer, in which he opined that channels 2-6 would be deleted from the television spectrum and assigned to land mobile use, that channels 7-13 would be used for "low-definition" television, and that the then untested UHF band would eventually be used for "high-definition", color TV. Broadcasters, as well as consumers were concerned that their investments in equipment might be negated.

The FCC held hearings on 20-23 September 1948 re: the use of the UHF band as a way of adding to the television frequency spectrum and as such increase the number of channels available. In order to allow time for study, it froze all television license applications as of 30 September 1948. The freeze should have lasted only a short time, but was extended because of the Korean War as well as the FCC’s distraction with color television standards. The freeze occurred before the FCC could grant the other three Milwaukee VHF channels. In addition, applicants for the single channel assigned to Madison (The original 1945 proposal was for channel 3, but that was changed first to channel 6 and then to channel 9. Channel 7 was later added as part of the assignments proposed in 1948.) petitioned the FCC to assign one of the Milwaukee channels to that city.

In January of 1949, a coaxial cable link between Philadelphia and Cleveland was completed. That linked television networks on the east coast and Midwest. At 8:30 p.m. on 11 January, a special broadcast was held to mark the occasion, in which NBC, CBS, ABC and Du Mont all participated. It was carried by WTMJ-TV.

On 9 May 1949, the FCC authorized NBC to begin broadcasting from an experimental station in Bridgeport, CT on the UHF band. On 11 July, WTMJ-TV became the 12th station in the country to receive a permanent license. (It had been operating with temporary authorization.) On 15 July, the Commission announced a proposed new channel assignment plan in both the VHF and UHF bands.

On July 28, WTMJ-TV entered into an agreement with the Du Mont Network to carry its programming.

Complicating matters were discussions on color television. A new NTSC was formed on 20 January 1950 to study the problem. Two systems, one by CBS and the other by RCA were shown to the FCC. In the CBS system, scanning was performed by an ordinary CRT or camera tube. A spinning "color wheel" separated and reconstructed the primary colors of the original image. The CBS system was supposed to be able to produce 405 lines of resolution - less than the 525 lines of the NTSC electronic system. The problem with the CBS system was that owners of black & white televisions would not be able to receive the color broadcasts. The RCA system was compatible with the NTSC standards, and owners of older sets would receive the color telecasts - albeit in black & white. In the early demonstrations, the CBS system produced better picture quality, but in the opinion of most engineers, the RCA system’s quality would be improved with development. Nonetheless, the FCC approved the CBS color TV system on 10 October 1950. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s approval of the CBS system on 28 May 1951. CBS made its first color telecast (a 1-hour show with 16 sponsors) on 25 June 1951. RCA and Du Mont continued to work on their electronic systems, and manufacturers were divided on whether or not to produce sets capable of receiving the CBS system’s signal. (Thanks to Dave Wilkinson for correcting an error in my original description of the CBS system.)

On 22 March 1951, the FCC announced yet another proposed channel assignment plan for both the VHF and UHF bands. This time however, 10 percent of the channels were reserved for non-commercial, educational use.

On 1 July 1952, the freeze on new TV licenses was lifted by the FCC. It provided for 617 VHF, 1436 UHF, and 242 educational/non-commercial licenses. Twelve of the latter were assigned to Wisconsin. The FCC also set three different broadcast zones with different mileage separation and antenna height regulations. The commission adopted a policy of intermixing VHF and UHF channels in the same markets. Milwaukee received VHF channels 4, 10 and 12, and UHF channels 19, 25 and 31. Channel 10 was reserved for educational use. Racine received channels 49 and 55, while Kenosha received channel 61. Because Milwaukee already had a television channel, it was placed in license group B-4, and was 182nd on the FCC’s priority list for license grants.

Hearst immediately re-filed its application for channel 10 - even though it was now assigned for educational use. The Wisconsin Broadcasting System (WFOX) did the same, only now its application was for channel 12. The following week, the Milwaukee Broadcasting Co. also re-filed, but this time for channel 12. Bartell Broadcasters, Inc. (formerly WEXT. Inc.), which had asked to have its petition for channel 6 dismissed after the first round of hearings in 1948, applied for UHF channel 19 that week.

On 18 July 1952, The Milwaukee Area Telecasting Corp., headed up by theater owner L.F. Gran filed an application for channel 12.

In mid-October of 1952 the Midwest Broadcasting Co. filed an application for channel 12. (Midwest Broadcasting had been purchased by Lou Poller in June of that year, and had changed the call letters of WMAW radio to WCAN. Poller had built WPWA radio in Aston, PA and had hired a struggling singer named Bill Haley as a D.J. and program director!)

In mid-November, Cream City Broadcasting, Inc., which owned WMIL radio, filed an application for channel 31. That same week, Midwest Broadcasting amended its application from channel 12 to channel 25 in order to avoid a lengthy license hearing before the FCC.

The Hearst Corp., which had applied for a license to operate channel 10 prior to the freeze, asked the FCC to reconsider its decision to reserve the channel for educational use. Hearst and the Wisconsin Broadcasting System, Inc. also asked that additional channels be assigned to Milwaukee. The FCC rejected both requests on 20 November 1952, and dismissed Hearst’s application for channel 10. Hearst appealed, and its application was later reinstated.

That year, the Milwaukee Vocational and Adult Schools (now MATC) announced plans for a TV technician and telecasting program. Local civic leaders backed the application to operate an educational, non-commercial TV station, utilizing equipment and students from the new programs. Mayor Frank Zeidler strongly supported the concept, but others, including Governor Kohler, wanted to wait until the state legislature decided whether or not to incorporate Milwaukee channel 10 into a state TV network. Nonetheless, on 25 November 1952 (after the FCC rejected Hearst’s petition) the Milwaukee Board of Vocational and Adult Education, applied for permission to construct and operate an educational TV station on channel 10. The application was opposed by Gov. Kohler.

That same week, the Northwest Television Corp., which was owned by H & E Balaban Corp., (whose principals, Harry and Elmer Balaban and Otto Zeman were Chicago theater owners) applied for channel 25. They owned 50 percent of WTVO (at the time Ch. 39) in Rockford, IL.

In early December of 1952, the North Shore Broadcasting Co. of Shorewood applied for channel 31. Company president Harold R. Murphy owned the North Shore Publishing Co.

In mid-December of 1952, the Northwest Television Corp. amended its application from channel 25 to channel 19. The Wisconsin Broadcasting System also amended its application from channel 12 to channel 25.

For the first time, the FCC heard oral arguments in a license matter, when it heard Hearst’s petition to have channel 10 assigned to commercial rather than educational use on 16 February 1953. The Milwaukee Board of Vocational and Adult Education, and the Joint Committee on Educational Television both participated.

Midwest Broadcasting received a construction permit for channel 25 from the FCC on 5 February 1953. The Wisconsin Broadcasting System amended its application from channel 25 back to channel 19 in early March.

On 19 March 1953, Hearst requested that the FCC rehear its petition. The Commission turned down that request on 31 March. Hearst requested another rehearing, which was denied. (Broadcasting Telecasting reported that at one point in the matter, Senator Joseph McCarthy had summoned several members of the FCC to the Capitol, and then held them there all day to prevent the Commission from acting on the case.) Hearst then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

On 12 May 1953, the Wisconsin Legislature adopted a resolution calling for a two year study by the legislative council re: a state educational TV network, and directed Gov. Kohler to apply for all channels reserved by the FCC for educational use in the state. On 18 May 1953, the State of Wisconsin applied for Milwaukee channel 10. FCC Commissioner John Doerfer, a West Allis native who had served on the state Public Service Commission before being appointed to the FCC, indicated that he would oppose the Milwaukee Vocational School’s application for channel 10 as long as the state wanted the channel for its proposed educational TV network.

On 2 June 1953, the Wisconsin Broadcasting System, Inc. (WFOX) amended its application from channel 19 to channel 12. The following day, Bartell Broadcasters, Inc. was granted a construction permit for channel 19. Earlier that year, they had received one for channel 33 in Madison.

WTMJ 1954 logo

(Courtesy of WTMJ-TV)


The fledgling ABC network received a much needed injection of capital, when it merged with Paramount Theaters on 11 February 1953. WTMJ-TV’s signal had produced interference with WKZO-TV (now WWMT-TV) in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (WKZO-TV also interfered with WTMJ-TV. In both cases the interference was outside of the area protected by each station’s license.) To eliminate it, WTMJ-TV shifted its frequency from channel 3 to channel 4 at 7:00 p.m. on 11 July 1953. (Milwaukee had been allocated Ch. 4, rather than Ch. 3 when the FCC lifted the freeze on new applications in 1952, and WTMJ-TV had formally requested a change to its license in mid-July of that year.) Since this would have produced interference with Chicago’s WBBM-TV (formerly WBKB-TV, until CBS purchased it from Paramount and changed the call letters on 12 February 1953), the FCC stipulated in its approval of the ABC - Paramount merger, that WBBM-TV shift from channel 4 to channel 2 "as soon as practical". It had done so on 5 July. The new regulations allowed for 1000 foot towers, and after the freeze was lifted, existing stations could make improvements to their facilities. WTMJ-TV began construction of a 1035 foot tower behind its facility in 1952. It was completed in time for the switch to channel 4.

On 18 August 1953, the FCC dismissed the application of the North Shore Broadcasting Co. for channel 31. The following day, it granted Cream City Broadcasting, Inc. a construction permit for the channel.

Advertisements for UHF converters and all-channel TV sets filled the local papers at this time, in anticipation of the new UHF stations taking to the air.

Click here for a look at vintage UHF converters and signal boosters
http://www.geocities.com/k8zhd/TVBox.html

WCAN Ch. 25 logo


On 7 September 1953, WCAN-TV officially began broadcasting on channel 25, as the primary CBS affiliate. Actual broadcasting began at 11:25 p.m. the previous evening, when Hal Walker interviewed workers who were installing the transmitting antenna on the tower located atop the Schroeder Hotel, in inclement weather. WCAN-TV eventually became the most successful UHF station in the country. Since it now had a primary affiliate, CBS ended its affiliation with WTMJ-TV on 26 September 1953. (WCAN-TV was an "optional basic" affiliate, meaning that it had to sell individual CBS advertisers on the advantages of buying time on CBS shows in Milwaukee.)

(Midwest Broadcasting put WMAW on the air on 1250 kHz in 1947. It also applied for an FM license. Originally the call letters WPAW were reserved for that station, but when the construction permit was granted, the calls were changed to WMAW-FM. Al Hajny remembered seeing three large concrete tower bases on the property when he worked there. Walter Clare remembered being told that the station had gone on the air and broadcast for about 40 hours. He was also told that the tower sat on the ground until the decision was made to use it for WCAN-TV. Jack Krause cleared up the mystery when he remembered that he put the FM station on the air briefly, with an antenna stuck out of a window on the second floor of the transmitter building. They rebroadcast the AM programming for a brief period of time. The self-supporting tower had been purchased, but was never erected at the site. It laid on the ground in the weeds. In its original television application, Midwest Broadcasting specified that the transmitter and tower would be located at its facility on West Grange Avenue. The construction permit also specified that location. Rather than erecting a guyed tower, they elected to mount the self-supporting tower they already owned atop the tallest building in the city, which was the Schroeder Hotel. The roof needed reinforcing to accommodate the load, but it proved to be an expedient way to get WCAN-TV on the air.)



WOKY AdWOKY 19 logo

(Courtesy of Ralph Evans III)


On 3 October of the same year, WOKY-TV began broadcasting on channel 19, in affiliation with both ABC and Du Mont. It used the WEMP radio tower at 5407 West Martin Drive. This posed some problems, as UHF is more directional than VHF, making it even more important that antennas be pointed at the transmitting tower. This could have necessitated the purchase of antenna rotors by many Milwaukee TV set owners. (In fact, one of the manufacturers of such rotors had been looking for a place to market them. Milwaukee proved to be ideal, as two UHF stations went on the air at almost the same time, while plans were still being developed for additional VHF stations.) Some suggested local ordinances requiring that all TV transmitting towers be located within a one mile radius of each other. Despite such concerns, Milwaukee TV set owners purchased many UHF converters.


WCAN-TV ad

In early October of 1953, Hearst put forward a plan to request that a fourth VHF channel be assigned to the Milwaukee area (Ch. 6), and that plan was endorsed by the Milwaukee Common Council on 6 October 1953. The plan would assign the channel to the village of Whitefish Bay, and required the FCC to swap channels in Green Bay, Wisconsin and Marquette, Michigan in order to avoid interference. (Green Bay had been assigned channel 6, and had two applicants, while Marquette, had been assigned channel 5, but had no applicants.) WCAN-TV and WOKY-TV protested the resolution. Hearst indicated that if the channel was asssigned by the FCC, it would drop its appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals re: its application for channel 10. Less than a week later, the FCC proposed rule making to amend its channel assignments and add channel 6 to Whitefish Bay. Hearst then requested a continuance of its case before the U.S. Court of Appeals re: the FCC’s refusal to change channel 10’s classification from educational to commercial, while it waited for the FCC’s decision on the assignment of channel 6. (Whitefish Bay was chosen, as locating the station there would meet the FCC’s requirement that 170 miles separate stations on the same channel.)

The Ultra High Frequency Television Association was incorporated in October of 1953, specifically to lobby for such stations. Lou Poller became the association’s president, and their first effort was to block the assignment of channel 6 to Milwaukee. They filed an objection with the FCC, as did WCAN-TV. Other objections were filed by WOC-TV of Davenport, Iowa (Now KWQC), and WJIM-TV of Lansing, Michigan (now WLNS). WOC-TV was on channel 5 at the time; WJIM-TV on channel 6.

On 3 November 1953, Kolero Telecasting Corp., owned by local businessmen (as well as Catholic Knights Insurance) filed an application for channel 12.

Hearst formally replied to the objections filed to its proposal on channel 6 on 21 November 1953.

The FCC gave NBC special permission to broadcast "The Colgate Comedy Hour" in color on Sunday, 24 November 1953. It was a test. WTMJ-TV carried it, but viewers received it in black and white.

On 4 December 1953, the FCC assigned channel 6 to the village of Whitefish Bay. (In doing so, it pointed out that the location of the new station would comply with its regulations re: separation. It also rejected arguments by WCAN-TV and The Ultra High Frequency Television Association that the table of channel assignments couldn’t be changed.) The same day, Cream City Broadcasting, Inc. turned in its construction permit for channel 31 and filed an application for channel 6. On 7 December, Hearst filed an application for the same channel. Later that week, the North Shore Broadcasting Co., asked the FCC to reinstate its application for channel 31. The Commission deleted WMIL’s construction permit on 14 December.

On 17 December 1953, the FCC reversed its earlier decision and approved the RCA electronic color TV system. That system was compatible with the NTSC standard. NBC claimed to have had the first color telecast (a bulletin with a colored insignia) at 5:59 p.m. EST that day, and a complete telecast at 6:30. CBS showed its first color program at 6:15 p.m. EST. NBC and CBS planned to broadcast some programs in color. ABC had no plans, but said that it would begin formulating them now that the system had been approved. Du Mont said that it planned to show color programs, but had not developed a schedule. An article in The Milwaukee Journal stated that there were only two color receivers in the Milwaukee area at the time! Nonetheless, WTMJ-TV had begun installing color transmitting equipment, in order to televise the Tournament of Roses parade on 1 January 1954.

On 20 December 1953, WTMJ-TV broadcast its first color program from NBC, "Amahl and the Night Visitors".

At the same time, The Ultra High Frequency Television Association filed a protest with the FCC asking it to reconsider its assignment of channel 6 to Milwaukee. The UHFTA argued that the assignment of another VHF channel to a city defeated the Commission’s original purpose in intermixing UHF and VHF channels in the same markets, and had the potential to destroy the investment made by UHF station owners - without the benefit of a public hearing.

One of the applicants for channel 12, Kolero Telecasting Corp., applied to the FCC for conditional authority to construct a station in Milwaukee. That was opposed by the other applicants, and rejected by the FCC. Numerous other petitions were filed on 29 December 1953: Both the Milwaukee Area Telecasting and the Milwaukee Broadcasting Co. requested that the application of Kolero Telecasting be dismissed as two of that company’s stockholders also held notes of Midwest Broadcasting Co. (WCAN-TV), which was in violation of FCC rules against any entity owning more than one TV station in a city. It also requested that the Commission dismiss Milwaukee Broadcasting’s application on the grounds that it too would violate the multiple ownership rule. Although the FCC found that all four applicants were financially able to construct and operate a station, the Milwaukee Area Telecasting Co. nonetheless asked the Commission to determine if the funds available to the other three applicants were sufficient. It also asked for a study re: the coverage area proposed by the other applicants. The Milwaukee Broadcasting Co. asked the FCC to reconsider its finding that Kolero was financially qualified. One of the applicants, the Wisconsin Broadcasting System (WFOX), assumed affiliation with CBS, which was already affiliated with WCAN-TV. On 31 December 1953, a hearing before the FCC began in Washington, D.C. regarding the applications for channel 12. A long battle loomed. Before testimony began, Milwaukee Area Telecasting charged that Kolero had filed its application at the last minute in an attempt to delay the proceedings. The FCC had to determine whether the proposed tower locations of The Wisconsin Broadcasting System (WFOX) and Kolero (208 West Wisconsin Avenue and the Tower Hotel at 716 North 11th Street respectively) would interfere with air navigation.

On 1 January 1954, 500 people swamped the American Appliance and TV store at 2743 North Teutonia Avenue, to watch NBC’s broadcast of the Tournament of Roses parade on WTMJ-TV. The store used a Hallicrafter set which was equipped with a 12.5 inch RCA picture tube. Four police officers were needed to keep order.

On 8 January 1954, Independent Television, Inc., headed up by Holeproof Hosiery Co. president Jack Kahn, applied for channel 6. The same week, WCAN-TV asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to order the FCC to revoke its assignment of channel 6 to Whitefish Bay. Lou Poller complained that the FCC had made its assignment decision without giving those objecting a chance to be heard. He also claimed that the assignment of the channel to Whitefish Bay was a ruse, which was being used to get around the 170-mile separation rule, and that Hearst intended to locate the station in Milwaukee. He also claimed to have lost money because advertisers either cancelled or had not renewed contracts because Hearst (WISN) salesmen had told them that they would receive the assignment and would begin broadcasting on VHF within 60 days. A week later, WCAN-TV asked the court to issue a temporary injunction preventing the FCC from assigning channel 6 to the area. Hearst and Cream City Broadcasting, Inc. both objected.

During the FCC hearings for channel 12, the four applicants maneuvered with each other over their financial ability to operate a TV station. (Al Hajny remembered that Milwaukee Broadcasting was confident of getting the license, had purchased land for the tower in Lincoln Park, and produced some 35 mm slides of the proposed I.D. - WEMP-TV, Ch. 12, Milwaukee!)

Click here for some test shots of Carl Zimmermann and Earl Gillespie made for WEMP-TV

On 20 January 1954, the District of Columbia circuit court of appeals denied WCAN-TV’s motion for a temporary injunction restraining the FCC from allocating channel 6 to Whitefish Bay. The FCC proceeded with plans to hold hearings on the applications from Hearst, Cream City Broadcasting, Inc., and Independent Television, Inc. Such hearings were contingent on the court of appeals’ final ruling on the matter. At the same time, WCAN-TV asked the FCC to dismiss Hearst’s application for channel 6, claiming that it did not intend to locate the station in Whitefish Bay, but rather would locate its studios in Milwaukee, and its transmitter and tower on land it recently acquired in the town of Granville. Lou Poller also claimed that if Hearst was granted channel 6, his station would lose its CBS affiliation, as WISN had a clause in its contract which gave it the right of first refusal should it operate a television station in the area. He also claimed that antitrust laws might be violated as Hearst owned WISN and The Milwaukee Sentinel. In addition, he claimed that the assignment of another VHF station to the area would cost his station advertising revenue.

On 9 March 1954, Edward R. Murrow denounced Senator Joseph McCarthy on See It Now. WCAN-TV was the only Wisconsin CBS affiliate to carry the show.

The last week of April, 1954, the FCC agreed to allow WCAN-TV to participate in hearings on channel 6. However, it refused to dismiss Hearst’s application. At the same time, it questioned the engineering qualifications of Cream City Broadcasting.

In early May of 1954, the four applicants for channel 12 made public the fact that they had been holding merger discussions in order to avoid prolonged license hearings. Later that month, the FCC began its hearing on channel 6, but delayed it until August in order to rule on various motions filed by the petitioners.

On 19 May 1954, the FCC denied WCAN-TV’s petition to amend its grant for channel 25 to channel 12. The application was refused on the grounds that none may be accepted thirty days before hearings begin.

That same month, the U.S. Senate held hearings regarding UHF broadcasting. WCAN-TV president Lou Poller testified, and argued that all television broadcasting be shifted to UHF. (A number of UHF stations across the country were losing revenue. Remember that most homes did not have all-channel sets, but rather required separate converters to receive a UHF station. Also, the available UHF transmitters had insufficient power to compete with VHF stations.) In addition, the FCC and the Senate subcommittee endorsed plans to require that new color TV sets be capable of receiving both UHF as well as VHF. (Although most manufacturers eventually produced sets capable of receiving both bands, it was not required until 1964!) The Ultra High Frequency Television Association proposed that the FCC freeze new VHF grants until exiting UHF stations were well-established. They also asked the IRS for accelerated depreciation. Broadcasting magazine in an article on WCAN-TV said: "...There can be no doubt that Milwaukee will be carefully watched as a testing ground of UHF vs. VHF competition."

In late May of 1954, the FCC delayed hearing the applications for channel 6, while it considered various motions. Cream City Broadcasting, Inc. and Independent Television, Inc. asked for more information re: Hearst’s broadcasting activities. At the same time, Hearst sought to have the Midwest Broadcasting Co. (WCAN-TV) removed from the hearings. Cream City and Independent countercharged that each had filed applications in bad faith: Independent’s attorney had also represented the Ultra High Frequency Television Association, and as such Cream City suggested that its late application might have been designed to obstruct the proceedings. A stock holder in Cream City had been an administrative assistant to Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy (who had actively urged the FCC to adopt Hearst’s proposal to assign another VHF channel to the area). As such, Independent suggested that Cream City’s application (which had been submitted without adequate details re: its financing) would be withdrawn in order to allow Hearst an immediate grant. (Two weeks earlier, Cream City asked the FCC to dismiss Independent’s application, as it had been notarized by a party with an interest in the matter. Independent claimed that the Wisconsin law cited by Cream City only applied to banks.)

The three other applicants for channel 12 agreed to merge with the Milwaukee Area Telecasting Corp., and its application was approved by the FCC on 14 June 1954. (The merger agreement gave the other parties the option to purchase stock in the new corporation. Kolero Telecasting Corp. received 10 percent; the others, 30 percent each.)

On 1 June, the North Shore Broadcasting Co. asked the FCC to dismiss its application for channel 31, citing uncertaintity in the UHF situation.

On 9 June 1954, the FCC’s broadcast bureau filed objections to Midwest Broadcasting’s petition to broaden the hearings for channel 6 to include Hearst’s affiliation contract with CBS, as well as Cream City Broadcasting’s petitions re: Independent Television Inc.’s application. The Bureau asked that the petitions be dismissed.

In mid-July of 1954, Midwest Broadcasting filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington re: the FCC’s return of its application to switch from channel 25 to 12. At the same time, Midwest charged that the merger agreement for channel 12 violated the FCC’s multiple ownership rules, as the parties had a total of 10 direct or indirect relationships with various television stations.

On Sunday, 18 July 1954, WTMJ-TV televised "The Grenadiers" at 2:00 p.m. It was the first locally produced program televised in color. The first commercially sponsored color program ran on WTMJ-TV on 20 July 1954. The Blatz Brewing Company’s "Triangle Theater" presented a program titled "The Layton Art Story", a tribute to the Layton School of Art.

On 29 July 1954, the FCC rejected Cream City Broadcasting’s petition to dismiss the application of Independent Television, Inc. on the grounds that its application was improperly notarized. The Commission ordered that the documents be notarized a second time. The FCC also rejected Cream City’s request for an inquiry into whether Independent had filed its application in "good faith". At the same time, it denied a motion by Midwest Broadcasting which proposed that it investigate whether the three applicants for channel 6 intended to primarily serve Whitefish Bay or Milwaukee. It also denied Hearst’s petition that it reconsider its decision to allow Midwest to intervene in the hearings.

WCAN-TV News Ad

(Courtesy of Hal Erickson)


In September of 1954, WCAN-TV president Lou Poller, announced plans for new state-of-the-art facilities at 5445 N. 27th St. The new building contained 3 studios, and color broadcasting equipment. (Earlier he had announced that the new studios would be built near North 60th Street and West Capitol Drive.)

In September of 1954 it was announced that WOKY radio and WOKY-TV had cancelled their affiliations with the ABC network. The television cancellation became effective on 1 October; the radio 31 December.

WOKY-TV was sold to CBS on 22 October 1954 for $350,000. This was shortly after the FCC changed its multiple ownership rules to allow an individual entity to own up to five VHF and two UHF stations. That same day, RCA Chairman David Sarnoff, denied in a telegram to WTMJ-TV, that NBC had any interest in acquiring or constructing a station in Milwaukee.

On 27 October, WTVW, owned and operated by the Milwaukee Area Telecasting Co., began broadcasting on channel 12. (Bob Truscott, who was WTVW’s asst. chief engineer (and later chief engineer at WITI) recalled that they had a fall programming deadline from ABC (Disneyland). They had a partially completed 300 ft. tower, and had poured a concrete slab in Lincoln Park swampland, originally purchased by Milwaukee Broadcasting. In order to begin operations, they erected a huge circus tent. Their first building was built inside the tent while they broadcast their first programs!) It became the ABC affiliate, and also carried Du Mont network shows. That network ceased operations in 1956.

Du Mont logo


Click here for a wonderful history of the DuMont Network
http://members.aol.com/cingram/television/dumont.htm

WTVW Ch. 12 logoWTVW Ch.12 small logo

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On 2 November 1954, Wisconsin voters rejected a tax-supported, state-wide, noncommercial, educational TV system in a referendum vote by 2-1 margin. Two days later, the three applicants for channel 6 announced that they were attempting to negotiate a merger in order to avoid lengthy hearings.

With the purchase of WOKY-TV, CBS elected to end WCAN-TV’s affiliation. Owner Lou Poller then agreed to sell his facilities to CBS. The deal was announced on 13 November 1954, although WCAN-TV did occupy the new building in December. That same month, the Hearst Corp. entered into negotiations to purchase WTVW (Ch.12).

On 14 January 1955, the FCC approved the sale of WOKY-TV to CBS, which requested an immediate call letter change to WXIX (_XIX=the Roman numerals of the channel). Later that month, CBS took over the WCAN-TV facility on North 27th St.

The last broadcast day for WCAN-TV was 26 February 1955. As part of the deal to sell the new facilities on North 27th Street, it had received the former WOKY-TV facilities so that it might continue broadcasting as an independent station. It never did. Some of the equipment was donated to Marquette University on 3 March 1955. Owner Lou Poller later sued CBS, claiming that it engaged in a conspiracy to restrain and monopolize trade - specifically, that it wanted to eliminate UHF broadcasting in Milwaukee, and possibly the entire U.S. He sold WCAN radio to the Milwaukee Broadcasting Co., who moved WEMP from 1340 kHz to 1250 kHz, and took over the former WCAN facilities on West Grange Avenue. (In turn, Milwaukee Broadcasting sold its frequency and facilities on West Martin Drive to a radio station owner from Texas, who formed WRIT.) Poller also divested himself of his interests in WPWA in Aston, Pennsylvania, as well as WARL and WARL-FM in Arlington, Virginia, and moved to Washington, D.C.

WOKY to WXIX ad with logo change

On 27 February 1955, CBS programming shifted to WXIX.

WXIX Ch. 19 CBS logo

Despite objections from the chairman of the board of WTVW’s parent company (who resigned in protest, and petitioned the FCC for permission to submit a counter-offer), the FCC approved the sale of WTVW to the Hearst Corp. on 4 March 1955. The sales price was $2 million, which consisted of $900K in cash and $1.1M in contracts it assumed for a new tower and transmitter. Hearst then dropped its application for channel 6.

An application for the final commercial UHF channel in Milwaukee (31) was filed by Business Management, Inc., the new owners of WFOX radio, on 11 March. Business Management was headed by Joseph A. Clark, the president of Dutchland Dairy Stores. They received a construction permit for WFOX-TV on 4 May, but the station never went on the air.

On 22 April 1955, Cream City Broadcasting, Inc. asked the FCC to dismiss its application for channel 6 after reaching an agreement with Independent Television, Inc. In consideration, Independent agreed to reimburse Cream City for a portion of its engineering and legal expenses once a construction permit was granted. (Earlier, the FCC had questioned Cream City’s television engineering abilities.)

WTVW Tower ad

In July of 1955, Hearst completed the construction of an 1105 foot tower and changed WTVW’s call letters to WISN-TV. The switch took place at 11:30 a.m. on 25 July 1955.

WTVW to WISN ad

Approval for a fourth VHF frequency in the area, to be awarded to Independent Television, Inc., owned by a group of investors headed up by local hosiery and underwear manufacturer, Jack Kahn, was recommended by an FCC examiner on 11 June 1955. On 29 June, a construction permit was granted to the group, and the call letter WITI were later assigned to it.

In April of 1956, Ampex demonstrated the first practical video tape recorder at the NAB show in Chicago. The networks immediately placed orders. That same year, the FCC considered shifting all television broadcasting - at least east of the Mississippi river - to the UHF band. A 1956 Milwaukee Journal survey indicated that 74.3% of television sets in Milwaukee county and its immediate fringes were equipped to receive a UHF signal. The commission elected not to call for deintermixture as it feared loss of television service to fringe areas within a broadcast zone.


WITI 1956 intro ad

At 7:55 p.m. on 22 April 1956, WITI turned on its transmitter for the first time and broadcast a test pattern. (Thanks to Bob Truscott for providing the date.) The station continued testing for the next month. It began broadcasting from facilities located on North Port Washington and West Donges Bay Roads on 21 May 1956. At that time, it was an independent station, with no network affiliation. WITI was the first station to use the Du Mont “Vitascan” color system.

Click here for a discussion of the Du Mont Vitascan color system.
http://www.earlytelevision.org/dumont_vitascan.html

WITI 1956 vitascan ad



On 13 February 1956, the State Radio Council withdrew its application for channel 10. However, the battle for educational TV was not over, as opposition came from several taxpayer groups. One asked for a city-wide referendum. Another interpreted the 1954 state-wide advisory referendum results as rejection of any publicly-funded educational TV channel. One of the groups took the matter to court and obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the school from constructing the station. After a hearing, the order was rescinded, but there was still opposition within the Vocational School Board because of the cost. In March of 1956, the Board approved plans to construct and operate an educational television station by a 3-2 vote. On 6 June 1956, the FCC granted the Milwaukee Board of Vocational and Adult Education a construction permit for channel 10. It was the 41st educational television license granted. The call letters WMVS were assigned to the station by the FCC. WITI provided transmitter space and allowed the Vocational School to mount the station’s antenna on its tower. A grant for $100,000 was obtained from the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Adult Education, which helped pay for construction.

On 28 October 1957, WMVS, owned by the Milwaukee Vocational and Adult Schools, began broadcasting on channel 10. That same year, WISN-TV moved into new facilities at North 19th Street and West Wisconsin Avenue.

WMVS Original logo WMVS Original logo

(Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Television)


Despite owning UHF station WXIX, CBS desired to affiliate with a VHF station. It estimated at the time that only 20% of the television sets in the area were capable of receiving a UHF signal. In anticipation of that move, Storer Broadcasting of Miami, FL, purchased WITI on 8 August 1958 for $4.4 million. Several offers had been made for the station the previous year, including one by The Meredith Publishing Co. of Des Moines, Iowa. In a letter to Storer management, the FCC asked if they intended to set advertising rates for WITI in combination with its other stations. Storer had operated WVUE in Wilmington, Delaware as an independent station, but had discontinued operations for financial reasons. The FCC wanted to know how Storer intended to operate WITI as an independent station if they couldn’t make WVUE work. Officially, CBS stated that intended to continue operating WXIX, while Storer stated that it would seek a network affiliation for WITI should one become available.

In its response, Storer indicated that it would not set its advertising rates for WITI in combination with its other radio and TV stations, unless forced to do so by its competition (Hearst and CBS). It also stated that although it had failed to operate both WVUE and WGBS-TV successfully as independents, it had learned from those experiences. It also pointed out that the competitive situation was different in those markets than it was in Milwaukee. Nonetheless, most observers believed that Storer wanted to affiliate WITI with CBS.

WXIX Judy marks Ad

(Courtesy of Hal Erickson)


At the request of CBS, the FCC reassigned UHF channels in Milwaukee, due to minor interference with channel 12. Milwaukee received channels 18, 24, and 30 (rather than 19, 25, and 31). The order took effect on 15 August 1958, and WXIX officially shifted to channel 18 on 27 August 1958.

WXIX Ch.19 to 18 adWXIX Ch. 18 CBS logo

On 22 December 1958, Storer Broadcasting took over operation of WITI.

In anticipation of affiliating with WITI, CBS sold WXIX for $50,000 on 27 March 1959, to Cream City Broadcasting, Inc., headed by WMIL radio owner Eugene Posner. The station’s last broadcast day as a CBS-owned station was 31 March 1959, with all programming shifted to WITI the following day at the former WCAN/WXIX studios on North 27th St. (WITI abandoned its Du Mont Vitascan color system once it transferred its operations completely to the facility a few months later.) Milwaukee then became an all-VHF city. WITI’s frequency had been issued to the Village of Whitefish Bay, but since it was now located within the city of Milwaukee, it applied to the FCC to assign channel 6 there. The request was granted on 30 July 1959.

WITI Ch. 6 CBS 1959 ad WITI Ch. 6 CBS 1959 Marks adWITI Ch. 6 CBS 1959 Becker ad

(Courtesy of Hal Erickson & WITI-TV)

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On 20 July 1959, WXIX went back on the air as an independent station, broadcasting on channel 18. Its transmitter, antenna and facilities were located atop the Schroeder (later the Sheraton-Schroeder, Marc Plaza, and now the Hilton) Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.

WXIX Ch. 18 Independent logo WXIX Wrestling Ad

(Courtesy of Hal Erickson)

In February of 1960, the FCC informed the holders of unused construction permits, including Business Management, Inc. (which had sold WFOX radio) that they had 30 days to inform the FCC that the stations would be built or have their permits cancelled. In late May of 1960, the Milwaukee Board of Vocational and Adult Education asked the FCC to change the classification of either channel 24 or channel 30 to non-commercial, educational.

In June, Gene Posner proposed to construct a new 650 foot-tall tower for WXIX. Modeled after a similar tower in Stuttgart, Germany, and the "Space Needle" under construction for the Seattle World’s Fair, the steel-reinforced concrete tower would have included a revolving observation deck and restaurant. Posner proposed to build his new tower on land ownded by Milwaukee County. The proposed sites were: Washington Park, the new zoo near Highway 100 and West Bluemound Road, or the Emergency Hospital on North 24th Street and West Wisconsin Avenue. He asked the Milwaukee County Park Commission for permission to use the property, and proposed that the county issue bonds to pay for the construction. The tower would then be leased to Posner. The Park Commission denied the request in August. Posner then sought private funding, but was unsuccessful.

In late November of 1960, Business Management, Inc. lost its construction permit for channel 30.

In January of 1961, the FCC added channel 36 to Milwaukee’s channel assignments, and reserved it for non-commercial, educational use. In March, Gene Posner, majority owner of WXIX, petitioned the FCC to assign VHF channel 8 to Milwaukee, saying that he would apply for it if they did so. The petition was later rejected, as another channel 8 in Michigan was within the 170 miles FCC rules required separate stations on the same channel. In order to provide instructional television programming to local business and industry, and to provide a laboratory for the students in its television and transmitter and communications courses, the Milwaukee Board of Vocational and Adult Education applied for UHF channel 36 during the first week of April, 1961. New FCC rules required that only 120 miles separate stations on the same frequency, and Gene Posner resubmitted his petition to have channel 8 assigned to Milwaukee in early September. The petition was later denied.

Milwaukee television settled into relative stability at this point in time. On 2 April 1961, WISN-TV and WITI swapped affiliations, with WITI becoming the ABC affiliate, and WISN-TV the CBS. CBS had WISN radio as its local outlet, and had wanted to affiliate with WISN-TV as well.

On 21 February 1962, The Milwaukee Board of Vocational and Adult Education received a construction permit for a television station on UHF channel 36. The FCC granted a waiver to the Board re: multiple ownership, as it also operated WMVS.

At the same time, WITI received FCC approval for a new tower. The original location was to have been on an acre at the rear of the "Pig ’N’ Whistle drive-in on East Capitol Drive. That site proved to be inadequate (The original plan was to build new studios at the location as well as a tower and transmitter.), and the station optioned a 2 acre parcel of land a few hundred feet north. In August of 1962, construction of a 1078 foot tower at East Capitol Drive and Estabrook Parkway was completed. It was formally dedicated on 9 October 1962. WMVS leased space on the tower for many years. (It had on WITI’s previous tower.) WTMJ-TV and WISN-TV both had towers located nearby, and by locating their tower in the same area, WITI made it easy for viewers to orient their VHF antennas in the same general direction. Since there was no room for guy wires on the property, the tower was self-supporting, and was, at the time, the tallest structure of its type in the world, displacing the Tokyo Tower. Shortly after the WITI tower was completed, additional members were added to the Tokyo Tower, and it regained its title. The WITI tower was the tallest in the U.S. for many years. (Bob Truscott remembered: "The studio would probably been built at the transmitter site, except for the various delays caused by higher priorities elsewhere in the company. By the time the decision was made to proceed with it, two problems had become apparent: The building space requirements were greater than originally estimated, and there was not sufficient land available to accommodate a larger building. Additionally, the parking lot would have to been expanded right up to the base of the tower, thus putting employees, visitors, and their cars at greater risk from falling ice." As such, the new studios were never built near the tower.)

WITI logo 1962WISN Logo 1962

On 19 February 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court (368 U.S. 464) overturned an appeals court ruling (109 U.S. App. D.C. 170, 284 F.2nd 599) which granted CBS a summary judgment against former WCAN-TV owner Lou Poller. The case set a precedent re: the use of summary judgments in anti-trust cases.

Click here to read the opinions
http://caselaw.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=368&page=464

The FCC was seeking to push the UHF band as a way of expanding television service. It urged Congress to pass a bill requiring all manufacturers of television sets shipped via interstate commerce (or imported) to include the capability of receiving a UHF signal. The FCC also put forward yet another plan to "deintermix" a number of cities. Milwaukee was not included, but Madison, which had one VHF station (WISC-TV, Ch. 3) would have become an all-UHF city. On 10 July 1962, President Kennedy signed into law the All-Channel Receiver Act. The law affected all sets manufactured after 30 April 1964.

After three years of majority ownership, Gene Posner announced his intention to sell his 51% of WXIX to his three fellow owners: Bernard and Harold Sampson and Herbert Wilk for $1 and "other valuable considerations". After FCC approval, the restructured ownership changed the call letters to WUHF on 1 January 1963. (The call letters, WUHF, had been used by the FCC for a station in NYC which was used in 1961-62 to test UHF reception.)

WUHF Ch.18 logoWUHF Ch.18 Dachshund Logo

(Courtesy of WVTV)

On 28 January 1963, another UHF station took to the airwaves when WMVT began broadcasting as a sister station to WMVS on channel 36. The new station used the old WOKY-TV UHF transmitter which had been purchased from WCAN-TV after it went dark.

At 1:30 p.m. on 5 March 1963, WITI experimented with a process developed in Austria called Telcon, which produced a "color effect" on black & white sets. For 60 seconds a channel 6 identification card was shown surrounded by pulsating diagonal lines. Some viewers reported seeing yellow, purple and green lines on their sets. The station continued the experiment the rest of the week.

WITI was looking for a way to make its tower a Milwaukee landmark, and in October of 1963, the station received permission from the Shorewood village board to install lights on it. Shortly thereafter, approximately 2000, 25 Watt lights were installed at 30 inch intervals along the tower’s legs. Spotlights shone on the 90 ft. antenna atop the tower. The original plan was to install both a lighted "6" and a time/temperature unit, but only the former was installed. Station manager Roger Le Grand coined the phrase "Milwaukee’s Tower of Light". In a special ceremony broadcast at 6:00 p.m. on 6 February 1964, the lights were turned on. You can see it lit up at Retro Milwaukee.
http://www.retrocom.com/retromilw/milwmemories1.htm
and here:

WITI Tower

The WITI "Tower of Light" as seen from the northeast.

(Courtesy of an old friend and colleague)

Although the lights were only on from dusk to midnight, an architect who lived 1400 ft. north of the tower filed an objection, citing Shorewood’s illuminated sign ordinance, which prohibited such signs over fifty square feet. He also argued that the lighted tower was an infringement on the "aesthetic rights" of Shorewood residents who lived nearby. Other residents also objected, and on 15 March 1964 the Shorewood village attorney stated that he thought that the illuminated "6" on the sign might indeed violate rules pertaining to illuminated signs, but that the lights did not violate any ordinances, Later that month, he opined that objectors had not presented sufficient evidence to have the lights declared a public nuisance. On 18 March, the village board granted WITI permission to use the lighted "6" provided that it was backed with reflectors so that it shined only toward the southwest.

The lights stayed on until 14 November 1973. Viewers had suggested to station management that they turn them off as a way to save energy, and as an example to others during the "energy crisis". The lights were finally removed in 2003, when the station revamped the tower in order to install its digital antenna.

For a look at Milwaukee radio and TV facilities, have a look at the following:
Boston Radio page
http://gallery.bostonradio.org/2004-07/mke/
The two pages Scott Fybush has on his 2005 visit to Milwaukee:
Fybush Site of the Week Part 1
http://www.fybush.com/sites/2006/site-060324.html
Fybush Site of the Week Part 2
http://www.fybush.com/sites/2006/site-060331.html
and for more Wisconsin broadcasting history, the new, online Wisconsin Museum of Broadcast History
http://www.wmbh.org
run by my friends Mark Heleniak, Grant Gundersen, et. al.

Milwaukee television settled into another period of stability at this time. No new stations went on the air, although WUHF was sold to WKY Television Systems, Inc. of Oklahoma City on 8 November 1965. The sales price was $500,000 plus $150,000 for a "non-compete" agreement. The FCC approved the sale on 23 March 1966, and the call letters were changed to WVTV on 7 June of that year. (WKY-TV was owned by the Oklahoma Publishing Co. Its subsidiary, WKY Television Systems, Inc., eventually became Gaylord Broadcasting.) They also owned WTVT-TV in Tampa, FL, which explains their choice of call letters! Gaylord later moved the station’s facilities from the top of the Sheraton-Schroeder Hotel to new ones at North 35th Street and West Capitol Drive.
Click here to read the memories of Jane Boyd, who WKY sent to Milwaukee to serve as WVTV’s program director.
http://www.big13.net/Jayne%20Boyd/jayneboyd8.htm

WVTV First Logo

(Courtesy of WVTV)

In the FCC’s Sixth General Order and Report of 1952, Racine had been assigned channels 49 and 55. Kenosha was assigned channel 61. UHF channels were not desirable, and none were applied for. (Kenosha and parts of Racine County already received both Milwaukee and Chicago stations.) In 1964, the FCC dropped Kenosha from its table of channel assignments, as well as channel 55 from Racine. In 1966, that channel was assigned to Kenosha.

After years of holding a construction permit for channel 24, Lou Poller finally sold it to the Field Communications Corp. (the owners of WFLD in Chicago) for $35,000. The FCC approved the sale on 21 December 1966. They never built the station, and the construction permit was deleted by the FCC in 1969.

United Broadcasting Co., owned jointly by the Journal Times Co. and the Kenosha News Publishing Co., filed an application for channel 49 in Racine on 13 September 1966. John Weigel Associates later applied for the channel. Weigel owned and operated WCIU-TV in Chicago. The applications were scheduled for a hearing before the FCC on 16 December. Both applicants petitioned the FCC for a continuance for their prehearing conference, as well as one for their hearing. Those petitions were granted on 15 November. On 25 November, both requested additional time to prepare, but those requests were denied by a hearing examiner two days later. On December 3, both filed a joint petition asking that Weigel’s application be dismissed with prejudice. That petition was granted on 17 January 1969. On 19 February of that year, the FCC granted a petition by United Broadcasting and dismissed its application without prejudice.

On 11 April 1968, Standard Broadcasting Co., headed up by Kansas attorney Eugene G. Coombs, applied for UHF channel 30. The group received a construction permit for channel 30 on 30 December 1968. The transmitter and tower were to have been located in the Wisconsin Tower on West Wisconsin and North 6th Street. The group received the call letters WMKE-TV in early April of 1969, but never completed the station.

On 25 July 1969, the Wisconsin Television Corp., headed up by employees of Control Data Corp., applied for channel 55 in Kenosha. They received a construction permit on 7 October 1970. The company requested the call letters WKSH in January of 1971, but later asked the FCC to change them to WKRL. The FCC granted the request in May of that year, but the station was never built.

In June of 1970, the MATC board announced that it intended to ask the FCC to change the call letters of WMVT to WMTC. The application was never filed.

On 22 March 1973, B & F Broadcasting, Inc. (whose principals were Robert Block and Marvin Fishman - one of the original owners of the Milwaukee Bucks) applied for channel 24. The application was unopposed, and the FCC granted them a construction permit on 13 June of that year.

On 27 April 1977, WITI and WISN-TV again swapped affiliations, with WISN-TV reverting to ABC and WITI to CBS.

Wisconsin Voice of Christian Youth, Inc. applied for a construction permit for channel 30 in early August of 1977.

In 1978, WITI moved into new facilities on North Green Bay and West Brown Deer roads.

For the first time since 1963, a new television station began broadcasting in Milwaukee when WCGV-TV began operations on 24 March 1980 on channel 24. It utilized the old WCAN/WXIX/WITI studios on North 27th Street. (WITI having moved to new facilities on North Green Bay Road.) In June of that year, it shifted its evening programming to scrambled movies, broadcast by "SelecTV". That service required a separate converter box. The service was dropped in July of 1984, after competition from cable TV came to the area.

WCGV-TV Ad

On 23 June 1980, Weigel Broadcasting of Chicago applied for a license to operate a translator station in Milwaukee on channel 55.

On 21 October 1980, Wisconsin Voice of Christian Youth, Inc. was granted a construction permit for channel 30. The call letters WVCY-TV were later assigned to the station.

In the mid-1970s, Milwaukee Public Television was informed that they would have to remove the antennas for both WMVS and WMVT from the WITI tower. Nels Harvey recalled that the tower’s rating had been changed from 100 MPH winds, or 2 inches of ice, to 100 MPH winds WITH 2 inches of ice. As such, it was overloaded. (The tower was reinforced before the digital TV antenna was installed.) The channel 10 antenna was only at 750 ft., while channel 36’s was only at 400 ft. As such, neither station was covering the area it had the potential to. WVTV had been wanting to build a new tower, but had not found a suitable site - especially in the "tower farm" near the Milwaukee River. MATC owned land in the area, and entered into an agreement whereby WVTV could construct a tower on the property, provided that the antennas for channels 10 and 36 were installed on it. That occurred in April of 1981.

On 30 April 1981, the Racine Telecasting Co., owned by Joel J. Kinlow applied for channel 49. On 6 August of that year, Ch. 49 of Racine, Inc., owned by a group of Illinois investors, applied for the same channel.

On 11 December 1981, Weigel Broadcasting received a construction permit for low-power translator station W55AS. It rebroadcast programming from WCIU-TV in Chicago.

On 4 March 1982, the FCC established the Low Power Television Service (LPTV). Its primary intent was to provide opportunities for locally-oriented television service in small communities. These could be in rural areas, or smaller communities within a large, urban market. LPTV allowed for a fuller use of the broadcast television spectrum, and provided low-cost opportunities for entry into TV broadcasting. LPTV stations were not permitted to interfere with existing full-service TV stations, but were required to accept any interference those stations might produce. Since 1956, the FCC had allowed "translator" stations, which retransmit the programs and signals of another TV broadcast station. With the establishment of LPTV, such stations became the easiest way to begin broadcasting.

On 14 July 1982, Family Television 55 applied for channel 55 in Kenosha. On 8 September, an application was filed by the Chicago Communications Service. The following day, an application was filed by Midwest Broadcast Associates.

On 11 January 1983, WVCY-TV, owned and operated by VCY America, Inc., began broadcasting on channel 30. Late that month, W55AS began tests on channel 55. It officially began broadcasting on 9 February, and rebroadcast WCIU in Chicago. The signal was beamed via microwave from the Sears Tower in Chicago to an antenna mounted atop the First Wisconsin Center. The station broadcast from a small studio and switching center in the building. On 3 February of the same year, the Racine Telecasting Co. received a construction permit for channel 49.

In 1983, Storer Broadcasting became Storer Communications, Inc. (SCI).

On 21 November 1983, the FCC dismissed the applications of the other two applicants, and granted a construction permit for channel 55 in Kenosha to Midwest Broadcast Associates, who requested the call letters WKRW-TV.

In the early 1980s, the FCC assigned additional UHF channels to some cities. Milwaukee was assigned channel 58. The first four applicants were all from Knoxville, TN: Ebony Telecasters, KUSA Brewer’s Broadcasting Television, High Definition Television and Women in TV Ownership and Management. All applied in late October of 1983. In late December, eight others filed applications: Greater Milwaukee Broadcasting of Knoxville, TN, Ronald W. Cochran and William D. Forester of New York, NY, Heriberto B. Colon of Chicago, George Fritzinger of Los Angeles, Glory Ministries of Milwaukee, Enhancement Services, Inc. of Milwaukee (Two of the principals were WISN-TV reporter Brad Carr and John Stone, the son of talent agent/artist Sid Stone.), Milwaukee Broadcasting Limited Partnership of Milwaukee (The principals were State Senator Gary George and the Carley Brothers.), and TV58 Limited Partnership of Milwaukee (Two of the principals were John Torres and Debra Jackson. Torres had been a writer for The Milwaukee Journal, News Director at WNOV radio, a reporter for WISN-TV, and publisher of a bilingual (Spanish-English) newspaper. Jackson was the controller for WNOV radio.) Powell Community Television of Lehigh Acres, Florida also filed an application.

On 30 April 1984, the FCC granted a motion by Ebony Broadcasters and dismissed its application (with prejudice) for channel 58.

The FCC approved the sale of an additional 46 percent of WCGV-TV to the Arlington Broadcasting Group on 23 July 1984. Arlington had owned 20 percent of the station. The price was $1 million.

On 10 September 1984, the FCC issued a construction permit for a low-power translator station, W08BY.

On 8 June 1984, the FCC approved a motion by Glory Ministries to add as an issue in the license hearings for channel 58, whether the applicants’ programming proposals demonstrated superior devotion to public service.

Six applicants emerged from the first round of FCC license hearings for channel 58. On 24 October 1984, the FCC granted a joint request for settlement and dismissed with prejudice the applications of George Fritzinger, Enhancement Services, Inc., Milwaukee Broadcasting Limited Partnership, and Glory Ministries. In exchange, TV58 Ltd. and Zodiac Partnership (as Ronald W. Cochran and William D. Forester became known) agreed to reimburse all of the other finalists save Fritzinger, for expenses incurred. On 6 March 1985, the FCC announced that it would grant a construction permit to TV 58 Ltd., and that decision would become effective in 50 days if it was not appealed. It wasn’t and the CP became effective on 23 July 1985.

In early November of 1985, W08BY began broadcasting on channel 8 from the facilities located atop the Marc Plaza hotel. It showed music videos.

Debra Jackson initially suggested the call letters WJMT (Torres’ initials) for channel 58, but they were already in use. Torres came up with WDJT-TV, as Jackson’s last name, and his first, both had a "J".

Unfortunately, Debra Jackson was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a result, their banks backed out of the financing deal. In an attempt to get the construction permit, the group headed by Brad Carr forced TV58 Limited Partnership into involuntary bankruptcy, as they had not received the payment promised as consideration for agreeing to have the FCC dismiss their application. (Neither had any of the other parties to the agreement.) Torres looked for a partner, and after a deal with Dick Wegner and James Carley fell through, worked one out with Howard Shapiro, principal of Weigel Broadcasting of Chicago. The deal gave Shapiro majority control, with Torres serving as vice-president of operations and station manager. The construction permit was transferred to a new company, Milwaukee TV58, and Torres searched for a tower location. After the Glendale Village Board turned down the group’s zoning application, Torres was able to lease space on the tower atop the Marc Plaza hotel.

On 21 May 1986, Lorimar Telepictures offered to buy WITI from Storer. The deal collapsed in November of that year.

On 30 May 1986, Midwest Broadcast Associates sold the construction permit for WKRW-TV (Ch. 55) in Kenosha to LeSEA Broadcasting.

On 14 July 1986, the FCC approved the sale of WCGV-TV to HR Broadcasting for $30.5 million. The sales price included WTTO, a television station in Birmingham, Alabama.

In late 1987, Racine native George Gillett, Jr. purchased WITI and five other stations from SCI.

After purchasing the construction permit for WKRW-TV, LeSEA Broadcasting requested a change in call letters, which was granted by the FCC on 1 June 1988. The new call letters were WHKE. (The Christian-based LeSEA broadcasts what it calls "World Harvest" programming, and all of its stations have "WH" in their call letters.) The station began broadcasting shortly thereafter. Although licensed to the city of Kenosha, its signal could now be picked up in Milwaukee. Since W55AS could interfere with WHKE, Weigel Broadcasting shifted that station’s programming to W65BT (Ch. 65) on 17 June 1988.

On 3 September 1988, TV-52, Inc., whose principals were Wayne R. Stenz and Lyle R. Evans applied for a construction permit for channel 52 in Mayville. Evans had owned WLRE (now WGBA) in Green Bay.

On 10 November 1988, WDJT-TV, owned and operated by Milwaukee TV58, began operations as an independent station on channel 58, broadcasting from studios located in the Marc Plaza hotel.

On 5 December 1988, TV-52, Inc. was granted a construction permit for channel 52. The call letters WWRS-TV were later assigned to the station.

In October of 1989, W46AR, owned and operated by Weigel Broadcasting, began operations on channel 46. It broadcast Spanish programming from the Univision network.

In late January of 1990, WJJA, owned by Joel J. Kinlow, began broadcasting on channel 49. Although licensed to Racine, its signal could be picked up in Milwaukee. On 21 October of that year, WCGV-TV was sold to ABRY Communications.

During this time period, Weigel Broadcasting became the sole owner of WDJT-TV. As a result, John Torres entered into litigation with them. The case set a precedent re: valuation of assets for Delaware corporations, and the two eventually settled the matter.

In November of 1993, KM Communications, Inc. of Skokie, Illinois, purchased W08BY from its previous owner Charles Woods. That same year, ABRY Communications took over the operation of WVTV from Gaylord Entertainment Co.

Gillett Holdings (after a corporate bankruptcy in 1992) later merged with Wometco Broadcasting. They then merged with New World Entertainment to form New World Communications in December of 1993.

Milwaukee television had its first major shake-up in years in 1994, when WITI elected to drop its affiliation with CBS, and instead affiliate with the Fox Network. (Fox’s parent, News Corporation, had acquired a 20 percent interest in New World Communications.) This left CBS without an outlet, and it began negotiations with several stations. After its attempts to affiliate with WTMJ-TV, WISN-TV, WVCY-TV, or WJJA were rejected, it affiliated with the relatively low-powered, (at the time) UHF, WDJT-TV. The switch took place on 11 December 1994. WCGV-TV, which had been the Fox affiliate, joined the new United Paramount Network in January of 1995. WDJT-TV expanded and increased its power after affiliating with CBS.

Sinclair Broadcast Group later acquired WCGV-TV. In 1994, they acquired WVTV, but since federal regulations prohibited a company from owning more than one station in a given metropolitan area, they optioned WVTV to Glencairn Ltd., which was owned by a former Sinclair employee and the mother of its CEO. GlenCairn then entered into a marketing agreement in which Sinclair operated the station. WVTV later affiliated with the Warner Brothers Network (WB).

On 23 December 1994, W08BY became a low-power station, and changed its call letters to WMKE-LP.

After the FCC again relaxed their rules re: multiple-ownership in 1996, consolidation through merger began to take place in the industry. In August of 1997, the broadcast group of the Hearst Corporation merged with Argyle Television, Inc., to form Hearst-Argyle, Inc. WISN-TV now came under this new ownership.

After Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC promulgated a licensing regime for digital TV (DTV). The act provided that the FCC should restrict the issuance of DTV licenses to existing broadcasters - either licensees or those holding construction permits (effectively freezing new DTV applications). Further, once DTV was fully established, those existing analog broadcasters would have to surrender one of their licenses. The FCC agreed to provide all such broadcasters a second channel on which to broadcast a digital signal. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 modified some of the FCC’s plan. In it, Congress directed the FCC to find ways to assure, consistent with its DTV allotment plan, that LPTV stations receive a frequency with which to continue their operations. The act also specified that no analog licenses would be renewed beyond 31 December 2006, except under specific circumstances.

News Corporation (Fox) acquired New World Communications in January of 1997, and as a result became the new owner of WITI.

In early July of 1996, the Christian Network announced that it had purchased WHKE. Its programming ran between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. The remainder of the day, Paxson Communications Corp., showed infomercials, for which they bought the time.

WHKE was purchased by Paxson Communications Corp. on 27 February 1997. They changed the station’s call letters to WPXE on 13 January 1998. On 21 May of that year, Paxson sold the station to DP Media of Milwaukee. Paxson had purchased WCFC (Ch. 38) in Chicago, and FCC regulations at the time prohibited one entity from owning two stations whose signals overlapped.

WCGV-TV briefly lost its affiliation with UPN from January-July, 1998.

In November of 1998, Univision informed Weigel Broadcasting that it would not renew its affiliation agreement with them after it expired on 30 April 1999. The network wanted to be picked up directly by local cable companies. Weigel entered into litigation with Univision, and obtained a temporary restraining order preventing Univision from dropping its affiliation on 29 April 1999.

Mayville Communications, Inc. sought to purchase the construction permit for WWRS-TV from TV-52, Inc., and filed an application to do so on 6 October 1998. Approval was given by the FCC on 17 December. The second week in January, 1999, an engineer from National Minority Television’s station in Portland, Oregon, KNMT-TV arrived to get the station operating and train a few operators. The sale was consummated on 16 February, and broadcasting began on 28 February 1999. Mayville Communications had a relationship with Trinity Broadcasting.

With the upcoming transition to digital television broadcasting, the American Tower Corp., proposed to erect a 1200 ft. tower on which it hoped most Milwaukee television stations would want to install their digital antennas. It entered into an agreement with MATC to erect the tower on the same land that the WVTV tower was located on. As was the case with the WVTV tower, Milwaukee Public Television would be allowed to install its antennas on the tower in exchange for the use of the land. The tower was completed in August of 1999, and MPTV’s digital and analog antennas were later installed on it. (The back-up antennas remain on the WVTV tower.) Most of the other major stations elected to mount their digital antennas on their existing towers.

Since the FCC had assigned channel 46 for WDJT-TV’s digital signal, Weigel Broadcasting applied to change W46AR to channel 41. On 8 October 1999, they obtained a construction permit for W41CI. On 1 November 1999, W46AR dropped Univision programming and affiliated with the Telemundo Network.

In 1999, the FCC lifted its regulations prohibiting a company from owning more than one station in a given metro area. Sinclair Broadcasting Group filed an application to acquire WVTV in November of that year, but the deal was held up by objections from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition, which claimed that Glencairn, Ltd. was simply a corporate front which had allowed Sinclair to skirt those regulations.

With the advent of digital television and the establishment of a transition period in which both analog (NTSC) and digital signals may be broadcast by stations (currently scheduled to end on 17 February 2009), the FCC made additional channel assignments. Those assignments had the potential to displace LPTV stations. In order to preserve the diversity and "localism" that LPTV stations provide, Congress passed the Community Broadcasters Protection Act, which was signed into law on 29 November 1999, and ordered the FCC to establish a "Class A" television service, which would provide primary status (and consequently frequency protection), as well as (it was hoped) enhanced commercial viability to LPTV stations. Only LPTV stations which existed as of 29 November 1999 were eligible for the upgrade. To be eligible, LPTV stations had to meet certain programming requirements within the 90-day period prior to that date. In addition, all class A stations had to meet some of the same requirements as their full-service counterparts.

Because the FCC relaxed its multiple-ownership rules, Paxson Communications Corp. acquired DP Media of Milwaukee in a stock purchase on 5 June 2000, which returned ownership of WPXE to them. On 3 July of that year, they entered into a joint sales agreement with Journal Communications, Inc., in which WTMJ-TV took over the sales and engineering functions of WPXE. The two companies split the sales revenue.

Since the FCC assigned channel 8 as the digital channel for WMVS, WMKE-LP applied for the use of channel 7. Despite objections from WLS-TV in Chicago and WMVS, the FCC granted its application on 16 February 2000. It began broadcasting on channel 7 in August of that year, and relocated its studios from atop the Hilton Hotel to South 27th Street that December.

Weigel Broadcasting shifted its channels in September of 2000 in order to free channel 46 for WDJT-TV’s digital signal. Telemundo programming shifted to W63CU, which began broadcasting on 25 September 2000. Channel 65 then went dark. W41CI began broadcasting the same day, as a joint venture between Weigel and Bridge Information Systems, Inc. of New York. During the day, W41CI broadcast Web Financial Network (WebFN) programming.

WMKE-LP became a class A television station on 26 January 2001, and changed its call letters to WMKE-CA.

On 1 February of the same year, WWRS-TV was sold to National Minority Television. (The sale was approved by the FCC on 19 December 2000.) Although both companies shared directors, the sale was made because National Minority TV had the resources to purchase and install a taller antenna, more powerful transmitter, and digital broadcasting equipment.

On 13 November of 2001, W41CI received low-power television status from the FCC and changed its call letters to WMLW-LP. In December of that year, the FCC approved the sale of WVTV to Sinclair Broadcasting.

In 2003, Weigel Broadcasting restructured itself, and started limited partnerships for all of its stations. In August of that year, the license of WDJT-TV was assigned to WDJT-TV Limited Partnership, and those for WMLW-LP and W63CU were assigned to Channel 41 and 63 Limited Partnership. On 14 January 2003, the FCC accepted Weigel Broadcasting’s application for Class A status for WMLW-LP, and the call letters were changed to WMLW-CA on 19 September 2003. It also applied for low-power status for channel 63. That status was granted, and the call letters were changed to WYTU-LP on 16 December 2003.

On 30 June 2005, WPXE and WTMJ-TV ended their joint sales agreement. In early July, the Pax Network changed its name to "i" (Independent Television). On 29 August of that year, the license for WPXE was transferred from Paxson Holdings, Inc. to the Paxson Management Corporation.

On 16 February 2006, Weigel Broadcasting sued Joel J. Kinlow in Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court. Weigel claimed that it had entered into an agreement to purchase WJJA for $5M, but that Kinlow had then raised the price to $7M.

In 2006, WMKE-CA dropped their MTV2 and Korean programming and became a full-time America One affiliate.

On 13 June 2006, the FCC approved the sale of W53CC to Bustos Media LLC, the owner of the area’s first Spanish-language radio station, WDDW-FM, and assigned it channel 38. Bustos Media purchased the station, whose city of license was originally Ludington, Michigan, from MS Communications. The original call letters assigned on 31 May 1995 were W55CG, and they were changed to W53CC on 24 May 2001. On 30 August 2006, the FCC assigned the station the call letters WBWT-LP.

After it was announced that UPN and the WB would combine to form the new CW network, Sinclair had to decide what affiliations, if any, its two Milwaukee stations would seek. WCGV-TV became an affiliate of the new MyNetworkTV, and began carrying their programming on 5 September 2006. WVTV affiliated with the new CW network, and began carrying its programming later that same month.

Later that same month, WBWT-LP began transmitting a logo. The station began broadcasting formally as an Azteca America affiliate on 12 December 2006.

On 30 July 2007 Weigel Broadcasting and Joel Kinlow announced that they had entered into an agreement for the sale of WJJA. The purchase price was $7 million. Weigel, who had sued Kinlow in Federal court as well as in Cook County, Illinois, then agreed to drop all litigation.

That year, Paxson Management Corporation petitioned the FCC for permission to transfer all of its stations, including WPXE, to CGI Media LLC. Some stockholders opposed the transfer, arguing that it was being used as a way to transfer control to NBC. The Commission approved the transfer on 30 December 2007

WJJA’s tower needed reinforcement, and that delayed its sale to Weigel Broadcasting. On Monday, 21 April 2008, the sale was finally consummated, and WJJA began carrying Me-TV programming, which Weigel had begun clearing on one of WDJT-DT’s digital subchannels back on 1 March. On 29 April, the station changed its call letters to WBME-TV.

The advent of digital and HDTV on 17 February 2009, will result in further changes.


Note: Only those stations which actually went on-the-air are included in the following table:

CH Call Letters Meaning
3/4 WTMJ-TV The Milwaukee Journal
6 WITI Independent Television, Inc.
7 WMKE-CA Milwaukee (also the airport designation)
7/8 WMKE-LP Milwaukee (also the airport designation)
8 W08BY Low power translator station on channel 8
10 WMVS Milwaukee Vocational School
12 WTVW Wisconsin’s Television Window
12 WISN-TV The Wisconsin News (newspaper)
18 WUHF Ultra-High Frequency
18 WVTV All Gaylord-owned stations had TV in their call letters at one time.
19 WOKY-TV Mil-WOKY (same as the radio station)
19 WXIX Roman numerals of channel (became Ch. 18)
24 WCGV-TV Wisconsin’s Choice for Great Viewing
25 WCAN-TV (No Meaning)
30 WVCY-TV Wisconsin Voice of Christian Youth