KFOR-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 27), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company, as part of a duopoly with independent station KAUT-TV (channel 43). The two stations share studios on Britton Road (near US 77) in the McCourry Heights section of northeast Oklahoma City; KFOR's transmitter is located between 122nd Street and the John Kilpatrick Turnpike, also on the city's northeast side. On cable, the station is available on Cox Communications and AT&T U-verse channel 4 in standard definition (and on Cox digital channel 704 and U-verse channel 1004 in high definition) in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area; it is also carried on channel 4 on most cable systems elsewhere within the Oklahoma City DMA as well as on DirecTV and Dish Network.
The station is also carried on cable providers throughout much of western and southern Oklahoma, extending as far away as Guymon (which is in the Oklahoma Panhandle section of the Amarillo market) and Idabel (part of the Shreveport–Texarkana market). The station is carried on Sparklight and other cable systems on the Oklahoma side of the Ada–Sherman market as an alternate NBC affiliate, albeit with NBC programs blacked out due to the presence of Ada-licensed KTEN, in compliance with FCC regulations allowing local network affiliates to prohibit cable providers from carrying duplicative network content from an out-of-market station.
Fascinated with the medium since the late 1930s, Edward K. Gaylord—publisher of the morning Daily Oklahoman and evening Oklahoma Times newspapers—brought television to Oklahoma on an exhibitory basis in mid-November 1939, when his Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPUBCO) sponsored a six-day demonstration of telecasts and broadcast equipment at the Oklahoma City Municipal Auditorium (now the Civic Center Music Hall) in downtown Oklahoma City. The event featured appearances by performers from NBC and Gaylord's radio station, WKY (930 AM). During November and early December 1944, OPUBCO conducted a similar, 19-city television exhibition tour across central and western Oklahoma—open to residents who had purchased war bonds—that included performances from WKY personalities and demonstrations by television technicians.
On April 16, 1948, Gaylord submitted a permit application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a television station that would transmit on VHF channel 4. He waited to make the submission so as to ensure that any financial burden would be limited until revenue from existing OPUBCO assets was able to offset the station's profit losses. When the FCC granted the license for the proposed television station to Gaylord on June 2, 1948, Gaylord requested to assign WKY-TV as the television station's call letters, applying the base WKY callsign that had been used by his AM radio station shortly after it signed on in 1922 and was also assigned to its FM sister on 98.9 (now defunct, frequency now occupied by KYIS) when it signed on in July 1947. The station began test broadcasts, accompanied by music playing over the test pattern slide, on April 21, 1949. Television set owners in Oklahoma and neighboring states called to report reception of the WKY test signal, which was transmitted each afternoon until regular broadcasts commenced. The test signal operated at low power for three days, after a lightning strike caused minor damage to a junction box on the transmission tower during the early morning of April 27. Closed-circuit transmissions began on May 27, with a wrestling match at the Oklahoma City Stockyards Coliseum.
Channel 4 officially signed on the air at 7:00 p.m. on June 6, 1949, with an inaugural broadcast that included speeches from Gaylord, executive vice president/general manager Proctor A. "Buddy" Sugg, and Governor Roy J. Turner; a topical feature by Gaylord and Sugg on the new television medium; and a film outlining programs that would air on WKY-TV. It was the first television station to sign on in the state of Oklahoma (KOTV in Tulsa – which had its license approved the same day as the grant of the WKY-TV license to Gaylord – would not debut until October 22), and the 65th to sign on in the United States. WKY-TV's original studio facilities were based at the Municipal Auditorium (near Colcord Drive and Walker Avenue, 0.5 miles [0.80 km] west of WKY radio's facilities at the Skirvin Tower Hotel on Park and Broadway Avenues), with production facilities in the Freede Little Theatre on the second floor. Following a second round of renovations to the building due to a fire that caused $150,000 in damage on November 17, 1948, most of the technical and production equipment was replaced, and soundproofing material was installed in the auditorium to limit disruptions between production of local programs and stage productions that would be held elsewhere in the building. The radio station's 968-foot (295 m) broadcast tower, located between Kelley Avenue and the Broadway Extension in northeast Oklahoma City's Britton section, was the site of an accident in which the assembly carrying the WKY-TV transmitter antenna fell 8 feet (2.4 m) (at the tower's 600-foot [180 m] mark) while being hoisted for installation; the antenna suffered minor, albeit repairable dents.
Channel 4 has been an NBC television affiliate since its debut, inheriting those rights through WKY radio's longtime relationship with the progenitor NBC Red Network, which had been affiliated with that station since December 1928. (WKY-TV did not air its first NBC program, Who Said That?, until June 17.) It also maintained secondary affiliations with CBS, ABC and the DuMont Television Network. (Select programming from the Paramount Television Network was added in 1950, continuing to be cleared on WKY's schedule until the network ceased operations in 1953.) Originally broadcasting Sunday through Fridays from 7:00 to 9:45 p.m., the station expanded its broadcast hours markedly over the next two years: WKY-TV began broadcasting seven days a week on February 11, 1950, when it started offering programs on Saturday evenings, and by 1951, when it added a morning schedule of local and network programs, was airing 90 cumulative hours of programming per week. Channel 4's initial local programming included some WKY radio shows that were adapted for television, including variety series Wiley and Gene (hosted by singers and WKY performers Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan) and children's program The Adventures of Gizmo Goodkin. In July 1951, the operations of WKY-AM-TV were integrated into a proprietary studio facility, which included television soundstages that were engineered to also allow origination of WKY radio programs, built just east of the Britton Road transmission tower (WKY radio had earlier moved into the facility on March 26).
OPUBCO management challenged a proposal under the FCC's "Sixth Report and Order"—which ended the agency's four-year-long freeze on licensing grants and realigned VHF channel assignments in many American media markets to alleviate interference issues—that would have resulted in channel 4 being reassigned to Tulsa and WKY-TV being moved to VHF channel 7. The company cited the cost of installing a temporary antenna, the potential effects on WKY radio's transmissions, and the need for viewers to replace their existing outdoor antennas with models capable of receiving high-band VHF signals in its response seeking to stay on channel 4. In April 1952, the FCC rescinded its request for WKY-TV to change frequencies, citing in part, feasible co-channel assignment separation from CBS affiliate KRLD-TV (now Fox owned-and-operated station KDFW) in Dallas, and the proposal's potential generation of signal interference issues in adjacent markets with other television stations transmitting on the same channel (the channel 7 allocation was reassigned to Lawton, where it would become occupied by present-day ABC affiliate KSWO-TV). On July 1, 1952, WKY-TV became among the first six television stations in the country—along with fellow NBC stations WBAP-TV (now KXAS-TV) in Fort Worth, KPRC-TV in Houston, WOAI-TV in San Antonio and WDSU in New Orleans, and secondary NBC affiliate KOTV (now exclusively a CBS affiliate) in Tulsa—to begin transmitting network programming over a live coaxial feed. The milestone was inaugurated that morning with a message by Today host Dave Garroway welcoming the stations in commencing live network telecasts; at that time, WKY increased its programming to 111 hours per week.
In 1953, OPUBCO—whose founder had long been an advocate for Oklahoma's educational system—donated $150,000 worth of existing WKY-TV broadcasting equipment to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) for its proposed station on channel 13 (flagship station KETA-TV, which would sign-on in April 1956). Because of the licensing freeze instituted by the FCC in September 1948, WKY-TV was the only television station in the Oklahoma City market until 1953; its initial two UHF-based competitors—KTVQ (channel 25, allocation now occupied by Fox affiliate KOKH-TV) and KLPR-TV (channel 19, allocation now occupied by Cornerstone Television affiliate KUOT-CD)—made their respective debuts on October 28 and November 8 of that year. Though KTVQ and KLPR respectively signed on as basic affiliates of ABC and DuMont, channel 4 continued to carry selected programs from the two networks, with ABC programming being retained through a secondary basic affiliation; in contrast, WKY disaffiliated from CBS one month prior to KWTV (channel 9) signing on as an affiliate of that network on December 20. WKY-TV remained a primary NBC and secondary DuMont affiliate until the latter network discontinued operations in August 1956. Then on October 15, 1956, WKY-TV became the primary Oklahoma City affiliate of the NTA Film Network, offering the majority of the network's program offerings with interview, variety and drama series among its clearances. (Other NTA programs that WKY-TV elected not to clear, consisting entirely of scripted shows, were carried instead by KWTV.) In March 1958, Enid-based primary ABC/secondary NTA affiliate KGEO-TV (channel 5, now exclusively affiliated with ABC)—which, accordingly, changed its call letters to KOCO-TV at that time—refocused its coverage area to include Oklahoma City, resulting in that station assuming the local ABC programming rights. This left WKY-TV as a primary NBC and secondary NTA Film affiliate until National Telefilm Associates discontinued the latter service in November 1961, with channel 4 remaining an exclusive NBC affiliate.
On April 8, 1954, channel 4 became one of the first American television stations not owned by a network to produce and transmit local programs in color, beginning with a five-minute telecast hosted that evening by E.K. Gaylord; it also carried select NBC network programs in the format, with children's program The Paul Winchell Show was the station's first network color telecast. (Before the FCC had approved a color transmission standard, Gaylord had ordered color broadcasting equipment being developed by RCA—which included two RCA TK40 color cameras—in September 1949.) The cooking show Cook's Book became the first regular program to broadcast in color from the WKY studios and first in the state to do so, while dance program Sooner Shindig became the first live color program in the country to originate from the studios of a network-affiliated station. When NBC became the first network to commence color telecasts on May 1, WKY-TV provided color feeds of the Anadarko Indian Festival to the network for broadcast on Today and Home. Local variety series The Hank Thompson Show also became the first color broadcast of a variety program. In 1955, WKY-TV became the first network affiliate to feed a full-length color program to a television network, transmitting coverage of a square dance convention in downtown Oklahoma City to NBC; it also transmitted closed-circuit images of a surgical procedure in color. (WKY-TV had become the first Oklahoma television station to air a surgical procedure via closed circuit telecast four years earlier in February 1950.)
The Oklahoma Publishing Company, through its WKY Radiophone Company subsidiary, eventually acquired or launched other television and radio stations during and after its stewardship of WKY-TV, including: WSFA (TV) and WSFA (AM) (now WLWI [AM]) in Montgomery, Alabama (in 1955); WTVT in Tampa, Florida (in 1956); WUHF-TV (now WVTV) in Milwaukee (in 1966); KTVT in Fort Worth (in 1962); KHTV (now KIAH) in Houston (built and signed on by the company in 1967); and KTNT-TV (now KSTW) in Tacoma, Washington (in 1973). WKY-TV served as the company's flagship station, and in October 1956, OPUBCO renamed its broadcast group, the WKY Television System. In December 1954, a half-hour WKY-TV special, Gift of God, which outlined the medical and legal aspects of corneal transplants and included a film of a transplant operation project, led to the development of a statewide eye bank through a partnership with the Lions Clubs of Oklahoma and Lions Sight Conservation Foundation; by 1957, more than 16,400 donor cards (700 of which were received within 1½ hours after the special's initial airing, including one signed by then-Oklahoma Governor Raymond Gary) were signed to permit donation of participants' eyes to the bank after their deaths and 346 Oklahomans (including two who had underwent transplant surgery within 48 hours of the broadcast) had received corneal transplants to restore their sight.
In 1958, WKY became one of the first local television stations in the U.S. to acquire a videotape recorder; intended primarily for use by the station's news department, the recording equipment was also used for some program production, including those it distributed to NBC for national broadcast. One such videotaped show, the Stars and Stripes Show, premiered on NBC that year as the first network television program to be produced by a local station. Ownership of OPUBCO's Oklahoma City-based print and broadcast properties was transferred to Edward L. Gaylord, after his father, E.K. Gaylord, died of natural causes on May 30, 1974 at the age of 101.
On July 16, 1975, Oklahoma Publishing sold WKY-TV to Universal Communications (a subsidiary of the Detroit-based Evening News Association) for $22.697 million. The Gaylords—who would later rechristen their broadcasting division as Gaylord Broadcasting—sold channel 4 to comply with FCC rules of the time that prohibited a single company from owning more than seven television stations nationwide, as it chose to purchase ABC affiliate WVUE-TV (now a Fox affiliate) in New Orleans and independent station WUAB (now a CW affiliate) in Cleveland as well as make building improvements to the Britton Road studio using proceeds from the sale. The sale coincided with the FCC's passage of new cross-ownership rules that prohibited media companies from owning newspapers and full-power broadcast television and radio outlets in the same market, restricting media companies to owning only either a print or broadcast property within an individual market. However, OPUBCO filed for a "grandfathering" waiver (which the agency allowed companies to seek to maintain existing newspaper-broadcasting combinations under special circumstances) to retain WKY radio, the Oklahoman, and the Times. The transaction was approved by the FCC on October 29.
On January 5, 1976, the station's call letters were changed to KTVY (initially backronymed in on-air parlance to "TeleVision for You"), in order to comply with a since-repealed FCC rule that prohibited separately owned TV and radio stations that were based in the same media market from sharing the same call letters. The WKY call letters had been assigned to its former radio sister before the "K"/"W" border definition assigned by the FCC was shifted to the Mississippi River in 1935; as such, upon changing them, channel 4 would have had to adopt a callsign starting with "K"—the KTVY calls were presumptively chosen as an anagram of its original WKY-TV calls—in any event. (WKY radio—which, in March 1977, moved to a new facility just west of the Britton Road building—was sold to Citadel Broadcasting in 2002, it is now owned by Cumulus Media. The Times ceased publication as a separate newspaper and was folded into the Oklahoman in March 1984; the Gaylord family sold the OPUBCO properties to The Anschutz Corporation in 2011; The Oklahoman is now owned by the Gannett Company). On June 6, 1985, KTVY became the first television station in Oklahoma to broadcast in stereo; initially, the station broadcast NBC network programs, local programs and certain syndicated shows that were transmitted in the audio format. Taking advantage of the new format, channel 4's daily sign-ons and sign-offs began to feature music videos, some of which were tailored to the station's public service campaigns.
On September 5, 1985, the Gannett Company announced that it would purchase the Evening News Association for $717 million, thwarting a $566-million hostile takeover bid by L.P. Media Inc. (owned by television producer Norman Lear and media executive A. Jerrold Perenchio). As FCC rules then prohibited a single company from owning two commercial television stations in the same market, Gannett was required to sell either KTVY or KOCO-TV, the latter of which had been owned by Gannett since the company's 1979 acquisition of Combined Communications Corporation. Nine weeks later, on November 15, Gannett sold KTVY, fellow NBC affiliate WALA-TV (now a Fox affiliate) in Mobile, Alabama and CBS affiliate KOLD-TV in Tucson, Arizona to Miami, Florida-based Knight Ridder Broadcasting for $160 million (with KTVY selling for a reported $80 million). The sale to Gannett was completed on January 13, 1986, with the Knight-Ridder transaction being approved by the FCC on February 19.
On February 28, 1989, Knight Ridder—which, 3¾ months earlier on October 8, 1988, announced its intent to sell its eight television stations to reduce its $929-million debt load and to help finance its $353-million acquisition of online information provider Dialog Information Services—sold channel 4 to Palmer Communications, then-owner of fellow longtime NBC affiliates WHO-TV in the company's headquarters of Des Moines and KWQC-TV in Davenport, Iowa, for $50 million; the sale was approved by the FCC on May 8.
On April 22, 1990, the station's call letters were changed to KFOR-TV, in reference to its over-the-air analog channel assignment. (The KFOR call letters were formerly used by a now-defunct television station on channel 10 in Lincoln, Nebraska [now occupied by CBS affiliate KOLN] that operated from May 1953 to March 1954; the KTVY call letters were later used by a full-power television station in Goldfield, Nevada [later KEGS, now defunct] from 2002 to 2005, and its Las Vegas-based low-power repeater [later KEGS-LP, also now defunct] from 1997 to 2005.) It also adopted the generalized promotional brand "4 Strong" (an analogue to the longer-established "5 Alive" moniker that had been used by KOCO-TV since 1977 and remained in use until 1994), and retitled its newscasts from News 4 Oklahoma (which had been in use since March 1984) to News Team 4. Subsequently, on May 11, the station began maintaining a 24-hour programming schedule seven days a week, adding a mix of syndicated programs and infomercials as well as hourly local news updates to fill overnight timeslots. (As KTVY, the station had first adopted a 24-hour schedule on weekends in 1978, in order to air overnight feature films on Fridays and Saturdays.)
On November 7, 1991, Palmer announced it had signed a letter of intent to sell KFOR, WHO-TV and Des Moines radio stations WHO (AM) and KLYF (now KDRB) for $70.2 million to New Canaan, Connecticut-based Hughes Broadcasting Partners, a group formed earlier that year with its purchase of ABC affiliate WOKR-TV (now WHAM-TV) in Rochester, New York. The sale agreement was terminated on April 2, 1992, after Palmer management rejected the bid submitted by Hughes Broadcasting representatives. In a lawsuit against Palmer, majority owner VS&A Communications Partners LP asked the Delaware Chancery Court to force Palmer, which claimed it had no binding obligation to negotiate or reach a formal agreement, into resuming negotiations to reach a definitive sale contract. Hughes formally gave up its pursuit of the transaction, months after the judge presiding the case ruled that the agreement between VS&A and Palmer was not binding. Coinciding with the start of that year's Summer Olympics, KFOR inaugurated the "NewsChannel 4" moniker for its news branding on July 25, 1992 (the title would be extended to full-time use in May 1997); the "4 Strong" moniker was concurrently discontinued, opting to use the phoneticism "K-FOR" as a general identifier, sometimes accompanied by the slogan "Oklahoma's News Channel".
On May 14, 1996, The New York Times Company (through its Memphis-based broadcasting subsidiary) announced that it would purchase KFOR-TV and WHO-TV from Palmer Communications for $226 million (with KFOR selling for $155 million). The sale received FCC approval less than two months later on July 3, and was finalized on July 16. On June 13, 1998, the WKY-AM-TV transmitter tower (which had been used as an auxiliary tower for KFOR-TV and WKY radio, and was designed to withstand winds in excess of 125 mph [201 km/h]) collapsed due to straight-line wind gusts to near 105 mph (169 km/h)—which also caused minor damage to KOCO-TV's studio facility, located 1.1 miles (1.8 km) to the east of the KFOR studios—produced by a supercell thunderstorm that also spawned four tornadoes across northern sections of Oklahoma City that evening. On November 5, 1999, KFOR became the first television station in the Oklahoma City market to begin offering sweepstakes for video games, starting off with games for Nintendo's Game Boy Color and Nintendo 64 video game systems. Many of the special edition systems given away in these sweepstakes had the KFOR logo painted on them, and came bundled with special cartridges or discs containing demos or previews of later games. On October 11, 2000, The New York Times Company entered into a joint sales agreement with Pax TV owned-and-operated station KOPX-TV (channel 62, now an O&O of successor Ion Television), as part of a broader agreement between the Times Company and Paxson Communications that also involved stations in Des Moines (WHO-TV and Pax O&O KFPX-TV) and Scranton–Wilkes-Barre (ABC affiliate WNEP-TV and Pax O&O WQPX-TV). Until the agreement ended on July 1, 2005 (coinciding with Pax's rebranding as i: Independent Television), KFOR handled advertising sales services for channel 62, while KOPX carried NBC programs on occasions when conflicts with special event programming prevented them from airing on KFOR, and aired rebroadcasts of channel 4's 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. newscasts on a delayed basis.
On September 14, 2005, Viacom Television Stations Group sold UPN owned-and-operated station KAUT-TV (channel 43, now an independent station) to The New York Times Company, creating a duopoly with KFOR upon the sale's November 4 closure. On January 4, 2007, the Times Company sold its nine television stations to Local TV, a holding company operated by private equity group Oak Hill Capital Partners, for $530 million; the sale was finalized on May 7.
Tribune Broadcasting ownership; aborted sale to Sinclair Broadcast GroupEdit
On July 1, 2013, the Chicago-based Tribune Company (which formed a management company for the operation of both Tribune Broadcasting and Local TV's television stations in December 2007) acquired the Local TV stations for $2.75 billion. The sale, which was completed on December 27, reunited KFOR with former sister station KIAH (which Tribune had acquired from Gaylord Broadcasting in 1995).
On August 5, 2014, during a staff luncheon held at the soundstage within the original Britton Road studios that housed KAUT's news set, duopoly president and general manager Wes Milbourn announced plans to construct a new facility on a ten-acre (4.0 ha) plot of land directly adjacent to the existing studio building to house the operations of KFOR-TV and KAUT-TV. Construction of the facility began in January 2015, and was completed in early August 2017. The facility—designed under an open floorplan to improve workflow and encourage collaboration between employees of the station's individual departments—incorporates two production studios (the main studio, which was named in honor of after veteran anchor Linda Cavanaugh upon her retirement on December 15, 2017, provides a backdrop of the newsroom structured similarly to the set used from February 1992 until the anchor desk was walled off from the former studio's newsroom in November 2006, and incorporates an 80-inch [203 cm] razored monitor); an expanded weather center within the production studio housing KFOR's main news set; two control rooms that relay high definition content; and several conference rooms dedicated to former channel 4 employees (such as the Barry Huddle Room, named in honor of late longtime sports anchors Bob Barry Sr. and Bob Barry, Jr.). The building's exterior was built with reinforced steel, concrete and protective glass to resist a direct hit from a tornado or extreme straight-line winds, which would allow KFOR to broadcast uninterrupted during significant severe weather events affecting Oklahoma City proper. KFOR/KAUT's news, sales and marketing departments, and all other operations moved to the new Britton Road studio on August 19, 2017 (commencing broadcasts with that evening's edition of the 10:00 p.m. newscast), ending KFOR's 65-year tenure at the original 444 East Britton Road building. The older building was later razed after operations were moved into the new building to make room for public parking space near the newer building. Coinciding with the move, KFOR-TV changed its branding to Oklahoma's News 4 (although print and online TV listings incorrectly identify the station's newscasts as "KFOR News 4"), adopting an alteration of the Tribune Creative West-designed graphics package developed for the Fox affiliates that Tribune owned prior to the Local TV purchase in 2012, and replacing the Wow and Flutter-composed custom theme that had been in use since 1997 with Stephen Arnold Music's NBC chimes-derived "The Rock."