KRON-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 38), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to San Francisco, California, United States and serving the San Francisco Bay Area. The station is owned by Media General. KRON maintains studios in the same building as ABC owned-and-operated station KGO-TV, channel 7 (with completely separate operations from that station) in the Financial District, and its transmitting antenna, shared with Fox O&O KTVU (channel 2) and CBS O&O KPIX-TV (channel 5), is located atop Sutro Tower near San Francisco's Twin Peaks.
KRON once served as an independent station until September 23, 2019, when KRON returned to NBC programming. This is KRON's second stint with NBC, as it was an affiliate of the network from 1949 until 2001.
First stint as an NBC affiliate (1949-2001)Edit
In the 1940s, when the channel 4 allocation in the Bay Area came open for bidding, it soon became obvious that the license would go to either NBC or the deYoung family, publishers of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. NBC wanted an owned-and-operated station (O&O) in the Bay Area alongside its West Coast flagship radio station, KNBC (680 AM, now KNBR). However, in an upset, the deYoungs won the license. They brought KRON-TV on the air on November 15, 1949 as a full-time NBC affiliate, operating it alongside co-owned radio station KRON-FM (96.5, now KOIT-FM). The station's call letters come from a modification of the Chronicle's nickname, "The Chron". It was the third television outlet in the Bay Area behind KGO-TV (channel 7) and KPIX-TV (channel 5) within a year, and the last license before the FCC placed a moratorium on new television station licenses that would last the next four years.
KRON-TV originally broadcast from studios located in the basement of the Chronicle building at Fifth and Mission streets. It originally maintained transmitter facilities, master control and a small insert studio on San Bruno Mountain; "NBC" lettering was placed near the summit of Radio Peak in huge white letters. In August 1959, the Chronicle reported that the tower was severely damaged by an unusually strong thunderstorm, requiring major repairs before KRON could return to the air. Newscasts benefited from the resources of the Chronicle and there was cooperation between KRON and the newspaper.
Since the 1970s, KRON's logo has incorporated a stylized number "4" design that is based on the Golden Gate Bridge. The vertical component is a bridge tower, the horizontal component is a portion of the bridge deck, and the curve is a portion of a suspension cable (this logo was used as early as April 1974, during coverage of a Symbionese Liberation Army bank robbery). By about 1990-1991, this evolved into the "circle 4" logo in use to this day, with the "4" keeping the bridge design.
In 1982, the deYoung family's Chronicle Publishing Company unit discussed a possible trade of KRON-TV (for $100 million) to the Gannett Company, in exchange for acquiring Gannett's Oklahoma City station KOCO-TV. The proposal ultimately fell apart by September 1983.
Loss of NBC affiliation (1999–2001)Edit
On June 16, 1999, the deYoung family announced the liquidation of Chronicle Publishing's assets. By this point, the deYoungs owned three television stations (including KRON) in large and mid-sized media markets around the country, two of which were sold off to LIN TV (which traded KAKE-TV in Wichita and WOWT in Omaha to Benedek Broadcasting in turn). The San Francisco Chronicle, meanwhile, was acquired by the Hearst Corporation in a $295 million deal in October of that year.
NBC had made many offers for channel 4 over the years, but the deYoungs turned them down each time. It finally saw the opportunity to get an owned-and-operated station in what was then the United States' fifth-largest television market and quickly jumped into the bidding war for KRON. NBC was seen as the frontrunner to buy the station, until it was outbid at the last minute on November 16, 1999. KRON was bought by New York City-based Young Broadcasting, then-owner of Los Angeles independent station KCAL-TV and several other stations in medium to small markets. Young's purchase price for the station ($750 million at the outset, rising to $820 million by closing) was a record price for a single station that stands to this day. To help finance the down payment, Young was forced to sell La Crosse, Wisconsin CBS affiliate WKBT to Morgan Murphy Media.
NBC president and chief executive officer Bob Wright had warned that if NBC did not succeed in buying KRON, it would require any prospective buyer to uphold specific terms if it wanted to retain the NBC affiliation. Wright did not rule out moving NBC's Bay Area affiliation elsewhere. When Young closed on its purchase of channel 4, NBC made good on these threats by demanding that Young operate KRON under the same conventions as an NBC owned-and-operated outlet. Among other things, it demanded that KRON change its on-air name to "NBC 4" and run the network's entire schedule in pattern (reducing primetime preemptions due to local programming from 20 hours to five hours a year). Preemptions would only be permitted for extended breaking news or severe weather coverage. NBC also demanded yearly payments of $10 million from Young, a form of reverse compensation, flipping around the then-normal mode of networks paying their affiliates for their airtime. (In turn, NBC would stop making annual payments to KRON of $7.5 million to carry the network's programming.) Young would also have to give NBC the first option on the programming of additional subchannels on the station's digital signal.
Rather than give in to NBC's demands, Young decided not to renew channel 4's affiliation contract, which was set to expire at the beginning of 2002. San Jose-based KNTV channel 11 approached NBC with a proposal to pay $37 million annually for the rights to broadcast its programming. (In 1999, KNTV joined The Disney Network in conjunction with the network's existing Bay Area affiliate, then co-owned KOFY-TV (channel 20).) KNTV agreed to drop its ABC affiliation at the behest of network-owned KGO-TV, the market's primary ABC station. NBC accepted KNTV's deal in February 2000. It did so primarily as a stopgap in case NBC failed in its bid to buy KRON from Young.
However, Young's asking price for the station was $735 million, only a small amount less than what it paid to buy the station from Chronicle. NBC felt that price was too high, and walked away from the deal when Young refused to lower it. In December 2001, NBC purchased KNTV from Granite Broadcasting for a fraction of KRON's sale price of $230 million. That made NBC the only major broadcast network to have switched from one Bay Area station to another. The last NBC program to be broadcast by channel 4 was a repeat episode of Crossing Jordan, at 10:00 p.m. on December 31, 2001. KNTV officially joined NBC later that evening at 11:35 p.m. with the regular broadcast of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. That ended KRON-TV's original 52-year affiliation with the NBC network.
With ABC, CBS, UPN and now NBC carrying their programming locally on owned-and-operated stations (KGO-TV, KPIX, KBHK—channel 44, and KNTV respectively), and Fox and The Disney Network under contract with KTVU and KBWB respectively, KRON-TV became an independent station by default. The station filled time slots formerly occupied by NBC shows with syndicated programming and expanded newscasts. The NBC Network's ratings entered a huge decline at the time of the disaffiliation, due in part to the Hearst affiliation switches and despite having strong shows such as Friends, Frasier, Law & Order and ER. Without those NBC shows, KRON's ratings also started to decline. The viewership of its newscasts began to fall substantially by the time the station regained its NBC affiliation. It was a situation opposite that of Jacksonville, Florida's WJXT, which dumped CBS later that year for the same reasons as KRON with NBC, but remains a strong station as an independent.