WAGA-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 27), is a CBS-affiliated television station licensed to Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The station is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company. WAGA-TV's studios and transmitter are located on Briarcliff Road Northeast in the Druid Hills area of unincorporated DeKalb County, just outside the Atlanta city limits (but with an Atlanta mailing address). On cable, the station is available on Comcast Xfinity channels 804 and 1005 and Charter Spectrum channel 5.
WAGA has been Atlanta's CBS affiliate since September 2, 2019 (Labor Day), where it ended a 25-year tenture as a Fox affiliate (and a 22 year tenture as a network O&O).
As a CBS affiliateEdit
WAGA-TV first began operations on March 8, 1949. The station was originally owned by Toledo, Ohio-based Fort Industry Company, which also operated WAGA radio (AM 590, now WDWD; and WAGA-FM 103.3, now WVEE), all colloquially called "Wagga". Fort Industry would later be renamed Storer Broadcasting after the company's founder, George B. Storer. Channel 5 is Atlanta's second-oldest television station, signing on seven months after WSB-TV (then on channel 8). Originally a CBS affiliate, channel 5 also carried a secondary affiliation with the DuMont Television Network from 1949 to 1956. It also shared the ABC affiliation with WSB-TV (which moved to channel 2 in 1950) until WLTV (a then-new channel 8 station) signed on in September 1951. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. Storer sold the WAGA radio stations in 1959; however, channel 5 retained the "-TV" suffix before dropping it in 1998, only to pick it up again in 2009.
WAGA-TV was the only VHF commercial station in Atlanta that was on the same channel from its launch. Though both WSB-TV and WLTV—predecessor of WXIA-TV (channel 11)—initially broadcast over channel 8, the Federal Communications Commission's 1952 Sixth Report and Order reallocated the frequency to Athens and reserved the channel for non-commercial educational use. The University of Georgia returned channel 8 to the air as WGTV, now the television flagship of Georgia Public Broadcasting, in May 1960.
WAGA-TV originally broadcast from studios and transmission facilities located at 1018 West Peachtree Street Northwest. This building would later become home to pioneering superstation and leading Atlanta independent station WTBS (channel 17). On June 21, 1966, channel 5 opened its current facilities in Druid Hills. The studio resembles an antebellum Southern mansion, a type of Colonial Revival architecture that was typical for Storer's broadcasting facilities. While this design was somewhat out of place in most of Storer's other markets (which also included Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee), it was a perfect fit for Atlanta. (The studio facility was used for an on-location shoot for a Matlock episode called "The Reporter".)
WAGA's original transmitter tower was later the site of a different tower for WTBS's analog channel 17 signal, and a backup for WWWQ (99.7 FM). Because Storer Cable became part of Comcast, the tower (owned by competing cable television provider WarnerNBC, along with WTBS) was to be removed by October 2009, ending the land lease.
In 1985, WAGA, along with the other Storer stations were sold into a group deal to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., a New York-based private equity firm. Two years later in 1987, KKR sold the Storer stations to Gillett Communications. After bankruptcy, Gillett restructured in 1991, selling several stations and changing its name to SCI Television Inc. On June 26, 1991, Gillett Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it failed to reach an agreement with the company's creditors before a court-imposed June 25 deadline. SCI Television also missed repayment of $162 million in bank loans before a June 30 deadline; as a consequence of its financial difficulties, Gillett/SCI decided to sell its broadcast holdings.
On February 17, 1993, one day after SCI purchased WTVT in Tampa from Gillett Holdings in a separate agreement for $163 million, New World Pictures purchased a 51% ownership stake in SCI Television from Gillett for $100 million and $63 million in newly issued debt. The purchase was finalized on May 25, at which point, the film and television production company folded WAGA and its six sister stations—fellow CBS affiliates WJW-TV in Cleveland and WTVT in Tampa–St. Petersburg, WJBK-TV in Detroit and WITI-TV in Milwaukee, NBC affiliate KNSD in San Diego and independent station WSBK-TV in Boston—into a new broadcasting subsidiary, New World Communications. As a result of New World being headquartered in Atlanta, WAGA – which was New World's second-largest station, behind WSBK-TV, at the time the SCI purchase was completed – became the company's flagship television station.
As a Fox stationEdit
New World Communications ownershipEdit
On May 23, 1994, as part of a broad deal that also saw News Corporation acquire a 20% equity interest in the company, New World Communications signed a long-term agreement to affiliate its nine CBS-, ABC- or NBC-affiliated television stations with Fox, which sought to strengthen its affiliate portfolio after the National Football League (NFL) accepted the network's $1.58 billion bid for the television rights to the National Football Conference (NFC) – a four-year contract that began with the 1994 NFL season – on December 18, 1993. WAGA-TV was among the stations involved in the Fox agreement, which also initially included four of New World's other existing CBS-affiliated stations — WITI-TV, WJBK-TV, WJW-TV and WTVT — and four additional stations — CBS affiliate KSAZ-TV in Phoenix, ABC affiliates WBRC-TV in Birmingham and WGHP in Greensboro–Winston-Salem–High Point, North Carolina, and NBC affiliate WDAF-TV in Kansas City — that were part of New World's concurrent $360-million acquisition of Great American Communications's television properties. (The agreement would subsequently be amended to include four additional stations that New World acquired later that month from Argyle Television Holdings.) At the time, Fox's owned-and-operated and affiliate stations were mostly UHF outlets that had limited to no prior history as major network affiliates, among them its existing Atlanta outlet, WATL-TV (channel 36, now a MyNetworkTV affiliate), which the network's Fox Television Stations unit had acquired from Renaissance Broadcasting (during its acquisition of then-WATL parent Chase Broadcasting) in 1993. Although the network already owned WATL and was in the midst of planning to launch a local news department for channel 36, Fox found the prospect to having its programming carried on a VHF station too much to resist, considering that WAGA had a stronger market position and a long-respected local news operation. (At the time, channel 5 placed second, behind WSB-TV, in total day and news viewership.) As a result, Fox decided to include WAGA in the affiliation agreement with New World and have Fox Television Stations sell WATL.
With only a few months before WAGA was set to switch to Fox, CBS needed to find a new affiliate in what had become the nation's 10th largest media market. It approached all of Atlanta's major television stations to potentially reach an agreement. However, none of them were interested at first. CBS first approached WXIA-TV; however, its then-owner Gannett Broadcasting subsequently signed a long-term affiliation deal renewing its contract with WXIA which also included 5-year arrangements for its sister NBC affiliates in Jacksonville, Minneapolis–St. Paul and Phoenix; the deal would become a factor in a major affiliation shuffle in Denver the following year. WSB-TV was later eliminated as an option as its Atlanta-based owner, Cox Enterprises, would reach a new long-term agreement with ABC to retain its affiliation with that network. WATL was eventually eliminated as Qwest Broadcasting (a joint venture between music producer Quincy Jones, former NFL defensive end Willie Davis, television producer Don Cornelius, television host Geraldo Rivera, and Tribune) announced in November that it would purchase WATL from Fox Television Stations as part of a two station, $167-million deal.
By September 1994, with only a little more than two months left before channel 5 was slated to join Fox, CBS faced the prospect of having to pipe in WRBL in Columbus, WMAZ-TV in Macon, WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina and WDEF-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee for Atlanta-area cable customers until it found a new affiliate in the market. Almost out of desperation, on September 26, CBS made a deal to buy independent station WVEU (channel 69, now CW owned-and-operated station WUPA) for $46 million. However, this was only a contingency, since WVEU's signal at the time barely made it outside of Atlanta itself and its closest-in suburbs, and it barely registered as a blip in the ratings. Even after it agreed to buy WVEU, CBS still sought to move its programming to a higher-profile station. It continued to negotiate with Tribune Broadcasting to reach a deal to affiliate with longtime independent station WGNX (channel 46, now WGCL-TV), which initially turned down CBS' offer to affiliate with the station; WGNX was especially attractive for the network since channel 46 was the only non-Big Three station in the Atlanta market that had a functioning news department. That November, Tribune relented and signed a deal with CBS to convert WGNX into the network's new Atlanta affiliate. As a consequence of the WGNX deal, CBS reached an agreement to sell WVEU to Viacom in a three-way deal that saw Viacom sell CBS affiliate KSLA in Shreveport, Louisiana to Ellis Communications (owned by Atlanta-based businessman Bert Ellis) to comply with FCC ownership rules in coincidence with Viacom's divestitures of its major network-affiliated television stations to focus on its UPN charter outlets. The last CBS network program to air on WAGA was a first-run episode of Walker, Texas Ranger at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on December 10; this led into a message by then-station president and general manager Jack Sander shortly before the start of that evening's edition of Channel 5 Eyewitness News at 11:00 (which was relaunched as an hour-long prime time newscast at 10:00 p.m. two days later), informing viewers about the pending network changes.
WAGA-TV officially became a Fox affiliate on December 11, 1994, when the network's programming lineup moved to the station from WATL; the first Fox network program to air on the station as a full-time affiliate was Fox NFL Sunday at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time that day, leading into that afternoon's NFL doubleheader: an early game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams and a mid-afternoon game between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers. (The affiliation switch involving WAGA, WGNX and WATL was originally slated to occur on November 27, but was delayed two weeks in order to allow Fox, New World and CBS to iron out the final details.) Prior to the switch, WAGA had been CBS's longest-tenured affiliate south of Washington, D.C. (a title now held by Charlotte, North Carolina affiliate WBTV, which has carried CBS programming since it signed on the air on July 15, 1949). WGNX concurrently took over the CBS affiliation, which necessitated the shift of a large number of the syndicated cartoons, drama series and sitcoms in its inventory over to WVEU — which had become a UPN affiliate when that network launched on January 16, 1995 — as channel 46 could not continue to accommodate many of these shows due to CBS's network-dominated programming lineup; as a result, WGNX became the only Atlanta television station that did not retain its entire existing syndicated programming lineup following the switch. WATL — whose sale to Qwest Broadcasting (which, in 2000, merged with WB network part-owner, the Tribune Company), would not be finalized until December 1995 — temporarily operated as an independent station during its transition into an affiliate of upstart network The WB upon that network's launch the following month on January 11, 1995. (WATL is now owned by Tegna as part of a duopoly with WXIA).
As with most of the other New World-owned stations affected by the affiliation agreement with Fox, WAGA-TV retained its longtime "Channel 5" branding upon the affiliation switch, with references to the Fox logo and name limited in most on-air imaging; although as with most of the other New World-owned stations affected by the agreement with Fox, the station retained the news branding it had been using before it joined the network – in its case, Channel 5 Eyewitness News, the base moniker of which the station adopted in November 1980 as a CBS affiliate. In addition to expanding its local news programming at the time it joined Fox, the station replaced CBS daytime and late night programs that migrated to WGNX with an expanded slate of syndicated talk shows as well as some off-network sitcoms, game shows and documentary-based reality series, and also acquired some syndicated film packages and first-run and off-network syndicated drama series for broadcast in weekend afternoon timeslots on weeks when Fox did not provide sports programming; however, the revamped programming schedule – as was the case with most of New World's other Fox stations – relegated children's programs to weekend mornings only.
With the switch from WAGA to WGNX, CBS lost significant viewership in the northern portion of the Atlanta market. Despite its five million-watt analog signal, WGNX did not penetrate nearly as far into this area as WAGA did because of the relatively mountainous terrain that is found in that part of northern Georgia. At the time, much of this region was among the few areas in the United States where cable was still not readily available. CBS did not return over-the-air to this area until Toccoa's WNEG-TV (channel 32, now WGTA) joined CBS the following August. Although it was located in the Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville market, WNEG served as the de facto CBS affiliate for the far northern portion of the Atlanta market as well as the Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville market's western fringes until that station's sale to the University of Georgia in 2008. (WGNX's availability in this area increased through expanded cable and satellite distribution in subsequent years).