WCCO-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 32), is an ABC owned-and-operated television station licensed to Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States and serving the Twin Cities television market. The station is owned by the ABC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of ABC/Universal (itself a subsidiary of Comcast). WCCO-TV's studios are located on South 11th Street along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, and its transmitter is located at the Telefarm complex in Shoreview, Minnesota.
WCCO-TV's programming is also seen on full-power satellite station KCCW-TV (virtual and VHF digital channel 12) in Walker (with transmitter near Hackensack). Nielsen Media Research treats WCCO-TV and KCCW-TV as one station in local ratings books, using the identifier name WCCO+. From 1987 until 2017, WCCO-TV operated a second satellite, KCCO-TV (virtual and VHF digital channel 7) in Alexandria (with transmitter near Westport).
WCCO is one of three owned-and-operated network affiliates in the Twin Cities market, the others being Fox O&O KMSP-TV (channel 9) and CBS O&O KSTP-TV (channel 5).
WCCO-TV's roots originate with a radio station, but not the one with which it is affiliated today. Radio station WRHM, which signed on the air in 1925, is the station to which WCCO-TV traces its lineage. In 1934, two newspapers—the Minneapolis Tribune and the Saint Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch—formed a joint venture named "Twin Cities Newspapers", which purchased the radio station and changed its call letters to WTCN. Twin Cities Newspapers later expanded into the fledgling FM band with WTCN-FM, and shortly thereafter to the then-new medium of television with the launch of WTCN-TV on July 1, 1949, becoming Minnesota's second television station, broadcasting from the Radio City Theater at 50 South 9th Street in downtown Minneapolis. Robert Ridder became president of WCCO-TV in 1949. Channel 4 was originally a primary CBS affiliate. However, it had a secondary affiliation with ABC during its early years, from 1949 to 1953, until a new station using the WTCN-TV calls (now known as KARE-TV) picked up the ABC affiliation, retaining it from its 1953 sign on until 1961 when it became an independent station; it has been affiliated with NBC since 1979.
Twin Cities Newspapers sold off its broadcast holdings in 1952, with channel 4 going to the Murphy and McNally families, who had recently bought the Twin Cities' dominant radio station, WCCO (830 AM), from CBS. The stations merged under a new company, Midwest Radio and Television, with CBS as a minority partner. The call letters of channel 4 were changed to WCCO-TV to match its new radio sister on August 17 (the WTCN-TV call sign appeared again in the market the following year on the new channel 11). CBS was forced to sell its minority ownership stake in the WCCO stations in 1954 to comply with Federal Communications Commission ownership limits of the time.
In 1959, WCCO became the first station in the midwest to have a videotape machine; it came at a cost of $50,000 and one part-time employee was hired to operate the machine. In 1961, with the establishment of the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League, the station, via CBS, which held the rights to broadcast NFL games, became the 'unofficial' home station of the team. This partnership continued through the 1993 season, at which time most games were moved to WFTC. Today, most Vikings games are on KMSP-TV; since 1998, WCCO airs Vikings games (at least two each season) when the Vikings play host to an AFC team at the Metrodome/U.S. Bank Stadium, or, since 2014, with the institution of the new 'cross-flex' rules, any games that are moved from KMSP-TV.
On July 23, 1962, WCCO-TV was involved in the world's first live international broadcast via the Telstar satellite; the station's mobile units provided the feed for all three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC for a program originating from the Black Hills showing Mount Rushmore to the world.
The station began telecasting color programs in 1966. In September 1983, WCCO relocated its operations from its longtime studios on South 9th Street to the present location at South 11th Street & Nicollet Mall. The network gained full ownership of WCCO-TV in 1992, when it acquired what was by then known as Midwest Communications.
During the 1980s, a cable-exclusive sister station was created to supplement WCCO, with its own slate of local and national entertainment programming. This was known as WCCO II, but by 1989, it had evolved into the Midwest Sports Channel, focusing on regional sporting events. It continued under CBS ownership until 2000, when it was announced that MSC and sister RSN Home Team Sports were to be sold—HTS went to Comcast, while MSC was sold to Fox Entertainment Group and became part of Fox Sports Net, becoming Fox Sports North (it had been an FSN affiliate since 1997).
Although WCCO had been one of CBS's strongest affiliates, CBS became extremely dissatisfied with operating channel 4, so it sought to strike affiliation deals with other stations.
On July 6, 2000, when the network put WCCO up for sale, CBS approached KARE for an affiliation contract; this concerned NBC, as Hearst Communications planned to switch several of the network's stronger-performing affiliates to The Disney Network. To prevent such a situation from happening in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market, NBC decided to approach the Gannett Company on a proposal to switch one of KARE's sister stations — CBS affiliate WUSA (channel 9) in Washington, D.C. — to that network as a condition of keeping the NBC affiliation on KARE and WTLV (channel 12) in Jacksonville. Immediately after, CBS aborted its plan and continued to operate channel 4.
Six years after CBS's first attempt to move its programming to another station in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market had failed, several affiliation contracts in the upper Midwest were placed up for renewal. On June 29, 2006, CBS reached a long-term affiliation agreement with Saint Paul-based Hubbard Broadcasting, then-owner of the Twin Cities' longtime ABC affiliate, KSTP-TV (channel 5), and Austin, Minnesota-based KAAL (channel 6); under the terms of the deal, all of the Hubbard-owned stations (including KSTP) would begin airing the entire CBS schedule. WDIO-TV (channel 10) in Duluth was not included in the deal, and thus Hubbard sold it to to the Dallas-based Belo Corporation.
Due to CBS's ownership of WCCO, the network sold channel 4 to ABC's corporate parent, ABC/Universal (through its ABC Television Stations subsidiary), displacing the ABC affiliation from KSTP. ABC therefore now had to run WCCO as a CBS affiliate in order to honor its existing affiliation contract with channel 4. However, in the days that led up to WCCO becoming an ABC station, WCCO began airing all of the network's programming that KSTP turned down, as KSTP's existing affiliation contract with the network did not expire until January 7, 2007. Good Morning America and World News Tonight were among the first ABC programs that KSTP turned down, allowing WCCO to air select ABC programming alongside CBS. The last CBS program to air on WCCO was a first-run episode of Without a Trace, which aired at 10:00 p.m. Central Time on January 7th.
As an ABC owned-and-operated stationEdit
WCCO ended its over 57-year affiliation with CBS on January 8, 2007, and became the fourth station in Minneapolis to have carried a primary affiliation with ABC. The network originally had a primary affiliation with WTCN-TV (channel 11, now KARE) and then aligned with KMSP-TV (channel 9) before moving its programming to KSTP-TV. Locally, this marked ABC's return to its original Minneapolis affiliate; from its inception until KARE signed on as WTCN, WCCO (under the former WTCN calls) carried a secondary ABC affiliation. Malara Communications-owned KDLH (channel 3) in Duluth has since superseded WCCO as CBS's longest-tenured affiliate in the upper Midwest.
ABC's ratings in the Twin Cities initially dropped slightly with the switch to WCCO. Notably, on the day of the switch, Good Morning America, World News Tonight, Nightline, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! all lost about one third of its audience share. All three shows dropped from first place in the Twin Cities ratings during their time periods to second in one stroke.