WISN-TV, virtual channel 12 (UHF digital channel 34), is an ABC-owned and operated television station licensed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. Owned by the ABC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of ABC/Universal, it was the second-oldest television station to remain with Hearst Television in all of its various iterations behind WBAL-TV in Baltimore. WISN's studios are located on North 19th Street on the west end of the Marquette University campus, and its transmitter is located at Lincoln Park in the northeastern part of Milwaukee (next to the Weigel Broadcasting tower, which is used by CBS affiliate WDJT-TV, channel 58, and its sister stations).
First tenure with ABCEdit
The station first signed on the air on October 27, 1954 as WTVW (for its on-air slogan "Wisconsin's TeleVision Window"). WTVW's transmitter building was built under a tent, as rain had threatened to delay construction. After the building was finished, a second tent was erected, and used for live automobile commercials, until it collapsed one day in early 1955. In early 1955, the station was purchased by the Hearst Corporation, publishers of The Milwaukee Sentinel and owners of WISN radio (1130 AM); the new owners changed channel 12's call letters to WISN-TV, after its radio sister (whose calls were derived from now-defunct newspaper The Wisconsin News, which merged with the Sentinel 15 years prior to its sign-on; the WTVW calls are now used by the CW-affiliated station in Evansville, Indiana). The station originally operated as a primary ABC affiliate with a secondary DuMont affiliation. WISN-TV lost the DuMont affiliation when that network ceased operations in 1956, leaving it exclusively with ABC.
In January 1958, WISN-TV became the flagship station of the Badger Television Network, a three-station network serving Wisconsin that also included WFRV-TV in Green Bay and WKOW-TV in Madison. Programs broadcast by the network included Homemaker's Holiday, a quiz show hosted by Charlie Hanson; Good Housekeeping, hosted by Trudy Beilfuss titled after the Hearst magazine of the same name; and Pretzel Party, a variety program originally hosted by Larry Clark. All three programs originated from WISN-TV's studios. During March 1958, the network also aired Senate Investigation Committee hearings during late-night hours. The network ceased operations on August 8, 1958. WISN-TV and WISN radio would gain an FM radio sister when Hearst signed on WISN-FM (97.3, now WRNW) in 1961.
Switch to CBSEdit
In 1961, CBS decided to affiliate with WISN-TV, as its sister radio station had been a longtime affiliate of the CBS Radio Network. As a result, Storer Broadcasting-owned WITI-TV (channel 6) and WISN swapped networks: channel 12 switched its affiliation to CBS and channel 6 became an ABC affiliate on April 2, 1961. The final ABC network program to air on WISN before it joined CBS was an edition of the Fight of the Week with boxers Benny Paret and Emile Griffith; it ran the evening before the switch at 9:00 p.m. Central Time.
During channel 12's time with CBS, it served as the default home station for the NFL's Green Bay Packers for the Milwaukee market, and airing the team's first two Super Bowl appearances (also the first two Super Bowl games in NFL history); it was succeeded and preceded in this stead by WITI.
Hearst sold the Milwaukee Sentinel to Journal Publishing (the publishers of the Milwaukee Journal) in 1962, retaining WISN-TV and WISN radio. The Journal also competed with the Sentinel (both of which were eventually consolidated into the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1995) in broadcasting as owners of WTMJ radio (620 AM) and WTMJ-TV (channel 4), which Journal operated until April 1, 2015, when Journal and E. W. Scripps Company merged and split their assets into the broadcast-specific Scripps company, and publishing operations into the short-lived Journal Media Group, which merged only a year later into Gannett.
Second tenure with ABCEdit
On September 26, 1976, CBS announced it was moving its Milwaukee affiliation back to WITI-TV. Storer Broadcasting had much better relations with CBS than it reportedly had with ABC; weeks earlier, ABC opted to drop Storer's San Diego station KCST-TV from the network after a four-year dispute stemming from KCST's successful battle to strip that market's ABC affiliation from XETV-TV in nearby Tijuana, Mexico. Meanwhile, ABC had become the top-rated television network in the United States, thanks in large part to two Milwaukee-set sitcoms: Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. WISN-TV and ABC agreed to a new affiliation contract about a month later; the two stations swapped networks once again on March 27, 1977; the final CBS program to air on channel 12 was an episode of The Carol Burnett Show with guest Ken Berry, which aired at 9:00 p.m. Central Time on the night before the station rejoined ABC (the station also aired the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon ahead of its return to ABC at 6:00 p.m. that Sunday evening). WISN even used Happy Days star Henry Winkler (in character as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli) to herald its return to ABC with the slogan "Happy Days are Here Again" in on-air and print campaigns leading up to the switch. To this day, WISN-TV has been one of ABC's most successful affiliates, and bills itself as such in its own promotions.
Around the same time, the station was the first which utilized newscast composer Frank Gari's "Hello News" package, which included an imaging song individualized to each market's city; in this case "Hello Milwaukee", which remains well-remembered and remains used in various ways by WISN-TV to the present day, and was cited as one of the factors in driving viewers to the station in the late 1970s and allowing it to be competitive.
For most of its years with ABC, the station did not include the network's logo next to theirs, branding solely with the channel number and/or call letters vocally and visually (outside of network-created radio promos which listed the station as "12 ABC") until 2012, when the network began to contractually require the ABC logo be included with any affiliate's logo redesign. In November 2014, the station unveiled their current logo with the call letters beneath the long-used "12" logo form and the ABC logo on the right side of the "12" number mark, the first with the ABC logo blended in for all uses, including for news and entertainment programming, and ending a long run where the station's call letters were rendered in Bank Gothic font. Vocally, the station remains "WISN 12". The station is among the few in the nation which has their logo in a transparent bug at all times, including ABC network and news programming, though not during commercial breaks or paid programming.
Channel 12 was the first commercial station in the market to produce a high-definition broadcast, airing the Summerfest "Big Bang" fireworks show in HD on June 29, 2006. Milwaukee Public Television assisted WISN-TV in the production of the broadcast, and have continued to do so each year since, with additional help from sister stations in Sacramento and Boston in later years.
Hearst sold WISN radio and what by then became WLTQ to Clear Channel Communications in 1997, and the third floor WLTQ/WISN radio studios were vacated in 2000 after their move to the expanded WOKY facility in Greenfield. All ties between WISN-TV and its former sister radio stations were severed when a longtime agreement with channel 12 to provide forecasts for WISN (AM) and the then-WQBW (now WRNW) and four others within Clear Channel's Milwaukee radio cluster ended on July 27, 2009 (though WRNW continues to transmit from WISN-TV's tower), as WITI began its own weather/news content agreement with the stations. WISN-TV then began a news content agreement with Saga Communications for its five area radio stations (WKLH, WHQG, WJMR-FM, WJYI and WNRG-FM). Due to the now separate ownership of the two stations, WISN-TV's news staff disclaim both on-air and through their social networking channels that the station has no connections with WISN radio's conservative talk format other than sharing the same call letters, a point of contention and confusion during events such as live shots at the Wisconsin State Capitol for the 2011 state budget debate.
Switch from Hearst to ABC O&OEdit
In May 2000, Hearst entered into an affiliation agreement with the Walt Disney Company to affiliate most of its stations with the Disney Network; however; WISN retained its ABC affiliation since the Milwaukee market had already been affected by a previous realignment.
In February 2014, the station added an SAP audio channel, allowing the station to carry ABC programming featuring audio description or a Spanish-language dub, and complying with the FCC's requirements to offer audio description.