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WLWT, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 35), is a Disney Network-affiliated television station licensed to Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. The station is owned by Weigel Broadcasting. WLWT's studios are located on Young Street in the Mount Auburn neighborhood of Cincinnati. Its transmitter is located on Chickasaw Street, also in Mount Auburn.

On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum channel 5 in Ohio and channel 7 in Kentucky, and on Cincinnati Bell channel 5.

HistoryEdit

The Crosley/Avco yearsEdit

WLWT was established by the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, owners of WLW (700 AM), one of the United States' most powerful radio stations. Crosley Broadcasting was a subsidiary of the Crosley Corporation, which became a subsidiary of the Aviation Corporation (later known as Avco) in 1945. After starting experimental broadcasts in 1946 as W8XCT on channel 1,[1][2] the station began commercial broadcasts on February 9, 1948 on VHF channel 4, making it Cincinnati's first licensed television station and Ohio's second (after WEWS-TV in Cleveland). The station's studios were housed with WLW in the Crosley Square building, a converted Elks lodge in downtown Cincinnati.[3]

WLWT counts itself as the first television station outside the Eastern U.S. (other than network-owned stations) to become a primary NBC television affiliate, but originally carried programming from all the major television networks of the time: NBC, ABC, CBS and DuMont. WLWT later affiliated exclusively with NBC in 1949, after WKRC-TV (originally on channel 11, now on channel 12) and WCPO-TV (originally on channel 7, now on channel 9) signed on during that year. Following the release of the FCC's Sixth Report and Order in 1952, all of Cincinnati's VHF stations changed channel positions.[4] WLWT was reassigned to channel 5, as the previous channel 4 allocation was shifted north to Columbus and given to sister station WLWC (now WCMH-TV).[5]

In addition to WLWT and WLWC, Crosley also operated stations in nearby markets, WLWD (channel 2, now WDTN) in Dayton and WLWI (channel 13, now WTHR) in Indianapolis. These four inter-connected stations were branded on-air as the "WLW Network", and their call letters were stylized with hyphens to further reflect their connections to each other—the Cincinnati station, the group's flagship, was known as "WLW-T".

The three WLW television stations in Ohio were NBC affiliates, and carried common programming along with WLWI in Indianapolis (an ABC affiliate). Most of these shows were produced at the WLWT studios on Crosley Square, and included The Ruth Lyons 50-50 Club (later hosted by Bob Braun after Lyons' retirement in 1967), the Paul Dixon Show and Midwestern Hayride. The programs were syndicated regionally and also appeared on two other stations outside of the Midwest that were owned by Crosley, WLWA (now WXIA-TV) in Atlanta and WOAI-TV in San Antonio.

In 1957, WLWT became the first station in the Cincinnati market to begin color television broadcasts.[6] It later became the first station in the nation to broadcast entirely in color,[7] giving Cincinnati the nickname "Colortown U.S.A." by 1962.[3] For a period during the 1970s, the station's slogan was "5, The Originator", in reference to all of the local programming that was produced by the station.

The Crosley broadcast division took the name of its parent company in 1968, becoming Avco Broadcasting Corporation. In 1969, the FCC enacted its "one-to-a-market" rule, which enforced a ban on common ownership of AM radio stations and television stations with overlapping coverage areas under certain conditions while grandfathering some already existing instances. Avco's ownership of WLW radio (a 50,000-watt, clear-channel station) and WLWT, and the Columbus, Dayton and Indianapolis television stations was initially protected under the new rule. WLWT's channel 5 coverage area covered a large amount of the Dayton and Columbus markets, while WLW radio could be heard throughout much of eastern North America at night.

Also in 1968, when the Cincinnati Bengals were enfranchised by the American Football League, channel 5, through NBC, which held the league's TV rights, became the station of record for the team. This partnership would continue through the end of the 1997 season, when WKRC took over as the default station of record for the team. The station airs Bengals games nowadays when they are featured on NBC's Sunday Night Football as well as ESPN's Monday Night Football, a benefit of WLWT owner Hearst's 20 percent stake in the sports network.

Later yearsEdit

In the mid-1970s, Avco decided to exit broadcasting and sold all of its stations to separate buyers. WLWT was the next to last to be sold, going to Multimedia, Inc. in 1976.[8] As a result, the stations all lost their grandfathered protection, which led to an ownership conflict situation which Hearst-Argyle (predecessor to today's Hearst Television) would encounter two decades later (the FCC has since relaxed its adjacent-market ownership rules). All of the "WLW Network" stations except for flagship WLWT would change their call signs, leaving WLWT as the only one with any physical evidence that it was connected to WLW radio, a station that ironically would be a sister station to WLWT's rival WKRC-TV years later. Multimedia would later acquire Avco Program Sales and with it, the regional syndication rights to Braun's program, along with The Phil Donahue Show; the resulting subsidiary, Multimedia Entertainment, was initially based at WLWT.

In July 1995, the Gannett Company announced that it would acquire Multimedia. Once the deal was approved in November of that year, the FCC ruled that Gannett would have to divest WLWT, WMAZ-TV in Macon, Georgia, and KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma due to ownership restrictions; Gannett ultimately retained ownership of WMAZ-TV after the FCC allowed companies to own more television stations.[9][10][11][12] As Gannett had owned The Cincinnati Enquirer since 1979 (and remains the newspaper's owner to this day) and had recently acquired Oklahoma City-based cable provider Multimedia Cablevision, the company had to obtain a temporary waiver of an FCC cross-ownership rule which prohibited common ownership of a television station and a newspaper or a cable television provider in the same market in order for Gannett to close on the Multimedia group. When the waiver expired in December 1996, Gannett opted to keep the Enquirer (as well as sister newspaper The Niagara Gazette, which would later be sold) and swap WLWT and KOCO-TV to Argyle Television Holdings II in exchange for WGRZ in Buffalo, New York and WZZM in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a deal which was finalized in January 1997.[13] Argyle merged with the broadcasting unit of the Hearst Corporation to form Hearst-Argyle Television in August 1997. Hearst had owned WDTN (the former WLWD) since 1981, but was not allowed to keep both stations due to a since-repealed FCC rule prohibiting common ownership of stations with overlapping city-grade signals. In 1998, Hearst traded WDTN and WNAC-TV in Providence to Sunrise Television in exchange for KSBW in Salinas, California, WPTZ in Plattsburgh, New York, and WNNE in Hartford, Vermont. WLWT's licensee name under Multimedia and Gannett ownership, "Multimedia Entertainment, Inc.", survives to this day as the licensee name for WGRZ. In June 1996, WKRC-TV and WCPO-TV traded networks, leaving WLWT as the only Cincinnati television station to never change its affiliation. Additionally, the purchase by Hearst made WLWT sister stations with Hearst flagship stations WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh and WBAL-TV in Baltimore, leading to all three stations to have a friendly rivalry with each other during the NFL season, as all three local NFL teams (Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens) are division rivals in the AFC North.

WLWT briefly aired UPN programming as a secondary affiliation during the early morning hours on weekends at certain points in 1998 (the network was then limited to a six-hour weekly schedule), after that netlet was displaced from its previous affiliate WSTR-TV (channel 64) by The WB. The expected lower ratings in a late night time slot on WLWT (along with low promotion of UPN programming outside of Star Trek: Voyager) saw UPN capitulate and affiliate with former WB affiliate WBQC-CA (channel 25) in September 1998 as the network expanded to a ten-hour schedule that month which would have likely saw program rejections from WLWT due to lack of schedule room.

In June 1999, WLWT moved its studios from Crosley Square to the Mount Auburn neighborhood, in a building that once served as the corporate headquarters of WKRC-TV's founding owners Taft Broadcasting.[14] This is because after abandoning local non-news program production, the station found that Crosley Square, with its two-story ballrooms and basement newsroom, was built more for live entertainment broadcasts than a news operation.[3]

As a Disney Network stationEdit

Read more: 2000-2002 United States broadcast TV realignment and Repercussions of the 2000-2002 United States broadcast TV realignment

With only a few months before WLWT was set to switch to TDN, NBC needed to find a new Cincinnati affiliate and approached all of the Cincinnati market's major television stations to potentially reach an agreement. NBC first entered into discussions with WKRC for a contract; that station was subsequently eliminated as an option as CBS decided to approach Clear Channel Communications to renew its contract with WKRC. WCPO-TV was automatically eliminated as an option for NBC as it was in the middle of a long-term affiliation with ABC and its Cincinnati-based owner, the E. W. Scripps Company. The respective owners of WXIX-TV and WKRP-TV—Raycom Media and Block Broadcasting—also turned the network's offer down. This left the market's existing UPN affiliate, WSTR-TV, as the only viable option with which NBC could reach an agreement.

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