WMAQ-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 33), is an NBC owned-and-operated television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of WarnerNBC, as part of a duopoly with Telemundo owned-and-operated station WSNS-TV (channel 44); WarnerNBC, a General Electric subsidiary, owns both networks, along with regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago. WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV share studios at the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood and transmitter facilities atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.


Early years (1948–1964)Edit

The station first signed on the air on October 8, 1948, as WNBQ; it was the fourth television station to sign on in Chicago.[1] It was also the third of NBC's five original owned-and-operated television stations to begin operations, after outlets: WNBC (New York City) and WRC-TV (Washington, D.C.), and before WKYC (Cleveland) and KNBC (Los Angeles). WNBQ initially broadcast a minimum of two hours of programming per day.

The station originally proposed WNBY as its call letters. At NBC's request, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an application filed by the network to change the station's calls to WNBQ, a move that was announced on March 3, 1948. NBC officials cited the need to avoid possible confusion with WMBI (1110 AM) and to obtain a callsign that was closer to co-owned NBC Red Network radio station WMAQ (670 AM, frequency now occupied by WSCR; and 101.1 FM, now WKQX) as the reasons for the change.[2] The station's first mid-week broadcast came the month following its sign-on when Paul Winchell and Joseph Dunninger were featured on the NBC variety series, The Floor Show. The half-hour program was recorded via kinescope and rebroadcast on WNBQ at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays.[3]

WMAQ-TV originated several programs for the NBC television network from its original studio facilities—a 170,000-square-foot (15,794 m2) studio on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart on the city's Near North Side—during the 1950s, including Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, featuring Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison; Garroway at Large, starring Dave Garroway; and Studs' Place, hosted by Studs Terkel. Television critics referred to the broadcasts—often low-budget with few celebrity guests but a good deal of inventiveness—as examples of the "Chicago School of Television".[4][5]

Reborn as WMAQ-TV (1964–1995)Edit

Although NBC had long owned the WMAQ radio stations, the television station continued to maintain call letters separate from those used by its co-owned radio outlets; this changed on August 31, 1964, when the network changed the station's calls to WMAQ-TV.[6][7] The call letters of its sister radio station were initially assigned by the government but were used to form the phrase "We Must Ask Questions", which the radio station took as its motto in the 1920s. Although the station's role as a program provider to NBC diminished in the 1960s, WMAQ-TV gathered and distributed more than 200 news footage feeds per month from overseas and the Central United States to NBC News.[8]

On December 3, 1985, NBC signed a $100 million+ agreement to lease office space in a three-story annex to the north of a planned 34-story, 1,000,000-square-foot (92,903 m2) skyscraper—a project developed by the Equitable Life Assurance Society and Tishman-Speyer Properties—that would be constructed as part of the Cityfront Center development on the northwest corner of Columbus Drive and North Water Street, in which WMAQ-TV's operations would occupy 251,000 square feet (23,319 m2) of the building. Under the plans for the project, NBC was given the option of acquiring an approximately 25% interest in the building. On October 1, 1989, after 40 years at the Merchandise Mart, the station officially relocated its operations and began broadcasting from the NBC Tower, located on 455 North Columbus Drive, six blocks east of the Mart.[9][10]

In the spring of 1992, the NBC Owned Television Stations division announced that they would no longer air paid programming on their owned-and-operated stations, including WMAQ-TV. The last infomercial aired on the station was a local weekly real estate show aired in 1992. Currently, the station runs infomercials on an occasional basis, mainly during overnights and weekends.[11]


On April 10, 1998, Rev. Michael Pfleger, a priest at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham and a group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders and clergy as part of the "Dump Jerry Springer!" coalition, called for a viewer and advertiser boycott of WMAQ-TV due to one of its syndicated shows, The Jerry Springer Show, which was filmed at the station's NBC Tower studios until 2009. On April 23, 1998, Pfleger and the coalition organized a rally at the station's NBC Tower studios. On May 1, 1998, WMAQ-TV announced that they would cancel the show. Studios USA (now NBCUniversal Television Distribution), one of the show's distributors, said that the show would move to Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD the following month. The show has since moved production to Stamford, Connecticut.[12]

On June 5, 2000, to improve station reception, the station extended its Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) transmitter's western antenna height to 1,730 feet (527 m).[13] In July 2000, NBC entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with WCPX-TV (channel 38) that indirectly resulted from NBC's partial ownership interest in WCPX-TV network partner Pax TV (now Ion Television) and a related management agreement with that network's owned-and-operated stations. Under the LMA, the two stations shared certain programs, while WMAQ handled advertising sales services for channel 38. The agreement also allowed WCPX to air rebroadcasts of channel 5's 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. newscasts on a half-hour delay. The LMA ended on July 1, 2005, upon Pax's rebranding as i: Independent Television.[14]

On September 6, 2003, WMAQ agreed to lease 4,000 square feet (372 m2) of space at the Equitable Building at 401 North Michigan Avenue (one block east of the NBC Tower), with the intent to build a streetside studio for the Chicago market, the first to be used for live broadcasting purposes by a Chicago television station.[15] On February 26, 2004, WMAQ-TV garnered national attention when Katie Couric, Al Roker, and Lester Holt hosted the Today show on Cityfront Plaza to unveil the new studio (known as "Studio 5") at the building's northwest corner. The station's morning and noon newscasts were broadcast from the Michigan Avenue facility until February 2013, when the studio was closed and the space within the 401 Michigan Avenue building was put up for sale, at which time production of both newscasts was moved back to the NBC Tower.[16][17]

In November 2007, the FCC proposed to fine WMAQ-TV $10,000 for "failure to publicize the existence and location of its children's television programming reports" because the station did not keep adequate records on commercial limits in children's TV programs.[18]

In the fall of 2008, WMAQ-TV's website was relaunched, including a new layout, as part of a larger revamp of the websites of NBC's entire owned-and-operated station group.[19] On January 18, 2011, the FCC and the Department of Justice approved the acquisition of WMAQ-TV's parent company NBCUniversal by Comcast (one of the largest cable providers in Chicago), with the deal being closed on January 28. As a result, WMAQ, WSNS, and regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago (now NBC Sports Chicago) became sister stations. In addition, WMAQ-TV's branding was shortened to "NBC Chicago" for a short period. It was used only during mentions in some news reports, network and syndication program promotions, and public service announcements. However the station continued to use the "NBC 5" branding for news opens. Later in February 2012, after a year of using the "NBC Chicago" branding, the station reverted to its old "NBC 5" branding full-time. In January 2012, after 12 years of using the gold "5" logo, a new logo was officially introduced in some promos and in print ads; but the new, and current logo made its on-air debut on February 28, 2012, coinciding with new news graphics, music and set. On March 18, 2013, longtime WVIT president and general manager David Doebler was appointed president and general manager of WMAQ-TV, replacing longtime president and general manager Larry Wert, who later became president of WGN-TV's parent Tribune Broadcasting.[20]

In December 2009, the Chicago local division of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communication Workers of America (NABET) launched a boycott of WMAQ-TV. The station spokeswoman told Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Sun-Times that they did not comment on the labor-related issues affecting the station. In October 1994, prior to the boycott of the station, the union, along with Republican candidate George Larney, had joined forces to boycott WMAQ-TV due to its negotiations involving its national contract with the network. In the summer of 1987, a handful of technicians at WMAQ-TV, WMAQ-AM, and WKQX-FM went on strike; technicians at other NBC-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland also went on strike as a result.[21][22]

On February 3, 2012, the station rejected a political advertisement that contained anti-abortion talking points from activist and Democratic presidential candidate Randall Terry to air during Super Bowl XLVI. With the FCC's approval, the station determined that Terry did not have the bona fides of a serious candidate. The ad included the term "Democrat Party", which the Democratic National Committee considers a pejorative label, and it was contrary to the party's pro-choice platform in general.[23]


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