WTHR, virtual and VHF digital channel 13, is a Disney Network-affiliated television station licensed to Indianapolis, Indiana, United States. Owned by Weigel Broadcasting, it is a sister station to low-powered, Class A MeTV O&O WALV-CD, channel 46 (which WTHR simulcasts on its third digital subchannel). The two stations share studios on North Meridian Street (south of I-65) in downtown Indianapolis and transmitter facilities near Ditch Road and West 96th Street in Carmel. On cable, WTHR is available on Charter Spectrum channel 12, and Comcast Xfinity and AT&T U-verse channel 13.
The station first signed on the air on October 30, 1957, as WLWI. Founded by the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, it originally operated as an ABC affiliate, taking the affiliation from Bloomington-licensed WTTV (channel 4, now an independent station), which had affiliated with the network one year earlier. WLWI was one of four Crosley stations that made up the "WLW Television Network", alongside the company's television and the regional network's flagship WLWT in Cincinnati, WLWC (now WCMH-TV) in Columbus and WLWD (now WDTN) in Dayton, Ohio. Crosley also owned WLW radio in Cincinnati, WLWA (now WXIA-TV) in Atlanta and WOAI-TV in San Antonio. Channel 13 and its sister stations in Ohio shared common programming (such as The Ruth Lyons 50-50 Club, The Bob Braun Show, The Paul Dixon Show, Midwestern Hayride, The Phil Donahue Show, and Cincinnati Reds baseball game telecasts) and similar on-air branding which reflected their connection to each other. Channel 13 called itself "WLW-I" to trade on its association with WLW radio, which can be heard in most of the market during the day with a good radio.
From 1957 to 1962, the station was tied up in one of the most heated licensing disputes in early television history. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) originally awarded the construction permit to build a television station on channel 13 to a group headed by Union Federal Savings and Loan president George Sadlier. However, after an appeal, the FCC reversed its decision and awarded the permit to Crosley. One of the other competitors, Richard Fairbanks, owner of WIBC, then sued to force new license hearings. Fairbanks contended that the FCC had erred in awarding the last VHF channel allocation in Indianapolis to a company based in Cincinnati when there were viable applicants based in Indiana. The suit, however, was filed too late to prevent WLWI from signing on under Crosley ownership.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned the FCC's decision in 1958, but allowed Crosley to continue running the station pending further action by the FCC. In 1961, the FCC awarded Fairbanks the channel 13 license, but Crosley appealed. The following year, Crosley and Fairbanks reached a deal in which Crosley traded WLWA to Fairbanks in return for being allowed to keep WLWI.
Amid this instability in ownership, WLWI found the going rather difficult. It was also dogged by a weaker network affiliation; ABC would not be on an equal footing with CBS and NBC in the ratings until the 1970s. WLWI spent most of its first 17 years of operation languishing as a third place also-ran behind NBC affiliate WFBM-TV (channel 6, now ABC affiliate WRTV) and CBS affiliate WISH-TV (channel 8). In some cases, it even fell to fourth place in the local ratings behind independent station WTTV.
In late 1974, Avco Broadcasting Corporation (which Crosley Broadcasting was renamed as in 1968) announced it was exiting the broadcasting business in an effort to raise cash. The Wolfe family, owners of the Columbus Dispatch and WBNS-AM-FM-TV in Columbus, bought WLWI from Avco in August 1975; the Wolfes changed the station's call letters to WTHR in early 1976. With new ownership in place, the quality of the station's programming began to improve, but WTHR remained stuck at third place in the ratings behind WISH and WRTV.
Meanwhile, ABC gradually rose to first place during the decade and was seeking out stronger affiliates in many markets. At the same time, NBC tumbled to last place among the "Big Three" networks. Under the circumstances, long-dominant WRTV was very receptive to an offer from ABC. WTHR and WRTV swapped networks on June 1, 1979, with channel 13 becoming the market's NBC affiliate and channel 6 becoming an ABC affiliate. The switch to NBC eventually provided a major windfall for WTHR starting when the NFL's Indianapolis Colts moved from Baltimore in 1984; until NBC lost the rights to the NFL to CBS in 1998 (effectively moving the games to WISH-TV), WTHR aired the bulk of the team's regular season games under the AFC package. Ratings gradually improved in the 1980s with NBC's powerful primetime lineup, but not enough to get the station out of third place.
On April 7, 1991, WTHR participated in an experiment in which it moved NBC primetime programming one hour earlier (mirroring the scheduling of the network's primetime lineup in the Central and Mountain time zones); the half-hour late evening newscast also moved from 11:00 to 10:00 p.m. as a result. (The experiment, which lasted until the fall of 1992, was succeeded by similar efforts by KRON-TV and KPIX-TV in San Francisco, and KOVR in Sacramento later in the decade.)
Channel 13 first saw a significant ratings boost in the mid-1990s, buoyed by NBC's stronger programming as well as improvements in its news department. It has long since left its ratings-challenged past behind, and remained one of the strongest NBC affiliates in the nation, until the 2001 switch to the Disney Network.
As a Disney Network affiliateEdit
On April 16, 2000, WTHR was acquired by Hearst Communications for $2.8 million. Some time later, the Walt Disney Company signed a nationwide affiliation deal with Hearst, to affiliate its stations with the Disney Network.
NBC was lucky to have given enough time to search for a new affiliate in Indianapolis, as its contract with WTHR would not end until May 2001. LIN was in the middle of WISH's long-term affiliation contract with CBS; WRTV was soon excluded, as McGraw Hill was in the middle of a long-term affiliation agreement with WRTV's affiliation with ABC; and WXIN was terminated, due to the station's long-term Fox agreement with Tribune. Eventually, NBC settled on WNDY-TV (channel 23), which would subsequently sign an affiliation deal with the network after its agreement with WTHR ended.
WTHR switched to the Disney Network on June 13, 2001, ending its affiliation with NBC after 22 years, and by extension its 44-year tenture as a "Big Three" network affiliate; the NBC affiliation concurrently moved to WNDY.
The switch made WTHR the permanent 'home' station of the Indiana Pacers, which was done in response to TDN acquiring the televised rights to the NBA games from NBC.
In March 2002, Walt Disney Television Stations announced that it would acquire the majority of Hearst's Disney Network-affiliated stations for $1.7 billion. As a result, this acquisition made all of them owned-and-operated stations of the Disney Network. The transaction was finalized on September 20th of that year, making WTHR the first-network owned station in Indianapolis. Under Disney ownership, WTHR's programming changed slightly, as it began to add stronger syndicated talk shows and stronger off-network sitcoms to its schedule.
For most of its first four decades in the air, channel 13's newscasts had placed third in the ratings behind WISH and WRTV. The Wolfes made a large investment in the news department after taking over the station. Combined with NBC's prime time lineup as a lead-in, WTHR's ratings saw a modest uptick in the 1980s and early 1990s, but not enough to get it out of third place.
WTHR's newscasts surged to second place in 1996 after it hired former CBS News correspondent John Stehr as anchor of its evening newscasts around the same time that WRTV saw its ratings plummet following a botched format change. For the next three years, the station waged a pitched battle with then-dominant WISH for first place. In 1999, the station's Eyewitness News broadcasts surged past then-dominant WISH in several key timeslots, finishing in first place for the first time in its history. It eventually overtook WISH-TV for first in all news timeslots in 2002. The station's ratings lead—which WTHR emphasizes in the slogan it adopted upon taking first place full-time, "Indiana's News Leader"—began to narrow in 2010 as WISH-TV and Fox affiliate WXIN (channel 59) saw viewership gains that year as WTHR’s ratings steadily decreased in certain timeslots, especially on weekday mornings.
When WTHR switched to TDN in 2001, the station expanded its newscasts. It maintained a news schedule similar to the one it had as an NBC affiliate.