An article written in the Sun-Times today (how come Feder didn’t get a chance to write this?), mentions four call letters you’d better get reacquainted with – WPWR.
Of course, Fox-owned WPWR-TV (Channel 50), a former UPN affiliate now-turned My Network TV affiliate has the Bears-Redskins game Thursday night, which is carried on NFL Network, which of course, you can’t get in Chicago unless you shell out more dough if you’re a Comcast subscriber. (Washington’s My Network TV affiliate, Fox-owned WDCA-TV is also carrying the game.)
The article mentions the days when WPWR (then WBBS) was an outlet for the failed SportsVision pay-per-view service in the early ’80’s.
But what it doesn’t mention is WPWR was a successful independent at one point – in 1994, it had a share as high as 8. It ran successful programming such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Roseanne, Baywatch, Bablyon 5, and Ricki Lake.
But the beginning of the end came in 1995, when it became a UPN affiliate and former Univision affiliate WCIU-TV launched a general-entertainment format that became very aggressive in acquiring product (Univision would purchase former indie WGBO-TV in 1994.) Neal Sabin, the former station director at WPWR became general manager at WCIU at the time of its re-launch.
Ratings started to fall in the late 90’s, even before Fox took control of the station. In 2002, Newsweb sold WPWR to News Corporation for $425 million, the most ever paid for a UHF station. It became a duopoly with Fox-owned WFLD-TV.
When UPN closed down to merge with the WB to form the CW in early 2006, WPWR, as well as eight other Fox-owned UPN stations, signed on with My Network TV, a new network put together by Fox in only a matter of weeks.
My Network TV (MNT) launched with English-language telenovelas in September 2006, but nobody watched. MNT scrapped the format in mid-2007, going with a lineup of reality and non-scripted programming.
Today, WPWR (as well as fellow MNT Fox stations WWOR in New York and WDCA, among others that are in duopolies with other Fox-owned stations) are barely scraping by with a 2 share. The stations are usually known as dumping grounds for third-rate syndicated fare and programming that didn’t work on their Fox sister station. (KTXH, the Fox-owned My Network TV station in Houston, doesn’t even have an updated website.)
But the stations are making a comeback by airing more sporting events, such as high school athletics and pro sports teams. The Chicago Blackhawks are reportedly looking for an over-the-air partner to air a few games, and WPWR would be a good fit, particularly with the team’s resurgence this season.
Let’s hope WPWR’s comeback starts this Thursday night with the Bears game.
Retro: Here’s a YouTube video with WPWR’s (then at Channel 60) sign-on – at 2:30 a.m., when the station shared a frequency with Spanish-language WBBS (the quality of the video is poor), and here’s another featuring a promo for Morton Downey Jr.’s show in 1988.