Chicago’s NBC, Fox stations sell spectrum

Comcast’s WMAQ and WSNS to share channel space.

If you are an over-the-air customer in Chicago – or anywhere for that matter, get ready for some big changes as six local stations relocate.

The FCC released a list Thursday of how many stations across the country sold their spectrum to wireless companies – and several big-market stations are on the list – including Chicago.

Six local TV stations participated in the auction according to FCC documents, made available to the public for the first time Thursday. According to those documents, NBC and Fox sold their spectrum – meaning their channels are expected to relocate in a process that is going to take 39 months.

Stations had the option of selling their spectrum to wireless companies for cash; others sat out. Not all stations will go off the air: some like WSNS and WPWR are relocating to others’ digital subchannel space; others (such as a Lansing, Mich. station) are. Even if stations didn’t participate in the auction, they will be involuntary moved to new channel spaces – some 957 of them in order to free up spectrum.

Among the winners on the tech side include T-Mobile, US Cellular (who exited the Chicago market in 2013); Dish Network, and Comcast, parent company of NBC.

Viewers who subscribe to cable and satellite won’t notice any changes; but over-the-air TV viewers have to re-scan their TV. There is a 39-month window all of this has to be accomplished; the moves start late next year. Even though local stations will be moving to new channel spaces, their “virtual channel” remains unchanged (for example, WMAQ retains their “5” position when you punch it up on your remote, but their “physical channel” is changing from 29 to something else.)

Telemundo’s WSNS-Channel 44 – a station with roots going back to 1970 as an English-language independent carrying White Sox games and the ON-TV subscription service, will “channel share” with sister station WMAQ-TV – meaning WSNS would move to a digital subchannel of WMAQ (5.2 or 5.3). Telemundo received $141.7 million from the transaction.

Meanwhile, Fox’s WPWR-Channel 50 – which began broadcasting in 1982 as a part-time station on Channel 60, will channel share with sister station WFLD Channel 32. Also moving from 50 is Movies and Buzzr, two of WPWR’s subchannels. Though still listed as a My Network TV station, WPWR became Chicago CW’s affiliate last year, shifting from WGN-TV. 21st Century Fox received $160.7 million for the transaction.

And the current occupant of Channel 60 – Univision’s WXFT, also participated in the auction, fetching $126.1 million. A UniMas affiliate, WXFT and its digital subchannel (English-language Escape) are expected to relocated to co-owned WGBO’s channel space.

As for the rest of the Chicago stations, three others sold their spectrum: WOCH-CD ($9.2 million); TBN affiliate WWTO ($304.2 million, which was the largest single payout of all the bidders); and the City Colleges’ WYCC-TV, who will receive $15.9 million. All three stations have post auction channel agreements set up, so none of them are going off the air. Over a year ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he opposed selling WYCC’s spectrum, but changed his mind.

Nationwide, 175 of them received payouts. Among the notable action outside of Chicago:

– In the biggest surprise, WNBC in New York sold its spectrum for $214 million. WNBC will channel share with Telemundo affiliate WNJU. Telemundo affiliate WWSI in Philadelphia will shift to a subchannel of WCAU, both sister stations. In all, NBC took in $480 million from the auction.

– In addition to WPWR, Fox sold its My Network TV stations in Charlotte (WMYT; $74.7 million) and Washington, D.C. (WDCA; $118.8 million) as they will channel share with Fox O&Os in their respective markets. 21st Century Fox took in $354.2 million in total.

– In Los Angeles, PBS member station KOCE (based in Huntington Beach, Cal.) will share space with KSCI. The $49 million it received from the auction will be used to expand services to viewers across the Los Angeles area. Station officials assured viewers there would be no changes.

– In Boston, Sunbeam took in $162 million with the sale of WLVI’s spectrum.

– San Francisco’s KRON-TV took in $78 million and is moving to a higher VHF channel.

– Tribune sold its WDCW spectrum in Washington, D.C. for $121.9 million.

– CBS affiliate WKBN-TV in Youngstown, Oh. sold its spectrum for $34.2 million.

– In some markets, no TV stations were sold in the auction. Those who sat out include Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, Sacramento, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, San Diego, Kansas City, Nashville, and Salt Lake City. Even though these markets didn’t participate, their stations will be impacted as they will be forced to move to new channels.

– CBS sold just one station in the auction: a satellite of WCCO in Alexandria, Mn.

– Disney, parent of WLS-TV in Chicago, came up empty.

– One station one would think would sell its spectrum – low-rated religious independent WJYS (Channel 62) – did not.

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2 responses to Chicago’s NBC, Fox stations sell spectrum


  1. Jack

    If a channel was going for about $125-160 million, why did WYCC go for only $15.9 million? And since Fox paid Eichner about $450 million for WPWR did it take a huge loss by selling for $160 million, or is there still $300 million in value being on Channel 32.2 and cable?

  2. Pingback: Chicago’s changing channels after FCC auction

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