T Dog’s Think Tank: “It’s not you, it’s me”

WPWR-CW breakup illustrates how some affiliate partnerships don’t work

The major networks have enjoyed long, prosperous relationships with their affiliates. For example, Milwaukee’s WTMJ, St. Louis’ KSDK, and Cincinnati’s WLWT each has enjoyed a long relationship with NBC dating back to the late 1940s. CBS and New Orleans’ WWL have been partners since 1957. And ABC and Dallas’ WFAA go back decades.

But for every WTMJ and WLWT… there’s a WPWR, WPTY, and XETV. Yes, there are some affiliate-network relationships that were…just plain disasters. Thursday’s news of The CW signing a deal with Weigel’s WCIU and kicking Fox-owned WPWR to the curb after just three years illustrates how some affiliate-network partnerships weren’t meant to be, whether if it’s low ratings, disagreements with network news coverage, “reverse” compensation, or even racism.

And of course, there’s Rupert Murdoch’s historic move nearly 25 years ago next month when he convinced twelve Big 3 network affiliates to switch to Fox – including eight CBS stations in markets such as Detroit, Kansas City, and Atlanta. There’s no loyalty anymore when it comes to network-affiliate relationships – just ask CBS who ditched longtime affiliates in Indianapolis, Raleigh, and Jacksonville for other stations because the network wanted a better financial deal.

So straight from the files of T Dog Media, here’s how some network-affiliate relationships wound up in the dust bin after a short amount of time.

Univision vs. WCIU. While WCIU is signing with The CW, they’ve actually been a network affiliate before: In 1989, WSNS-TV dropped Univision for Telemundo, forcing the former to affiliate with WCIU on a part-time basis. It was a very poor relationship from the start, with Univision demanding WCIU to carry the network full-time and to drop all English-language programming, such as Stock Observer Report. In 1994, Univision bought a for-sale WGBO-TV from Combined Broadcasting for $35 million and shifted its programming on December 31, leaving WCIU as a general-market English-language independent.

In 2008, San Diego’s XETV became a CW affiliate, but lost the network in 2017 to a subchannel of another station.

San Diego. Despite not being involved in the Fox-New World affiliation swaps of 25 years ago, no market has had as many network changes as San Diego. In 1973, UHF independent station KCST-Ch.39 (now NBC-owned KNSD) wrested away ABC from Tijuana-based XETV-Ch.6 after the FCC ruled the Mexican-based station could not affiliate with the network since there was an available local station in San Diego on U.S. soil. (XETV became an ABC station in 1953 when there were just three stations in San Diego; KCST signed on in 1968.) But a short four years later, ABC stuck a deal with NBC affiliate KGTV-Ch.10, forcing the peacock network to sign with KCST.

In 2008, then-Tribune chairman Sam Zell at a meeting casually announced KSWB would become a Fox station – cutting ties with The CW after just two years, ending XETV’s 22-year run with Fox. The CW relocated to XETV, but in 2017 the station failed to come to renewal terms with the network, ending its relationship after just nine years. The CW relocated to a digital subchannel of KFMB-Ch.8, while XETV dropped all English-language programming after 64 years and became an affiliate of Mexican network Canal 5.

And that’s not all: McKinnon Broadcasting’s KUSI was a charter member of UPN when the network signed on in 1995, but pulled the plug in 1998 due to low ratings. Similar to what KCST did 25 years earlier, KUSI tried to take a network affiliation away from XETV because they were based over the border in Mexico – this time Fox – but did not succeed.

Sinclair vs. UPN. After just three years, six UPN affiliates owned by Sinclair Broadcasting dumped the network for The WB, including stations in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. Ironically, a few of the stations who wound up as UPN affiliates in those markets also became owned by Sinclair, thanks to relaxed duopoly rules.

Indianapolis. As referenced above, WTTV was one of the old Sinclair stations who dropped UPN for The WB. WTTV was the WB affiliate when the network converted to The CW, but an offer to join CBS in 2014 was just too much to pass up. The CW now resides on former CBS affiliate WISH.

KJZZ in Salt Lake City ended its relationship with UPN in 2000 because they were increasing programming targeted to African-Americans, which make up less than one percent of the market.

Salt Lake City: Too much “black programming”? Larry H. Miller’s KJZZ (named after his Utah Jazz NBA franchise) pulled the plug on UPN after six years as the network accused the station of racism. Miller reportedly threatened to drop UPN if they increased their amount of “ethnic/urban” programming, given UPN already had a large number of shows appealing to African-American audiences, of which there is little of in Salt Lake City. In 2006, KJZZ signed on with My Network TV, but dropped it two years later. KJZZ is now owned by Sinclair Broadcasting.

Birmingham. WBRC became a CBS affiliate in 1954 switching over from NBC, but like many stations in the South at the time, did not like their network’s news divisions coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, feeling it was too one-sided. Aside from keeping a few CBS daytime shows, WBRC moved to ABC in 1961, becoming the second-largest Southern affiliate of the network at the time. Owned by New World, WBRC shifted to Fox in 1996, sending ABC to WBMA-LP. CBS didn’t gain a full-time affiliate in Birmingham until WBMG (now WIAT) signed on in 1965.

Memphis. In 1987, Fox signed WMKW-TV (now WLMT) to an affiliation deal, but bailed after three years due to low ratings and switched to higher-rated WPTY (now ABC affil WATN.) But in 1995, Fox bought longtime ABC affiliate WHBQ, ending WPTY’s affiliation with Fox after just six years. Both WLMT and WATN now share a common owner in Nexstar.

Outfoxed in the Twin Cities and Portland. When the Fox network signed on in 1987, its charter affiliates in Minneapolis and Portland, Ore. were KMSP and KPTV, respectively. But after dropping its low-rated Saturday night lineup in 1988, Fox took their affiliation to KITN (now WFTC) and KPDX, respectively. Both KMSP and KPTV have since reunited with the Fox network.

Raleigh. After being fed up with the low ratings of its local affiliate, NBC took matters in its own hands in 1995 by affiliating with and then buying WYED-TV and rechristened it WNCN. But NBC sold WNCN in 2006 to Media General and ten years later, decided to affiliate with CBS after the network and longtime affiliate WRAL decided to part ways after 31 years after failing to come to a new agreement. As a result, WRAL returned to the NBC fold after 54 years.

In 1998, Sinclair’s WLFL and Fox had a falling out and relocated to WRAL sister station WRAZ, while WLFL signed on with The WB and later, The CW.

Charlotte. Down the way in Charlotte, The CW was stunned when owner Capitol Broadcasting sold WJZY and sister station WMYT to Fox in 2013, ending a seven-year relationship with the network. The CW relocated to WCCB, who lost Fox in the WJZY deal and also lost ABC to WSOC in 1978.

KNLC vs. UPN and Fox Kids. After former St. Louis Fox affiliate KDNL picked up ABC in 1995 from KTVI as the latter was involved in the Fox-New World deal, religious independent KNLC opted to air Fox Kids programming in KTVI’s place. But the relationship wouldn’t last: KNLC refused to sell local advertising in the animated shows and filled the unsold time instead with PSAs about the death penalty, abortion, and other controversial subjects. This angered Fox and a year later, pulled the animation block from the station. In 1999, KNLC agreed to air UPN programming but refused to air some shows, including WWF Smackdown, leading UPN to strike a secondary affiliation deal with then-WB affiliate KPLR a year later. No longer a religious broadcaster after its sale to Weigel in 2017, KNLC is now a MeTV affiliate.

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