WGBA-TV, virtual channel 26 (UHF digital channel 41), is an NBC-affiliated television station located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States. The station is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company, as part of a duopoly with MyNetworkTV affiliate WACY-TV (channel 32). The two stations share studios on North Road alongside the WIS 172 freeway in Ashwaubenon (with a Green Bay postal address), WGBA's transmitter is located in unincorporated Shirley, east of De Pere.
The station signed on the air on December 31, 1980 as WLRE, broadcasting an analog signal on UHF channel 26. The call letters stood for station co-founder Lyle R. Evans. It was the Green Bay market's second independent station, after the short-lived KFIZ-TV (channel 34) in Fond du Lac from 1968 to 1972, as well as the first new commercial station to sign-on in Green Bay itself in 25 years since WFRV-TV (channel 5) signed on in May 1955. In late 1984, the station's partnership was dissolved in a bankruptcy court in which investors lost money. In 1985, it was bought by Family Group Broadcasting Incorporated for only pennies on the dollar. On October 3 of that year, the station's call letters were changed to WGBA-TV. The station, then known on-air as "TV 26", was well known in its early years for children's program host "Cuddles the Clown", who stayed with the station until it switched to NBC, and moved to sister station WACY before retiring. The station's imaging was also shared with sister station WQRF-TV in Rockford, Illinois, including its early 'diamond' logo.
In the wake of a bankruptcy, Green Bay's original Fox affiliate WXGZ (channel 32; now WACY) went dark on February 14, 1992. WGBA became the new affiliate the following day, changing its branding to "Fox 26". In 1994 during the first year of Fox's contract to broadcast NFL games, the station entered into a contract with ABC affiliate WBAY-TV (channel 2) to produce a pregame show to air before Green Bay Packers games since it lacked a local sports department. After Ace TV acquired the WXGZ license, WGBA helped to relaunch the station through a local marketing agreement in June 1994. That station became a charter affiliate of UPN and changed its call letters to WACY-TV in 1995.
In 1994, WLUK-TV (channel 11) and three other stations owned by Burnham Broadcasting were sold to SF Broadcasting (owned as a partnership between Savoy Communications and Fox). As part of the purchase and through Fox's ownership of the group, SF signed a group affiliation deal to switch its stations to Fox; this enabled WLUK to become the Packers' unofficial "home" station as Fox had acquired the television contract to the NFL's National Football Conference. In August 1995, WGBA-TV switched its affiliation to NBC (and changed its on-air branding to "NBC 26"); the Fox affiliation moved to former NBC affiliate WLUK. As an NBC affiliate, it struggled to find a constant identity. Green Bay's other three stations have been on-the-air since the 1950s and had loyal audiences. Relief did not come until October 2004 when the Journal Broadcast Group bought it for $43.2 million after Aries Telecommunications sold the station. Journal had long wanted a station in Northeastern Wisconsin alongside its flagship station, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, that market's NBC affiliate and long-dominant news station.
The purchase also included the LMA with WACY. Although Journal wanted to buy WACY outright, this had been unlikely since Green Bay has only seven full-power stations (not enough to legally permit a duopoly). However, in September 2010, WLUK owner LIN TV Corporation exercised an option to purchase CW affiliate WCWF (channel 14) from ACME Communications, and filed for a "failing station waiver" – which permits duopoly in such situations if the petitioner can prove the station is in an economically non-viable position – to allow LIN to own WLUK and WCWF. Because WCWF was hampered for years by several factors, including insufficient cable carriage and an analog signal originating more towards its city of license, Suring than Green Bay, the waiver was granted in February 2011. Journal eventually pleaded for the failing station waiver for WACY at the beginning of 2012, citing that station's dark period between 1992 and 1994 (when the Ace TV LMA began) and that the station was unable to survive on its own without the production and control assistance of WGBA. Because of this, the FCC allowed the full sale of WACY to Journal at the beginning of September 2012.
Since being acquired by Journal, WGBA and WTMJ have become close sister stations and for a time used same news theme as WTMJ and now uses the standard Journal graphics package. The stations share resources, which allows WGBA to use WTMJ's resources for breaking news, live events and sports coverage. This became more evident in 2008 when WGBA outsourced sports and weekend weather reports to WTMJ and had simulcast that station's morning and noon newscasts for a short time.
Summer 2013 Time Warner Cable carriage dispute
After several renewals of negotiations from the original June 30, 2013 expired agreement, and the invocation of the sweeps rule disallowing cable providers from pulling the main signal of a carried station during local sweeps periods (which includes July), the main signals of WGBA and WACY were pulled off Time Warner Cable systems in the market at midnight on July 25, 2013. The MeTV subchannel had been pulled earlier on July 10 as those were not under the same protection under the sweeps rule. WTMJ was also affected in the Milwaukee market, along with Journal stations in Omaha and Palm Springs, California. The main effect of the blackout on Time Warner Cable systems was the carriage of three Packers preseason games on WTMJ and WGBA, which were blacked out on the provider due to the dispute, though the games were still available via the Spanish language simulcast using the Packers Television network camera positions produced for Milwaukee's Telemundo affiliate WYTU-LD (channel 63/49.4), which is carried on the subchannel tier in the Green Bay market (and was simulcast on WACY), with the suggestion to listen to English play-by-play via either WTMJ radio from Milwaukee or the local FM stations in Green Bay or Appleton carrying Packers Radio Network coverage. The later replays of the games were also available via replays on NFL Network through the week.
A class action lawsuit was also filed by viewers against Time Warner Cable on August 8 under grounds of breach of contract. Journal Broadcast Group has also made claims via its website detailing their version of the carriage dispute that TWC was distracted due to the other dispute involving CBS Corporation's Television Stations group and Showtime Networks premium channel suites.
As of August 15, WGBA and WACY's channel slots on Time Warner Cable have been replaced with a simulcast of GSN, with Starz Kids & Family airing on the channel 994 subchannel slot usually carrying MeTV. Journal Broadcast Group also asked state authorities to intervene in their dispute with Time Warner Cable.
Journal and Time Warner Cable came to an agreement for carriage on September 20, 2013 to last at least through the 2016 Summer Olympics, returning WGBA and WACY to their lineups as of 7 p.m. that evening. However, Journal ceded that the analog and cable-ready positions were less important than carriage in the high definition tier, so while WGBA's high definition signal remained on channel 1007, the standard definition signal will now be on channel 13, WACY's former SD slot, with WACY moving to channel 83 with high definition coverage coming at the start of the year. However, MeTV subchannel 26.2 remained removed from Time Warner systems, though southern portions of the Green Bay market already receive MeTV Milwaukee flagship WBME-CD (channel 41) on the basic lifeline tier.
Sale to the E. W. Scripps Company
On July 30, 2014, the E. W. Scripps Company announced that it would acquire Journal Communications in an all-stock transaction. The combined firm would retain their broadcast properties, including WTMJ-TV and its radio siblings, with the print assets being spun off as Journal Media Group. The deal was approved by the FCC on December 12, 2014, with shareholders of the two companies approving it on March 11, 2015; the merger/spin-off between Journal and Scripps formally closed on April 1.
E.W. Scripps and Time Warner Cable announced a new multi-year carriage agreement on February 1, 2016 that includes WGBA and WACY, well ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics and averting any carriage issues for the Games. This also returned all the subchannels of WGBA to Time Warner systems in the area on channels 990 and 991, which occurred on April 4, 2016.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|26.1||1080i||16:9||WGBA-HD||Main WGBA-TV programming / NBC|
WGBA launched a new second digital subchannel in November 2010 carrying TheCoolTV (an automated music video network) which had aired on the WTMJ's second subchannel since the summer of 2009. The establishment of WGBA-DT2 made it the second commercial station in the market to launch a subchannel service after WBAY-TV. On September 7, 2011, Journal and Weigel Broadcasting announced that WGBA would carry the classic television network MeTV beginning on October 1, 2011. MeTV replaced TheCoolTV on 26.2 on that date, as Journal brought a lawsuit against TheCoolTV's parent company Cool Music Network, LLC for non-payment of services; WTMJ-TV, along with Journal's other stations dropped the network on October 1, 2011 to carry Live Well Network or MeTV, depending on the market.
On May 18, 2015, Scripps and Katz Broadcasting announced an affiliation agreement allowing Scripps' Green Bay duopoly to carry all three of Katz's digital broadcast networks in the near future, with WGBA carrying Laff and WACY carrying Escape and Grit (Laff launched one month earlier in markets with Scripps-owned stations not affected by its merger with the Journal Broadcasting Group, while the two others will also begin to be carried by select sister stations of WGBA through the deal). Laff debuted as a digital subchannel on August 12, 2015.
WGBA-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 26, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 41. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 26.
In addition to its main signal, WGBA operates two translators to extend the station's coverage northward. The translators are a remnant of the analog era when it was Green Bay's only major UHF commercial television station. The station in fact kept a post office box address open for years to allow responses to an offer through a station promo of a free pamphlet describing the installation of a UHF television antenna to interested viewers until the early 1990s. During that period, residents of Northern Door County and the southern portion of Michigan's Upper Peninsula could easily receive the three Green Bay network stations on VHF and WFRV semi-satellite WJMN-TV from Escanaba, Michigan, along with PBS member station WNMU from Marquette, Michigan, but not WGBA and Wisconsin Public Television's WPNE-TV (channel 38).
WLWK-CD (channel 22) is officially licensed as a Class A station; this translator was known as W22BW prior to November 27, 2012. Journal and Scripps used the Sturgeon Bay station to warehouse the WKTI calls to prevent re-use by a radio competitor in the Milwaukee market; the calls had been in use from 1974 to 2008 on Journal's FM station at 94.5 FM in Milwaukee, and were previously warehoused on former sister station WJBE (1040 AM) in Powell, Tennessee, which serves the Knoxville market, until December 2012, when that station was sold to local interests. The calls came back into use in the Milwaukee market as of early June 2015, when Scripps switched 94.5 back to the heritage WKTI-FM (later WKTI) calls, this time under a country format. WKTI-CD then changed its call sign to WLWK-CD on June 17, 2015, as the WLWK calls used between 2008 and 2015 on the 94.5 frequency had to be warehoused themselves to prevent a station in Racine trying to claim the station's former branding and variety hits format after Scripps dropped it.
Before it became an NBC affiliate, WGBA was repeated in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on W02AM (channel 2) in Gwinn, W09BA (channel 9) in Felch, W49AF (channel 49) in Crystal Falls, and W56BF (channel 56) in Iron Mountain. The last translator was encrypted and part of the now-defunct over-the-air cable system in the area.
|Call letters||Channel||City of license||Transmitter location|
|WLWK-CD||22||Sturgeon Bay||north of downtown Sturgeon Bay|
|W31BK||31||Menominee, Michigan||northeast of downtown Menominee|
WGBA broadcasts the entire NBC schedule, with the exception of program preemptions for breaking news or severe weather coverage; however it currently airs Days of Our Lives at 12:00 p.m. (one of a handful of NBC affiliates which carry the program in that slot, which is one hour earlier than recommended by the network, airing it "live" via the network's East Coast feed). Syndicated programs broadcast on WGBA include Inside Edition, TMZ Live, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (which also airs first run episodes via NBC), Access Hollywood, and Right This Minute among others.
On March 2, 2012, the Green Bay Packers and Journal announced that WTMJ would be retained as the Official Packers Station in the Milwaukee market after the expiration of the previous agreement, and that WGBA would become the official station for the team in the Green Bay market beginning in August 2012, replacing former partner WFRV-TV. As a result, WGBA carries the majority of the team's preseason schedule (the game broadcasts use CBS Sports announcers, with the NBC Sunday Night Football graphics package) along with The Mike McCarthy Show on Tuesday evenings before primetime, and the Inside Lambeau program on Sunday nights, along with other official team programming; the station also provides gametime and 'ride home' forecasts for the "TundraVision" scoreboard displays at Lambeau Field during Packers home games. The first preseason game of 2012 was a national ESPN game against the San Diego Chargers on August 9 and aired on WBAY-TV, precluding a situation where NBC's non-preemptable coverage of the Summer Olympics would have forced WGBA to move that game to WACY instead (that situation will occur in August 2016 due to the 2016 Summer Olympics for two games). In addition, the station also held the rights to the September 13 Thursday Night Football game of the Packers–Bears rivalry broadcast on cable/satellite on NFL Network, a network unavailable to much of the Green Bay market at the time due to conflicts with Time Warner Cable (three weeks later Time Warner added the network to its systems); this unusually forced the season seven finale of America's Got Talent to air the same night over WACY (the station's first move of NBC programming to that station in a pre-emption situation), and re-air after Saturday Night Live on September 15 on WGBA due to the pre-emption.
Larry McCarren, who had been the sports director at WFRV until the Packers contract ended in March 2012, along with budget cuts at that station, went over to Journal in July 2012; however he was only able to do short Packer analysis segments through the 2012 season on-air for WTMJ and WGBA, along with blogging on WTMJ's site, due to a one-year non-compete clause (which included these segments by contractual force originating outside the Green Bay market in Milwaukee), but continued his duties as color commentator over Journal's Packers Radio Network. With the expiration of the clause, McCarren assumed sports director duties for WGBA on April 1, 2013. Packers Live, a program that resembles his former Locker Room program, with Packer player guests and "chalk talk" play analysis in front of a live audience, also began airing on the station beginning with the 2013 NFL season. He retired as WGBA sports director in April 2015 to fully focus on his television and radio network duties for the Packers and Scripps.
WGBA-TV broadcasts 24 ½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 4 ½ hours on weekdays and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays). In addition to its main studios, the station operates a Fox Cities Bureau in Downtown Appleton on West College Avenue. WGBA operates its own weather radar at the main facilities in Ashwaubenon.
In early 1996, shortly after WGBA picked up the NBC affiliation, then-owner Aries Telecommunications announced plans to start a full-fledged news department for the station. On July 19, 1996, during the start of NBC's coverage of the 1996 Summer Olympics, WGBA debuted its local newscasts, with a half-hour early-evening newscast at 6:00 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays (the initial broadcast of that program on July 19 ran a special one-hour broadcast, leading into NBC's coverage of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Atlanta) and a late evening newscast at 10:00 p.m. seven nights a week. Ted O'Connell was WGBA's first news director; he was succeeded by Ashley Webster (now a journalist with Fox Business Network), who also served as weeknight co-anchor alongside Heather Hays (presently a main anchor at Fox owned-and-operated station KDFW in Dallas-Fort Worth). Eventually as the operation grew, the station added newscasts on weekday mornings, weekdays at noon and at 5:00 p.m.
WGBA's newscasts have consistently rated fourth in the market, behind WBAY, WLUK and WFRV. Ratings have not improved much since the Journal purchase, even with the ties to WTMJ's news department. On June 3, 2008, Journal announced that WGBA's sports department would shut down and that it would be laying off sports anchors Ted Stefaniak and John Burton. Until Larry McCarren took over as sports director in April 2013, sports segments were taped in advance and originated from WTMJ's facilities (on East Capitol Drive/WIS 190 in Milwaukee's Far North Side section) using its personnel.
On July 14, 2008, due to low ratings and inconsistent viewership, WGBA discontinued its weekday morning and noon newscasts, while laying off some of its staff. In place of those shows, the station began simulcasting WTMJ's morning and midday newscasts Live at Daybreak and Live at Noon, interspersed with local weather cut-ins presented by a meteorologist from WGBA's Green Bay studios. In January 2009, the weekday morning simulcast was dropped and turned into a WGBA-produced rolling weather block called Non-Stop Weather. WTMJ's weekday noon broadcast was later moved to WACY and replaced in that timeslot on WGBA by paid programming, which for a time in 2008, filled some of the station's early afternoon schedule due to an unusual number of syndicated program cancellations in that year. The midday news simulcast on WACY and paid programming on WGBA were eventually dropped as well.
On April 7, 2009, WTMJ became the first station in Milwaukee to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. However, until April 2012, the pre-taped nightly sports and weekend weather segments originating from WTMJ were broadcast in 4:3 standard definition. On July 24, it was announced that WGBA would eliminate some of its reporting and photojournalist positions, with the remaining staff being retrained to act as "one-man band" videojournalists handling reporting, camera work, and editing stories themselves. In September 2009, reporter Bonnie Kirschman, the final employee to remain with WGBA's news operation since its 1996 launch, left the station.
In mid-August 2009, the weekday morning weather block was cancelled entirely and replaced by the syndicated lifestyle talk show Better, which moved to the 5:00 a.m. hour followed by encore broadcasts of the previous night's 10:00 p.m. newscast and Early Today before Today. On January 10, 2011, WGBA restored a weekday morning newscast to its schedule under the slightly revised title of NBC 26 News Today from a new secondary set exclusively used for the program. In August 2012, the Valley news bureau, which had been in operation since July 1996, was shut down.
On April 7, 2012, WGBA upgraded its local newscasts to 16:9 widescreen standard definition. It became the last station in the market to convert to full high-definition operations on January 23, 2016, with the unveiling of a new chyron-heavy set, the first major change to the station's newsroom and set since the station began carrying newscasts in 1996 and the newsroom and anchor sets were split off in the early 2000s via an opaque partition.
In October 2014, the station added Wisconsin Tonight, a pre-primetime newsmagazine to nights without Packers team programming which features news rundowns, feature segments and various NBC affiliate service reports, along with some shared content from WTMJ, which also carries their own edition of Wisconsin Tonight; this averted a situation where Inside Edition, which was moved to an earlier timeslot, might only air up to two of their five programs a week on the station in the fall and early winter. For the 2015–16 season, Inside Edition moved to the same timeslot on WBAY, as WGBA replaced the 4 p.m. hour's programming with the new syndicated program Crime Watch Daily.
National attention on the Internet
In 2012, two segments from WGBA's morning newscasts gained notice on the Internet. In January of that year, a video showing meteorologist Brian Niznansky falling victim to an on-air prank went viral in which Niznansky was tricked into saying, "I love lamp," a line from the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. By October 2012, the video was viewed nearly two million times on YouTube. The prank was featured on several news sites, including on the front page of MSN at one point.
In September 2012, on the day following the controversial NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, the station did a segment on its morning newscast with a "replacement weather guy", poking fun at the NFL replacement referees. WGBA floor director Tom Legener was seen on-air forecasting a "thunderblizzard hurricane", with a temperature of "-200 degrees" at 7:00 a.m. and "346 degrees" at noon. The video went viral, and by October 2012, had nearly 600,000 views on YouTube. It was featured on various news sites, including CNN, ESPN, Yahoo!, and MSN.