KPLR-TV, virtual channel 11 (UHF digital channel 26), is a CW-affiliated television station located in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of Tribune Media, as part of a duopoly with Fox affiliate KTVI (channel 2). The two stations share studio facilities located on Ball Drive in the northwestern St. Louis County community of Maryland Heights (though with a St. Louis city address), KPLR's transmitter is located in Lemay.
As an independent station
The station first signed on the air on April 28, 1959, as the first independent station in Missouri. The station's call letters were derived from the name of its founding owner, St. Louis real estate developer and hotelier Harold Koplar. Despite losing in his quest to build the station from the ground up, Koplar acquired the station's license in 1958 through controversial circumstances.
CBS was originally granted a construction permit by the Federal Communications Commission to build channel 11 in January 1957, prevailing over three other locally based competitors. But eight months later, CBS decided instead to purchase its existing St. Louis affiliate, KWK-TV (channel 4). As a condition of the channel 4 purchase, the FCC required CBS to relinquish the channel 11 license and construction permit. CBS did so by transferring it to the Koplar group, known as "220 Television, Incorporated", for no financial consideration. Almost immediately, the three-way deal was held up after the St. Louis Amusement Company, one of the original applicants for channel 11, protested to the United States Court of Appeals in January 1958. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld the decision in November 1958, but CBS had already consummated its deal for channel 4 several months earlier, changing the station's call letters to KMOX-TV – which were intended for channel 11 – and operated it for 28 years (it is now Meredith Corporation-owned KMOV). Meanwhile, Koplar went to work building channel 11 on its own, no longer in the face of opposition.
KPLR originally operated from studios within the Koplar-owned Chase Park Plaza Hotel, located on Maryland Plaza in St. Louis' Central West End district. Channel 11 would move into a separate facility adjacent to the hotel several years later. Starting in the mid-1960s, Harold's son Edward J. "Ted" Koplar began working behind the scenes at KPLR, producing sports programming and developing the station's first regular local newscast. Ted Koplar became president and chief executive officer of channel 11 in 1979, and gained complete control of the station upon his father's death in 1985.
For most of its existence, KPLR was a traditional independent station featuring cartoons, sitcoms, movies, drama series and locally produced newscasts. The station was also available on many cable systems in Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas as a regional superstation until the late 1980s. Locally, channel 11's first and only competitor came in 1969, when Evans Broadcasting launched KDNL-TV (channel 30). KPLR turned down an offer to affiliate with the upstart Fox network in 1986, choosing to remain an independent station instead. This may have been because most of the markets in channel 11's cable footprint had enough stations to provide Fox affiliates at the outset, making the prospect of KPLR as a multistate Fox affiliate unattractive to the Koplars. The Fox affiliation for the market went to KDNL when that network launched on October 9 of that year.
On January 11, 1995, KPLR became a network affiliate for the first time when it became a charter station of The WB. Around the same time, the station was also offered the ABC affiliation after that network's longtime St. Louis affiliate, KTVI (channel 2) announced that it would switch to Fox as part of a groupwide affiliation agreement with New World Communications (which was in the process of acquiring the station from Argyle Television at the time). Channel 11 turned down the ABC affiliation, which eventually went to outgoing Fox affiliate KDNL on August 7, 1995.
Koplar Communications sold KPLR to ACME Communications in 1997, ending 38 years of local, family ownership and earning a handsome return on their original investment. In the sale agreement, Ted Koplar signed a three-year contract to remain with KPLR-TV as its chief executive officer, along with serving as a consultant to ACME. However, Koplar resigned after one year, citing an irreconcilable rift. For many years, even after joining The WB, KPLR was branded on-air as "St. Louis 11", often using a logo with the "O" in "St. Louis" (which had a resemblance to the Gateway Arch) converted into its "circle 11" numeric logo; KPLR changed its branding to "WB11" in 1998. In 1999, KPLR began carrying UPN programming as a secondary affiliation, running select primetime shows and cartoons from the network's children's program block, Disney's One Too. UPN programs had previously run on KDNL during overnight and weekend timeslots and then on KNLC (channel 24, which subjected the network to several program preemptions due to content objections by its New Life Christian Church ownership), as St. Louis was one of the few top-50 television markets that did not have a full-time UPN affiliate, though that situation changed when WRBU (channel 46) disaffiliated from Home Shopping Network to join UPN in September 2002.
In March 2003, ACME Communications sold KPLR-TV and its Portland, Oregon sister station KWBP to Tribune Broadcasting. That same year, KPLR relocated its operations out of the Chase Park Plaza (which by that time, went from a gutted complex to which the station served as its only major tenant into a boutique hotel) and into a new purpose-built studio facility in Maryland Heights.
On January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation (which split from Viacom in December 2005) and Time Warner's Warner Bros. Entertainment (the division that operated The WB) announced that they would dissolve UPN and The WB, and move some of their programs to a newly created network operated as a joint venture between the companies, The CW. The network signed a ten-year affiliation agreement with Tribune Broadcasting for 16 of the 19 WB affiliates that the company owned at the time, including KPLR. Nearly one month later on February 22, News Corporation announced the launch of a competing network, MyNetworkTV, which would be run by its Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television units. The CW launched (with KPLR as its St. Louis affiliate) on September 18, 2006, the day after The WB ended operations; MyNetworkTV affiliated with WRBU.
On September 17, 2008, the Tribune Company announced that it would enter KPLR into a local marketing agreement with Fox affiliate KTVI effective October 1, as a result of the formation of a "broadcast management company" that was created to provide management services to stations owned by both Tribune Broadcasting and KTVI owner Local TV. Although KTVI was the senior partner in the deal, it vacated its longtime studios in the Clayton-Tamm/Dogtown neighborhood on St. Louis' west side and moved its operations to KPLR's Maryland Heights facility (Tribune bought KTVI outright on July 1, 2013, as part of its $2.75 billion acquisition of Local TV; the sale received FCC approval on December 20, and it was completed on December 27, creating the first legal station duopoly in the St. Louis market between KTVI and KPLR). The LMA resulted in both stations combining their news departments and sharing certain syndicated programs. On November 1, 2008, the station changed its on-air branding from "CW11" to "KPLR 11" as several Tribune-owned CW affiliates began shifting away from using references to the network within their station branding, and reincorporated the Gateway Arch into its logo (essentially, a revision of the logo that KPLR used following the Tribune purchase as a WB affiliate).
There have long been rumors that ABC has considered moving its affiliation to KPLR, in part because KDNL-TV has been one of the network's weakest affiliates since joining the network in 1995 (in stark contrast to KTVI's former status as one of ABC's strongest affiliates). However, on March 26, 2010, KDNL owner Sinclair Broadcast Group extended its affiliation agreement with ABC to retain the network's affiliation on KDNL and the eight other ABC affiliates that Sinclair owned at the time for five years through August 2015.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|11.1||1080i||16:9||CW11-DT||Main KPLR-TV programming / The CW|
On May 31, 2006, KPLR added The Tube Music Network to digital subchannel 11.2; The Tube later abruptly suspended its operations on October 1, 2007. In 2010, the 11.2 subchannel became an affiliate of This TV. On January 1, 2016, the 11.3 subchannel became a Comet affiliate.
KPLR-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 11, 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 26. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 11.
KTVI/KPLR presently broadcasts a combined 80 hours of locally produced newscasts each week; including a public affairs program on Saturday evenings called The Pulse of St. Louis, which airs over the final 45 minutes of the 7 p.m. newscast, and a weekly sports highlight program on Sunday evenings called Sunday Sports Extra, which also airs during that newscast.
Channel 11 has aired local news programs since its sign-on, and was one of the first independent stations in the country to have a functioning news department. Like most stations that are not affiliated with one of the Big Three networks, KPLR had traditionally aired a primetime newscast at 9 p.m. that ran one hour ahead of the late newscasts seen on the major network affiliates; for much of the time prior to 2008, KPLR's 9 p.m. newscast ran as a half-hour program. After KTVI moved its late evening newscast to 9 p.m. following its August 1995 switch from ABC to Fox, that station's primetime newscast consistently beat KPLR's in the ratings.
In the past, KPLR has attempted to format its newscasts to attract a younger audience, employing anchors under the age of 35 and featuring a more fast-paced reporting style. However, in a market where most television personalities have been around for several years and the perennial ratings winner, NBC affiliate KSDK (channel 5), does not have a main presenter who has been with the station less than ten years, this for the most part caused channel 11 to struggle in the ratings, in addition to what viewers perceived as a "soft" approach to news. Nevertheless, KPLR has often been acknowledged by St. Louis Post-Dispatch television critics as a station strong on "sweeps stories", running one or more major investigative pieces during the November, January and May sweeps periods. KPLR's stories have also been seen as much more broad-based and less sensationalistic compared to other stations.
After entering into the local marketing agreement with KTVI, major changes were made to KPLR's news programming. First on September 8, 2008, KPLR shifted the flagship 9 p.m. newscast to 7 p.m. and expanded the program to one hour, trading timeslots with The CW's primetime schedule, which the station moved to 8-10 p.m. (instead of the network-recommended 7-9 p.m. Central Time slot) at the network's permission; this effectively resulted in the newscast being reduced to airing only on Monday through Friday evenings in part due to The CW airing a three-hour primetime lineup on Sundays at the time (although The CW turned its Sunday primetime slots over to the network's affiliates in September 2009, the 7 p.m. newscast would not expand to weekends until September 2012). The station cited an underserved younger audience in the 9 p.m. timeslot with the Big Three stations airing network programming meant for older viewers and competition from KTVI's 9 p.m. newscast as reasons behind the move.
In December 2008, KPLR moved production of its news programs to a temporary set in KTVI's Hampton studios as the Maryland Heights facility was being remodeled to accommodate both KPLR and KTVI's newscasts. On February 16, 2009, KPLR became the fourth St. Louis television station to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition (one day after KTVI converted its newscasts to HD), broadcasting from a newly remodeled studio (which contained pieces from the KTVI's former "Studio B" set, along with a modernized news desk and a state-of-the-art weather center) that is located adjacent to the main news set now occupied by KTVI. Since KPLR and KTVI's news departments merged, there has been considerable sharing between the two stations in regards to news coverage, video footage and the use of reporters, although both outlets maintain their own primary on-air personalities (such as news and sports anchors) that only appear on one station. On April 6, 2009, KPLR debuted an hour-long midday newscast at noon on weekdays. This was followed on September 20, 2010 with the debut of an hour-long afternoon newscast at 4 p.m. On December 23, 2011, KPLR/KTVI opened a news bureau in the newly renovated Peabody Opera House in downtown St. Louis, to better serve the downtown and eastern portion of the St. Louis metropolitan area.
On January 28, 2015, KTVI/KPLR introduced a new combined set with LED lighting, two video walls, and a new anchor desk. Both stations now share the set but KPLR has a separate Weather center. They also introduced new graphics and music package for both stations the same day.
Notable current on-air staff
- Charles Jaco - political and war correspondent
Notable former on-air staff
- Julie Piekarski - entertainment reporter (1986–1988)
KPLR-TV has served as the home broadcaster of the MLB's St. Louis Cardinals (for two stints from 1959 to 1962 and 1988 to 2006), the NBA's St. Louis Hawks (1959–1968) and the NHL's St. Louis Blues (for three stints from 1967 to 1976, 1982–83 and 1986 to April 21, 2009, the last Blues telecast on KPLR being a Stanley Cup Playoff loss to the Vancouver Canucks).
On May 23, 1959, the station debuted Wrestling at the Chase, a professional wrestling program that was originally produced from Chase Park Plaza's Khorassan Ballroom (until 1970). The show featured the most famous wrestlers in the National Wrestling Alliance, which was controlled in part by St. Louis promoter Sam Muchnick. Participants included Ric Flair, Harley Race, former NFL player Dick the Bruiser and Ted DiBiase, and is considered one of the wrestling industry's most historic programs. About 1,100 episodes were produced during the show's run, which ended on September 10, 1983. KPLR produced a retrospective of the program in 1999, consisting mostly of latter-era footage plus interview clips of Muchnick's wrestlers and other employees, as well as others associated with the St. Louis sports scene such as Bob Costas and Joe Garagiola, the latter the program's first host. Included were clips from the program's only known surviving early episode, from 1962, which Garagiola recorded as an audition tape shortly before leaving the program and held on to all those years.
From 1959 to 1968, KPLR aired the after-school children's program Captain 11's Showboat, which introduced The Three Stooges to St. Louis area television viewers. Captain 11 was played by longtime radio personality Harry Fender. Ted Koplar also diversified his family's entertainment holdings during his time at the helm of KPLR. This was most notably achieved through World Events Productions, which distributed three animated series Voltron: Defender of the Universe, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and Denver, the Last Dinosaur.
Other locally produced programming
From April 9, 2006 to September 7, 2008, KPLR produced The Fan Show, a live sports talk program that was hosted by sports director Rich Gould, featuring audience-participation games and discussion. It was originally broadcast from The Casino Queen's Club Sevens for the first 20 months of its run, before the program relocated to AJ's Bar and Grill in December 2007.