KQDS-TV, virtual channel 21 (UHF digital channel 17), is a Fox-affiliated television station located in Duluth, Minnesota, United States, which also serves Superior, Wisconsin. The station is owned by Red River Broadcasting. KQDS maintains studio facilities located on London Road in Duluth (along I-35), and its transmitter is located west of downtown in Hilltop Park. Master control and some internal operations are based out of the studio facilities of sister station and fellow Fox affiliate KVRR on South 40th Street and South 9th Avenue in Fargo, North Dakota. Syndicated programs broadcast on KQDS include Two and a Half Men, Divorce Court, Everybody Loves Raymond, Family Feud, The People's Court and The Big Bang Theory.

History

The station first signed on the air on September 20, 1994, as KNLD. Very few people knew the station was actually on the air at this time, as KQDS transmitted at low power with an extremely limited schedule of programming, usually airing only for only four hours per day each morning--the minimum required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to cover the license. The station was Duluth's first independent station. While the Northland had grown large enough to support an independent station at least a decade earlier, it is a very large market geographically. UHF stations do not cover large areas very well. Additionally, the major stations in the market need sizable networks of translators to adequately cover the market, and the cost of building a translator network scared off perspective owners. By the 1990s, cable television--a must for acceptable television in much of this market--had gained enough penetration to make an independent station viable.

Although its lineup once included Big Ten college football, most of the station's schedule was filled with programming from the Shop at Home Network by the late-1990s.

In 1998, Red River Broadcasting (via sister company KQDS Acquisition Corporation) purchased KNLD and several area radio stations including KQDS (1490 AM), KQDS-FM (94.9 FM), WWAX (92.1 FM) and KZIO (94.1 and 104.3 FM), and later changed the television station's call sign to KQDS-TV. The new owners ran into some controversy as they tried to upgrade the station. It was attempting to construct a new tower to replace its old transmitter facility located adjacent to Duluth Central High School, which would give it a coverage area comparable to the other Duluth stations. However, some school and city officials expressed concern about the danger of ice falling from the tower onto the school's parking lot. Although the new tower had already been approved by city officials, KQDS agreed to build it further from the parking lot than initially planned.

The station became the Duluth-Superior market's first Fox affiliate on September 1, 1999. Prior to affiliating with the network, Fox programming was available in the market only through cable systems that had carried the network through either Foxnet or Fox's affiliates in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul market (KMSP-TV from 1986 to 1988 and WFTC from 1988 onward). Some areas of the market received FOX on cable via KVRR from Fargo (KQDS's sister sation), WLUK from Green Bay, WGKI from Cadillac, or even WKBD from Detroit prior to that station dropping the network in 1994. That same day, the station activated its new transmitter tower, along with the sign-on of eight translators.

Digital television

Digital channel

ChannelVideoAspectPSIP Short NameProgramming[2]
21.1720p16:9KQDS-DTMain KQDS-TV programming / Fox
21.2480i4:3ANTENNAAntenna TV

Analog-to-digital conversion

KQDS-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over UHF channel 21, on February 1, 2009.[3] The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 17, using PSIP to display KQDS-TV's virtual channel as 21 on digital television receivers.

News operation

In its early years as a Fox affiliate, KQDS entered into a news share agreement with NBC affiliate KBJR to produce a 9 p.m. newscast; the program was broadcast out of KBJR's studios on South Lake Avenue in Duluth, and was anchored by Mark Mallory with weather and sports segments respectively helmed by meteorologist Paul Heggen and sports anchor Tom Hansen. The program was canceled after about nine months due to low ratings, and was replaced by a half-hour simulcast of CNN Headline News. KBJR would not produce a primetime newscast again until September 2002, when that station launched a UPN affiliate on its second digital subchannel.

In its first ratings period in May 2007, KQDS placed third among all evening newscasts in the Duluth market. The station drew more viewers than KBJR's Northland's NewsCenter Tonight at 9 and KDLH's 10 p.m. newscast. In August of that year, after just six months on the air, KQDS's news operation was nominated for three Upper Midwest Emmy Awards in the categories of "Best Newscast", "Best News Special" and "Investigative Series". In July 2009, KQDS registered its best newscast ratings period to date, placing third with about 8,650 viewers (about 2,000 fewer viewers than KBJR's 10 p.m. newscast). In the fall of 2009, the station won two regional Emmy Awards for "Best Newscast" and "Overall Station Excellence". On June 28, 2010, KQDS debuted a half-hour weeknight newscast at 6 p.m.[4]

Notable former on-air staff

Translators

Red River Broadcasting owns and operates eight analog translators that relay KQDS-TV's programming to areas of the market outside its primary signal contour. All of the translators – except for K31GH and K39GG – had construction permits to air low-powered digital signals, but the permits expired without any of the stations converting from analog to digital transmission. To comply with FCC mandates related to the digital television transition, all of the stations must obtain new permits and convert to digital by September 1, 2015 in order to remain on the air.[5]

Call lettersChannelCity of licenseTransmitter location
K15GT15Hibbing, Minnesotasouthwest of downtown
K29EB29Grand Rapids, Minnesotanorthwest of Taconite
K31GH31Hayward, Wisconsineast of city
W32CV32Ironwood, MichiganHurley, Wisconsin
K39GG39Aitkin, Minnesotaeast of Rabbit Lake Township along the Crow Wing and Aitkin County line
K45JD45International Falls, Minnesotaeast of city
W45CI45Ashland, Wisconsin
K47IR47Virginia, MinnesotaMidway