WATL, virtual channel 36 (UHF digital channel 25), is a MyNetworkTV-affiliated television station in Atlanta, Georgia. The station is owned by Tegna, Inc., as part of a duopoly with NBC affiliate WXIA-TV (channel 11). The two stations maintain studios and offices located at One Monroe Place on the north end of midtown Atlanta; Its transmitter shares a broadcast tower with several other local stations near North Druid Hills, just northeast of the city. The station is also available on Comcast channel 13 and in high definition on digital channel 813.
Channel 36 began operation on December 18, 1954 as WQXI-TV. The station, owned by UHF pioneer Robert Rounsaville, was one of about 150 UHF stations to give the new high-band spectrum a try. The TV station, which had one camera, shared a house in the northeast Atlanta area of Buckhead with WQXI radio. The radio station constantly promoted its TV sister station in an effort to build an audience. However, UHF converters were rare prior to the All-Channel Receiver Act, and programming (largely old movies, a Saturday-evening barn dance, and shots of the radio DJ spinning records) was nearly unwatchable. The station signed off after less than six months on the air on May 31, 1955 (the WQXI callsign was later used on now-sister station WXIA-TV from 1968 to 1974). Despite being off the air the call letters were changed to WATL-TV in early 1956. On May 12, 1965 the Federal Communications Commission granted assignment of the construction permit for Channel 36 under the same call letters to Daniel H. Overmyer from Robert Rounsaville for the consideration of $100,000. At that time Overmyer owned construction permits for two UHF stations, WDHO-TV in Toledo and WNOP-TV in Cincinnati. In addition he was in the process of buying existing construction permits for two other UHF stations in San Francisco and Pittsburgh, as well as applying for new UHF stations in Houston and Dallas. None of the Overmyer owned stations had yet signed on by the time of the channel 36 purchase.
Channel 36 would remain dark until the station was relaunched on August 16, 1969 as WATL-TV. It was jointly owned by the U.S. Communications Corporation station group of Philadelphia holding an 80% interest and the remaining 20% by D.H. Overmyer. Overmyer had previously sold the majority interest of the construction permit to U.S. Communications on March 28, 1967, with FCC approval of the sale coming December 8, 1967. Overmyer had planned to sign-on the station a few years earlier as WBMO-TV. The call letters were chosen for one of his daughters, Barbara Morton Overmyer. It would have been one of the owned-and-operated stations of the new Overmyer Network, (later United Network), which folded at the end of May 1967 after only a single month of broadcasting. Due to poor advertising revenue, the owners decided to take WATL-TV off the air. The last full broadcast day was March 31, 1971 and the station signed off in the early morning hours of April 1. For about a week before it left the air, the station ran :30 second announcements with a photograph of its studios at 1810 Briarcliff Road on an art card, announcing that it would soon cease operations, ending with the words "Thank You" on screen.
In a newspaper article reporting on the station's demise, it was reported that U.S. Communications spent $1 million on programming the first year, including Lost in Space and a block of dinnertime game shows. Ted Turner's WTCG (channel 17, later WTBS and now WPCH-TV) which had been operating a bit longer, "didn't spend a million dollars on anything" and survived. WATL was also the first station in the country to run music videos all weekend, on a show called The Now Explosion. Turner's first move after acquiring WTCG, the UHF station that would serve as the foundation of his media empire, was to take The Now Explosion from WATL.
Stability, then transition from independent station to Fox
On July 17, 1974 The Briarcliff Communications Group received FCC approval to purchase the construction permit for WATL-TV from U.S. Communications Corporation for $23,500. Briarcliff Communications was partially owned (30.5%) by Don Kennedy, a well known broadcaster in Atlanta. Mr Kennedy started WKLS-FM in the early 1960s and also the Georgia News Network, providing statewide news to radio stations. He was also the host known as Officer Don of the children's TV show The Popeye Club on WSB-TV from 1956 until 1970. On July 5, 1976, Don Kennedy returned channel 36 to the air for good. WATL-TV had a format running public domain movies, financial news, low-budget local shows, religious programs, and a blend of CBS, NBC and ABC shows pre-empted from WAGA-TV, WSB-TV and WXIA-TV, respectively. In a common practice among independent stations at the time, the station aired subscription television in the early evening from the late 1970s to about 1981.
ATL Acquisitions Group bought the station in the early 1980s. The subscription TV format moved to new sign-on WVEU (channel 69, now WUPA) in 1982. At that time, most daytime programming now came from the Financial News Network (now part of CNBC). In the fall of 1983, WATL moved toward a more traditional independent schedule with a couple cartoons, a few westerns, and a few classic sitcoms plus more movies. Still it was a low budget operation. Then in 1984, the station was sold again, this time to Outlet Communications. Gradually, WATL had acquired stronger programming such as Cheers, Webster, and Family Ties, as well as newer syndicated cartoons as these became abundant by 1985. Also, WATL became one of the charter affiliates of the newly launched Fox Broadcasting Company in October 1986, although it was still programmed in the manner of a de facto independent station as Fox initially showed a late night talk show followed by additional nights of programming until the network started to run programs seven days a week in 1993.
The "musical chairs" of ownership continued in 1989, as Outlet sold WATL, along with WXIN in Indianapolis, to Chase Broadcasting. By now the station was called "Fox 36". In 1992, WATL and WXIN were included in Chase's merger with Renaissance Broadcasting. Less than a year later, WATL was sold to Fox Television Stations outright and channel 36 became a Fox owned-and-operated station – the first network-owned station in Atlanta – although for only two years (Renaissance would trade then-new Denver sister station KDVR to Fox in exchange for the network's Dallas affiliate KDAF two years later). Fox was in the planning stages for a news department at the station, and WATL had even gone as far as hiring a news director. However, on May 22, 1994, New World Communications announced an affiliation agreement with Fox, months after the network won the broadcast rights to the NFL's National Football Conference. In this deal, most of New World-owned longtime "Big Three"-affiliated stations, including Atlanta's longtime CBS affiliate WAGA, would switch over to the Fox network. As a result, Fox cancelled the plans for a newscast on WATL and put the station up for sale.
Finding itself about to lose Fox programming, WATL was then approached with an affiliation offer from CBS, which was losing WAGA as an affiliate; however, WATL was not interested. At that point, it almost seemed likely that WATL would join the soon-to-launch United Paramount Network in early 1995. Rival station WGNX (channel 46, now WGCL-TV), then owned by Tribune Broadcasting was already slated to join The WB Television Network and had also turned CBS down, forcing CBS to make a deal to buy WVEU. Eventually, however, Tribune agreed to let WGNX join CBS, and WVEU became the UPN affiliate.
Changing affiliations and owners
Fox programming moved from WATL to WAGA on December 10, 1994, with WATL briefly reverting to an independent station under the branding "WATL 36". Not long after that, Fox subsequently sold the station to Qwest Broadcasting, a company partially owned by musician Quincy Jones and Tribune Broadcasting (Fox would not be without an owned-and-operated station in Atlanta for long, as it bought WAGA and the other New World stations in late 1996). Although it lost the Fox affiliation, WATL kept Fox Kids programming, because WAGA was not interested in it plus WATL was not taking a full-time network. Basically WATL had the same exact programming it had as a Fox affiliate minus the prime time Fox shows and weekend sports. The station did affiliate with The WB in January 1995; since the sale to Qwest Broadcasting would not be finalized until December 14, 1995, WATL ended up under the unusual distinction of being affiliated with one network while owned by another, as the station became a WB affiliate (under the branding "WB 36", later changing to "WATL, Atlanta's WB" in 2004) owned by Fox, a condition which lasted nearly a year. WATL continued to air Fox Kids programming until 1999, when it moved to WHOT (channel 34, now WUVG). That year, Tribune sold WGNX to the Meredith Corporation (and the callsign changed to the current WGCL) and purchased WATL outright in February 2000.
On January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation (which split from Viacom at the end of 2005) and Warner Bros. Entertainment (the Time Warner division that operated The WB) announced plans to dissolve The WB and UPN, combining them to launch The CW Television Network in September 2006. As part of this joint venture, it was announced that CBS-owned WUPA (which included as part of 11 of 14 CBS-owned UPN affiliates that signed a ten-year affiliation deal, and it's one of the three Tribune-owned WB affiliates passed over for an affiliation) would become The CW's Atlanta affiliate. It would not have been an upset had WATL been chosen instead, however; CW representatives were on record as preferring to affiliate with The WB and UPN's "strongest" stations in terms of overall viewership, and Atlanta was one of the few markets where the WB and UPN stations were both relatively strong. WATL was originally slated to revert to independent status, but on May 15, 2006, Tribune announced that WATL (and two other WB affiliates that are not included in a CW affiliation deal) would be joining MyNetworkTV, which was formed in February by Fox Television Stations and its syndication division, 20th Television. As a result, WATL is one of a handful of stations to have been affiliated with both News Corporation-owned networks, Fox and MyNetworkTV.
Acquisition by Gannett
On June 5, 2006, Tribune announced that it entered into an agreement to sell WATL to the Gannett Company, the owners of Atlanta's NBC affiliate WXIA-TV, for $180 million. The sale was completed on August 7, 2006, giving Gannett the first television duopoly in Atlanta. Like most duopolies consisting of a "Big Four" affiliate and a minor network affiliate, WATL may take up responsibility as an alternate NBC affiliate by airing programs when WXIA cannot such as in a news-related emergency. WATL aired Atlanta Falcons preseason games in August 2008 while its sister station was committed to the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Channel 36 introduced its new on-air branding, MyAtlTV on August 20, 2006, ahead of the September 5 debut of MyNetworkTV (and about a month before The WB's final night of programming). Prior to the acquisition by Gannett, WATL's studios were located at One Monroe Place. When the station was acquired, WXIA management decided to move WXIA's operations to the Monroe Place studios (an atypical instance where the senior partner in a duopoly relocates to the studios of the junior partner). During construction, WATL's studios were located with WXIA at 1611 West Peachtree Street, behind competitor WSB. In the 2013-2014 television season, WATL changed its on-air name to The ATL.
Around the first week of October 2012, Gannett entered a dispute against Dish Network regarding compensation fees and Dish's AutoHop commercial-skip feature on its Hopper digital video recorders. Gannett ordered that Dish discontinue AutoHop on the account that it is affecting advertising revenues for WXIA and WATL. Gannett threatened to pull both stations should the skirmish continue beyond October 7 and Dish and Gannett fail to reach an agreement. The two parties eventually reached an agreement after extending the deadline for a few hours.
On June 29, 2015, the Gannett Company split in two, with one side specializing in print media and the other side specializing in broadcast and digital media. At that time, both WATL and WXIA became part of latter company, named Tegna.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|36.1||1080i||16:9||WATL-DT||Main WATL programming / MyNetworkTV|
As with the same arrangement with sister stations KUSA and KTVD in Denver, WATL airs their main channel in upscaled 1080i rather than MyNetworkTV's default 720p format for operational reasons, to present syndicated programming without downscaling to the latter format, and to accommodate any NBC programming airing on WATL due to local pre-emption on WXIA.
WATL previously aired The Tube on digital channel 36.2 in June 2006, but after that network shut down in October 2007, the digital subchannel was deleted. The 11Alive Weather Information Zone was moved from channel 11.2 on WXIA in early December 2010, possibly in preparation for adding another network to that station (the lower bitrate of the low-motion weather graphics would leave more for mobile datacasting to be done on WATL than adding the new network to WATL). In 2011, Atlanta-based Bounce TV began airing on September 26 (the network's first day in operation), taking the Weather Information Zone off the air for two weeks until mid-October, when it was moved back to channel 11.2 on WXIA. By coincidence, the first program aired by Bounce on its new flagship station in place of the WIZ was the movie The Wiz.
In late October 2011, Universal Sports was added to digital channel 36.3. The network, however removed itself from broadcast distribution at the end of 2011 and switched to cable-only status. On December 24, 2011, the channel was replaced by former owner Tribune's Antenna TV network.
WATL shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 36, on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 25, using PSIP to display WATL's virtual channel as 36 on digital television receivers.
At the NAB convention in April 2009, the Open Mobile Video Coalition announced that WATL would be one of the first stations to test-out new ATSC-M/H technology for mobile DTV, expected to be on the air by the end of 2009. It is also carrying the mobile DTV channels for WXIA, as that station is already at its maximum bitrate carrying three channels, and because it is on VHF, while WATL's UHF channel is better suited to mobile communications.
The station airs the Weekend Marketplace paid programming block from Fox on Saturdays from 7-9 a.m, in lieu of WAGA. Other programs broadcast include popular nationally syndicated game shows Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, which are rare for a MyNetworkTV affiliate, while both also air on sister station WXIA-TV.
In 2014, WATL reached a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group to serve as the local outlet for its in-house syndicated programming, including Ring of Honor wrestling and the American Sports Network.
In September 2006, following its acquisition by Gannett, WXIA began producing a primetime newscast at 10 p.m. for WATL called My 11Alive News at 10 (which was retitled The Rundown at 10 in September 2012 and is now called 11 Alive Trending at 10 as of 2013). The weeknight hour-long newscast competes with Fox owned-and-operated station WAGA-TV's nightly in-house 10 p.m. newscast that WAGA has aired since it affiliated with the Fox network in September 1994. The weekend half-hour newscast only competes with the first half-hour of WAGA's nightly newscast. It is anchored by Jeff Hullinger and Melissa Long.