WATN-TV, virtual channel 24 (UHF digital channel 25), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Memphis, Tennessee, United States. The station is owned by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate WLMT (channel 30). The two stations share studios at the Shelby Oaks Corporate Park on Shelby Oaks Drive in the northeast section of Memphis, WATN's transmitter is located in the Brunswick section of Arlington. The station also handles master control and some internal operations for Jackson-licensed Fox affiliate WJKT (channel 16). Syndicated programming on WATN includes The Doctors, Dr. Phil and Maury.
As an independent station
The station first signed on the air on September 10, 1978 as WPTY-TV, and was the first station on the UHF band and first independent station in the market, as well as the first new commercial station to sign on in Memphis since WREG-TV (channel 3) debuted 23 years earlier. Memphis had a longer wait for an independent station than other cities its size. However, the Memphis market has always been a medium-sized market because the surrounding suburban and rural areas aren't much larger than Memphis itself. The station originally operated from studios located at 2225 Union Avenue in Memphis.
It was owned by Petry Television (the source of its call letters), and ran a general entertainment format featuring cartoons, movies, sitcoms, westerns and drama series. WPTY also carried NBC, CBS and ABC programs whenever WREG-TV, WMC-TV (channel 5) and WHBQ-TV (channel 13) preempted network shows in favor of local programs. By 1983, WPTY gained competition when the TVX Broadcast Group signed on WMKW (channel 30, now WLMT), sparking a rivalry between the two independents. Petry sold the station to Precht Communications in 1984.
TVX signed a deal to affiliate all of its stations with Fox in 1987, which resulted in WMKW becoming Memphis' Fox affiliate. Precht Communications sold the station to Chase Broadcasting in 1988. In February 1990, Fox pulled its affiliation from channel 30 (by then known as WLMT) and gave it to WPTY. This occurred because WLMT had been sold a few months earlier, and TVX's affiliation agreement with Fox included a clause stating that if an under-performing TVX station was sold, it ran the risk of losing its affiliation.
Chase Broadcasting merged with Renaissance Broadcasting in 1992. Due to Federal Communications Commission rules which limited the number of stations a company could own, Renaissance was forced to put WPTY and several other stations up for sale. WPTY was purchased by Clear Channel Communications later that year. In 1993, Clear Channel entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with WLMT's then-owner MT Communications, allowing the once rivals to pool resources and programming.
As an ABC affiliate
In 1995, WPTY was set to be displaced as Memphis' Fox outlet after Fox unexpectedly bought longtime ABC affiliate WHBQ-TV. However, News Corporation had to run WHBQ as an ABC affiliate for over five months after the sale was completed. ABC ultimately chose to affiliate with WPTY; the two stations switched affiliations on December 1, 1995.
The station gradually took on the look of a traditional network affiliate, running mostly first run syndicated shows and a few sitcoms while WLMT ran cartoons, movies, sitcoms and some reality/talk shows. Shortly after joining ABC, WPTY picked up a secondary affiliation with The WB, airing the network's schedule in late nights. This was because Memphis, despite its relatively large size, didn't have enough stations for a separate WB affiliate. In 2001, Clear Channel bought WLMT outright from Max Media, creating the first television duopoly in the Memphis market. Clear Channel moved WB programming to WLMT in 2003.
On April 20, 2007, Clear Channel entered into an agreement to sell its entire television station group to Newport Television, a company controlled by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners. Newport announced on July 19, 2012, that it would sell 12 of its stations, including WPTY and WLMT, to Nexstar Broadcasting. The transaction was finalized on December 3.
On June 1, 2013, WPTY, WLMT and WJKT's operations were moved to a converted former MCI call center on the city's northeast side. Nexstar invested $5 million in constructing the new facilities, which included high definition cameras and other new studio equipment, a new set repurposed from sister station KLRT-TV in Little Rock (which consolidated its news department with KARK-TV earlier that year after Nexstar purchased the station through Mission Broadcasting as a result of the Newport deal), equipment to allow reporters from its new sister station KARK to appear on-air, and a shift away from automation for the production of its newscasts (the station formerly used Ross Overdrive for newscast automation, but continues to use other Ross products in the new facilities). As a result of these changes, WPTY became the final station in the Memphis market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. Alongside the new studio and HD transition, WPTY re-launched as "Local 24" and changed its call letters to WATN-TV as part of a campaign coinciding with the move.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|24.1||1080i||16:9||WATN-DT||Main WATN-TV programming / ABC|
|24.2||480i||4:3||Escape (Launch date TBD)|
|24.3||Laff (Launch date TBD)|
From April 2011 to July 30, 2012, the station carried TheCoolTV on its second digital subchannel, which was available locally on Comcast digital channel 915. After the expiration of Newport's deal to carry the network, the subchannel affiliated with the Live Well Network, which was carried on WPTY-DT2 until mid-March 2013, when it was pulled from the station (Nexstar seldom carries subchannel networks except on a few stations – such as WLMT, which carries Me-TV on its second subchannel – unless a CW or MyNetworkTV subchannel is needed in the market).
On June 15, 2016, however, Nexstar announced that it has entered into an affiliation agreement with Katz Broadcasting for the Escape, Laff, Grit, and Bounce TV networks (the last one of which is owned by Bounce Media LLC, whose COO Jonathan Katz is president/CEO of Katz Broadcasting), bringing one or more of the four networks to 81 stations owned and/or operated by Nexstar, including WATN-TV (Bounce TV and Grit are already available in Memphis on digital subchannels of WMC-TV).
WATN-TV (as WPTY-TV) discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over UHF channel 24, 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 WATN-TV's virtual channel as 24 on digital television receivers.
WATN-TV presently broadcasts 24½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 4½ hours on weekdays and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays). In addition, WATN produces an hour-long extension of its weekday morning newscast at 7 a.m. and a nightly at 9 p.m. newscast (in addition to a sports highlight program padding out the final 15 minutes of the latter program) for WLMT. Fox affiliate WJKT simulcasts WLMT's 9 p.m. newscast and sports program. That station has microwave facilities at its studios in Jackson which allows the transmitting of live shots from the area. During weather segments, WATN and WLMT use live radar data from the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office on Farm Road (officially Walnut Grove Road) in Memphis.
After becoming an ABC affiliate, Clear Channel decided to invest in a news department for WPTY. When it launched on November 1, 1995, newscasts were initially branded as NewsWatch 24 and featured an energetic, youthful and almost "grunge" look. From the start, in addition to the newscasts on channel 24, the station has also produced a prime time newscast on WLMT, initially titled NewsWatch 30 at 9, in competition with the in-house 9 p.m. newscast that WHBQ debuted when it joined Fox. Several years later, WPTY rebranded as ABC 24 News (with the WLMT newscast being renamed UPN 30 News at 9) and began to modify its style to reach a broader audience.
In 2002, WPTY adopted the Eyewitness News format (which was previously used by WHBQ until 1997), and adopted a harder-edged, more aggressive and often "confrontational" approach to its reporting style. The change resulted in most of its original news anchors and reporters leaving or being laid off, with a complete overhaul in the station's image and presentation. During this time, WPTY's news operation had its share of recognition and awards. It was honored in 2005 with Associated Press broadcasting awards for "Best Breaking News", "Best Newscast", "Best Reporter" and "Best Sportscast". The station was also honored in 2005 with an Edward R. Murrow and regional Emmy Award as the "Best Weekend Newscast".
In 2006, the Associated Press honored WPTY with nine awards including "Best Overall Newscast". However, since its news department began, WPTY's newscasts have lagged in last place in the ratings, placing far behind long-dominating rivals WREG, WMC and WHBQ. In 2009, with continued low ratings, and under its new Newport Television ownership, the station brought in new management, leading to several staff layoffs. Gradually, WPTY's newscasts dropped most of the confrontational and aggressive style. In November 2010, after eight years of operating under the Eyewitness News name, WPTY reverted to the previous ABC 24 News brand. On April 29, 2012, WPTY began broadcasting its newscasts in 16:9 widescreen standard definition.
When the station became WATN on June 1, 2013, it ushered in a complete overhaul of its news programming. With the move to its new Shelby Oaks studio, WATN began broadcasting newscasts in high definition on that date; the newscasts were also rebranded as Local 24 News. On October 7, 2013, WATN debuted a local talk program, Local Memphis Live (replacing Live! with Kelly and Michael, which was dropped in early September) that competes with WHBQ's newscast and WREG's own news/talk program in the 9 a.m. timeslot. WMC-TV now airs Live! with Kelly and Michael.
Notable former on-air staff
- Dayna Devon - weeknight anchor/reporter (1997–1999)