WBKI-TV, PSIP virtual channel 34 (UHF digital channel 19), is a CW-affiliated television station serving Louisville, Kentucky, United States that is licensed to Campbellsville. The station is owned by LM Communications, LLC; Block Communications, which owns Fox affiliate WDRB (channel 41) and MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYO (channel 58), operates WBKI-TV under a local marketing agreement. WBKI-TV's former facilities were located within the Kaden Tower on Dutchmans Lane in Louisville's Bowman section (along I-264/US 60/Henry Watterson Expressway). In 2014, all of WBKI-TV's operations were moved to WDRB and WMYO's shared studio facility on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard (near Route 150) in downtown Louisville (previously, the WDRB/WMYO facilities only housed WBKI-TV's master control and some internal operations); WBKI-TV maintains transmitter facilities located in Raywick.

On cable, WBKI-TV is available on Time Warner Cable channel 7 and in high definition on digital channel 914.

Even though WBKI-TV has a digital signal of its own, the station's broadcasting radius does not reach the northern portions of the Louisville market. Therefore, the station is simulcast over WMYO's digital subchannels in order to reach the entire market. WBKI-TV's main programming can be seen on UHF channel 51.5 (or virtual channel 34.1 via PSIP) and Movies! can be seen on UHF channel 51.6 (or virtual channel 34.2 via PSIP) from a transmitter in rural northeastern Floyd County, Indiana (northeast of Floyds Knobs).

History

The station first signed on the air on July 27, 1983 as WGRB. It originally operated as an independent station, serving mainly rural areas on the far southern fringe of the Louisville market. In 1990, the station became the Fox affiliate for this section of the market. Although Louisville's Fox affiliate, WDRB (channel 41), broadcast at the maximum five million watts of power, the station's signal was marginal at best in the southern part of the market. Additionally, cable television service was not widespread in southern sections of the market, thus WDRB was not received at all in those areas. WGRB thus became one of the few known cases in which a separately owned station carried a network that already had an affiliate in the same market (similar to situations such as ABC affiliates WCVB-TV and WMUR-TV in the Boston market or NBC affiliate WHIZ-TV in Zanesville, Ohio about 60 miles east of Columbus, Ohio where Columbus has WCMH-TV for their NBC affiliate).

WGRB dropped Fox in 1997 and joined The WB, bringing that fledgling network's programming to the southern portion of the market. However, the main WB affiliate for Louisville, WBNA (channel 21, now an Ion Television affiliate), was a conservative religious station, and its owner, Evangel World Prayer Center, frequently pre-empted most of the network's more risqué programs. Frustrated with the pre-emptions, The WB made WGRB the network's exclusive Louisville outlet in 1998. At the same time, WGRB announced plans to build a new transmitter tower that would be located closer to Louisville, and upgrade its analog signal to a full five million watts of power. The station activated this new, more powerful tower in 1999. Along with an upgraded transmitter, the station changed its call letters to WWWB on November 29, 1999, likely done in tribute to the "dubba-dubba-WB!" jingle that the network utilized at the time in its image campaign. On September 19, 2000, the station changed its calls again to the current WBKI-TV.

On January 24, 2006, the Warner Bros. unit of Time Warner and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN and combine the networks' respective programming to create a new "fifth" network called The CW.[2][3] On March 1, the Cascade Broadcasting Group, then-owner of WBKI-TV, announced that channel 34 would be the market's CW affiliate, becoming one of the first outlets outside of the core CBS Television Stations and Tribune Broadcasting groups to announce an affiliation agreement with the new network.[4] Meanwhile, UPN affiliate WFTE (channel 58, now MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYO) announced it would join another newly created network, MyNetworkTV. It came as no surprise that WBKI-TV was chosen as the CW affiliate, as that network's representatives were on record as preferring the "strongest" WB and UPN affiliates, and WBKI-TV had been one of the strongest WB affiliates in the country.

WBKI-TV became a charter CW affiliate when the network launched on September 18, 2006. It was decided that the station would continue using the WBKI-TV call letters to avoid audience confusion and maintain a reference to its Kentuckiana service area. In February 2007, Cascade Broadcasting took over the operations of W24BW (known unofficially as "WYCS") with an option to purchase the station.

Cascade filed for bankruptcy in 2008, resulting in WBKI-TV and W24BW being put up for sale at auction; the winning bid was submitted by Fusion Communications. The transaction was approved by Federal Communications Commission (FCC); the deal was finalized in August 2009. Later that year, Fusion moved the station's operations from its longtime facility on Alliant Avenue in St. Matthews to the Kaden Tower in downtown Louisville.[5] In March 2012, Fusion defaulted on a loan from Valley Bank. Since Fusion had pledged WBKI-TV as collateral, Valley seized control of the station and auctioned off its assets to a local buyer on April 6, 2012.[6][7]

WBKI-TV was then acquired that June by LM Communications, a company run by Lexington-based radio station owner Lynn Martin; LM immediately took over the station's operations through a local marketing agreement prior to receiving FCC approval of the deal.[8] Shortly afterward, on June 22, LM announced that it had entered into a local marketing agreement with Block Communications, owner of WDRB and WMYO, in which Block took over WBKI-TV's operations and began sharing select programming with channel 34.[9] LM officially closed on the purchase on November 27. Although most of WBKI-TV's operations remain separate from WDRB and WMYO, certain operations between the station and its two sisters have been merged. With the opening of an additional 11,000 square feet of space at the latter duopoly's Muhammad Ali Boulevard studio facility on May 5, 2014, WBKI-TV will reassign up to 10 employees from the Kaden Tower offices into the shared WDRB/WMYO facility.[10][2]

Digital television

Digital channels

ChannelVideoAspectPSIP Short NameProgramming[2]
34.11080i16:9WBKIMain WBKI-TV programming / The CW
34.2480iMovies!Movies!

In the late 2000s, WBKI-TV added VasalloVision to a new second digital subchannel 34.2.[13] Broadcasting of VasalloVision ended in August 2012. On September 1, 2014, Movies! started broadcasting on 34.2.

Analog-to-digital conversion

WBKI-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over UHF channel 34, on February 17, 2009, the original date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 19.[2] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 34.

Programming

In addition to carrying the entire CW programming schedule, syndicated programs broadcast on WBKI-TV (as of September 2015) include TMZ on TV, The Wendy Williams Show, The Insider, The People's Court, Two and a Half Men, Crazy Talk and Friends.

WBKI viewing area

Primary coverage area

WBKI-TV's transmitter is located 60 miles south of downtown Louisville. This is as close as it can get to Louisville while providing a city-grade signal to its city of license, Campbellsville. Under FCC rules, a broadcast station (television or radio)'s transmitter must be located no further than 15 miles (24 km) from its city of license. As a result, the station's main transmitter only provides "rimshot" coverage of Louisville itself despite its power and height. It is all but unviewable over-the-air in much of the Indiana side of the market, even in digital. To make up for this shortfall in coverage, WBKI-TV set up a Class A repeater on channel 28 at the Kentuckiana tower farm northeast of Floyds Knobs, Indiana shortly after becoming a WB affiliate.

WBKI-TV was the first Louisville-area station to exclusively transmit a digital signal. Before Cascade Broadcasting was forced into bankruptcy, the company asked for permission to move WBKI-TV's license to Bardstown, an outer-ring suburb of Louisville. Presumably, this change would have allowed it to build a new full-power transmitter closer to Louisville and shut down the channel 28 repeater. The station subsequently chose to keep its license in Campbellsville, and upgrade WBKI-CA to digital as well. The repeater was not mandated by federal law to shut down its analog signal during the 2009 transition because it was not a full-power outlet. The FCC provided Class A and low-power stations a grace period of two years after the original digital transition deadline in order to switch to digital. In 2010, Fusion sold WBKI-CA to religious broadcaster Daystar, to which it now serves as an owned-and-operated station of the network,[15] however it retains the WBKI-LP call letters (which it took after surrendering its Class A status in May 2013).[16][17]

When Block entered into the LMA with WBKI-TV, WDRB general manager Bill Lamb promised to give WBKI-TV a significant technical overhaul. Part of that overhaul came on July 16, 2012, when WBKI-TV's programming began to be simulcast on WMYO's third digital subchannel (downconverted to 720p HD), finally giving the station full coverage in some form across the entire Louisville market over-the-air.[2]

Out-of-market coverage area

Due to its transmitter location being roughly halfway between Louisville and Lexington, WBKI-TV claims the largest coverage area of any television station in Kentucky. The station provides at least secondary coverage (Grade B signal or better) from the Tennessee border to Southern Indiana. This area includes portions of the Bowling Green and Lexington markets. Consequently, WBKI-TV maintained solid coverage on most cable systems in these areas for most of its tenure with The WB. For all intents and purposes, it was Lexington's default WB affiliate, and even operated a "virtual channel" on primary cable systems in that area with separate identifications. With the launch of The CW, WBKI-TV was dropped from most cable providers in the Bowling Green and Lexington areas since that network respectively airs on subchannels of ABC affiliate WBKO and CBS affiliate WKYT-TV. It can still be seen over-the-air in much of the Lexington area and on about 20 other cable systems in Central Kentucky. The station is also available on cable in three counties in Tennessee that are part of the Nashville market.[2] [2]

Newscasts

For several years, WBKI-TV produced a local weekday morning entertainment and lifestyle show titled Louisville Live This Morning. An hour-long program that aired in a magazine-type format, the program aired weekdays at 10:00 am. During the late 2000s, WBKI-TV also carried a weeknight 5:30 p.m. newscast titled The CW World Report, a half-hour program that focused on national and international stories; it was produced by Fusion Communications' sister operation Independent News Network and was produced out of INN's studios on Tremont Avenue in Davenport, Iowa.

In late 2005, WBKI-TV entered into a news share agreement with ABC affiliate WHAS-TV (channel 11) to produce a nightly prime time newscast for the station; the program, known as WHAS 11 News at 10:00 on WBKI, premiered on January 2, 2006. After Block Communications began operating WBKI-TV under the LMA with WDRB and WMYO, the station chose not to renew the news share agreement with WDRB opting to launch its own newscast on channel 34 (as a result, WDRB became one of the few Fox stations to produce a newscast for another station in the same market). On September 17, 2012, WDRB began producing a half-hour weeknight 7:00 p.m. newscast, the WDRB Local Evening News at 7:00 on WBKI, which utilizes the same anchor team as that seen on WDRB's 6:30 p.m. newscast.[3] This resulted in a rare situation in which two competing stations produced newscast for another station in the same market; WHAS-TV continued to produce the 10:00 p.m. newscast in the interim. The weekend editions of the primetime newscast were dropped after the September 30, 2012 broadcast; the weeknight editions followed suit one month later on October 26, leaving only the WDRB-produced early newscast.