WCIA is the CBS-affiliated television station for the Central Illinois region of the United States that is licensed to Champaign. It broadcasts a high-definition (HD) digital signal on UHF channel 48 from a transmitter in Seymour, Illinois; along the Champaign and Piatt County line.
Owned by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, it is a sister station to MyNetworkTV affiliate WCIX (which is also carried on the WCIA's digital subchannel) and the two share studios on South Neil Street (also known as U.S. 45) in downtown Champaign. They also operate a sales office and news bureau on East Edwards Street near the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. The station can also be seen on WCIX's second digital subchannel on VHF channel 13 from a transmitter east of Springfield. WCIX (X-49) is now broadcasting in high-definition (HD) 16:9 on WCIX 49.1 and WCIA 3.2 as of 6/19/15
The station's first broadcast was on November 14, 1953, and it was owned and operated by Midwest Television, headquartered in Champaign. August C. Meyer Sr., a lawyer and chairman of the board of the Champaign-based Bank of Illinois, founded Midwest Television in 1952. Meyer expanded the company's market presence by buying WMBD-AM–FM–TV in Peoria, Illinois, in 1960 and KFMB-AM–FM–TV in San Diego, California, in 1964. Midwest sold off controlling interest in its Illinois television holdings to Nexstar in 1999. That company acquired Midwest's remaining interest in the Illinois stations in 2001.
WCIA was a primary CBS affiliate, carrying secondary affiliations with NBC, and DuMont. DuMont shut down in 1956 and WCIA dropped NBC in 1959 when WCHU-TV (now WICD) started. It also carried a few ABC shows during the 1953–1954 television season.
As the only commercial VHF station in Central Illinois, WCIA has been one of the country's most dominant television stations for most of its history. On two occasions, it fought off attempts by WICS / WICD and WAND to force it onto the UHF band by claiming that moving to UHF would cause it to lose 150,000 viewers.
Despite its dominance of the market, WCIA only provides a Grade B signal to the Springfield area. It originally wanted to build its tower in White Heath, about 14 miles west of Champaign. The tower would have been placed on some of the highest ground in Central Illinois. However, just after construction began, Prairie Television (owner of WTVP, now WAND) filed an objection. Even though it was obvious that Champaign / Urbana and Springfield / Decatur were going to be considered a single market, Prairie claimed WCIA was encroaching on its territory. To avoid delays, WCIA moved its transmitter to the current location in Seymour. Despite this, Decatur (the second-largest city in the western half of the market) receives WCIA's signal very well.
While it frequently trounced WICS / WICD and WAND in the ratings, Meyer decided to open a low-powered relay of WCIA on UHF channel 49 to get better coverage in the state capital. In 1985, this became full-powered station WCFN. In 2002, WCFN separated from WCIA and became the area's UPN affiliate. To make up for the shortfall in coverage, WCIA was added to WCFN's digital subcarrier, while WCFN was added to WCIA's digital subcarrier. However, few people lost access to either station due to the extremely high penetration of cable and satellite in the area.
For decades, WCIA was available on Bloomington / Normal cable systems, in the Peoria along with WMBD-TV until March 2000. Shortly after Nexstar bought controlling interest in both stations, it announced it would pull WCIA from AT&T Cable Services (now Comcast) in that area due to competition. The move would make WMBD the only CBS affiliate and mean that it would not have to share advertisers with or lose ratings points to WCIA. A group of outraged residents called "Citizens to Keep WCIA on-the-air" started a group that protested against Nexstar. Nexstar did not listen and eventually dropped WCIA from Bloomington–Normal area cable systems. However, WCIA's Grade B signal had always covered the Bloomington–Normal area on analog VHF Channel 3 and its digital signal on UHF channel 48 also covers the same area, meaning that Bloomington–Normal residents can still receive WCIA over-the-air. The WCIA analog and digital signals both have coverage areas that extend as far west as Morton.
In November 2006 work began to re-secure WCIA’s existing tower in Seymour so it would be able to hold a new digital transmission line and antenna.
WCIA was the longtime home to Illinois Fighting Illini football and men's basketball games that weren't aired on national television. Originally produced by WCIA, the station later carried the Illini via the Big Ten Conference's syndicated package with ESPN Plus. Beginning in 2007, these games have since moved to the Big Ten Network. The station still airs Illini men's basketball games that are carried by the CBS network.
In 2009, WCIA's longtime weathercaster, Judy Fraser, retired from the station after 34 years. She was only the second head weathercaster in the station's history at the time. Meteorologist Robert Reese took over as Chief Meteorologist. His death in connection with complications from cancer in October 2012 came as a shock to the community. In his early battle, WCIA sold red ribbons in support of Robert Reese and the American Cancer Society.
On September 11, 2014, WCIA anchor Dave Benton announced on-air that he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and that he had only months to live. He explained that the doctors told him that his cancer had returned and that it was too large for surgery or radiation. Benton was diagnosed with a glioblastoma in November 2013 after doctors found a tumor on the left side of his head. He underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and completed radiation treatment in February 2014. On Monday April 13, 2015, Benton announced on the 6PM newscast that he was stepping down from the anchor chair due to continued health issues and failed treatments, though he hoped to continue his signature crime reports for the 5PM news as long as his health allowed. Benton would die on May 26.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|3.1||1080i||16:9||WCIA-DT||Main WCIA programming / CBS|
|3.2||WCIX-DT||Simulcast of WCIX / MyNetworkTV|
Originally, WCFN/WCIX aired its digital signal in a reduced 4:3 480i standard definition form on both its main channel and the digital subcarrier of WCIA. In June 2015, WCIX upgraded to a full 1080i 16:9 high definition signal, the same as WCIA.
WCIA shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 3, 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 48. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 3.
Local entertainment programs
WCIA currently broadcasts its news from its studios in Champaign. It currently broadcasts 20 hours of news a week, and one hour on Saturday and Sunday.
On September 12, 2011, WCIA debuted an hour-long lifestyle and news program titled ciLiving.tv, the Springfield market’s first hour-long 4 p.m. news program; the show utilizes interactivity with viewers, through the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, along with online polls and audience quizzes via text message and the station’s website. The show also utilizes the station's new set, which is also used for the station's morning show, as well as other programs.
On October 24, 2012 during the 5:00 PM newscast, WCIA-TV and sister station WCIX-TV began broadcasting local news in High Definition. This made the WCIA/WCIX operation the third local news operation and second "Big Four" network affiliated station to have made the upgrade. However, the newscast on WCIX continued to be seen over the air in a letterboxed format until June 19, 2015 because its main channel was still transmitted in 4:3 standard definition until it upgraded to HD on that date.
In April 2015, WCIA expanded its 6PM newscast to one hour from 30 minutes to provide better coverage of local news.
U.S. government video news releases
In an article published on March 13, 2005,The New York Times documented WCIA's use of government video news releases. The Times reported, "WCIA, based in Champaign, had run 26 segments made by the U.S. Agriculture Department over the past three months alone." WCIA acknowledged running the releases in the early hours of its morning news as a service to local farmers.
Notable former on-air staff
- Susan Barnett
- Elaine Quijano
- Colleen Callahan - agribusiness reporter (1974-1997)
- John Coleman - weather anchor (1953-1957); now at KUSI
- Michael Marsh
- Dana Perino (later became the White House Press Secretary)
- Martin Savidge
- Lori Stokes anchor/reporter (1986-1988); now at WABC-TV
- Mike Tannura - meteorologist (2001-2004)