WCIU-TV, virtual channel 26 (UHF digital channel 27), is an independent television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. It is the flagship television station of Weigel Broadcasting, and is a sister station to MeTV owned-and-operated station WWME-CD (channel 23) and fellow independent outlet WMEU-CD (channel 48), both fellow Weigel properties that are respectively relayed on the station's second and third digital subchannels. All three stations share studio facilities located on Halsted Street (between Washington Boulevard and Madison Street) in the Greektown neighborhood; WCIU's transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.
Founded by John J. Weigel, the station first signed on the air on February 6, 1964, and has been owned by Weigel Broadcasting since its inception. WCIU has spent much of its history carrying multi-ethnic entertainment programming. At its sign-on, channel 26 operated as an independent station. Local businessman Howard Shapiro, who founded appliance store chain C.E.T. (Chicago Engineers for Television) and held a minority interest in the station, took over Weigel Broadcasting and WCIU in 1966.
From the late 1960s until 1985, WCIU carried religious programs during the early morning hours. The station ran The Stock Market Observer – a business news block similar in format to the present-day cable channel CNBC – from about 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday; the service broadcast from the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, with WCIU originally maintaining studio facilities at the top floor of the Chicago Board of Trade Building on West Jackson Boulevard. After 5:00 p.m. each weekday, the station ran Spanish language entertainment programming – including controversial bullfighting matches – from the Spanish International Network (the forerunner to Univision). During the weekend, WCIU ran a blend of religious programs, Spanish language programs, paid programming and various other ethnically-oriented shows.
From 1966 to 1970, the station aired Kiddie A-Go-Go, a children's puppet and dance program which was hosted by Elaine Mulqueen. Several popular musical groups performed on the show, including The Four Seasons and New Colony Six. In 1970, channel 26 became the birthplace of the groundbreaking African American music program Soul Train, hosted by its creator (and then-WCIU station employee) Don Cornelius. The show later entered into national syndication and moved production to Los Angeles the following year, although WCIU continued to produce a local version of Soul Train exclusively for the Chicago market until 1976, initially and simultaneously with the Los Angeles-based version, with Cornelius himself as host, succeeded by Clinton Ghent, the main producer under Cornelius.
After WXXW (channel 20, allocation now occupied by PBS member station WYCC) – the second-to-last television station in the market that continued to broadcast in black-and-white – went dark in 1974, channel 26 remained the only television station in Chicago that still broadcast its programming in monochrome. Just prior to the Christmas season of 1974, the station installed and tested color transmission equipment, which broadcast on a low-power relay station located in Lincoln Park. In November 1974, the color and black-and-white signals traded transmitter facilities for the remainder of the holiday season; on December 31, 1974, the translator was taken offline as channel 26 started to broadcast in color full-time.
In the summer of 1985, the SIN affiliation moved to WSNS-TV (channel 44); WCIU, meanwhile, became affiliated part-time with NetSpan – which would eventually evolve into Telemundo – shortly thereafter. Later in the 1980s, Weigel Broadcasting expanded coverage of WCIU-TV to areas of western Illinois, northwest Indiana and southeastern Wisconsin through translator stations. In 1983, the station signed on W55AS (channel 55, now WBME-CD on channel 41) to relay WCIU's programming into the Milwaukee market. In 1987, WCIU launched two additional translators, W33AR (channel 33, now WFBN-LD) in Rockford, Illinois (which was converted into a simulcast of sister station WYTU-LD (channel 63) in Milwaukee in August 2012, to provide Telemundo programming into the Rockford market, as WSNS provides weak to rimshot signal coverage to that area; WYTU's programming was moved to WFBN's second digital subchannel on January 28, 2016, when its main channel switched to a looped feed of WCIU's morning talk/lifestyle program, You and Me in the Morning) and W12BK (channel 69, now MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYS-LD) in South Bend, Indiana.
On October 13, 1988, WSNS-TV announced that it would switch its affiliation to Telemundo after that station's affiliation agreement with Univision concluded on December 31; two months later on December 16, WCIU – whose contract with Telemundo was set to expire the following month – signed an affiliation agreement with Univision, returning the station to that network after two years. The two stations switched affiliations on January 10, 1989.
Return to full-time independence
In 1993, Univision asked WCIU to drop all of its English-language programming, including Stock Market Observer, and carry the network's programming full-time. WCIU refused, which led Univision to purchase then-English language independent station WGBO-TV (channel 66) from Combined Broadcasting for $35 million on January 10, 1994, with the intent of moving its programming there the following January. That summer, Howard Shapiro hired Neal Sabin – former program director at WPWR-TV (channel 50, soon to be a CW affiliated station on September 1, 2016) – as WCIU's vice president and general manager, who decided to remake WCIU into a general entertainment independent station. On December 31, 1994, WCIU switched to an English language general entertainment format full-time and rebranded as "The U".
Upon the conversion, channel 26 picked up most of WGBO's syndicated programming inventory, along with newly purchased shows that were not carried by any of the other Chicago stations; it also moved its remaining ethnic programming to low-powered sister station WFBT-CA (channel 23, now WWME-CD). Channel 26's programming began to feature mostly classic sitcoms and drama series (such as The Munsters, Gilligan's Island, Hogan's Heroes, The Rockford Files and Leave It to Beaver). The station also revived the horror/sci-fi movie showcase Svengoolie, which had previously run in the market on WFLD (channel 32) in two different incarnations between 1973 and that station's conversion into a Fox owned-and-operated station in 1986; Rich Koz – who reprised the role he previously played in WFLD's Son of Svengoolie for WCIU's revival of the showcase – also co-hosted the station's New Year's Eve relaunch celebration on December 31, 1994, alongside controversial talk show host Morton Downey Jr. (who himself hosted a short-lived talk show on the station, Downey, which briefly aired nationally on CNBC later in 1995) and served as one of the "U'z Guys," a group of hosts for various blocks of the station's programming. Initially, the station continued to run the Stock Market Observer from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and entertainment programming in all other weekday timeslots and throughout much of the broadcast day on weekends. WCIU then added a weekday block of children's programs from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. in March 1995.
On February 19, 1995, WCIU signed a multi-year agreement with The WB to carry the network's children's program block, Kids' WB, upon its debut on September 9, 1995. The WB's primary affiliate in the market, WGN-TV (channel 9), opted not to carry the block and continued to run its morning newscast and an afternoon sitcom block in the time slots where Kids' WB would normally air on other WB affiliates (ironically, WGN's superstation feed for cable providers outside of the Chicago area and satellite providers nationwide carried Kids' WB programming, in addition to The WB's prime time schedule). The agreement also allowed WCIU to carry WB prime time programming in the event that WGN-TV chose to pre-empt it in order to air Cubs, White Sox and Bulls evening games.
In order to make room for the Kids' WB block, the full Stock Market Observer broadcast moved to WFBT-CA as "WebFN", a joint venture between Weigel and Bridge Information Systems (which also aired on Milwaukee sister station WMLW-CA), on September 9. The weekday business news programming was then reduced to a 3½-hour block from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., a move panned by some viewers; although it cited that Weigel had "no intention of killing" the program, Sabin cited the program's niche format and limited ratings and revenue for the block's shift to WFBT, in order for channel 26 to carry more profitable entertainment programming. "WebFN" would eventually feature several anchors formerly employed with WMAQ radio (670 AM) after that station was replaced by sports talk outlet WSCR in 2000. In the spring of 1995, WCIU and sister station WFBT-CA (channel 23, now WWME-CD) moved their operations from the Chicago Board of Trade building into a 64,000 square feet (1.5 acres) studio facility at 30 North Halsted Street in Chicago's Near West Side community.
By the late 1990s, WCIU began adding more recent sitcoms; the station began to add more syndicated first-run talk and reality shows onto its daytime lineup in 2000. In September 2002, WCIU dropped the afternoon children's block, reducing children's programming to the morning hours. In September 2004, the station dropped the Kids' WB weekday and Saturday blocks, which moved to WGN-TV, resulting in that station clearing the entire WB network schedule for the first time. Classic sitcoms gradually disappeared from WCIU's schedule between 2001 and 2004 (some of these programs would find their way onto WFBT when it began running a classic television programming block called "Me-TV", which would become that station's full-time format under the callsign WWME-CA on January 1, 2005). Early in 2005, the business news format was scaled back to include only the existing syndicated program First Business, which Weigel had assumed production responsibilities for in 2003 after WebFN went bankrupt.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|26.1||720p||16:9||WCIU-HD||Main WCIU-TV programming|
|26.2||480i||The U Too||Simulcast of WMEU-CD|
|26.3||MeTV||Simulcast of WWME-CD|
|26.4||H&I||Heroes & Icons|
In July 2008, Weigel Broadcasting announced the creation of This TV, a national subchannel network operated as a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Weigel. This TV officially launched with WCIU as its flagship station (airing on digital subchannel 26.5) on November 1, 2008. This TV moved to the third digital subchannel of WGN-TV on November 1, 2013, as a result of the May 13, 2013 announcement that WGN owner Tribune Broadcasting would acquire Weigel's 50% ownership interest in This TV. Bounce TV (which was already carried on WWME-CD 26.2) began to occupy This TV's former subchannel, moving from WWME 23.2 to WCIU 26.5.
On December 1, 2010, WCIU dropped its ethnic programming service FBT on digital subchannel 26.6 and replaced it a simulcast of the station's main channel. Two weeks later on December 15, the 26.6 subchannel was dropped and its programming was shifted to digital channel 26.2 (replacing a simulcast of sister station WWME-CA, which moved to WCIU digital subchannel 26.3) where it continued to simulcast most of WCIU's main programming. In addition, PSIP channel 48.1 was discontinued (to be later used by the digital signal of WMEU-CA) while 23.1 reverted to being the virtual channel number for WWME-CA (23.2 was also discontinued at that time; it has since been restored, and now serves as an affiliate of Heroes & Icons).
On January 4, 2011, MGM and Weigel Broadcasting announced plans to turn the MeTV format that originated on sister station WWME-CA into a national network. The national MeTV service launched on WWME and WCIU digital subchannel 26.3 on December 15, 2010.
The following day on January 5, digital subchannel 26.2 was relaunched with its own general entertainment format, branded as "The U Too". The service features some time-shifted programming from WCIU's main channel, including some syndicated programs not seen in the Chicago market prior to the format conversion. It also broadcast a handful of DePaul Blue Demons and other basketball games from the "old" Big East Conference; "The U Too" currently serves as the over-the-air broadcaster of WNBA games from the Chicago Sky and AHL hockey games from the Chicago Wolves. From January 10, 2011 to September 2013, The U Too subchannel was also simulcast on the analog signal of WWME-CA until The U Too began broadcasting in high definition on WMEU-CD channel 48.1 (the 26.2 version of the U Too signal remains in 16:9 standard definition widescreen). Currently, WWME-CA's analog signal simulcasts Heroes & Icons as aired on digital subchannel 26.4.
On June 12, 2009, the date of the federally mandated switch from analog to digital television for full-power stations, WCIU-TV shut down its analog signal. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 27. However, through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers are displaying WCIU-TV's virtual channel as 26.
From June 13, 2009 to January 9, 2011, WCIU-TV's main programming was simulcast on sister station WWME-CA (channel 23) to provide a nightlight service as the low-power station continued to operate an analog signal. From June 13 to July 12, 2009, the station ran newscasts from WMAQ-TV and WGN-TV for viewers that either were not ready for the digital transition or had problems receiving WGN and WMAQ's signals after the June 12 digital transition. WWME-CA continues to operate an analog signal on UHF channel 23, which is currently affiliated with sister network Heroes & Icons.
Syndicated programs broadcast on WCIU-TV (as of September 2015) include The Jerry Springer Show, America's Court with Judge Ross, Dr. Phil, and The Steve Wilkos Show. WCIU-TV serves as the flagship station for Judge Mathis which is taped in Chicago.
The station has broadcast many locally produced programs over the years; among them include Ultrascope (a program sponsored by Sears that was used to sell UHF-capable televisions and boxes within their Chicago area stores, and featured a format similar to Music Choice featuring a clock/album cover display and album audio which aired daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), Ted and the Angel (a talk show hosted by Ted Weber and Angel Tompkins from 1967 to 1968, which was nominated for a Regional Emmy Award in its first year; Weber later hosted two other WCIU programs, Ted Weber In Old Town and The C.E.T. Amateur Hour). The Homework Show (1995–2006), U Dance with B96 (an American Bandstand-style music/dance show hosted by DJs from WBBM-FM, 1995–1997), Stooge-A-Palooza (a showcase of Three Stooges shorts with Rich Koz, 2003–2010), Soul Train (1970–1976, local version only; nationally syndicated version from Los Angeles was seen from 1971 to 2006, locally on WBBM-TV and later, WGN-TV), The Bob Lewandowski Show, (1964–1995), Outdoor Sportsman (1978–1985; originally aired on WSNS-TV, it was produced and hosted by local outdoorsman Joe Wyer), Stock Market Observer (1968–2000), WebFN (2000–2003, replaced the Stock Market Observer), Kiddie-A-Go-Go (1964–1967), Western Theatre with Two Ton Baker (1964–1965), Marty Faye Show, The Chicago Party (c. 1982), Eddie Korosa's Polka Party (c. 1978) and First Business (a business news program which Weigel took over production in 2003, replacing WebFN, and syndicated nationally through MGM Television until 2014).
Current local programs seen on WCIU include the horror/sci-fi film showcase Svengoolie (which is syndicated to MeTV and other Weigel stations), religious program Rock of Ages and the children's program Green Screen Adventures (which also syndicated to MeTV, This TV and other Weigel stations).
On July 8, 1999, WGN-TV and WCIU-TV entered into a programming arrangement involving sports coverage, which allowed channel 26 to carry select Chicago Bulls basketball and White Sox baseball games, and a handful of Cubs baseball games that are produced by and contracted to air on WGN-TV, due to that station's network affiliation contracts (with The CW and previously The WB) that limit the number of programming preemptions that WGN-TV is allowed on an annual basis, and rights restrictions enforced by the NBA which limited the number of Bulls telecasts aired on WGN's national superstation feed WGN America – prior to that channel's removal of WGN-produced programs upon its conversion into a basic cable channel in December 2014 – to fifteen games per season.
Sports broadcasts on WCIU were previously branded under the "BullsNet", "CubsNet" and "SoxNet" banners until 2010, when they were rebranded under the umbrella title WGN Sports on The U. In 2011, all White Sox, Bulls and Cubs games televised on WCIU began to be syndicated to local stations in central Illinois and Iowa through the "WGN Sports Network" service. Prior to this, select Bulls games aired by WCIU and WGN had been simulcast to many of these same stations. In April 2006, WCIU began broadcasting White Sox, Cubs and Bulls home games in high definition, with away games following suit in April 2008. In February 2015, Weigel Broadcasting discontinued its agreement with Tribune Broadcasting to carry Cubs and White Sox telecasts produced by WGN, so as to not have the game broadcasts conflict with the WLS-TV-produced primetime newscast on WCIU (with WPWR-TV taking over as an overflow feed for WGN).
As of the 2010 NFL season, WCIU has served as a local over-the-air broadcaster of NFL games involving the Chicago Bears that are televised by ESPN's Monday Night Football. Alhtough WLS-TV (channel 7) is an owned-and-operated station of ABC (itself a sister network to ESPN through ABC parent The Walt Disney Company's majority ownership of the cable network), that station has chosen to exercise its right of first refusal to carry MNF games, deferring most games aired since 2010 in order to air Dancing with the Stars (due to the program's popularity and the structure of its live voting requirements) during that program's fall season.
The U'z Toons
WCIU began airing a Saturday block of adult mature cartoons, they currently air the re-runs of American Dad!, The Cleveland Show, King of the Hill, Family Guy and Bob's Burgers. Other shows that aired as part of The U'z Toons were Futurama and South Park. They air the block all Saturday long beginning at 1:00 pm Central time.
Alongside the Stock Market Observer, WCIU's first standalone local news programming effort debuted in 1968, when it launched a half-hour weeknight 10:00 p.m. newscast titled A Black's View of the News, a program focusing on news relevant to Chicago's African American community and commentary. The program – which served as a launching pad for eventual Soul Train host Don Cornelius – was cancelled in 1982.
In September 2009, WCIU debuted You and Me This Morning, a weekday morning program featuring a broad mix of entertainment news, lifestyle features and weather forecasts. The program – which effectively maintains a lighter format, which does not incorporate conventional general news segments – originally aired in the form of locally produced inserts of varying length interspersed within what otherwise was a three-hour block of syndicated programming on WCIU and classic television series on WWME-CA from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. Although it trails behind the WGN Morning News on WGN-TV and Good Day Chicago on WFLD (as well as the early-morning newscasts on WMAQ-TV, WLS-TV and WBBM-TV that the first hour of the program also competes against) in the ratings, viewership for the program has increased since its debut; in particular, its ratings doubled from an average of 40,000 viewers in May 2012 to 73,000 in May 2014. You & Me This Morning expanded into a full three-hour program (running from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m.) on September 8, 2014.
On December 14, 2014, WCIU entered into a news share agreement with ABC owned-and-operated station WLS-TV to produce a weeknight-only 7:00 p.m. newscast for channel 26. Titled ABC 7 Eyewitness News at 7:00 on The U, the program debuted on January 12, 2015 as the third prime time newscast among the Chicago market's commercial television stations, behind the longer established in-house 9:00 p.m. newscasts on WGN-TV and Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD (channel 32). With the news share agreement, WLS-TV became the fifth ABC-owned station to produce a newscast for a separately owned station in its home market (along with existing programs produced by ABC O&Os in Raleigh, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles for WLFL, WPHL-TV, KOFY-TV and KDOC-TV in the respective markets, and a since-cancelled newscast produced by KFSN-TV for KAIL in Fresno).
Notable current on-air staff
- Jim Rose – sports anchor; weeknights
Notable former on-air staff
- Linda Yu – weeknight anchor (2014–2016; remains with WLS-TV as 4:00 p.m. anchor)