WDAF-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 34), is a Fox-affiliated television station serving Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas, United States. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of Tribune Media. WDAF-TV maintains studio and transmitter facilities located on Summit Street in the Signal Hill section of Kansas City, Missouri. On cable, WDAF-TV is available on Time Warner Cable and SureWest channel 6, and AT&T U-verse channel 4.
WDAF-TV also serves as an alternate Fox affiliate for the adjacent Saint Joseph market (to the immediate north) as the station's transmitter produces a city-grade signal that reaches Saint Joseph proper. That market is primarily served by KNPN-LD (channel 26), which displaced WDAF-TV as the default Fox affiliate on area cable and satellite providers when it signed on the air on June 2, 2012 (the situation with WDAF-TV and KNPN differs from that of Saint Joseph's ABC affiliate KQTV (channel 2), whose home market is alternately served by Kansas City-based ABC affiliate KMBC-TV (channel 9); both of those stations are carried on pay television providers in that market).
As an NBC affiliate
The station first signed on the air on October 16, 1949; it was the second television station to sign on in Missouri (after KSDK in St. Louis, which debuted in February 1947 as KSD-TV) and the first to sign on in the Kansas City market. WDAF-TV was founded by the Kansas City Star, which was also the founding owner of radio station WDAF (610 AM, now KCSP; the WDAF calls on radio now reside on 106.5 FM through a September 2003 format change that also saw the former's country music format move from the AM station, which adopted a sports talk format). WDAF-TV is among a handful of U.S. broadcast stations that is an exception to a rule imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which assigns call signs prefixed with a "K" to television and radio stations with cities of license located west of the Mississippi River and broadcast call signs prefixed with a "W" to stations located east of the river. The anomaly in the case of the WDAF television and radio stations is due to the fact that Kansas City was originally located east of the original "K"/"W" border distinction defined by the FCC at the time that the WDAF call letters were assigned to both stations.
Channel 4 originally operated as a primary affiliate of NBC – owing to WDAF radio's longtime relationship with the television network's direct predecessor, the NBC Red Network, which it had been affiliated with since 1925 (when the station transmitted on 680 AM) as the network's westernmost affiliate – but also maintained secondary affiliations with CBS, ABC and the DuMont Television Network. Randall Jessee served as WDAF-TV's first news anchor. Other notable staffers in its early years included the station's first weathercaster, Shelby Storck, and future Hollywood character actor Owen Bush, who served as an on-staff announcer during the early 1950s. For several years, WDAF-TV's daily sign-on and sign-off was accompanied by a recording of Gordon MacRae's rendition of "The Lord's Prayer."
The station would lose affiliations with three of the networks from which it cherry-picked programs in the late summer of 1953, when WDAF gained its first commercial television competitors in the Kansas City market. Programming from CBS and DuMont moved to WHB-TV and KMBC-TV (channel 9; KMBC became the sole occupant of that channel in June 1954), which shared the two networks when both stations signed on under a timesharing arrangement on August 2 of that year. Channel 4 shared the ABC affiliation with WHB/KMBC until September 27, when KCMO-TV (channel 5, now KCTV) signed on as the network's original full-time Kansas City affiliate (KMBC and KCMO would swap affiliations two years later in September 1955); this left channel 4 exclusively affiliated with NBC.
Also in 1953, the United States government initiated an antitrust investigation against the Star over its ownership of WDAF radio and WDAF-TV; the investigation was reportedly opened at the behest of President Harry S. Truman, who had been in a long-standing feud with the newspaper over its opposition to the Missouri native's presidency. The investigation culminated in the Star being indicted on charges that it engaged in monopolistic practices in its sale of advertising for the newspaper and its television and radio stations; when the case was taken to court in 1955, just prior to the close of the Truman administration, a federal grand jury found the Star guilty at the end of the one-month restraint-of-trade trial. After attempts to appeal the ruling failed, the Star signed a consent decree in 1957 that required it to stop combining advertising and subscription rates and sell off WDAF television and radio. On May 18, 1958, the WDAF stations were sold to National-Missouri Broadcasters, the broadcasting division of National Theaters.
On July 13, 1960, National-Missouri merged with Buffalo, New York-based Transcontinent Broadcasting. Under Transcontinent ownership, the two stations were joined by an additional sister radio station, WDAF-FM (102.1, now KCKC). Transcontinent merged with Cincinnati, Ohio-based Taft Broadcasting on February 19, 1964; the transaction was finalized on April 1, 1964.
During its first four decades with NBC, WDAF-TV pre-empted moderate amounts of the network's programming, usually consisting of some daytime shows and an occasional prime time program. Among the notable programs that were pre-empted by channel 4 include Days of Our Lives (which was pre-empted by the station from its November 1965 debut until 1971), Dragnet (which was dropped by WDAF-TV after the police procedural's first season, before returning at the start of its third season in September 1969, airing on delay on Saturday afternoons; the station eventually aired the show in pattern on Thursdays towards the end of its run) and I Dream of Jeannie (which the station began pre-empting partway through its first season in 1966, before it resumed clearance of the show in the fall of 1968). Although NBC had long been less tolerant of pre-emptions of its programming than the other broadcast networks, it usually did not raise objections to those made by WDAF-TV; between 1969 and 1971, most of the NBC shows that the station chose to pre-empt aired instead on independent station KCIT-TV (channel 50, now KPXE-TV; the KCIT calls now reside on a Fox-affiliated television station in Amarillo, Texas).
On July 13, 1984, WDAF-TV became one of the first 20 NBC stations to receive the network's programs via satellite transmission. In 1986, it also became the first television station in Kansas City to broadcast in stereo. On October 12, 1987, Taft Broadcasting was restructured into Great American Communications following the completion of a hostile takeover of the group by Taft investors. By that year, WDAF-TV had overtaken KMBC as the dominant station in Kansas City, as was the trend during this period at many NBC-affiliated stations. In December 1993, Great American Communications underwent another financial restructuring following the company's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Great American then decided to put most of its television stations up for sale.
As a Fox station
On May 5, 1994, Great American Communications (which would later be renamed Citicasters following the completion of its restructuring) agreed to sell WDAF-TV and three other television stations – CBS affiliate KSAZ-TV in Phoenix, and ABC affiliates WBRC in Birmingham and WGHP in High Point, North Carolina – to New World Communications – for $350 million in cash and $10 million in share warrants; Great American Communications, meanwhile, retained ownership of WDAF radio and sister station KYYS (102.1 FM, now KCKC) until the renamed Citicasters merged with Jacor on February 13, 1996 in a $770 million deal (due to FCC rules at the time that restricted broadcasting companies from owning more than twelve television stations nationwide, WBRC – also due to the agency's prohibition of television station duopolies; New World having purchased Birmingham's NBC affiliate, WVTM-TV, through the Argyle deal – and WGHP were placed in a blind trust and then sold directly to Fox's owned-and-operated station group, Fox Television Stations, in January 1995).
On May 23, 1994, as part of an overall deal in which network parent News Corporation also purchased a 20% equity interest in the group, New World signed a long-term affiliation agreement with Fox to switch thirteen television stations – five that New World had already owned and eight that the company was in the process of acquiring through separate deals with Great American and Argyle Television Holdings (which New World purchased one week later in a purchase option-structured deal for $717 million), including WDAF – to the network. The stations involved in the agreement – all of which were affiliated with one of the three major broadcast networks (CBS, ABC and NBC) – would become Fox affiliates once individual affiliation contracts with each of the stations' existing network partners expired. The deal was motivated by the National Football League (NFL)'s awarding of the rights to the National Football Conference (NFC) television package to Fox on December 18, 1993, in which the conference rights moved to the network effective with the 1994 NFL season, ending a 38-year relationship with CBS.
At the time the agreement was signed, the affiliation contracts of WDAF-TV and CBS affiliate WJW in Cleveland were up for renewal as they were set to expire on September 11, 1994. As a result of channel 4's pending switch to Fox, the short span until the end of its contract with WDAF gave NBC only five months to find another station to replace WDAF-TV as its Kansas City affiliate, resulting in the network entering into negotiations with other area stations in the immediate weeks after the Fox-New World deal was announced. NBC first entered into discussions with KCTV (channel 5) for a contract; this led CBS to approach that station's owner, the Meredith Corporation, on a proposal to switch two other Meredith-owned stations – NBC affiliate WNEM-TV in Bay City, Michigan and independent station KPHO in Phoenix – to that network as a condition of keeping the CBS affiliation on KCTV. KMBC-TV was automatically eliminated as an option as it was in the middle of a long-term affiliation agreement between ABC and that station's owner, Hearst Broadcasting; this left the only viable option for NBC to reach an affiliation with being existing Fox station KSHB-TV (channel 41), which – through its owner, Scripps-Howard Broadcasting – agreed to affiliate with the network on August 1, 1994 on the condition that it carry as much local news programming as WDAF had aired as an NBC affiliate (Scripps excluded KSHB from the affiliation deal it struck with ABC around the same time – which also renewed affiliation contracts with WEWS-TV in Cleveland and WXYZ-TV in Detroit, both of which were approached by CBS to replace affiliates that displaced it through the Fox-New World deal – due to KMBC's existing agreement with the network).
New World finalized its purchase of WDAF-TV and KSAZ on September 9, 1994; WDAF-TV switched to Fox three days later on September 12, ending its affiliation with NBC after 45 years. The move of the NBC affiliation from WDAF to KSHB on that date consequently ended channel 4's status as the unofficial "home" station of the Kansas City Chiefs (ironically in other New World markets, mainly where it bought or already owned stations previously affiliated with CBS, the affected stations continued their relationships with local NFL teams when Fox assumed the NFC rights). WDAF-TV had been airing most of the Chiefs' games since 1965, when NBC assumed rights to the American Football League (which became the American Football Conference upon the merger of the AFL and the NFL in 1970). Of the former New World stations that switched to Fox, WDAF-TV is one of two affiliates that is located in an AFC market (the other being WJW), and the only one involved in the deal that was an NBC affiliate prior to switching networks (WVTM-TV, now owned by Hearst Television and ironically now a sister station to WDAF rival KMBC-TV, and KNSD in San Diego, both of which New World later sold to NBC outright, remained with the network) – the other New World stations that joined Fox were previously affiliated with either CBS or ABC.
As with most of the other New World-owned stations affected by the affiliation agreement with Fox, WDAF-TV retained its existing branding – in its instance, "Newschannel 4", which the station adopted as a universal brand in April 1992 as an NBC affiliate – upon the affiliation switch; branding references to Fox, both visually and verbally, were limited in most on-air imaging, with the exception of on-air IDs (which used the tagline "in Kansas City, Newschannel 4 is Fox") that aired until January 1997. In addition to expanding its local news programming, the station added additional syndicated talk shows as well as some reality series to round out its schedule.
On July 17, 1996, News Corporation announced that it would acquire New World in an all-stock transaction worth $2.48 billion, with the latter company's ten Fox affiliates being folded into the former's Fox Television Stations subsidiary, making them all owned-and-operated stations of the network (the New World Communications name continued as a licensing purpose corporation for WDAF-TV and its sister stations until 2007 under Fox, and from 2009 to 2011 under Local TV ownership); the purchase was finalized on January 22, 1997, making WDAF-TV the first owned-and-operated station of a major network in the Kansas City market since DuMont briefly operated KCTY (channel 25) from December 1953 until it shut down that station in February 1954. On January 26, coinciding with Fox's telecast of Super Bowl XXXI, WDAF-TV subsequently changed its branding from "Newschannel 4" to "Fox 4" under the network's branding conventions (with its newscasts concurrently rebranding as Fox 4 News).
On December 22, 2007, Fox sold WDAF-TV and eight other owned-and-operated stations – WJW, WBRC, WGHP, KTVI in St. Louis, WITI in Milwaukee, WHBQ-TV in Memphis, KDVR in Denver and KSTU in Salt Lake City – to Local TV (a broadcast holding company operated by private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners that was formed on May 7 of that year to assume ownership of the broadcasting division of The New York Times Company) for $1.1 billion; the sale was finalized on July 14, 2008. On July 1, 2013, the Tribune Company (which in 2008, had formed a joint management agreement involving its Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary and Local TV to operate stations owned by both companies and provide web hosting, technical and engineering services to those run by the latter group) acquired the Local TV stations for $2.75 billion; the sale was completed on December 27.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|4.1||720p||16:9||WDAF DT||Main WDAF-TV programming / Fox|
|4.2||480i||4:3||WDAF SD||Antenna TV|
On February 13, 2011, through an agreement between network owner Tribune Broadcasting and then-WDAF-owner Local TV resulting from the companies' existing management agreement, the station launched a digital subchannel on virtual channel 4.2, which served as a charter affiliate of the Antenna TV classic television network (which had its official nationwide launch just over one month earlier on January 1).
On June 22, 2015, WDAF launched a tertiary subchannel on virtual channel 4.3 to serve as an affiliate of This TV (which is also part-owned by Tribune, in conjunction with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). The network had been absent from the Kansas City market for five months prior to WDAF's assumption of the affiliation, as KCWE ended its five-year relationship with This TV on January 2, in order to affiliate its second digital subchannel (29.2) with competing film-focused multicast network Movies! (which is part-owned by former This TV co-founder Weigel Broadcasting).
On September 23, 2005, WDAF-TV's digital signal was upgraded to full-power high definition, as its HD signal strength was increased from 1.2 kW to 1000 kW. WDAF-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 4, 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 34. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 4.
Syndicated programs broadcast by WDAF-TV as of September 2015 include Live! with Kelly and Michael, Crime Watch Daily, Celebrity Name Game, Family Feud, Judge Judy and Wheel of Fortune (the latter of which WDAF-TV acquired from KSHB in 2012, replacing Access Hollywood in the prime access slot).
WDAF-TV currently carries the majority of the Fox network schedule; however, it delays the network's Saturday late night block (currently, as of March 2016, consisting of the half-hour sketch comedy Party Over Here and reruns of Fox prime time sitcoms) by a half-hour in order to air its 10:00 p.m. newscast; in addition, since the program's move from Fox Sports 1 to Fox in September 2015, WDAF is one of several Fox affiliates that has declined carriage of the Sunday pre-game show Fox NFL Kickoff during the NFL regular season (the local rights to Fox NFL Kickoff are currently held by MyNetworkTV affiliate KSMO-TV (channel 62), which airs the program in its network-recommended time slot). Channel 4 has only aired Fox's prime time, late night, news and sports programming since it joined the network in September 1994, with the only content it has aired involving Fox's children's programming having been of fall preview specials and network promotions for those blocks that aired within the network's prime time lineup for the final twelve years that Fox carried programming aimed at that demographic.
As with most of its sister stations under its former New World ownership (with the subverted exception of St. Louis sister station KTVI), WDAF-TV has always declined carriage of Fox's children's programming; it opted not to run the Fox Kids weekday and Saturday blocks when it affiliated with the network, airing children's programs acquired via syndication on Saturday mornings instead (the pre-emptions of Fox Kids by the New World stations led the network to change its carriage policies to allow Fox stations uninterested in carrying the block the right of first refusal to transfer the local rights to another station, restructuring Fox Kids as a network-syndicated program package; by 2001, affiliates were no longer required to run the Fox Kids lineup even if Fox had not secured a substitute carrier). Fox Kids aired locally on KSMO-TV from 1994 to 1998; KCWE (channel 29, now a CW affiliate) from 1998 to 1999; and finally – along with its successor blocks FoxBox and 4Kids TV – on KMCI (channel 38) from 1999 to 2008. Fox ended its network-supplied children's programming on December 28, 2008, replacing it thereafter with the paid programming block Weekend Marketplace, which is not carried by any Kansas City area station. On September 13, 2014, WDAF began carrying Xploration Station, a live-action educational program block distributed by Steve Rotfeld Productions that is syndicated primarily to Fox stations, on Saturday mornings through an agreement involving Tribune's Fox-affiliated stations.
As an NBC affiliate, WDAF-TV served as the over-the-air flagship station of the Kansas City Royals from 1979 to 1992; this relationship continued long after many Big Three-affiliated stations discontinued regular coverage of local sporting events. Since Fox obtained the partial (now exclusive) over-the-air network television rights to Major League Baseball in 1996, WDAF has carried certain Royals games that have been regionally televised (and, since 2013, select national telecasts scheduled during prime time) by the network during the league's regular season and postseason; notable Royals telecasts that the station has aired during its tenure with Fox have included the team's World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015, the latter of which saw the franchise win its first national championship title since 1985.
The station also broadcast Kansas City Chiefs preseason games from 1997 to 1999; with WDAF's acquisition of preseason rights, the on-air production presentation of the locally exclusive telecasts was upgraded to network quality standards by way of its then-ownership under Fox. In addition, since Fox obtained the broadcast rights to the NFL in 1994, WDAF has carried select Chiefs games that the network airs on a regional basis, primarily home contests against NFC opponents (Chiefs regular season games televised over-the-air locally are otherwise split between KCTV, through CBS's rights to the team's home conference, the American Football Conference (AFC), other than those from 2014 onward that have been subject to cross-flexing, allowing Fox to acquire the rights for its regional broadcasts; and KSHB, for non-preseason games that NBC selects to air as part of its Sunday Night Football package).
WDAF-TV presently broadcasts 59½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with ten hours on weekdays, 4½ hours on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the highest local newscast output among the Kansas City market's commercial television stations. WDAF-TV's Sunday 5:00 p.m. newscast is subject to pre-emption due to network sports coverage, as is standard with Fox stations that carry early-evening newscasts on weekends (though the Saturday 5:00 p.m. newscast is usually delayed to 6:00 p.m. during baseball or college football coverage). The station operates a Hummer called "Storm Fox" that is used to cover severe weather events.
Dating back to its NBC affiliation, channel 4 has long battled KMBC-TV (and at times, KCTV as well) for the most-watched newscast in the Kansas City market. During the late 1970s and 1980s, WDAF-TV's newscasts placed second behind KMBC; however, coinciding with the rise of NBC's ratings fortunes during that period, it ended the latter decade in first place, overtaking KCTV. In 1982, WDAF-TV became the first television station in Kansas City to use a helicopter for newsgathering; the helicopter (originally known as "NewsChopper 4" until 1999, and later "Sky Fox" thereafter) was used to provide aerial coverage of breaking news and severe weather events as well as for traffic reports until station management grounded the helicopter on August 31, 2009. Also in 1982, WDAF began "Thursday’s Child," a weekly segment on its 10:00 p.m. newscast highlighting children seeking adoptive families, in conjunction with the Love Fund for Children, a charity founded through a $1,200 endowment from several WDAF-TV employees.
When WDAF-TV adopted the "Newschannel 4" brand in April 1992, the station also implemented the "24-Hour News Source" concept (enforced in the promotional slogan used by the station until 1999, "Kansas City's 24-Hour Newschannel"), involving the production of 30-second news updates that aired at or near the top of each hour during local commercial break inserts – even during prime time network and overnight programming – as well as five-second end-of-break weather updates (consisting of an image of the station's Doppler radar, accompanied by a brief voiceover by one of the station's meteorologists illustrating the short-term forecast), in addition to the station's long-form newscasts in regularly scheduled time slots.
After WDAF became a Fox station in September 1994, the station shifted its programming focus heavily towards local news, increasing its output from about 30 hours a week to nearly 50 hours. The station retained all of the newscasts that existed during its final years as an NBC affiliate; however, to compensate for the absence of daily national newscasts and a third hour of prime time network programming on Fox's schedule (as well as to fill time slots vacated by the departures of Today and NBC Nightly News through the discontinuance of the NBC affiliation), WDAF expanded its weekday morning newscast from one to three hours (with the addition of a two-hour extension from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m.), and bridged the separate 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. newscasts on Monday through Friday nights to form a 90-minute early-evening news block (by adding a half-hour newscast at 5:30). As Fox does not provide any prime time programming during that hour, channel 4 also launched an hour-long prime time newscast at 9:00 p.m., serving as a lead-in into the existing 10:00 p.m. newscast (WDAF is one of several Fox stations that offer newscasts in both the final hour of prime time and the traditional late news timeslot, one of the few affiliated with the network that runs a nightly newscast in the latter slot and one of the few to continue its Big Three-era late-evening newscast after switching to Fox). The station retained the "24-Hour News Source" format after the affiliation switch, and continued to offer news updates on an hourly basis during commercial breaks until it discontinued the concept in May 1999.
Not long after WDAF-TV switched to Fox, KMBC made a short resurgence to overtake it for first place among the market's local television newscasts, which further intensified the ratings rivalry between the two stations. WDAF-TV's newscasts have rotated between first and second place with either KMBC or KCTV in various time slots since the late 1990s, with the station's strongest ratings occurring in the morning and at 9:00 p.m., where WDAF regularly finishes at #1 (in time periods where that station does not have an absolute hold in that position, WDAF competes for second place with CBS affiliate KCTV). In February 1996, WDAF-TV reformatted its 5:30 p.m. newscast as Your World Tonight, a program focusing primarily on national and international news headlines that was modeled similarly to the national news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC; the program – as was the case with WDAF's newscasts as a whole since the September 1994 switch to Fox – initially relied mainly on external video feeds from CNN Newsource and, beginning that August with the associated launch of Fox News Channel, added content sourced from Fox's in-house affiliate video service Fox News Edge. The concept was not successful, and the 5:30 p.m. broadcast was retooled as a traditional local newscast on January 6, 1997.
In 2003, WDAF-TV launched an investigative reporting unit, the "Fox 4 Problem Solvers", which report on investigations centering on businesses that have ripped off local consumers and uncovers various scams targeting consumers. In April 2007, fellow Fox affiliate KTMJ-CA in Topeka, Kansas began simulcasting the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. block of WDAF-TV's weekday morning newscast and its nightly 9:00 p.m. newscast (ironically, the over-the-air signals of WDAF-TV and several other Kansas City area stations adequately cover most of the nearby Topeka market due to the close proximity of the two markets). The simulcasts were dropped in November 2008, at which time, as a result of KTMJ's purchase by New Vision Television, they were replaced with locally based newscasts produced by NBC-affiliated sister station KSNT.
WDAF-TV became the fourth (and last) television station in the Kansas City market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition on October 12, 2010. On March 24, 2011, the station expanded its weekday morning newscast to five hours, with the addition of an hour at 9:00 a.m.; then on April 11, it debuted a 10:30 p.m. newcast on Sunday through Friday nights, becoming the first Fox station (and one of only a handful of stations in the Central and Mountain time zones) to expand its 10:00 p.m. newscast to one hour. On October 3, 2011, WDAF-TV expanded its weekday morning newscast to 5½ hours, with a half-hour added at 4:30 a.m.
Notable former on-air staff
- Owen Bush – station announcer (1950s; deceased)
- Jack Cafferty – news and weather anchor (now a news commentator for CNN)
- Harris Faulkner – evening anchor (1992–2000; now at Fox News Channel)
- Stacy Smith – evening anchor (1977–1983; now anchor at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh)
- Shelby Storck – weather anchor (1950s–1960s; deceased)
- Bob Wells – announcer and weekend weatherman (1959–1965; later at WJW-TV in Cleveland, now an actor/announcer in the Tampa Bay area)