WDSI-TV is the This TV-affiliated television station for Chattanooga, Tennessee. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 40 (virtual channel 61.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Sawyer Cemetery Road in unincorporated Mile Straight. The station can also be seen on Comcast and Charter channel 11. Owned by New Age Media, WDSI operates CW affiliate WFLI-TV (owned by MPS Media, LLC) through a local marketing agreement (LMA). Both stations, in turn, are operated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of ABC affiliate WTVC. WDSI and WFLI share studios on East Main Street/SR 8/US 41/US 76 in Chattanooga's Highland Park section.
In addition to its main digital signal, WDSI can be seen off-air on a low-powered analog repeater, WPDP-LP on UHF channel 25 (officially listed by the FCC as a Class A outlet). Licensed to Cleveland, this station has a transmitter on Oswald Dome in unincorporated Polk County (south of Benton Springs) in the Cherokee National Forest.
The station signed-on the air on January 24, 1972 with the call letters WRIP-TV. It aired an analog signal on UHF channel 61. It was Tennessee's second Independent outlet having launched a little over nine months after the state's first Independent, WMCV in Nashville, went off-the-air but only to return in 1976 as WZTV. It is the state's oldest television station in continuous operation to have never had affiliation with any of the big three networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). The station was owned by Jay Sadow.
Initially, WRIP was positioned as an all movie station. Therefore, early programming on WRIP included older movies from the 1930s to early 1960's for most of its broadcast day along with some theatrical cartoons and shorts. These selections included Little Rascals, Three Stooges, and Looney Tunes. The station was on-the-air for about twelve hours a day signing-on at noon. By the summer the station was on 19 hours a day signing on at 7 AM.
The station was plagued by financial problems for several reasons. It was a UHF station serving a small market in a very mountainous area. In analog days, UHF stations, especially those on high channel numbers, usually did not get good reception more than about 30 miles away in rugged terrain. Also, the station was losing money because it overspent on movie packages. The station was locally owned and its owner did not have the money to spend on any other programming investments. In the course of 1973, WRIP-TV gradually shifted to a somewhat traditional Independent station schedule of programs but with a low-budget approach.
By 1974, it added low budget cartoons, low budget syndicated shows such as wildlife and sporting shows, and locally based religious shows. That year, the station completely eliminated movies as well as cutting hours on the air, signing on at 3 p.m. and off the air by Midnight. In the fall of 1974 it expanded the broadcast day slightly and added a run of the ninety-minute edition of The 700 Club in 1975 and two runs of the two-hour version of the PTL Club. The station then began selling huge blocks of time to mostly churches in the local area cutting back more on low budget secular shows.
By 1976, the station was running mostly Christian programs about twelve hours a day along with some low-budget secular programs such as children's programs (including The New Zoo Revue, Devlin, and Gigantor), outdoor sporting and hunting shows, Mike Douglas Show, as well as some low budget instructional shows about four hours a day. The station was basically profitable by selling thirty- and sixty-minute blocks of time most of the day to local religious broadcasters.
By 1978, WRIP was running Christian programs (both local and syndicated) for all except a couple of hours a day. The station produced and scheduled many hours per day of programs from local churches. By 1980, it was running nearly all religious shows (again half local and half syndicated) with an hour or so a day set aside for a couple of secular shows. In fall 1981, it began adding additional secular shows in the 3 to 6 p.m. time slot, bringing back Gigantor and Bullwinkle as well as youth-appeal shows such as Superfriends, Little Rascals, McHale's Navy, Make Room For Daddy, Brady Bunch, and Leave It To Beaver, among others. Weekends, the station added shows like Hardy Boys, Those Amazing Animals, America's Top 10, and others, In the winter 1982, the station expanded secular programming to the 2 to 8 p.m. weekday timeslots as well as the 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. time slot. Shows added included off network dramas such as Kojak, Star Trek; sitcoms such as I Love Lucy, and Munsters along with some movies. The station was about half religious and half secular. That summer, the station added a prime time movie and was secular from about 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. That fall, more cartoons such as Scooby-Doo, Bugs Bunny, Flintstones were added along with some more movies and by now the station was 2/3 secular and 1/3 religious. For the first time since the mid 70's, the station was secular a few hours a day on Sundays as well.
It seemed like it was being spruced up for a sale, because in January 1983, Jay Sadow sold the station to Roy Hess. The station immediately changed its call sign to the current WDSI-TV. It modified its then-hybrid religious/general entertainment format (which was leaning more on entertainment for the first time since about 1975) adding cartoons in the 7 to 9 a.m. time slot. The religious shows remained in the late mornings, but in the early afternoons, more old movies were added along with holdover classic sitcoms. Cartoons, older sitcoms, and drama shows continued in the late afternoons and early evenings. A prime-time movie was also added along with some older shows late at night. The station was on-the-air about twenty hours a day by then. Its on-air branding at that time was "Watch What We're Doing Now".
WDSI provided, free of charge, UHF antennas (which customers could obtain at local convenience stores) so viewers could watch the station. At that time, many households in the Chattanooga media market were still not wired for cable. After the overhaul in programming, the station was sold to Donatelli and Klein in 1985. Stronger, more recent sitcoms such as Benson, M*A*S*H, and better movies were added to the schedule and the religious shows were scaled back even more becoming regulated only to Sunday mornings. On October 9, 1986, WDSI became a charter affiliate of Fox beginning with The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, remaining with the network until October 2015. It was a typical Fox station at that time running a blend of newer cartoons, recent off network sitcoms, classic cartoons, old sitcoms, old movies, and drama shows. The station was becoming one of the strongest independents in Tennessee, polar opposite of what it was just 5 years before.
In 1993, the station was sold to Pegasus Communications. As time went on due to changes in the industry, classic sitcoms and movies were gradually replaced by more modern talk/reality shows and court shows. Cartoons began to fall off the schedule from 1999 until 2002 and replaced by more first run reality programs. In 2002, WDSI began broadcasting a digital signal on UHF channel 40. On September 5, 2006, the station launched Fox's new sister network MyNetworkTV on a new second digital subchannel. It was not until March 2009 that WDSI-DT2 was added to area digital cable systems.
Move of Fox to WTVC-DT2
During a transition process that completed October 31, 2015, both WDSI's main signal and WTVC's second subchannel broadcast the regular Fox schedule. On that date, when Sinclair launched their new network Comet, the Fox schedule and the intellectual unit for WDSI's main signal moved permanently to WTVC-DT2. The programming on This TV which had been on WTVC-DT2 moved to WDSI's main signal, with Comet launching on WDSI-DT2; the MyNetworkTV subchannel was moved to WFLI-DT2, with the Me-TV signal which had been carried on that slot moved to WFLI-DT3. Cable, satellite, and EPB viewers saw no change in any channel slots, as WTVC-DT2 took over the former channel slots for WDSI's main signal.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|61.1||720p||16:9||WDSI-DT||Main WDSI-TV programming / This TV|
WDSI-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 61, on January 19, 2008. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 40. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 61, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.
During the early-1990s, ABC affiliate WTVC produced Chattanooga's first nightly prime time newscast at 10 pm on then-Independent station WFLI through a news outsourcing arrangement. The show was eventually cancelled for an unknown reason. In 1996, WTVC established a second broadcast in prime time at 10 pm on WDSI through another news share agreement. This time around, the ABC affiliate provided its own meteorologists, sports anchors, and news reporters while WDSI featured its own news anchors based at its separate studios.
Although the newscast was produced with assistance from WTVC, WDSI aired the local news segment from an expanded facility at its own studios. Eventually in 2000, the operation would be expanded into a full local news department competing with the area's big three outlets. WDSI launched its own news department with local news offered on weekday mornings, weekday afternoons at 4, and every night at 10. This would remain the case until 2004 when WDSI reduced its operations and re-established a news outsourcing arrangement with WTVC, which was maintained until Sinclair and WTVC obtained full ownership of the WDSI-DT1 schedule and intellectual unit in October 2015.