WDSU, virtual channel 6 (UHF digital channel 43), is an NBC-affiliated television station located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. The station is owned by the Hearst Television subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation. WDSU maintains studio facilities located on Howard Avenue in the New Orleans Central Business District, and its transmitter is located on Paris Road (Highway 47) in Chalmette. On cable, WDSU is carried on Cox Communications channel 7 in standard definition and digital channel 1007 in high definition.
The station first signed on the air on December 18, 1948; it was the first television station to sign on in the state of Louisiana. WDSU-TV was founded by New Orleans businessman Edgar B. Stern, Jr., owner of WDSU radio (1280 AM, now WODT; and 93.3 FM, now WQUE-FM), which he had recently purchased – along with the construction permit to build the television station – for $750,000. The station has been a primary NBC affiliate since it signed on, earning the affiliation as a result of WDSU (AM)'s longtime affiliation with the NBC Red Network, however it initially also carried programming from the three other major broadcast networks at the time: CBS, ABC and DuMont. It lost DuMont programming when that network ceased operations in August 1956. Even after WJMR-TV (channel 61, now Fox affiliate WVUE on channel 8) signed on in November 1953 as a primary CBS and secondary ABC affiliate, WDSU continued to "cherry-pick" a few of the higher-rated programs carried by those two networks until September 1957, when WWL-TV (channel 4) signed on as a full-time CBS affiliate. At that time, WJMR became a full-time ABC affiliate, leaving WDSU exclusively with NBC.
The radio station was originally located at the DeSoto Hotel (now the Le Pavillon Hotel) on Baronne Street; the "D" in the name stood for the DeSoto, while "S" referred to the now-defunct New Orleans States newspaper (which had maintained a news share agreement with WDSU radio that lasted for one year; the paper later merged with the New Orleans Item-Tribune in 1960, which in turn merged with the Times-Picayune in 1980) and the "U" stood for Joseph Uhalt, who founded the radio station as WCBE in 1923. WDSU-TV originally operated out of studio facilities located within the Hibernia Bank Building, the tallest building in New Orleans at the time (a plaque commemorating its distinction as the station's original broadcasting facility is located on the 14th floor of the building). The WDSU stations moved into the historic Brulatour Mansion on Royal Street in the French Quarter in April 1950; Stern had also bought other buildings near the mansion (including a lumber yard and an ice house) to construct production studios for the radio and television stations. At that point, Stern reorganized his broadcast holdings as the Royal Street Corporation. The transmitter site remained at the Hibernia Bank Building until 1955, when a new transmitter facility in Chalmette – where the tower remains today – was completed.
In the 1950s, WDSU-TV became the springboard for the career of Dick Van Dyke, first as a single comedian and later as the emcee of a locally produced comedy program on the station; among his duties, Van Dyke had also served as a staff announcer, hosted music programs and appeared in a segment during the station's noon newscast. WDSU became the first television station in the New Orleans market to telecast its programming in color in 1955. WDSU was the ratings leader in New Orleans for over a quarter century, largely because of its strong commitment to coverage of local events and news. It originated the first live broadcasts of the Sugar Bowl and Mardi Gras, and was the first area station to provide extensive local hurricane coverage. The station was also the first television station in the market to provide statewide election coverage, as well as the first to utilize a mobile newsgathering unit.
WDSU was also the first to originate an international broadcast, relaying a Today broadcast from Bimini to the United States in 1955, using a 300,000 watt transmitter built by WDSU-TV engineers via special permission granted to NBC by the Federal Communications Commission. Among the station's notable local programs over the years included Midday, one of the earliest magazine programs in the United States, hosted by Terry Flettrich (later Rohe, who eventually served as senior citizens affairs correspondent for Good Morning America); the 3:00 Money Movie, a Saturday afternoon movie showcase with irreverent wraparound segments hosted by Sam Adams, who regularly performed parody songs on a piano serving as clues to the answers during phone-in contests for cash prizes; and Morgus the Magnificent, a program hosted by a mad doctor character played by Sid Noel.
In January 1972, Royal Street merged with Columbia, South Carolina-based Cosmos Broadcasting in a $17 million deal. Cosmos decided to sell off the radio stations because the ownership of the three station properties combined would exceed ownership limits of the time set by the FCC. Cosmos eliminated much of the local flavor that had been the station's hallmark, opting to concentrate on its already strong news operation (channel 6 had been saluted by Time as a news pioneer in 1966). By the early 1980s, rival WWL-TV had overtaken WDSU as the top-rated station from sign-on to sign-off as well as in local news. WDSU has been a solid runner-up to WWL for most of the last quarter-century, although since the mid-2000s, it has had to fend off a strong challenge from a resurgent WVUE. In 1984, WDSU built the first working television studio at a World's Fair for the station's live broadcasts from the event held in New Orleans that year.
In the early 1980s, the station sustained criticism among its viewers when it chose to pre-empt Late Night with David Letterman in favor of airing the syndicated late night talk show Thicke of the Night, which was a notorious flop; around this time, the station also carried feature films during the overnight hours instead of airing the short-lived news program NBC News Overnight. When WDSU began clearing Late Night, the station aired the show later than the network-mandated 11:35 p.m. timeslot for the network's Central Time Zone station, instead airing syndicated reruns of The Love Boat. Today, WDSU clears the entire NBC programming lineup, only pre-empting certain programs during instance in which the station has to carry extended breaking news and severe weather coverage.
Cosmos sold WDSU to Pulitzer, Inc. for $47 million in 1989. In March 1996, the station moved into its current facility on Howard Avenue, located a few blocks from the Le Pavillon Hotel, where WDSU radio began operations in 1923. Also during the 1990s, WDSU became the first New Orleans station to operate its own Doppler weather radar system ("Super Doppler 6000"). Pulitzer sold its entire television station division, including WDSU, to Hearst-Argyle Television (predecessor to the present-day Hearst Television) in 1999 for $1.8 billion. WDSU celebrated its 60th anniversary of broadcasting on December 18, 2008.
As of 2012, although the "channel 6" red dot logo is part of the station's branding, WDSU simply identifies its branding by its callsign only in verbal usage, with no mention of the 6.
Prior to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, WDSU shut down operations at its studios in New Orleans around 9:30 p.m. on August 28, 2005, in order to allow station staff to take shelter from the oncoming hurricane. At that point, WDSU's broadcasts began to originate from the studios of ABC-affiliated sister station WAPT in Jackson, Mississippi, where some of WDSU's on-air staff had already evacuated. Fellow sister station, NBC affiliate WESH in Orlando, Florida, also originated some on-air weather content during the storm. In the weeks that immediately followed the hurricane, WDSU's news programming originated from the WAPT facility, using meteorologists and anchors from both stations, with programs being simulcast in Jackson and New Orleans.
The Howard Avenue studio facility largely withstood Hurricane Katrina with minimal damage, but WDSU's analog and digital transmitters were both destroyed in the storm. In early September, WDSU arranged to transmit its signal via i (now Ion Television) affiliate WPXL (channel 49) through the end of December 2005; WDSU also partnered with i owned-and-operated station KPXB-TV in Houston to simulcast WDSU's morning newscast and continuing coverage of the storm's aftermath that channel 6 had aired between 6:00 and 11:00 p.m. from September 7 to September 13, 2005. The station restored its analog signal, operating at reduced power, in October 2005. WDSU chose to replace its existing transmitter building with an elevated and rugged hurricane resistant building to house its analog and digital transmitters; construction of this building was completed in early February 2008. WDSU's digital signal was restored on August 1, 2007, having temporarily shared a frequency with LeSea Broadcasting-owned WHNO's digital signal on UHF channel 21. In late February 2008, WDSU's analog signal was upgraded to full power and its digital signal on channel 6.1 was restored on March 6, 2008.
In September 2008, WDSU broadcast continuous coverage of the approach, landfall and aftermath of Hurricane Gustav for five consecutive days. The storm prompted a massive evacuation of much of the station's viewing area. As a result, on September 1, 2008, satellite provider DirecTV began simulcasting WDSU's coverage of Hurricane Gustav nationally on channel 361. Its storm coverage was also streamed on the station's website, while its broadcast audio was carried by the stations within Citadel Communications' New Orleans radio cluster. C-SPAN2 and ABC affiliate WBRZ (channel 2) in Baton Rouge also ran portions of the station's live news coverage of Gustav.
WDSU tapped the resources of parent company Hearst-Argyle Television, and brought in personnel from Hearst-owned television stations across the country to assist in various capacities. Some members of WDSU's news staff were relocated to support studios in Baton Rouge and Orlando, and provided reports via satellite. All three locations stayed operational throughout the storm's duration. Another of WDSU's sister stations, ABC affiliate KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City, also provided WDSU's coverage of Hurricane Gustav via its second digital subchannel for evacuees who came to Oklahoma City.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|6.1||1080i||16:9||WDSU-DT||Main WDSU programming / NBC|
Since March 31, 2012, WDSU digital subchannel 6.2 has been affiliated with MeTV; the subchannel originally launched in 2006 as an affiliate of NBC Weather Plus, before affiliating with The Local AccuWeather Channel in 2009, shortly after Weather Plus' shutdown. Channel 6.2 can be seen on Cox Communications digital cable channel 108 in the New Orleans area, on channel 115 for Charter Communications customers on the Northshore, and on channel 136 for Charter Communications customers on the Southshore.
WDSU shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 6, 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 43. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display WDSU's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 6. Like all stations broadcasting on channel 6 prior to the digital switchover, WDSU's audio signal could be heard on 87.75 MHz on the FM band in New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
As part of the SAFER Act, WDSU kept its analog signal on the air until July 12 to inform viewers of the digital television transition through a loop of public service announcements from the National Association of Broadcasters.
Digital retransmission disputes
In October 2006, a dispute between WDSU's owner, Hearst-Argyle Television, and Cox Communications caused WDSU's high definition feed to be pulled from Cox's New Orleans area system. As a result, no HD program content was available from WDSU via any medium (over the air, cable, or satellite), forcing New Orleans viewers looking for high-definition NBC programming to attempt to receive a signal from Baton Rouge affiliate WVLA-TV. In April 2007, WDSU-DT was added to DirecTV's lineup, after which local cable providers gradually began to add the feed as well. On September 27, 2007, Cox Communications and Hearst-Argyle announced an agreement to restore WDSU-DT to Cox's New Orleans area cable systems; WDSU-DT and WDSU's WeatherPlus channel were added to Cox's channel lineup the next day.
Syndicated programs currently broadcast by WDSU include The Real, Maury, Steve Harvey, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Entertainment Tonight among others. WDSU serves as the local over-the-air broadcaster of Monday Night Football games involving the New Orleans Saints, airing simulcasts of ESPN-televised games. WDSU's corporate parent, the Hearst Corporation, holds a 20% ownership stake in ESPN (the network's remaining ownership interest is held by The Walt Disney Company), and the company has right of first refusal for simulcasts of ESPN's NFL telecasts in a team's home market, which it has never declined for WDSU (in these situations, the station reschedules NBC's Monday lineup). The station also provides additional game analysis from former Saints coach Jim E. Mora.
WDSU presently broadcasts 32½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours on weekdays, three hours on Saturdays and 4½ hours on Sundays). Unlike most NBC affiliates, the station does not carry a midday newscast; WDSU is the only news-producing station in the New Orleans market that carries a local newscast on weekend mornings. The station also maintains a content partnership with Cumulus Media's New Orleans FM radio cluster (KKND (102.9), KMEZ (106.7), WRKN (92.3) and WZRH (106.1)), which also allows the station to simulcast its broadcast audio during hurricane coverage.
From the start of its news operation, WDSU's newscasts were the highest-rated in the New Orleans market for many years. For much of the time since the early 1980s, WDSU's newscasts have been in second place among the market's news-producing stations. By the mid-2000s, WVUE overtook WDSU for second place among the market's 5:00 p.m. newscasts; the two stations traded second at 5:00 p.m. until WDSU overtook WVUE in May 2011. In July 2011, WDSU claimed ratings wins in key demographics at 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. – marking the first time in a quarter-century that a station other than WWL-TV had placed first among viewers most sought by advertisers. Newscasts in less competitive time periods of 4:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. also scored wins in key demographic categories, as well as in household ratings.
Among WDSU's first staffers was meteorologist Nash Roberts, one of the first television weather forecasters in the United States, who drew predicted weather conditions by marker on wall maps (Roberts left the station in 1973 to become meteorologist at WVUE-TV); and Mel Leavitt, who served as the station's original sports director and later as its special events director. The station's news department began in 1955, under the guidance of original news director Bill Monroe (who later joined NBC News, first serving as Washington-based news editor for Today and later as moderator of Meet the Press); Monroe also provided editorials on the station, becoming one of the first stations in the country to provide such segments for television. During the 1950s and 1960s, the station carried editorial cartoons (similar to those commonly found in many newspapers) drawn by cartoonist John Churchill Chase; the twice-daily segments featured his take on major local, national and international news stories with commentary over the illustrated pieces (Chase, who died in 1986, has a street in the French Quarter named in his honor). Many of the station's reporters in the early years of its news department included staffers from the Times-Picayune newspaper (including Iris Kelso, who worked at WDSU from 1967 to 1978, before returning to the Times-Picayune).
On November 11, 2006, after a remarkable 51 years in New Orleans broadcast television – nearly all of them with WDSU – anchor and former news director Alec Gifford (who died in March 2013) officially announced his retirement from broadcasting. Gifford left the station in December 2006. On December 14, 2008, WDSU entered into a content partnership with Biloxi newspaper Sun Herald, to provide supplementary news and weather coverage focused on South Mississippi. WDSU discontinued its noon newscast on September 11, 2009; three days later on September 14, the station launched an hour-long 4:00 p.m. newscast; this program gained a competitor on September 12, 2011, when Fox affiliate WVUE debuted its own hour-long newscast in the 4:00 p.m. timeslot.
On July 10, 2010, WDSU began broadcasting its local newscasts in 16:9 widescreen standard definition, along with the introduction of updated graphics. WDSU is one of now two stations in the New Orleans market that have yet to upgrade production of their local news programming to high definition. WGNO began broadcasting high-definition local news in mid 2011 when it installed a new HDTV NEWS control room and studio cameras. WVUE was the first only station in the market that broadcasts its local newscasts in true high definition, having upgraded to HD in April 2007. WWL-TV made the switch to full HD on October 1, 2014. On August 16, 2010, WDSU expanded its weekday morning newscast to 2½ hours, by adding a 4:30 a.m. newscast entitled WDSU News First Edition.
Notable current on-air staff
- Margaret Orr (member, AMS; member, NWA) – chief meteorologist
- Dr. Corey J. Hebert, MD – medical editor ("On Call")
Notable former on-air staff
- Bernard "Buddy" Diliberto - sportscaster (1981–1990; later worked for WWL radio; deceased)
- Mel Leavitt - newscaster/commentator/moderator/historian (deceased)
- Iris Kelso - commentator and features reporter (1967–1978; deceased)
- Bill Monroe - first news director (later moderator of Meet the Press; deceased)
- Helena Moreno - weekday mornings and consumer reporter (2000–2008; defeated in Democratic primary race for Congress, but later won state representative of District 93)
- Ed Nelson - actor
- Kim Peterson - anchor/reporter (later at WLS-TV in Chicago, WGST and WSB radio in Atlanta; now at WYAY radio in Atlanta)
- Nash Roberts - meteorologist (1948–1973; later at WVUE and WWL-TV; deceased)
- Susan E. Roberts - anchor/reporter (now at CCTV America)
- Norman Robinson - anchor/reporter (1990–2014; retired)
- Susan Roesgen - anchor/reporter (2000–2001; previously with CNN, now at WGNO)
- Dick Van Dyke - actor (later known for various roles including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Poppins and Diagnosis: Murder)
- Charles Zewe - anchor/reporter (1976–1987; previously with WWL-TV; formerly at CNN; now Vice President of Communications for the Louisiana State University System)