WHBF-TV Channel 4 is a television station licensed to Rock Island, Illinois, USA, which serves as the CBS affiliate for the Quad Cities television market (comprising Rock Island and Moline, Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa). WHBF-TV is owned and operated by Nexstar Broadcasting Group as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate KGCW. Nexstar also operates Fox affiliate KLJB, owned by Marshall Broadcasting. The studios for all three stations are located in the Telco Building on 18th Street in downtown Rock Island. The transmitter for WHBF-TV is located in Bettendorf.
WHBF-TV signed on the air on July 1, 1950. It is the fifth-oldest surviving station in Illinois and the oldest outside Chicago and next to the state of Iowa across the Mississippi River. It was owned by the Potter family, publishers of the Rock Island Argus along with WHBF radio (1270 AM, now WKBF and 98.9 FM, now WLKU).
WHBF-TV has been a CBS affiliate since its inception, but carried secondary affiliations with ABC and the DuMont Television Network. After DuMont's demise in 1956, WHBF shared ABC programming with WOC-TV (channel 6, now KWQC-TV) up to the time that the new station WQAD-TV (channel 8) signed on as an ABC affiliate in 1963. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
The Potters broke up their media holdings in 1986; at that time, Citadel Communications acquired WHBF-TV, and the radio stations moved out of the Telco Building. The following year, Lynch Entertainment acquired a stake in the station; at that time Coronet Communications Company was formed as a partnership between Citadel and Lynch.
WHBF-TV was the first station in the area to use color radar and now uses the state-of-the-art weather system known as ESP: Live (Exclusive Storm Prediction). This allows the station to alert the Quad Cities about any potential weather hazards. Citadel's other stations also use the ESP: Live branding.
From 1982 to 2011, WHBF-TV didn't carry either CBS News Up to the Minute, nor its predecessor, CBS News Nightwatch. Instead the station joined its fellow Citadel stations in signing off every night, making WHBF one of the few stations in the country to still do so. However, as of the mid-2000s, WHBF ran its transmitters all night, airing a test pattern with station identification superimposed over the pattern. Digital channel 4.2 has operated 24/7 since the Retro Television Network debut on December 1, 2008. WHBF-TV finally added Up to the Minute to its programming lineup in October 2011. Up to the Minute was replaced by the CBS Overnight News on September 21, 2015. The move left Iowa Public Television station KQIN as the last Quad Cities television station to sign-off.
On January 16, 2012, WHBF-TV along with all Citadel stations, launched an affiliation with the Live Well Network on its DT2 subchannel. From December 1, 2008 to January 15, 2012, the station carried the Retro Television Network on DT2. Prior to that, WHBF had been simulcasting its main programming in SDTV on the DT2 subchannel. From March 5, 2011 to January 15, 2012, WHBF-TV's subchannel affiliation with the Retro Television Network had a local competitor in the Quad Cities as the DT2 subchannel of WQAD-TV became an affiliate of Antenna TV after WQAD discontinued their "Quad Cities Weather Channel" service.
On September 16, 2013, Citadel announced that it would sell WHBF-TV, along with WOI-DT in Des Moines and KCAU-TV in Sioux City, Iowa to the Nexstar Broadcasting Group for $88 million. Nexstar immediately took over the station's operations through a time brokerage agreement. The deal followed Citadel founder and CEO Phil Lombardo's decision to "slow down," as well as a desire by Lynch Entertainment to divest its investments in WHBF and WOI. On November 6, Nexstar announced that it would purchase the stations owned by Grant Broadcasting, including KLJB and KGCW, for $87.5 million. Due to FCC ownership regulations, KLJB was spun off to Marshall Broadcasting, but is operated by Nexstar through a shared services agreement, forming a virtual triopoly with WHBF. The sale for WHBF was completed on March 13, 2014. The deal reunited WHBF with two of its former Citadel sister stations, WIVT in Binghamton, New York and WVNY in Burlington, Vermont.
On January 27, 2016, Nexstar announced that it would acquire Media General, owner of KWQC-TV, for $4.6 billion. The new name of the combined company will be Nexstar Media Group. Due to FCC regulations which prohibit ownership of two or more of the top four TV stations in any television market, Nexstar will be required to sell either WHBF or KWQC to another company. KGCW can remain under Nexstar ownership in its existing duopoly with WHBF or create a new duopoly with KWQC as that station is ranked below the top four ratings threshold. On June 3, 2016, Nexstar revealed that it would keep WHBF and its Green Bay sister station WFRV-TV and sell Media General stations KWQC and its Green Bay sister station WBAY-TV to Gray Television for $270 million.
WHBF carries the complete CBS schedule and broadcasts all CBS network programming, as well as syndicated programming, in high definition. Syndicated programming on WHBF-TV includes Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, The Dr. Oz Show, Kickin' It with Byron Allen, and Republic of Doyle.
The station's digital signal is once again multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|4.1||1080i||16:9||WHBF-DT||Main WHBF-TV programming / CBS|
|4.2||480i||4:3||KGCW-SD||SD simulcast of KGCW|
WHBF-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 4, at 6:01 a.m. 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 relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 58, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition, to its analog-era VHF channel 4. WHBF-TV is now one of the very few TV stations in the United States to broadcast its digital signal on a low VHF channel assignment, alongside sister station WOI-DT in Des Moines, Iowa and ABC O&O station WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
On its second digital subchannel, the station affiliated with the Retro Television Network from December 1, 2008 to January 15, 2012. On January 16, 2012, WHBF, along with all of its sister stations, switched to the Live Well Network, carrying the network in a 16:9 letterbox format while preserving the 480i resolution and 4:3 aspect ratio of the subchannel; scaled down from Live Well Network's 720p master signal. Exactly two years later on January 16, 2014, before Nexstar (which historically dropped all Live Well Network affiliations upon the purchase of acquired stations) took control of WHBF, the station dropped the subchannel entirely. It was the only area station without a subchannel for a period of sixteen months.
In November 2014, while Nexstar was still waiting for the completion of its sale of KLJB to Marshall Broadcasting, there was speculation by other local media that KGCW might move to a WHBF subchannel. On May 14, 2015, Nexstar relaunched WHBF's digital subchannel 4.2 with a standard definition simulcast of KGCW. Due to the fact that KLJB is now owned by a separate company than KGCW, the simulcast of KGCW, which was previously aired on KLJB's 18.2 subchannel, moved to WHBF's 4.2 subchannel as Nexstar owns WHBF and KGCW, where Marshall Broadcasting owns KLJB.
Post-transition digital signal issues
During the Summer of 2009 (June 12, 2009), WHBF-TV, being broadcast as it's in digital on a low VHF channel assignment, encountered numerous reception problems and received several reception related complaints in its first two months alone of being broadcast digitally on VHF channel 4. As a result, the station's then-owner (Citadel) filed an application for a digital UHF fill-in translator on channel 47  and also sought permission to increase the ERP output of its main digital signal on VHF channel 4 from 24.1 kW to 33.7 kW. The fill-in translator is located on the station's Rock Island tower at the telco building-based studios in downtown and operates at an ERP of 2300 watts. Sister stations WOI-DT in Des Moines and KCAU-TV in Sioux City, Iowa as well as former sister KLKN in Lincoln, Nebraska, all of which returned their digital broadcasts to their former analog channel assignments in the VHF spectrum at the end of the digital transition in 2009 as well, are going through a similar process and they have all set up fill-in translators themselves.
As of September 8, 2009, WHBF has been operating its main digital signal on VHF channel 4 at an effective radiated power of 33.7 kW. Also, as of October 22, 2009, WHBF has been operating its digital fill-in translator on UHF channel 47 from its studio location in downtown Rock Island.
From 1950 to 2011, WHBF, unllike most CBS affiliates, didn't air a morning newscast. Instead, a weather forecast was aired during the CBS Morning News and The Early Show (time slot now occupied by CBS This Morning) each weekday morning between 6:00 and 9:00 AM. Previously, WHBF had local news updates during the CBS Morning News and The Early Show but later on it was simply a repeat of the weather update that aired earlier in the half-hour during CBS Morning News and The Early Show. The CBS Morning News was aired at 6:00 AM and repeated itself at 6:30 AM weekdays on WHBF. Unlike most CBS affiliates, it doesn't air a midday newscast.
WHBF won numerous awards and public recognition for a ground-breaking news series that ran weekly from April 1995 to April 1996. "Robb's Life" focused on the life of Robb Dussliere, a Rock Island resident who was battling AIDS. Each week, News Director Ken Gullette (From November 1993 to July 1997) followed Robb as he went to doctors offices, enjoyed his family and worked to renovate a home for HIV and AIDS patients. WHBF viewers watched as Robb went from being relatively healthy in April 1995 to his funeral in April 1996. The stories were unique in that Gullette's voice was never heard and he never appeared on camera. Working as a one-man producer, videographer and editor, he told Robb's story through video, natural sound, interviews and music. The feature stories also ran longer than the normal TV stories. "Robb's Life" raised awareness, changed viewer opinions about AIDS and won awards from the Illinois & Iowa Associated Presses. Most of the weekly features can now be seen on YouTube. Fifteen years after it aired, the Dispatch/Argus ran a story about the impact of the series, and interviewed Robb's parents, Lorney and Hattie Dussliere of East Moline, Illinois.
WHBF has noticeable turnover with its on-air talent. Sports director Jay Kidwell has currently been at the station the longest since 2001. Jay is known for his energetic personality and is becoming the Quad Cities' favorite for local sports coverage.
On December 21, 2010, WHBF-TV became the second in the Quad Cities market, behind KWQC to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition, beginning with the 5:00 PM newscast.
During the summer of 2011, WHBF announced morning newscasts would be coming to the station. Meredith Dennis anchored and Travis Michels provided weather information as of September 12, 2011. Also, the 6:00 PM news returned after a 14-year absence on September 26, 2011. The morning local newscast, known as CBS4 News This Morning (now known as Local 4 News This Morning), was aired from 5:30 to 7:00 AM. The CBS Morning News was moved back to 5:00 AM and the station's daily paid early morning religious programming was discontinued. However, as of Spring 2012, CBS4 News This Morning now airs from 5:00-7:00 AM, while the CBS Morning News airs at 4:30 AM. In March 2014, Morning Anchor Meredith Dennis left WHBF and was replaced in April 2014 by Emily Scarlett.
On March 4, 2015, WHBF debuted its new set, graphics, and logo. The new Local 4 branding, similar to that of WKRC-TV (Local 12) in Cincinnati, Ohio, WPSD-TV (Local 6) in Paducah, Kentucky, and sister station WOI-DT (Local 5) in Des Moines, went into effect, replacing original CBS 4.
On August 7, 2015, WHBF revealed that a new 4 PM newscast would debut in the Fall of 2015. The new broadcast, known as Local 4 News at 4, made its debut on Monday, September 14, 2015. WHBF's new 4 PM newscast directly competes against KWQC's 4 PM newscast, which has been on the air since Fall 2011.
WHBF was a solid, if distant, runner-up to rival WOC-TV until the mid-1970s, when it surged to first place. It lost the lead to WOC-TV around 1980. The station was able to hold up the number 2 spot for most of the 1980s until WQAD passed it. Since the late 1980s, WHBF has clearly been the 3rd ranked station in the Quad Cities market. However, during the May 2015 ratings period, the ratings for WHBF did increase after the station's change to the Local 4 branding.