WICS is the ABC-affiliated television station for Springfield/Decatur, Illinois. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 42 (or virtual channel 20.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter, in unincorporated Sangamon County, south of Dawson and I-72/U.S. 36. Owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the station operates Fox affiliate WRSP (its semi-satellite, WCCU) as well as CW outlet WBUI (all owned by GOCOM Media, LLC) through joint sales and shared services agreements. All of the stations share studios together on East Cook Street in Springfield's Eastside. However, WBUI also operates an advertising sales office on South Main Street/U.S. 51 in Downtown Decatur.
WICD in Champaign/Urbana operates as a full-time satellite of WICS to serve the eastern portion of the market. WICD airs the same broadcast schedule as its parent station but features separate legal identifications and local commercial inserts. Although the station maintains its own studios on South Country Fair Drive in Downtown Champaign, master control and most internal operations are based within WICS' facilities. WCCU's advertising sales operation is based out of WICD's studios.
WICS began operations on September 17, 1953 and was owned by Plains Television Partners of Springfield, which was a 50/50 joint venture of Transcontinental Properties and the H & E Balaban Corporation. It carried programming from all four networks of the era (NBC, CBS, ABC, and DuMont). However, it was a primary NBC affiliate. Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had collapsed most of East Central Illinois into one giant television market, WICS took on a secondary CBS affiliation because its primary affiliate, WCIA in Champaign, only provided a marginal signal to Springfield. It also aired whatever ABC programs WTVP in Decatur (now WAND) had to turn down in order to air CBS shows not cleared by WCIA.
By 1958, WICS was an exclusive NBC affiliate. The station originally had facilities at the Leland Hotel on Capitol Street in Downtown Springfield. In 1964, it moved to its current studios on East Cook Street in East Springfield. The FCC considered making East Central Illinois an all-UHF market but dropped these plans under heavy lobbying from WCIA.
However, WICS' signal was not nearly strong enough to reach the eastern portion of the area. At the time, UHF signals were not strong enough to cover large amounts of territory. Accordingly in 1959, Plains Television signed-on WCHU in Champaign as a low-powered satellite of WICS. In 1960, it bought WDAN-TV (another low-powered station in Danville) and changed the calls to WICD. At the same time, WCHU began breaking off from the WICS signal to air some local programming for the eastern side of the market, which was simulcasted on WICD. In 1967, Plains Television merged WCHU and WICD into a new full-power station on UHF channel 15 under the WICD calls, but operating under the WCHU license.
Plains Television sold WICS to Guy Gannett Communications (no relation to the larger Gannett company), in 1986 but held onto WICD until 1994. The two stations operated as a regional network sharing most network and syndicated programming. This arrangement nearly brought down WICD, and for a time, it appeared the station would revert to a full-time satellite of WICS. Guy Gannett finally bought WICD in 1994.
Sinclair purchased most of Guy Gannett's stations, including WICS and WICD, in 1999. The company almost immediately turned around and announced it was selling the two (which count as one for regulatory purposes) plus KGAN in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Sunrise Television. However, the FCC did not allow Sunrise to buy WICS/WICD due to Sunrise's ownership structure. Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst (HMTF), an investment firm controlled by then-Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks, owned a large block of Sunrise stock. HMTF was majority stockholder of the LIN TV Corporation, then-owner of WAND. The FCC ruled HMTF held enough stock in Sunrise that if it bought WICS/WICD, it would have created a duopoly between two of the four highest-rated stations in the market, which is forbidden by FCC rules. As a result, Sinclair remains the owner of WICS/WICD and KGAN.
In 2005, the two stations swapped affiliations with WAND and became ABC affiliates as part of a larger national deal between LIN and NBC that also involved WDTN in Dayton, Ohio (who swapped affiliations with WICS/WICD's Dayton sister station WKEF the year before). WICS/WICD was to have switched to ABC at the beginning of the 2004–05 television season, but its affiliation agreement with NBC still had one year to go. On November 17, 2010, WICS became available to Dish Network customers in Terre Haute, Indiana as the ABC affiliate since the market lacked an affiliate of its own. WICD's transmitter is near the border between Illinois and Indiana, and WICD was carried on most cable systems on the Illinois side of the Terre Haute market. However, WICS was the only station uplinked by satellite providers due to contractual obligations, since it was considered the main station. WICS disappeared from the Terre Haute local feed in the fall of 2011 after that city's Fox affiliate, WFXW, rejoined ABC as WAWV-TV.
On December 31, 2012, the Sinclair Broadcast Group closed on the purchase of the non-license assets of GOCOM's three television stations, WRSP/WCCU and sister station WBUI for approximately $25.6 million. Sinclair is providing sales and other non-programming services to the stations pursuant to shared services and joint sales agreements. Both WRSP/WCCU and WBUI were initially operated from separate facilities from WICS/WICD. However, WCCU quickly moved its advertising sales operation from its location on South Neil Street/U.S. 45 in Champaign into WICD's studios. Eventually, WRSP and WBUI also moved from their offices on Old Rochester Road in Springfield and were consolidated into WICS' facility.
The station's digital channel in multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|20.1||720p||16:9||WICS-DT||Main WICS programming / ABC|
WICS shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 20, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 42. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 20.
Lately, WICS/WICD have been very competitive in the local news race after years of being a distant second behind longtime dominant WCIA. Beginning with the November 2006 Nielsen ratings period, the two actually briefly led with viewership in East-Central Illinois. This is because the station's ratings are combined by Nielsen Media Research and considers WICS and WICD to be a single station for counting purposes. The latter is identified as "WICS+" in ratings books and has continued battling WCIA for the top spot splitting the position over various time slots. Basically, WICD's existence benefits WICS even though the satellite is technically combined with the primary station.
Along with several other Sinclair properties, WICS/WICD did not participate in the wider implementation of the company's now-defunct, controversial News Central format for their newscasts. This operations saw local news operations reduced at some stations and combined with national news coverage, weather forecasting, and sports headlines based out of Sinclair's headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland. WICS/WICD, however, did air "The Point" (a one-minute conservative political commentary) that was also controversial and a requirement of all Sinclair-owned stations with newscasts until the series was discontinued in December 2006.
On September 11, 2006, a news share agreement was established with WRSP/WCCU (then separately controlled). As a result, a nightly prime time newscast began airing on those two stations that was jointly produced by WICS/WICD. Known as NewsChannel at 9 on Fox Illinois, it aired for a half-hour from a modified set at WICS's Springfield studios featuring unique duratrans indicating the Fox-branded show. From the start, NewsChannel at 9 competed with a newscast already established in the time slot on then-UPN affiliate WCFN (produced by WCIA). Unlike the WRSP/WCCU show, WCFN's broadcast originated from WCIA's Champaign facilities but was targeted specifically at a Springfield audience. Although the WRSP/WCCU newscast features market wide coverage, including contributions from WICD reporters based in Champaign, there is a separate weeknight weather segment for WRSP and WCCU that was seen. WCFN's prime time broadcast would be eventually canceled by WCIA on September 28, 2009. On October 7, 2013, the weekday edition of NewsChannel at 9 was expanded to an hour.
The effort on WRSP/WCCU was further expanded on January 20, 2014 when WICS began producing a two-hour weekday morning show for the Fox affiliates. Known as Good Day Illinois, the program can be seen from 7 until 9 and offers a local alternative to the national morning programs seen on the big three networks. It also competes with another two-hour local newscast seen at same time on MyNetworkTV affiliate WCIX (produced by WCIA). On June 26, 2010, rival WAND became the first television station in East-Central Illinois to upgrade news production to high definition level. It would not be until December 2012 that local newscasts seen on WICS would be upgraded to HD. Included with the change was a new set at the Springfield studios and updated Sinclair corporate graphics. Until October 13, 2014, WICD's separate weekday newscasts at its Champaign headquarters were not included in the upgrade because that set lacked high definition cameras.
On March 26, 2011, WICD ceased airing its own newscasts on weekends opting to simulcast those from WICS. These broadcasts are known as ABC NewsChannel and feature a common graphics package seen on WICS and WICD. Multimedia journalists based at WICD's Champaign studios still provide coverage of the eastern areas of the market. The change represented the second attempt at a joint market-wide product by WICS/WICD. At one point in time, there had been a newscast weeknights at 5 that was simulcasted on both outlets originating from Springfield.
On March 13, 2015, Sinclair announced that WICD would stop offering separate newscasts on weekdays that focus on the eastern areas of the market (Champaign/Urbana/Danville). This change took effect after the final WICD-produced newscast aired on April 3. In its place are newscasts simulcasted from WICS (in all time slots) which provide market-wide coverage including content from the eastern areas through a downsized bureau at WICD's studios. On April 7, 2015 despite this significant reduction, WICD began airing a full sixty-minute Champaign-based prime time newscast (weeknights at 9) on WCCU entitled Fox Champaign News at Nine.
The existing hour-long WICS-produced newscast on WRSP, which had been simulcast on WCCU, was refocused to Springfield and became known as Fox News at Nine. The weekend edition of the prime time news will continue to be a market-wide product simulcasted on WRSP and WCCU. With the exception of the WCCU newscast, WICD no longer produces Champaign-specific local news. While WICS and WICD operated separate news departments, there was a considerable amount of resource sharing between the two outlets, such as with video footage and personnel. This was particularly the case when covering Decatur (located between Springfield and Champaign).