WITI, virtual channel 6 (UHF digital channel 33), is a Fox-affiliated television station located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of Tribune Media. WITI maintains studio facilities located on North Green Bay Road (WIS 57) in Brown Deer (though the studios carry a Milwaukee postal address), and its transmitter is located on East Capitol Drive (just north of Highway 190) in Shorewood.
The station first signed on the air on May 21, 1956, operating as an independent station; it was originally owned by Independent Television, Inc., to whom the channel 6 license was granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on June 11, 1955. The station was originally licensed to the North Shore village of Whitefish Bay on a technicality in order to address short-spacing concerns with Davenport, Iowa station WOC-TV (now KWQC-TV, which also broadcast on channel 6) before the FCC fully finessed spacing among television station signals in different markets. In October 1956, the station affiliated with the NTA Film Network, which provided the station with 52 films from the 20th Century Fox library and syndicated programs. Among the NTA programs aired by WITI were The Passerby, Man Without a Gun and This is Alice.
From 1956 to 1959, WITI used the DuMont Vitascan color system – which required a completely darkened set with a single strobe light, causing eye strain – for its locally produced programs. The situation was difficult for the on-air talent, according to Sid Armstrong, who worked at WITI as a news reporter during the station's early years. The station switched to monochrome cameras when it moved to the North 27th Street facility.
First tenure with CBS, and switch to ABC
On August 8, 1958, Storer Broadcasting purchased WITI in hopes of affiliating the station with CBS. Storer had very good relations with CBS; company founder George Storer was a member of the CBS board, and most of its stations were CBS affiliates. At the time, CBS owned a local UHF station, WXIX (channel 18, now WVTV) as part of a corporate effort to determine if UHF station operation and ownership would be successful. Once the disadvantages of being on a UHF frequency became clear in the days before all-channel tuning, CBS wrote off the experiment as a failure. The network concluded it was better to have its programming on a VHF station, even if it was only an affiliate. CBS sold WXIX to Cream City Broadcasting president Gene Posner; WITI-TV then began its first stint as a CBS affiliate on April 1, 1959. At that time, WITI moved from its original studio facility in Mequon to WXIX's former studios on North 27th Street in Milwaukee (which were later used by WCGV-TV from 1980 to 1994). Storer also applied to move the channel 6 allocation from Whitefish Bay to Milwaukee; the request was granted on July 30, 1959.
In 1961, CBS decided to affiliate with WISN-TV (channel 12), as its sister radio station had been a longtime affiliate of the CBS Radio Network. As a result, WITI-TV and WISN-TV swapped networks: channel 6 became an ABC affiliate on April 2, 1961. In August 1962, the station moved to its current 1,078 feet (329 m) transmission tower located in Shorewood; for a short time, the transmitter had been the tallest free-standing tower in the world. The tower went into operation in 1963, finally putting WITI's signal on equal footing with Milwaukee's other television stations. As a result of being the area's ABC affiliate, WITI carried the first few seasons of the Milwaukee-set sitcom Happy Days, as well as its spin-off Laverne & Shirley from 1974 to 1977.
Second tenure with CBS
During the 1975-76 season, ABC emerged as the highest-rated broadcast network in the United States. However, Storer Broadcasting had developed a bitter relationship with the network. Back in 1973, KCST-TV (now KNSD) won a long battle to strip the San Diego market's ABC affiliation from Tijuana, Mexico-based XETV-TV. Storer purchased KCST the following year, but ABC was not happy with being forced to surrender an affiliation with VHF station XETV in favor of UHF outlet KCST. Perhaps in protest of ABC moving its San Diego affiliation from KCST to VHF station KGTV, Storer announced on September 26, 1976 that it would re-affiliate WITI-TV with CBS. Without hesitation, WISN-TV aligned with ABC, officially reversing the earlier 1961 affiliation swap; the two stations switched networks once again on March 27, 1977.
In 1978, WITI move its operations to a new facility located on North Green Bay Road/Wisconsin Highway 57 in Brown Deer, just outside Milwaukee; the upstart WCGV-TV (channel 24), which would eventually air programming from CBS WITI refused, purchased WITI's former studios and utilize them from 1980 until 1994. After Storer Broadcasting was bought out by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in 1985, the station underwent a series of ownership changes. KKR sold the stations to Racine native George N. Gillett Jr.'s Gillett Communications in 1987; shortly thereafter, SCI Television was spun off from Gillett to acquire the stations after the latter company filed for bankruptcy. After Gillett defaulted on some of its financing agreements in the early 1990s, its ownership was restructured and the company was renamed SCI Television. Eventually, SCI ran into fiscal issues, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1993. New World Communications purchased WITI and the other SCI stations in 1993.
As a Fox station
On December 18, 1993, Fox outbid CBS for the rights to the NFL's National Football Conference television package. Fox then signed a long-term station affiliation and program development deal with New World Communications on May 23, 1994, which resulted in Fox affiliating with most of the company's "Big Three" network affiliates, effective that fall.
WITI affiliated with Fox on December 11, 1994, with Fox NFL Sunday as the first Fox program to be broadcast on channel 6, leading into that year's Chicago Bears–Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field; CBS, which nearly resorted to importing affiliates from out-of-market due to its struggle finding a new Milwaukee station, affiliated with low-profile independent station WDJT-TV (channel 58). The market's original Fox affiliate, WCGV, briefly became an independent station before affiliating with UPN in January 1995. The switch allowed WITI to retain its status as Milwaukee's "home" station for the Green Bay Packers. WITI has aired most Packers games since returning to CBS in 1977, albeit with a three-month interruption due to CBS losing the NFC rights (the games instead aired on WCGV for the first three months of Fox's NFC telecasts as a lame-duck affiliate, but without any pre-game programming). It also carried the team's Thursday Night Football games involving the Packers from NFL Network locally early on in that package's life before it began simulcasts on CBS (2014 & 2015), along with NBC starting in 2016. Notably the station is the only one in the market never to hold the local broadcast rights for Milwaukee Brewers baseball coverage, though the team has appeared since 1990 on the station through Major League Baseball's national contracts with CBS and now Fox.
In the fall of 1995, WITI dropped its longtime branding as "TV-6" (which it adopted in 1974 as an ABC affiliate) and began branding itself as "Six is News", in order to emphasize the station's newly expanded news schedule. Conversely, Fox network programming on the station was promoted as "Fox is Six" to try to build an audience for the growing network on the stronger Milwaukee station (Cleveland sister station WJW used a very similar branding technique at that same period, branding itself as "ei8ht is News" and "Fox is ei8ht", playing off the on-air branding that the station used as a CBS affiliate during the 1960s and 1970s).
Fox Television Stations bought ten New World stations, including WITI, in July 1996; the purchase was finalized on January 22, 1997, making WITI the first owned-and-operated station of a major network in Milwaukee since CBS owned WOKY-TV/WXIX (now WVTV) from 1954 to 1959. WITI then changed its branding to "Fox Six" – using a logo resembling that used by the NFL on Fox at the time – on January 26 (coinciding with Fox's first Super Bowl telecast, Super Bowl XXXI, in which the Packers defeated the New England Patriots). WITI officially rebranded as "Fox 6" in April 1998 with the introduction of the "Milwaukee's Newscenter" set; a "Weather Deck" located outside of the station's studios also began to be used around this time, providing an outdoor setting for forecast segments.
On December 22, 2007, Fox (which had earlier announced its intentions to sell the stations on June 13) sold WITI and seven other Fox O&O stations to the Oak Hill Capital Partners subsidiary Local TV; the sale was finalized on July 14, 2008. In 2008, the Tribune Company formed a management company to operate Local TV's stations as well as the company's own station group; the management agreement resulted in the sharing of newsgathering resources between WITI and Tribune's television flagship WGN-TV in the adjacent Chicago market, although channel 6 still shares news footage and other resources with that market's Fox O&O WFLD through the Fox NewsEdge affiliate service. This agreement also resulted in WITI also airing a May 6, 2011 tornado relief telethon from Huntsville, Alabama sister station WHNT-TV over digital subchannel 6.2. On July 1, 2013, Tribune acquired the Local TV stations outright for $2.725 billion; the sale was completed on December 27.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|6.1||720p||16:9||WITI-DT||Main WITI programming / Fox|
In May 2012, the station activated its second audio program feed three years before FCC requirements for network-provided audio description went into effect for the Milwaukee market, which was done for all Local TV stations at the master control level. The station carries all Fox programming available with Descriptive Video Service audio, along with Spanish language audio broadcasts of Fox Sports telecasts.
With Tribune's purchase of the station, it has not been determined as to if and when WITI will begin carrying This TV; Tribune had assumed Weigel Broadcasting's operational responsibilities for that network on November 1, 2013 (the network is currently carried locally on the third digital subchannel of Weigel-owned WMLW-TV).
On July 23, 2009, after a series of tests of a new digital subchannel, WITI began carrying programming from the Retro Television Network on digital channel 6.2, featuring a customized schedule heavy on public domain programs as much of RTV's program rights were held locally by Weigel Broadcasting-owned Me-TV on WBME-TV (channel 49, now WMLW-TV) at the time, which was then independently programmed before Me-TV's December 2010 national launch. Charter Communications began carrying the 6.2 subchannel on channel 967 on August 11, followed by its addition to Time Warner Cable on digital channel 991 on October 13, 2009.
On December 31, 2010, the subchannel became an affiliate of Antenna TV (as part of network owner Tribune Broadcasting's co-management agreement with Local TV's stations), and was rebranded as TV 6.2 (using a modified version of the "TV 6" logomark that WITI used from 1974 to 1995). Occasionally as time permits, TV-6.2 may air the station's 9:00 p.m. newscast whenever it is unable to run it on the station's main channel in the event of sports overruns or extended movie broadcasts aired by Fox as well as to simulcast the station's severe weather coverage, including closings and weather warning graphics. The subchannel also aired coverage of the December 2010 funeral of Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo from WGN-TV; it previously aired a same-day encore of Real Milwaukee at 8:00 p.m. weeknights.
In the fall of 2015, TV-6.2's presentation was converted to 16:9 to allow local advertising and news promotions to be presented in their native format, along with carrying Fox NFL Kickoff on Sunday mornings as mentioned below.
WITI 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 33. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 6.
As part of the SAFER Act, WITI kept its analog signal on the air until June 25 to inform viewers of the digital television transition through a loop of English and Spanish public service announcements from the National Association of Broadcasters, although this loop was interrupted several times during the period to run severe weather coverage.
The digital transition resulted in the loss of ability to listen to WITI's audio feed over 87.7 FM; television stations broadcasting on VHF channel 6 were audible over this frequency during the analog television era, although this is no longer possible due to the transition, even for stations that broadcast their digital signals on channel 6. While at least one station offered a separate broadcast on 87.7, WITI opted to restore the audio feed via an HD Radio subchannel of WMIL-FM (106.1) in August 2009 through an agreement to provide news and weather content for WMIL owner Clear Channel Communications's Milwaukee radio cluster (a forecast-only content agreement between WITI and Entercom Communications's three local stations and occasional check-ins during WakeUp News on WXSS and WSSP's morning shows continues without any audible forecasts from channel 6's weather staff). WITI is one of the few stations that had broadcast on VHF channel 6 prior to the digital transition to restore its audio feed legally; WRGB in Albany, New York attempted an audio subcarrier service after the transition that was subsequently pulled on FCC request.
WITI's digital signal ran at low power until November 2009, due to the digital antenna being located lower than the former analog antenna on the WITI Tower (this setup was common during the digital transition among Fox O&O-turned-Local TV stations; the station had originally transmitted its HD signal on low power from its STL tower in Brown Deer until HD equipment was installed on the main tower in late 2004). That antenna was removed in September, with the digital antenna being moved higher in October, causing some signal interruptions, along with affecting the operations of WUWM (89.7 FM), which transmits its signal on the tower.
WITI clears most 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 due to the station's 10:00 p.m. newscast. As a Fox-owned station, WITI's syndicated programming inventory largely came from Twentieth Television and it has served as a test station for many of the distribution unit's series. However, since 2010, programs distributed by Fox have been reduced to only a small portion of channel 6's syndicated lineup, such as The Wendy Williams Show and Divorce Court. Some other syndicated programs seen on WITI include Judge Judy, TMZ on TV (and its counterpart TMZ Live), and Extra among others. The station also carries Edgemont and children's programs distributed by Entertainment Studios to fulfill FCC E/I requirements. Currently for at least the 2015 NFL season, Fox's Fox NFL Kickoff, which precedes Fox NFL Sunday, is aired on WITI-DT2 on Sunday mornings instead due to E/I commitments and an existing syndication agreement to carry the tourism series Discover Wisconsin on Sunday mornings.
WITI aired M*A*S*H starting with the 1977 CBS/ABC affiliation switch, in both its original CBS run and in syndication. WITI obtained the local syndication rights to the show in 1992 after a long and successful run on WISN-TV. As an ABC affiliate, WITI preempted The Dick Cavett Show in the early 1970s, in favor of classic movies (it was shown instead on then-independent WVTV); All My Children was also preempted in favor of running a noon newscast. Starting in the 1980s, it aired The Young & the Restless on a one-day delay at 9 a.m. The station also preempted the Late Show with David Letterman in favor of airing M*A*S*H reruns from the former's August 1993 debut until the December 1994 switch to Fox; WCGV carried the Late Show instead, under arrangement by CBS, until it moved to WDJT upon the switch. It also was one of the first CBS affiliates to discontinue airing CBS This Morning during the 7:00 a.m. hour in 1993 in favor of airing the locally produced WakeUp News, when the network offered the option for affiliates to carry only portions of This Morning or decline it entirely.
As with most of the former New World stations that switched to Fox, WITI never aired Fox's children's programming outside of required primetime preview shows and network promotions they were technically and contractually unable to opt out of. Fox Kids and its successors remained on WCGV from December 1994 to September 2004, when the block – by that time, known as 4Kids TV – moved to WMLW-CA (channel 41, now WBME-CD), where it remained until Fox discontinued the block in December 2008 due to a contractual dispute with 4Kids Entertainment. Subsequently, WITI refused to carry Fox's Saturday morning Weekend Marketplace infomercial block (as have WCGV and WMLW), in deference to the longtime local home contractor/subdivision programming that has aired on channel 6 in that time period since the late 1980s; the block was never aired at all in the Milwaukee market. WITI finally carried some form of Fox children's programming beginning in September 2014, when the two-hour E/I-contributing Xploration Station lineup (which is syndicated primarily to Fox stations on a right of first refusal basis) began to air on Saturday mornings after the brokered home programming.
On March 31, 2009, WITI had its first network preemption outside of children's programming since it joined Fox in 1994 when it opted to delay Osbournes: Reloaded to 1:05 a.m., due to its inappropriate content, in favor of airing the locally produced special Dealing with Drugs (a discussion about the effects of drug abuse on southeastern Wisconsin teens) in the former's evening slot.
WITI aired its first non-network program in HD with the November 21, 2009 broadcast of the Milwaukee Downtown Christmas Parade (with training and equipment assistance from Milwaukee Public Television). The station formerly served as Milwaukee's "Love Network" affiliate for the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. WITI aired the program until 1996, when it moved to WDJT-TV; the telethon returned to WITI in 2011, although it lost the rights once again when the broadcast moved to ABC in 2013 (as a result, it was carried locally by WISN-TV until the telethon ended in 2014).
On September 7, 2010, WITI debuted a local talk show, titled Real Milwaukee, which airs after the station's morning newscast at 9:00 a.m.; it is produced by WITI's news department, and focuses on current events and community issues. The program differs from The Morning Blend on WTMJ-TV (channel 4) in that it does not feature paid demonstration segments by local businesses. Generally, Real Milwaukee leads or places a strong second in the ratings to all other programs in the 9:00 a.m. time period. The station also carries cooking segments from local chef Michael Feker during its morning newscast, along with the occasional full-length program Feker's Kitchen, which originates from a purpose-built kitchen set in the Wake-Up studio.
On September 9. 2013, WITI premiered a weekday afternoon talk show, Studio A, which airs at 4:00 p.m. Hosted by anchors Ted Perry and Katrina Cravy, and former WLUM-FM (102.1) morning host Brian Kramp, the program focuses mainly on community issues and events in Milwaukee, and may also provide breaking news coverage if needed. The station also airs The Better Half, a program (which is produced for fellow Fox affiliate WLUK-TV in Green Bay) that features the wives of Green Bay Packers players giving recipe and home advice, which pre-empts a "best-of" repeat of The Wendy Williams Show on Friday afternoons.
On December 3, 2007, the station's midday newscast was moved from its longtime noon slot to 11:00 a.m. Two days prior on December 1, the Saturday edition of Wake-Up News was expanded to two hours beginning at 7:00 a.m.; the Sunday edition was also moved to 7:00 a.m., but remained one hour long. In addition, Gus Gnorski's Saturday morning DIY program Ask Gus, was put on hiatus, with Gnorski's segments integrated into the Saturday morning newscast; the program's former studio began serving as the new studio for Wake-Up in May 2008. On March 28, 2009, the station suspended its morning and early evening newscasts on weekends; the weekend morning newscasts were briefly replaced by reruns of Ask Gus on April 4 (Gnorski's medically necessitated retirement end WITI's plans to revive Ask Gus, with the program ending its 15-year run on November 24, 2007).
On December 5, 2009, WITI became the second station in Milwaukee (behind WTMJ-TV) to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. It was the first (and as of June 28, 2011, the only) television station in the market to provide news video from the field in true high definition, as WITI upgraded its ENG vehicles, satellite truck, studio and field cameras and other equipment in order to broadcast news footage from the field in high definition, in addition to segments broadcast from the main studio. In February 2010, WITI expanded its weekday morning newscast a half-hour early to 4:30 a.m., extending the program to 4½ hours. WITI resumed the Saturday and Sunday morning newscasts (which now aired from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. on both days) after a two-year absence on April 2, 2011. Weekend early evening newscasts were subsequently restored on April 7, 2012.
In December 2012, WITI began construction of a new Studio A set designed by FX Group, to replace the "Milwaukee's Newscenter" set, which had been in use since 1998 and received three refreshes over the course of its use (that set's heavy integration of its 2002 to 2006 horizontal logo resulted in WITI not using the vertical "kitebox" logo of its sister stations under Fox when it began using the standardized O&O graphics in 2007). Its newscasts and Real Milwaukee then temporarily originated from the Studio B set that houses the station's morning newscast (WakeUp News). The new Studio A was partially introduced on February 11, 2013, with modifications to the secondary set continuing for a couple of weeks after. A new graphics package and the debut of a new music package ("Extreme" by Stephen Arnold) was introduced on April 22, 2013. Studio A ended on July 8, 2016, with the 4 p.m. hour converted to a traditional newscast the next Monday, though some Studio A segments and elements will remain.
Notable current on-air staff
- Mary Stoker Smith - Sunday–Thursday evenings anchor
- Rob Haswell (AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and NWA Seal of Approval) - chief meteorologist; weekday mornings on WakeUp News
Notable former on-air staff
- Tom Skilling - meteorologist (1975–1978; now chief meteorologist at WGN-TV/Chicago, Illinois)
- Jane Skinner - anchor (1994-1996, former anchor for Fox News Channel, wife of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell)
- Clarice Tinsley - anchor/reporter/monthly public affairs show host (1975–1978; now at KDFW/Dallas-Fort Worth)
- Carl Zimmermann (retired in 1986, died in April 2014) - longest serving broadcaster in Milwaukee history
- Anne State - anchor (2010-2014: now at KGTV/San Diego, California)