WJLA-TV, channel 7, is an ABC-affiliated television station serving the American capital city of Washington, D.C.. The station is owned by Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which also operates local cable channel NewsChannel 8. The two stations share broadcast facilities located on Wilson Blvd in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Virginia; WJLA-TV's transmitter is located in the Tenleytown neighborhood of northwest Washington.
The District of Columbia's third television station began broadcasting on October 3, 1947 as WTVW, owned by the Washington Star, along with WMAL radio (630 AM and 107.3 FM, now WRQX). It was the first Band III VHF television station (channels 7-13) in the United States. A few months later, the station changed its callsign to WMAL-TV after its radio sisters. WMAL radio had been an affiliate of the NBC Blue Network since 1933, and remained with the network after it was spun off by NBC and evolved into ABC. However, channel 7 started as a CBS station since ABC had not yet established its television network. When ABC launched on television in 1948, WMAL-TV became ABC's third primary affiliate; the station continued to carry some CBS programming until WOIC (channel 9, now WUSA) signed on in 1949. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. (Note: The WTVW call letters were later picked up by what is now WISN-TV, the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when it signed on in 1954. Now the callsign is residing in Evansville, Indiana on a CW-affiliated station that is also on channel 7.)
In 1975 Houston businessman Joe Allbritton, the owner of Washington-based Riggs Bank, purchased a controlling interest in the Star's media properties, which by that time also included WLVA radio and WLVA-TV (now WSET-TV) in Lynchburg, Virginia; and WCIV in Charleston, South Carolina. As a condition of the purchase, Allbritton was given three years to break up the Washington newspaper/broadcast combination, which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was seeking to prohibit under the tightening of its concentration of media ownership policy. WMAL-TV was separated first from its radio sisters when ABC purchased WMAL-AM-FM in March 1977. Upon the radio transfer, channel 7 changed its call letters to the current WJLA-TV, after the owner's initials. In April 1977, Allbritton negotiated a deal to trade the station to Combined Communications Corporation in return for KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City, but called off the deal due to last-minute complications despite receiving FCC approval. Allbritton instead sold the Washington Star to Time, Inc. in January 1978, and retained WJLA-TV and the Lynchburg and Charleston television stations for what would eventually become Allbritton Communications.
Rumors abounded from the mid-1990s onward that ABC might buy WJLA-TV, effectively reuniting it with its former radio sisters. Indeed, in the summer of 1998, ABC's corporate parent the Walt Disney Company discussed a possible acquisition of Allbritton Communications, but a sale agreement failed to materialize. ABC eventually sold most of its radio properties, including WMAL and WRQX, to Citadel Broadcasting Corporation in June 2007. Even so, WJLA remained an ABC affiliate under Allbritton because the company had an exclusive affiliation deal with the network. After WJZ-TV in Baltimore switched to CBS in 1995, WJLA became ABC's longest-tenured television affiliate.
In December 2007, WJLA began simulcasting WTOP-FM on its "Weather Now" digital sub-channel; this continued through late July 2009. Until July 28, 2008, WJLA-TV offered Local Point TV on 7.2, which was a local version of Current, featuring five-minute video segments created by area residents. Abby Fenton, the station's Director of Community Relations said in an interview with "Broadcasting & Cable" media industry magazine that "the station likes the "Local Point" programming and is pondering where else it might fit". Retro Television Network, ("Retro TV"), a new syndicated digital national broadcast network with older re-runs of classic television series from the 1950s, 60's, and 70's replaced Local Point TV at 10:00 a.m. on July 28, 2008.
In late October 2008, WJLA began simulcasting on local low-powered station WWTD-LP; the station continued to broadcast an analog feed of WJLA after the digital transition. In late July 2009, WJLA dropped its locally produced "WeatherNow" channel for The Local AccuWeather Channel on its DT2 subchannel under the "Doug Hill's WeatherNow" brand. On March 13, 2012, WJLA dropped the Local AccuWeather Channel in favor of forecasts from their own meteorologists. With that, the name of the channel was slightly changed to "ABC7's WeatherNow". WJLA began carrying "Me-TV", a competing syndicated digital broadcast TV network with older classic and re-runs of television series on March 2013 on WJLA's digital subchannel 7.2, replacing "ABC7's WeatherNow" on Channel 7.2.
On June 12, 2009, WJLA-TV terminated its analog signal, on VHF channel 7, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 39 to VHF channel 7 for post-transition operations. While 90% of the station's viewers received WJLA's signal via cable or satellite, many of the over-the-air viewers had problems after the final transition. Some needed to rescan, and others needed a VHF antenna. WJLA applied on August 29, 2009 for special authorization by the FCC to increase its effective radiated power (ERP) to 52 kW. The power increase was put into effect on September 18, 2009. WJLA already ran 30 kW of ERP, which was higher than the other three VHF stations in the area: WUSA (12.6 kW), WBAL-TV (5 kW), and WJZ-TV (28.8 kW) (post transition power levels).
Acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group
On May 1, 2013, reports surfaced that Allbritton was planning to sell its television stations so it could put more of its focus on running its political website Politico. Allbritton announced nearly three months later that it would sell all of its stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group for $985 million. After nearly a year of delays, the deal was approved by the FCC on July 24, 2014. The deal was finalized on August 1, 2014. The new ownership meant that WJLA by default became the Washington affiliate of Sinclair's American Sports Network which launched in the same month; however on the main signal, ABC's sports coverage from ESPN takes preference over ASN's lower-tier conference rights and it is generally carried over the station's 7.2 and 7.3 subchannels instead.
Logos and imaging
Since 1970, WMAL-TV/WJLA has used a variation of the Circle 7 logo, which has long been primarily associated with ABC affiliates. From 1970 to 2001, WMAL/WJLA used its own version of the logo, with the "7" modified to accommodate the circle. In 1984, it saw a minor update with rounded ends on the "7" being modified to use sharp, straight edges, like the logo later used by Australia's Seven Network. This version of the logo was probably the longest continuously used numeric logo in Washington's television history. The only real modification came in 1998, after it began calling itself "ABC 7" on-air and added the ABC logo to the left side. In 2001, WJLA adopted the standard version of the "Circle 7" logo, refueling speculation that ABC would purchase the station. WJLA-TV is the largest ABC affiliate to use the Circle 7 that is not an ABC owned-and-operated station. In addition, sister station KATV in Little Rock, Arkansas, has used the standard Circle 7 since the 1960s, longer than all WJLA versions combined.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|7.1||720p||16:9||WJLA-HD||Main WJLA-TV programming / ABC|
As one of the largest ABC stations not owned-and-operated by the network, the station generally clears all ABC programming. However, locally produced sports and election specials preempt the first hour of the network's primetime lineup on a few days in late summer and early fall, while the low-rated Saturday night network lineup is occasionally preempted during the summer months in favor of a feature film broadcast. If needed, WJLA reschedules network programming at its earliest convenience, usually during the overnight hours. In most cases, any preempted network programming can be seen on Baltimore's WMAR-TV, which is receivable in Washington and its close suburbs with a rooftop antenna.
WJLA-TV presently broadcasts a total of 30½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 5½ hours on weekdays, two hours on Saturdays and 1½ hours on Sundays). The station has the largest news team in the Washington area, which includes around 40 on-air staff members. As the flagship station of the Allbritton Communications station group, WJLA provided national news headlines for other Allbritton-owned stations.
Prior to 2001, WJLA's newscasts had long placed third in the market's news ratings, behind WUSA and NBC-owned WRC-TV. The station scored a major coup in 1999, when it hired Maureen Bunyan, former longtime anchor at WUSA. In 2003, former CNN anchor Leon Harris joined the station as an anchor. In 2004, WJLA hired Bunyan's former anchor desk partner, Gordon Peterson; the two have since been reunited as anchors for the 6:00 p.m. newscast. These personnel moves, combined with WUSA's recent ratings troubles, have led to a resurgence in the ratings. In the May 2010 sweeps, it placed number one at 5:00 p.m. in total viewers, and in the 25–54 demo.
WJLA became the second television station in the Washington, D.C. market (behind CBS affiliate WUSA) to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition on December 8, 2008. The upgrade included the introduction of a new on-air graphics package as well as minor changes made to the news desk for better viewing quality with high definition. Field reports and promotions for WJLA's newscasts continued to be broadcast in standard definition until the end of March 2013, when the station upgraded to HD field cameras for field shots and some news promotions.
On January 23, 2009, WJLA laid off 26 staff members, including several on-air reporters, due to financial constraints. The laid off reporters included Andrea McCarren, Sarah C. Lee, Alisa Parenti, Emily Schmidt, Jennefer Donelan, and weekend sports anchor Greg Toland. Most of the dismissals took effect immediately, but some were allowed to serve out their contracts. WJLA also announced a 4.9% salary cut for all remaining staff and a halt to company contributions to 401(k) retirement plans.
Post-acquisition, concerns began to emerge surrounding how Sinclair's historic right-wing slant may affect WJLA's news coverage. After Sinclair took over the station, WJLA began to air conservative commentaries by Sinclair executive Mark E. Hyman, along with stories from Sinclair's Washington bureau—all of which were critical of the Obama administration. The station also partnered with the conservative Washington Times to feature its weekly "Golden Hammer" award—highlighting "the most egregious examples of government waste, fraud and abuse", as a segment during its newscasts. WJLA staff members felt that it was inappropriate for a station in Washington, D.C. to air stories that are critical of the federal government; one employee told The Washington Post that with these changes, the station may "lose the trust they built up with people over years and years. We've told people, 'We're just like you,' not, 'We're looking out for the tea party.'"
On January 26, 2015, the station made changes to its news set and also debuted a fresh new on-air look along with new theme music for its newscasts.
On November 2, 2015, WJLA debuted an entirely new set for its newscasts, replacing the previous set that had been used since its relocation to its current Rosslyn studios in September 2002. On December 21, 2015, WJLA became the last of the four English-language local broadcast stations in the Washington, DC market to have its newscasts switched to a 16:9 letterbox format, with a revised graphics package optimized for the 16:9 format. Concurrently, its sister local cable news channel, NewsChannel 8, also switched to the same 16:9 letterbox format.
Notable current on-air staff
- Leon Harris – anchor
- Alison Starling – anchor
- Maureen Bunyan – anchor
- Doug Hill – (AMS seal of approval) – chief meteorologist
- Erin Hawksworth – sports director (2015–present)
- Lisa Fletcher - investigative reporter
Notable former on-air staff
- Britt McHenry (now at ESPN)
- Lori Stokes (now at WABC)
- Joe Witte (now a researcher at the Goddard Spaceflight Center)
- Megyn Kelly (now at Fox News Channel)
- Kendis Gibson (now at ABC News)
- Tim Brant (left station in May 2015 after his contract was not renewed)
- Gordon Peterson – retired in December 2014; also host of Inside Washington