WJRT-TV, channel 12, is the ABC-affiliated station for the Flint/Tri-Cities television market, owned by Gray Television. Its studios are located on Lapeer Road in Flint, Michigan, with offices and a second newsroom for the Tri-Cities located in Saginaw. The station broadcasts its multiplexed digital signal with 30 kilowatts of power from a 286-metre-high (938 ft) tower located on Burt Road (near Bishop Road) in Albee Township, Michigan.
WJRT-TV is the only station in the Flint/Tri-Cities market that is headquartered in the city of Flint, and in turn tends to focus its local news stories on Flint and Genesee County, with a secondary emphasis on the Tri-Cities.
WJRT-TV was founded in 1958 by Goodwill Stations, the owner of WJR in Detroit at the time. That company won out over two other companies seeking to operate channel 12, the Trebit Corp. (which owned WFDF) and W.S. Butterfield Theatres, Inc. Channel 12 initially wanted to place its transmitter in Independence Township, Michigan. When it was learned that Independence Township was located in Oakland County, part of the Detroit television market, Goodwill settled on placing the tower in St. Charles Township in southwestern Saginaw County; the transmitter remains there today.
WJRT-TV went on the air on October 12, 1958 at 5 PM, as an ABC network affiliate. As part of the winning bid for the license the station had to produce original local programming several hours a day for 10 years. At the time the station had to fill 55 hours of programming outside of the network shows. this led to like "Mr. Magic" and "Folkswingers".
Goodwill Stations merged with Capital Cities Broadcasting in 1964, but WJRT-TV was spun off to Poole Broadcasting (owned by John Poole, a former Capital Cities stockholder) because the merged company was one VHF station over the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership limit of the time. The station was the first Michigan television station outside of Detroit to go all-color in 1967 on Labor Day which saw the launch of its Bozo show. With the original license agreement for local shows expired in 1968, all but "Bozo" were replaced by 1972 with syndicated programs.
In 1978, WJRT along with the rest of Poole Broadcasting (which included WPRI-TV in Providence, Rhode Island and WTEN in Albany, New York) were sold to Knight Ridder. In October 1988, the company placed its eight broadcast television stations up for sale to reduce debt and to pay a major purchase. As a result, the station was sold to SJL Broadcast Management in 1989.
During the 1970s, WJRT-TV became Mid Michigan's highest rated television station, helped by ABC's ratings improvements during the decade. During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, WJRT-TV was usually second to WNEM-TV.
In 1994, New World Communications signed an affiliation deal with Fox Broadcasting Company, resulting in most of New World's stations switching affiliation to Fox. Among the stations due to switch was WJBK-TV in Detroit, a longtime CBS affiliate. To avoid being consigned to UHF in what was then the ninth-largest market, CBS heavily wooed Detroit's longtime ABC affiliate (and former O&O), WXYZ-TV. WXYZ's owner, E.W. Scripps Company, then told ABC that unless it agreed to affiliate with Scripps-owned stations in four smaller markets, it would switch WXYZ to CBS. As a contingency, ABC Owned Television Stations approached SJL about buying WJRT and sister station WTVG (Toledo, Ohio) in 1995. WJRT provides city-grade coverage to parts of Oakland and Macomb counties.
Soon after ABC purchased WJRT, the station returned to the top of the Mid-Michigan ratings for prime time, where it remains today. Because Capital Cities spun the station off decades earlier, WJRT-TV was the only ABC station not part of the Capital Cities/ABC merger in 1986. Longtime ABC affiliates KTRK-TV in Houston and WPVI-TV in Philadelphia were part of the merger.
Ironically, when ABC acquired WJRT in 1995, it was reunited with its namesake radio station, WJR. WJR's owner, Capital Cities, had merged with ABC in 1986. And in 2002, WFDF (now a Detroit station), which unsuccessfully sought a channel 12 license in the 1950s, would also become a sister to WJRT-TV when ABC bought the station. However, this reunion was partially broken up, as ABC sold WJR, along with other ABC Radio properties, to Citadel Broadcasting in January, 2006.
ABC12, the first in Mid-Michigan, started their digital broadcast on May 1, 2002 on channel 36. In June 2008, the station received a construction permit for post-transition digital facilities. In 2004 along with all the other ABC owned stations, WJRT launched ABC News Now on its digital subchannel, while in 2005 all ABC stations launched AccuWeather Channel on their third subchannel.
WJRT-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 12, 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 36 to VHF channel 12.
After the return to VHF, viewers who had installed UHF receiving antennas during the transition period had the signal compromised. So on October 14, 2009, WJRT filed an application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to increase the power level from 18.2 kW to 30 kW. The increase was approved in May 2011.
2nd SJL ownership
On November 3, 2010, Broadcasting & Cable magazine announced that SJL Broadcasting, now owned by the principal owners of Lilly Broadcasting, made an agreement with Disney to buy back WJRT and WTVG, the two smallest stations in ABC's O&O portfolio. Both stations are expected to retain their affiliations with ABC. SJL teamed up with a new private equity partner, Bain Capital, whose affiliated offshoot Sankaty Advisors provided the capital for the purchases (which amounted to $13.2 million on WJRT's end of the $30 million deal). The sale was completed on April 1, 2011.
Unfortunately, both ABC12's news director Jim Bleicher and General Manager Tom Bryson either retired or left the station after the sale was announced. Further more, on April 6, 2011, less than a week after SJL taking over control of WJRT, they terminated longtime weekend anchor Joel Feick and removed longtime weeknight anchor Bill Harris from the newsdesk. Harris later returned to WJRT on May 3, 2011, reporting from a homeland security training conference in Grand Rapids for the station's evening newscast. Feick was later hired by competitor WEYI-TV as weekday morning news anchor. On January 4, 2012, it was announced that Harris was also hired by WEYI-TV to anchor the 6 PM newscast, a position he began on January 30, 2012.
On October 8, 2012, a one-on-one interview with Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan by ABC12's Terry Camp made national news when Ryan accused Camp of "stuffing words into people's mouths" after he asked questions about inner-city crime and gun laws, then later said Camp "embarrassed himself". MSNBC host Rachel Maddow aired the segment on her show the next day and defended Camp while attacking Ryan's answers. Fox News Channel host Brian Kilmeade took the opposite stance by defending Ryan and saying Camp asked "gotcha questions".
Gray TV station
On July 24, 2014, SJL announced that it would sell WJRT and WTVG again, this time to Gray Television, for $128 million—a value higher than that of their original sale to ABC. Gray also owns Lansing's NBC affiliate WILX-TV. The sale was completed on September 15 and funded mostly by loans.
On October 17, 2014, Gray Television announced it was adding MeTV to WJRT on 12.2, replacing Live Well Network in December 2014. MeTV was then added on November 17, 2014 going by the name MeTV Mid-Michigan - the same name used by an unrelated Fox affiliate in Lansing, WSYM-TV.
As part of the winning bid for the license the station had to produce original local programming several hours a day for 10 years. At the time the station had to fill 55 hours of programming outside of the network shows. With the original license agreement for local shows expired in 1968, all but "Bozo" were replaced by 1972 with syndicated programs. Many of the local children's series were franchised series like Bozo and Romper Room compared to WNEM's full original programs.
- "Mr. Magic" (1960-1967) was started on air with newly hired commercial writer Earl Frank Cady was asked to come up with a children's program. After taking some magic classes, the show was launched. The show was replaced by "Bozo" on the day the station went to full color on Labor Day 1967.
- "Bozo's Big Top" (1967-1979) local performed by Earl Frank Cady
- "Colonel Gyro from Outer Space"
- "Romper Room with Miss Margie"
- "Theatre of Thrills" (1961–67) a horror film anthology with host "Christopher Coffin" played by Farrell Reed Pasternak, a local advertising agency owner and voice-over announcer
Frank Deal, the station weather forecaster, hosted a few of the locally produced shows:
- "Almanac" early-morning information show
- "TV Bingo"
- "Folkswingers", an entertainment programming
- "Rae Deane and Friends" (1961–68) was co-hosted with Rae Deane Gerkowski with Deal serving as puppet master for puppets Montgomery Lion and Dilly Mahatmashmu
The station produces a regular slate of newscasts plus additional afternoon hours during the week.