WMSN-TV is the Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Madison, Wisconsin and serving Madison and Southern Wisconsin's Eastern Ridges and Lowlands. The station broadcasts a high definition signal on UHF channel 49 (or virtual channel 47.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Madison's Middleton Junction section. Owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, WMSN's main studios are located on Big Sky Drive on Madison's west side.
WMSN-TV commenced broadcasting on June 8, 1986, airing on analog UHF channel 47. It was the first new commercial station to launch in the Madison market since WISC-TV signed on thirty years earlier. One of WMSN's earlier programs was Big Sky Theater, a Saturday night presentation of classic movies (mostly westerns) from the drive-in era. (The program's name was an acknowledgement to the Big Sky Drive-In Theater, which was located near the present day WMSN studios).
After a few months as an Independent, the station joined Fox as a charter affiliate on October 9, 1986. Since 1994, as a result of the Fox network's NFC football package, WMSN has been Madison's primary home for the Green Bay Packers; these broadcasts are routinely the highest-rated programs in the market during football season.
After completing its November 2010 switch in physical digital channels (see below), WMSN added The Country Network (later known as ZUUS Country) on its third digital subchannel (47.3), joining TheCoolTV, which was added to subchannel 47.2 in September 2010. WMSN and other Sinclair stations dropped TheCoolTV in August 2012 at the expiration of their carriage agreement; it resulted in subchannel 47.2 remaining silent until July 2014, when the classic movie network GetTV was added, a part of the network's channel lease agreement with Sinclair; Sinclair-owned sci-fi network Comet replaced GetTV on October 31, 2015. Subchannel 47.2 also carries live sports events produced by Sinclair's American Sports Network due to compulsory Fox Sports commitments on 47.1.
WMSN has been a Fox affiliate since the network's 1986 launch; the station's relationship with Fox will continue through at least 2017, the result of Fox's affiliation agreement with WMSN and Sinclair's 18 other Fox stations, a deal reached on May 15, 2012.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|47.1||720p||16:9||WMSN-DT||Main WMSN-TV programming / Fox|
In April 2014, WMSN began airing local and syndicated programming (including its 9PM newscasts) in a 16:9 high definition format. Before that time, any local content on WMSN was shown in a pillarboxed 4:3 standard definition format (only Fox network programming would be shown in full HD).
WMSN-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 47, 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 VHF channel 11. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 47.
The other commercial stations converted to digital the week of February 17 while public station WHA-TV converted on April 5. Due in part to interference concerns with a fellow Fox affiliate, then-LIN Media-owned WLUK-TV (which transmits on VHF channel 11 from Green Bay) WMSN filed a construction permit to move its digital signal to UHF channel 49, a change was made on November 5, 2010 and resulted in Madison being the only all-UHF market in Wisconsin. It also made ABC affiliate WLOS in Asheville, North Carolina the only Sinclair-owned station on the VHF dial before Sinclair ramped up and acquired several other companies beginning in 2012. By coincidence, WLUK was acquired by Sinclair in December 2014 in the wake of the Media General and LIN Media merger requiring WLUK's sale.
In 1999, ABC affiliate WKOW (then owned by the Shockley Communications Corporation) entered into a news share agreement with WMSN, which resulted in Madsion's first nightly prime time newscast, known as Fox 47 News at 9. The 35-minute weeknight broadcast (30 minutes on weekends) was originally produced from a secondary set at WKOW's studios on Tokay Boulevard in Madison. The newscasts employed no WKOW on-air branding, instead using Sinclair's standard music-and-graphics packages. Although the newscasts featured appearances from additional WKOW personnel, WMSN maintained separate weeknight anchors that normally did not appear on WKOW except to fill-in when needed.
On January 1, 2012, WMSN's news share agreement with WKOW expired after nearly 13 years (WMSN General Manager Kerry Johnson termed the split as a "business decision"). On that same date, WMSN began a new news outsourcing agreement with WISC-TV, the Morgan Murphy Media-owned CBS affiliate in Madison; as a result, WISC cancelled its own 9PM weeknight newscast it had produced for its subchannel TVW, making Fox 47 News at 9 the lone remaining prime time newscast in the Madison market. (In addition to TVW's newscast, WBUW also aired a 9PM weeknight newscast from 2003 to 2005). Fox 47 News at 9 originates from WISC's Raymond Road studios, using WISC's own news set and personnel (except the main news anchor) but, just as with WKOW, employing Sinclair's standard news graphics and music packages, as well as use of behind-the-desk duratrans to help differentiate the newscast from those of WISC.