WPTA, virtual channel 21 (UHF digital channel 24), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, United States. The station is owned by Quincy Media; through a shared services agreement, it is a sister station to NBC affiliate WISE-TV (channel 33, owned by SagamoreHill Broadcasting). The two stations share studios and transmitter facilities located on Butler Road in Northwest Fort Wayne. The station can also be seen on Comcast and Frontier FiOS channel 7, and in HD on Frontier FiOS digital channel 506 and Comcast digital channel 1007.
The station first signed on the air on September 28, 1957 and was founded by Sarkes Tarzian, an Indianapolis engineer whose company owned Bloomington's WTTV and several other stations in Indiana. The WPTA call letters come from the long tradition of other Tarzian stations, including once former sister station WPTH, that base the call letters upon the initials of family members of company management. Upon its launch, channel 21 took all ABC programming from NBC affiliate WKJG-TV (channel 33, now WISE-TV) and CBS affiliate WANE-TV (channel 15).
Under Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules at that time, the market was deemed too small to support three full-power stations, so Tarzian's application listed WPTA's city of license in the small town of Roanoke, located just across the Allen and Huntington county line approximately 14 miles to the southwest of its studios and transmitter in Fort Wayne. It was possible because the FCC had by this time allowed a station to have its main studio in a different location from its city of license. WPTA identified itself as "Roanoke/Fort Wayne" on-air until the license was officially transferred to Fort Wayne sometime in the 1970s.
In addition to ABC programming, it also originally aired seven and a half hours of live local programming each week. In 1957, the station aired a spin-off of American Bandstand called Teen Dance and the afternoon kids show Popeye and the Rascals. In 1964, a 2,226-square-foot (206.8 m2) addition to its studios was added to accommodate an expanding sales staff. On April 4, 1973, the station was sold to Combined Communications for $3.6 million. Under new management, WPTA purchased new cameras and a more modern switcher. On June 7, 1979, Combined merged with the Gannett Company.
On May 12, 1983, Gannett sold WPTA (along with WLKY in Louisville, Kentucky) to Pulitzer Publishing for an undisclosed amount. The station was sold again to Granite Broadcasting on September 25, 1989 for $22.15 million. In late-1998 alongside the launch of The WB 100+ and its cable-only affiliates, WPTA began managing and providing promotional services for "WBFW", which used that callsign in a fictional manner since it was a cable-exclusive service.
When WSJV in South Bend (which signed on three years before WPTA) switched to Fox in 1995, WPTA became the longest-tenured ABC affiliate in Indiana. At one time (according to Granite Broadcasting's website), WPTA was among the ten strongest ABC affiliates in the country, ranking up with WISN-TV in Milwaukee, KMBC-TV Kansas City, and KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City.
On March 9, 2005, after Granite bought NBC affiliate WISE-TV, it sold WPTA to the Malara Broadcast Group for $45.3 million. A local marketing agreement was established in which Granite would provide operational services to WPTA as well as for Malara's other new station KDLH in Duluth, Minnesota. Although WISE-TV is nominally the senior partner in this LMA, the stations' combined operation is based at WPTA's studios and the bulk of the news staff came from WPTA (see below). Malara jointly files its Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reports with Granite which led to allegations that the company uses Malara as a shell corporation for Granite. If the allegations are proven to be true, Granite would be guilty of evading FCC duopoly rules. The FCC does not allow common ownership of two of the four highest-rated stations in a single market. Additionally, Fort Wayne has only six full-power stations (only four of which are licensed as commercial outlets) – too few to legally allow duopolies in any case. After emerging from bankruptcy in the summer of 2007, Granite stock was taken over by the privately owned hedge fund Silver Point Capital of Greenwich, Connecticut. Silver Point Capital now controls Granite according to a Buffalo, New York news article printed September 16, 2007. According to the same article, Granite planned to sell its properties to other parties and many of its stations laid off employees or cut salaries up to 20 percent.
On September 28, 2007, WPTA unveiled a 3D version of its current logo to commemorate the station's 50th anniversary and conjunction with ABC's new image campaign, but did not fully switch to it until August 4, 2008. On January 10, 2009, WPTA brought a new digital master control center online which services the station, WISE-TV and Granite's other stations in the Midwest.
On February 11, 2014, Quincy Media agreed to purchase WPTA from the Malara Broadcast Group as part of a deal to purchase Granite Broadcasting's stations in four markets (the other stations were KBJR-TV in Superior, Wisconsin and its satellite KRII in Chisholm, Minnesota, WEEK-TV in Peoria, Illinois and WBNG-TV in Binghamton, New York). Quincy opted to purchase WPTA's license instead of WISE's license because WPTA has been the higher-rated of the two stations in the local viewership ratings. In addition to acquiring WPTA outright (which would make it the senior partner in the Fort Wayne duopoly), Quincy Newspapers would operate WISE-TV (whose license would be acquired by SagamoreHill Broadcasting) through a shared services agreement. In November 2014, the deal was reworked to remove SagamoreHill from the transaction, with Quincy acquiring WISE, and WPTA remaining with Malara.
In July 2015, the deal was reworked yet again; it reverted to its previous structure, with Quincy and SagamoreHill acquiring WPTA and WISE respectively. However, it also called for the SSA to be wound down within nine months of the acquisition's closure. On September 15, 2015, the FCC approved the deal, which was completed on November 2. On August 1, 2016, as a result of the end of the SSA, NBC and MyNetworkTV programming previously seen on WISE will move to subchannels of WPTA, and The CW will move to WISE, which will be independently operated by SagamoreHill Broadcasting.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|21.1||720p||16:9||21Alive||Main WPTA programming / ABC|
|21.2||480i||FW-CW||The CW Fort Wayne|
On January 24, 2006, Time Warner and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN and combine the networks' respective programming to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. In March 2006, The CW announced that cable-only WB 100+ Station Group affiliate "WBFW" would become the network's Fort Wayne affiliate as part of The CW Plus (a similar small-market master feed to The WB 100+). WPTA decided to create a new second digital subchannel to simulcast "WBFW" and offer access to CW programming for over-the-air viewers. On September 18, The CW debuted on "WBFW" which officially began using the WPTA-DT2 calls. This move – along with WISE-DT2's switch to MyNetworkTV on September 5 – resulted in the deactivation of WANE-TV's second digital subchannel, which had been affiliated with UPN prior to the network's shutdown (that subchannel remained dark until 2010, when it affiliated with TheCoolTV).
WPTA shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 21, 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 24. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 21.
WPTA presently broadcasts 27 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours on weekdays and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays); in addition, the station also produces the public affairs INSight, which airs on Sunday mornings, and the sports highlight program The Score and the half-hour sports discussion program Sound-Off, which both air on Sunday evenings following the 11 p.m. newscast. While WPTA has an weather radar dating back to the late 1990s on its premises, it has used NEXRAD data exclusively since 2007, first with Baron Systems' VIPIR processing under the name Pinpoint VIPIR HD, then from 2016 onwards with The Weather Company's Max Radar as a result of the station's acquisition by Quincy.
Under Combined Communications ownership, WPTA significantly invested in its news department. During that time, Wes Sims and Harry Gallagher served as co-anchors with meteorologist Bill Eisenhood and sports anchor Tom Campbell. In July 1978, WPTA replaced the Eyewitness News format for its newscasts with the current "Alive" (as "21 Alive") format that remains in use to this day, originating from a studio doubling as the station's newsroom; WXIA in Atlanta is another former Combined station that currently uses the "Alive" brand, though it abandoned the open newsroom concept in the early 1980s. In the summer of 1984, the station received its first live truck to assist in news production.
After being taken over by Granite, WISE-TV's news department was promptly folded and combined with WPTA. The company fired most of WISE-TV's news staff, with the exception of lead anchor Linda Jackson, who became part of the WPTA operation and would eventually become morning co-anchor on WPTA. That station began airing a weeknight newscast at 7 p.m. which was the first and, at the time, only one in the state of Indiana. On September 11, 2006, this was replaced with an additional episode of Dr. Phil due to low ratings. In November 2005, after several months of using the "Alive" news brand on both stations, WPTA debuted a new set in the basement of its studios formerly used to tape public-affairs programs such as Impact. With it came a new branding for the newscasts, Indiana's NewsCenter.
When WPTA took over news production for WISE-TV, there was initially a significant decrease in ratings. WANE-TV became the market's news leader for several years after that, according to Nielsen Media Research, since it was the only other local news operation in the area at the time. This was most easily attributed to continued viewer resentment towards WPTA and Granite for the elimination of WISE-TV's news department and arguably its identity and history. However, WPTA management said the changes were part of a longer-term plan that would need up to five years to take hold with viewers. Part of the plan to win back viewers included new technology such as text messaging, an improved website with more online video, and upgrading weather equipment to a VIPIR system.
Eventually, the changes started to take hold and ratings began to drastically improve. In the November 2007 sweeps period, WPTA and WANE-TV were nearly neck-and-neck in the Fort Wayne television news ratings race with WANE-TV continuing to show a slight lead. On July 24, 2006, WISE-TV began airing a weeknight primetime newscast at 10 p.m. for a half-hour on its NBC Weather Plus subchannel. With the September 2006 change to MyNetworkTV on WISE-DT2 and the addition of The CW on WPTA's second digital subchannel, the show (known as Indiana's NewsCenter Prime News) became part of those channel's schedules through a simulcast. On May 18, 2009, WPTA and WISE-TV became the first two stations in Fort Wayne to air local newscasts in 16:9 aspect ratio.
In September 2009, Granite began producing a pre-recorded weeknight prime time newscast at 10 on sister MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYD in Detroit, replacing a similar production by the Independent News Network The broadcast featured news anchor Melissa Long, chief meteorologist Curtis Smith, sports director Dean Pantazi, and a group of Detroit-based reporters. The co-production was established after the Butler Road facilities became a master control hub for Granite's Midwestern stations. The newscast was discontinued and taken in-house following the sale of WMYD to the owners of local ABC affiliate WXYZ.
During the Indiana's NewsCenter era, WPTA co-produced newscasts with WISE-TV that were essentially the same in terms of coverage and format. Shows simulcast on both stations included weekday morning (except for the 5 a.m. half-hour on WPTA), weeknight 6 p.m. and weekend newscasts. WPTA aired separate weekday noon and weeknight 5, 5:30 and 11 p.m. newscasts. WISE-TV did not (and continues not to) air newscasts on weeknights at 5 and 5:30 p.m. unlike most NBC affiliates in the Eastern Time Zone. For a time, WISE-DT2 offered rebroadcasts of the entire weekday morning (at 7 a.m.), noon (at 1 p.m.) and weeknight 6 p.m. (at 6:30) newscasts.
On October 14, 2012 at 11 p.m., WPTA began broadcasting its newscasts in high definition. With this, newscasts on the station returned to the 21 Alive News brand. WPTA and WISE-TV continued to simulcast newscasts under respective titles until March 4, 2013, when the latter station began airing its own newscasts with a separate news team. News resources continue to be shared between the two stations such as video footage. Parts of the Indiana's NewsCenter brand remained in use over the next two years, including the station's website, INCnow.tv; in October 2014, WPTA changed its web address to 21alive.com, with the website now prominently displaying the two stations' logos.
In a presentation submitted to the FCC in August 2014, Quincy said that its plans for WPTA and WISE-TV include the construction of a new studio facility at the WPTA site, after which both stations would produce competing live newscasts and maintain separate websites. (As of October 2014, only the 4 p.m. newscast on WISE-TV airs live due to a shared studio with WPTA, which airs live newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m.) This plan was effectively maintained after the decision to transfer WISE-TV's NBC affiliation to WPTA-DT2, for which Quincy will produce a separate news product from that of the the main channel. Construction on an addition to the WPTA studios commenced in the spring of 2016, and Quincy subsequently posted job listings for news personnel. Quincy said in a statement that WPTA would become the largest news operation in its stable.
In the months following Quincy's acquisition of WPTA, several popular on-air personalities left the station. Evening anchor Melissa Long retired after 23 years at the end of 2015; within months, chief meteorologist Curtis Smith and sports director Tommy Schoegler took positions at Parkview Health after 21 and 13 years respectively, breaking up what had mostly been a static anchor team about for a decade. In July 2016, WISE-TV weather specialist Katie Law also left for Parkview; weekend meteorologist Matt Leach, who fills Law's place in the meantime, announced he would leave for an unnamed employer in the mental health field at the end of the month.
Notable former on-air staff
- Melissa Long - news anchor (1992-2015; now retired)
- Keith Edwards - news anchor (1983–2007; now retired)
- Curtis Smith - chief meteorologist (1995-2016; now at Parkview Health)
- Janette Luu - weekend news anchor/reporter (until 2005; later at CKXT-TV in Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
- Marti Wright - news anchor/reporter (1981–2000; resigned after DWI in Auburn, Indiana)