WGN Television, whose call letters are derived from the Chicago Tribune’s first slogan, “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” hit the airwaves on April 5, 1948 on Channel 9 in Chicago from its studios at Tribune Tower. Colonel Robert McCormick led the Tribune Company into the TV era, believing that “in television, we have embarked upon another of America’s adventures.”
In addition to carrying Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball games starting in 1948, WGN-TV made its first attempts at producing entertainment series to air on the station while also distributing them to TV stations across the country. Although initially an affiliate of the DuMont and CBS television networks, WGN-TV realized it could better serve the Chicago area audience as an independent station. By 1957, WGN became one of the first local television stations to offer a limited schedule of live programs in color. One year later, the station had scored many firsts, including the first televised appearance of President Truman in Chicago as well as mobile coverage of General MacArthur’s visit to the city.
In 1961, WGN-TV began broadcasting from new facilities at 2501 West Bradley Place on Chicago’s northwest side and premiered its own version of “Bozo’s Circus,” which went on to become the most popular and successful locally produced children’s series in the history of television. “Bozo’s Circus” also created a generation of young Cubs fans as most of the games immediately followed the popular program for two decades. Also in the 1960s, WGN expanded its “10th Hour News” newscast to a half-hour (the first Chicago TV station to do so), produced shows such as “Garfield Goose and Friends” and “Ray Rayner and His Friends,” sports telecasts that included Chicago Blackhawks hockey and Bulls basketball, and developed a vast movie library that was featured on a number of showcases such as “Family Classics.” In 1966, the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Board of Directors awarded Ward Quaal, then President of WGN Continental Broadcasting Company, the Governors’ Award “for developing the finest independent TV station in the U.S.”
The 1970s introduced “Donahue” to Chicago and the rest of the nation as Phil Donahue moved his groundbreaking daytime talk show from Dayton, Ohio to the WGN-TV Studios in 1974. The show’s unique format featured discussions on controversial social issues, celebrity guests, and audience participation. The station also recognized the importance of the farm sector by starting a weekly series for the farm belt, “U.S. Farm Report.” During this time, new technology was changing the TV industry with lighter, more advanced cameras for the news staff as well as advancement in cable TV and satellites. The latter transformed WGN-TV from a regional power to a national Superstation in October 1978.
In 1980, WGN-TV premiered the Midwest’s first hour-long newscast in prime time by moving its half-hour 10 p.m. newscast “NewsNine” to 9 p.m. and expanding it to an hour as “The 9 O’Clock News.” In 1981, Tribune Company formed Tribune Broadcasting Company, indicating the growing importance of broadcasting to the company. In 1983, WGN-TV adopted its promotional identity, “Chicago’s Very Own,” stressing the philosophy of the station and its relationship to its community. Indeed, many at WGN-TV believe that a key factor responsible for the continued success of the station is its close association with the community. In 1984, Bob Bell retired as the lead star of “The Bozo Show” with the program still #1 in its timeslot and was replaced by Joey D’Auria.
In the 1990s, WGN-TV scored big with the 1989 return of the Chicago Bulls as a broadcast partner and the six NBA World Championship seasons with Michael Jordan that followed. 1990 also marked the return of Chicago White Sox baseball to WGN. In 1994, WGN News premiered a weekday morning news-hour, which expanded to three hours in 1996. In 1995, WGN-TV became the prime time affiliate of The WB Television Network and the first Chicago TV station to launch its own website, WGNTV.com. Also in 1990, WGN became the first Chicago TV station with a local charitable foundation, WGN-TV Children’s Charities, a fund of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation. Since its inception, the charity distributed over $31 million in grants to Chicago area charitable organizations.
WGN-TV ushered in a new millennium in 2000 with a new 29,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art newsroom facility and upgraded digital equipment. In 2004, all Chicago Cubs, White Sox and Bulls home game telecasts on WGN aired in the high definition format on WGN’s Chicago area digital multicast signal, WGN 9.1, making WGN one of the leading HD sports programmers in the country. Also in 2004, “WGN Morning News” expanded to a four-hour newscast. In 2006, WGN-TV became the Chicago affiliate of The CW Television Network. 2008 marked the premiere of the half-hour “WGN Evening News” weeknights at 5:30, the return of the NHL and Chicago Blackhawks hockey to WGN-TV, and all WGN News and WGN Sports telecasts (home and away games) began airing in HD. Also in 2008, Superstation WGN transitioned to digital and HD, and was renamed WGN America. 2009 marked the completion of full-power U.S. television stations’ transition from analog to digital signals, while “WGN Midday News” and “WGN Evening News” were expanded and started streaming live on WGNTV.com, and WGN News merged with CLTV (Tribune Broadcasting’s Chicago cable TV news channel).
In 2010, WGN-TV became the first Chicago TV station to offer iPhone users live streams of WGN-TV newscasts, expanded “WGN Morning News” to four-and-a-half-hours, and weekend morning newscasts returned to WGN-TV’s schedule with “WGN Saturday Morning News” and “WGN Sunday Morning News.” In 2011, “WGN Morning News” expanded to five hours. In 2013, “WGN Morning News” expanded to six hours. In 2014, “WGN Evening News” expanded to two hours, “WGN Saturday Evening News” and “WGN Sunday Evening News” premiered, and WGN America transitioned into its own national cable channel. In 2015, a half-hour newscast returned to WGN-TV’s 10 p.m. weeknight timeslot with “WGN News at Ten.” In 2016, WGN-TV also returned to its roots as an independent station, ending its affiliation with The CW Television Network, and expanded “WGN Saturday Morning News” and “WGN Sunday Morning News” to two hours. In 2017, “WGN Evening News” expanded to three hours.
In 2020, the Saturday edition of “WGN Weekend Morning News” expanded to three hours and a half-hour newscast returned to WGN-TV’s 10 p.m. weekend timeslot with “WGN Weekend News at Ten.” Additional premieres included a weekly political program, “WGN-TV Political Report”; a weeknight sports show, “GN Sports”; live coverage of Chicago Fire FC soccer; and “Chicago Football Weekly.” In 2021, WGN-TV expanded “GN Sports” to weekends; premiered a weekday lifestyle series, “Daytime Chicago.”
WGN-TV has received numerous awards for programming excellence and community service. The station is proud of the many contributions it has made to television, and is recognized as a leader for creativity, innovation, quality programming and integrity in operation.