WTIC-TV, virtual channel 61 (UHF digital channel 31), is a Fox-affiliated television station located in Hartford, Connecticut. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting division of the Tribune Media Company. WTIC is part of a duopoly with the CW-affiliate WCCT-TV (channel 20). Both stations share facilities with the Hartford Courant newspaper in downtown Hartford and WTIC's transmitter is located on Rattlesnake Mountain in Farmington, Connecticut.
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A group led by Arnold Chase and his company, Arch Communications, won a construction permit for channel 61 in September 1983. Chase originally planned to call his new station WETG, in memory of Ella T. Grasso, the first woman to serve as governor of Connecticut, who died in 1981; these call letters were assigned on February 3, 1984. Grasso's son was a minority partner in Chase's group.
However, changes in Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations during this time allowed separately-owned stations in the same market to obtain consent to share a call sign. Chase then asked his father, owner of WTIC radio (1080 AM and 96.5 FM) to allow Arch to use the historic WTIC-TV call letters. After securing consent, Arch applied for a waiver to use the call sign in June 1984; the call change took effect on August 4 (the WETG call letters were subsequently used by a station in Erie, Pennsylvania, now fellow Fox affiliate WFXP). The WTIC-TV call sign had last been used by what is now WFSB (channel 3) from 1957 to 1974. In memory of Grasso, WTIC showed clips during their nightly sign-off of Grasso at work while church bells played "The Star-Spangled Banner". A graphic at the end of the sequence mentioned that the station was dedicated in Grasso's memory.
WTIC-TV began operation on September 17, 1984, with a special live broadcast hosted by TV star Eddie Albert and longtime WTIC radio personality Bob Steele. Originally, it was a general entertainment independent station running cartoons, sitcoms, old movies, CBS shows pre-empted by WFSB, ABC shows pre-empted by WTNH (channel 8), NBC shows pre-empted by WVIT (channel 30), drama series, and sports in competition with the established independent station in the market, WTXX (channel 20, now sister station WCCT). During 1985 and 1986, the station invested in stronger programming.
As a Fox Affiliate
WTIC later became a charter Fox affiliate when the network launched on October 6, 1986. However, by 1987, Arch encountered financial problems and WTIC nearly filed for bankruptcy. Many syndication distributors went unpaid and responded by pulling their programming from channel 61. Extensive litigation followed as the contracts that were standard in the industry at that time stated that if a single payment was missed, no more programs would be provided, but the station was still required to pay the full amount due under the contract. As the litigation progressed, the shows were replaced by low-budget barter programming. Central to the litigation were allegations of illegal "tie-in" sales by program syndicators that artificially drove up the cost of programming to WTIC. The cases soon settled on terms favorable to Chase and WTIC.
Chase Broadcasting (owned by Arnold Chase's father's organization) acquired WTIC on October 2, 1987. Although the barter programming continued, the station began to realize some sustained success in part due to the early success of the Fox network and shows like 21 Jump Street and Married...With Children. A milestone was reached in 1992, when WTIC began to regularly beat WTXX in the ratings. That year, Chase agreed to sell its four television stations — WTIC-TV, WATL in Atlanta, KDVR in Denver, and WXIN in Indianapolis — to Renaissance Broadcasting, owner of WTXX. The sale did not include the WTIC radio stations, which Chase retained until 1996. To comply with prevailing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, Renaissance sold WTXX to a Roman Catholic non-profit group, Counterpoint Communications; both deals were completed in March 1993. Renaissance tried to negotiate a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Counterpoint in which it would buy WTXX's entire broadcast day, except for overnights and an hour during the day in which WTXX was to run Catholic programming. During negotiations, which lasted from the time the sale became final until July 1993, Renaissance agreed to have WTXX run The Disney Afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. and some off network sitcoms from 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays free of charge, as well as first run syndicated shows on weekends in this slot. However, Counterpoint wanted only a part-time arrangement, and negotiations ultimately fell through. Eventually, WTXX entered into a part-time LMA with WVIT (channel 30).
After talks with Counterpoint fell through, Renaissance moved most of WTXX's stronger programming to WTIC, creating a stronger lineup for channel 61. Some programming (such as older sitcoms), however, was returned to their syndication distributors and wound up first on WTWS (channel 26, now WHPX-TV) and then WTVU (channel 59, now WCTX). The cartoons that did not move to WTIC were sold to WVIT, which ultimately moved them back to WTXX.
Renaissance merged with Tribune Broadcasting in 1996. Two years later, WTIC-TV replaced WVIT as the LMA partner for WTXX (then a UPN affiliate, later with The WB, currently a CW affiliate). In 2001, Tribune bought WTXX outright. Both stations became sister properties of the Hartford Courant after Times Mirror merged with Tribune in 2000.
As time went on, WTIC began dropping cartoons, movies, and older sitcoms in favor of more talk and reality shows. The weekday cartoons ended at the end of 2001 when Fox ended its weekday kids' block.
Since Fox began airing sports programming in 1994, WTIC has had to deal with issues regarding Major League Baseball and National Football League coverage. Connecticut is split between the traditional home territories for Boston and New York City teams. The football issue is not typically as stark because the New York Giants and New England Patriots play in separate conferences, each with their own network television deals, so there is little overlap. However, it is often a source of frustration during baseball season. Fox picks both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for its baseball broadcast windows from time-to-time. MLB limits Fox to a single game and does not allow any other station to broadcast baseball in that window (from 3:30 to 7 p.m., and since 2012, alternately from 7 to 10:30 p.m.) This has resulted in numerous complaints among Connecticut baseball fans when WTIC must broadcast either the Yankees or the Red Sox as the usual cable channels (YES and NESN) are blacked out for the team not broadcast by Fox. WTIC generally shows each team as many times as possible.
This also had an effect on the Springfield/Holyoke, Massachusetts television market as well; WTIC-TV had long been the default Fox affiliate for western Massachusetts since that area was one of the few in the Eastern Time Zone without an affiliate of its own. This changed on March 31, 2008 when ABC affiliate WGGB-TV added Fox programming on its second digital subchannel. Beginning with the 2008 season to alleviate coverage issues, game broadcasts of the New York Mets from sister station WPIX have alternated between WTIC and WTXX.
On July 10, 2013, Tribune announced plans to spin off its publishing division into a separate company. Once the split was finalized in 2014, WTIC-TV and WCCT-TV renamed with the Tribune Company (which retained all non-publishing assets, including the broadcasting, digital media and Media Services units), while its newspapers (including the Hartford Courant) became part of the similarly named Tribune Publishing Company.
On October 19, 2015, the station announced that it would drop the Fox CT name and return to its previous Fox 61 designation (which had been phased out in 2010). The decision came after viewers were asked which title they preferred and to share their feelings in a special social media campaign. Responses were overwhelmingly in favor of a return to the original branding, with many citing the nostalgia of the broadcast's original analog signal appearing on channel 61.
Analog to Digital Conversion
WTIC-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 61, on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 31, using PSIP to display WTIC-TV's virtual channel as 61 on digital television receivers, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.
WTIC-TV presently broadcasts 56½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 9.5 hours on weekdays and 4.5 hours on the weekends); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the highest local newscast output of any television station in the Hartford-New Haven market as well as the state of Connecticut.
The station broadcasts the Comcast Sports Desk at 10:45 on Saturday and Sunday nights. WTIC also produces a weekly public affairs show, The Real Story, which airs Sunday mornings at 8:30 with a repeat on WCCT at 11. Currently, in addition to simulcasting the 8 a.m. hour of WTIC's morning newscast, WCCT rebroadcasts the 11 p.m. newscast at 1 a.m. on weeknights; on weekends, it airs the 10 p.m. newscast at that time. Along with obtaining world and national news footage from Fox News, WTIC also receives news footage from CNN Newsource and the Associated Press.
In 1989, WTIC launched its news department with the debut of a nightly half-hour 10 p.m. newscast, which was the second in the market after a short-lived attempt on WHCT-TV (channel 18, now WUVN) in 1969; original WTIC news anchor Pat Sheehan had previously served as the anchor for WHCT's program. The 10 p.m. newscast was joined in June 1995 by an in-depth news program at 10:30 similar in style to the original format of Nightline called Tonight in Connecticut; after two months of low ratings, Tonight in Connecticut was dropped in August 1995 in favor of a half-hour extension of the existing 10 p.m. newscast. In 1998, when WTIC replaced WVIT as WTXX's LMA partner, the WVIT-produced 10 p.m. broadcast was replaced with a simulcast of the first half-hour of channel 61's primetime newscast. On April 24, 2006, WTXX began to simulcast the entire hour of the program. That station did not have a separate news open for the nightly broadcasts; whenever Fox programming or sports delayed the news on WTIC, it was still aired on WTXX but under the name of News at Ten. There was also a News at Ten logo bug in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen in place of the Fox 61 News bug. WTXX discontinued its simulcast of the 10 p.m. newscast in June 2010, shortly before changing its callsign to WCCT-TV; that station continues to show the newscast when it is preempted on WTIC.
The station launched a weekday morning newscast on March 3, 2008. The 7 a.m. hour competes with WCTX's morning show (which is produced by sister station WTNH), and airs for one hour. On August 4, 2009, the weekday morning newscast was expanded to 4½ hours and began airing from 4:30-9 a.m. During the 8 a.m. hour, the format of the program includes several interview segments focusing on entertainment, lifestyle and health. This hour is simulcast on WCCT; the station's simulcasts of portions of the morning newscast have been intermittent throughout the newscast's existence. Since launching the morning broadcast, WTIC-TV has entered into a weather department partnership with WTIC radio (1080 AM). The weather center now features meteorologists from the radio and television stations. Weather reports can also be heard on WTIC, WTIC-FM (96.5 FM), WRCH (100.5 FM), WZMX (93.7 FM), and WZBG (97.3 FM).
On September 8, 2008, WTIC debuted a weeknight 11 p.m. newscast. On September 21, the station launched a weekday midday newscast at 11 a.m. A weeknight 6 p.m. newscast was planned, but did not debut on that date. On August 23, 2010, WTIC launched an hour-long late afternoon newscast at 4 p.m. on weekdays.
In July 2009, news reporter Shelly Sindland filed both state and federal complaints alleging age and sex discrimination in the station's newsroom. Media websites also raised questions about the way the case was covered by the Hartford Courant, which operates under the same management as WTIC.
On December 12, 2009; WTIC, WCCT (then WTXX), and the Hartford Courant moved into their new combined newsroom facilities in downtown Hartford, and WTIC rebranded from Fox 61 to Fox CT (a transition that was completed in July 2010). In addition, WTIC became the second station in the market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition, with WCCT's newscasts also making the transition. On January 22, 2011, WTIC launched weekend morning newscasts, airing for two hours from 7-9 a.m.; it is the third Tribune-owned station with a weekend morning newscast (CW affiliate and Tribune flagship station WGN-TV in Chicago and Fox affiliate WXIN in Indianapolis debuted weekend morning newscasts before WTIC, CW affiliate KTLA in Los Angeles launched a weekend morning newscast a few months later in April 2011). On September 26, 2011, WTIC expanded its weekday morning newscast to 5½ hours from 4:30-10 a.m.; with the expansion, the 11 a.m. newscast was dropped from the schedule. On January 28, 2013, WTIC launched an hour-long 5:00 p.m. newscast. On September 9, 2013, WTIC expanded its weekday morning newscast to 6 hours with the addition of a half-hour, now starting at 4:00 a.m. At some point afterwards, the weekend morning news was also expanded, this time by an hour and it now airs from 6:00-9:00 a.m.