CHICAGO TV AT A GLANCE
1928- W9XAA and WCFL simulcast an image of Chicago Federation of Labor secretary Edward Nockles on June 19.
1931- The first production made especially for television, Their Television Honeymoon, is aired on both W9XAO and W9XAP.
1939- Zenith Radio Corporation starts experimental station W9XZV, originally planned for channel one. Changes in the VHF channel/frequency assignments will move the station to channel two.
1940- W9XBK goes on the air on channel two. After the FCC changes the VHF channel/frequency assignments, the station would end up on channel four. Paramount hires Capt. Bill Eddy. Eddy, who worked on Philo Farnsworth's team, was making history at NBC.
1941- The country enters the war and commercial television, ready to go since 1939, is put on hold. W9XBK is one of the few stations allowed to continue broadcasting during the war years.
1943- W9XBK becomes WBKB, Chicago's first commercial television station.
1944- NBC petitions the FCC for a channel one construction permit, challenging Zenith's W9XZV.
1946- The FCC realignment of the VHF channels finds W9XZV on channel two (even though it still operated on the same frequency as the former channel one). WBKB moves to channel four.
1948- The Tribune Company begins broadcasts over WGN-TV on channel nine.
1948- The American Broadcasting Company signs on WENR-TV on channel seven.
1949- After a few months of test patterns and the occasional sports coverage late in 1948, The National Broadcasting Company is represented in Chicago by WNBQ on channel five.
1951- Zenith Radio Corporation conducts its first Phonevision experiments over KS2XBS on channel two
1952- "Garfield Goose" becomes king of the United States.
1953- ABC-TV and United Paramount Theaters merge. WBKB channel four becomes WBKB channel seven. Talent from the Paramount WBKB channel four remain with the new CBS owned WBBM-TV until their contracts expire. Paramount WBKB management moves to ABC/UPT owned WBKB channel seven.
1953- CBS-TV purchases channel four for $6 million and re-christens it WBBM-TV.
1953- WBBM-TV moves to channel two, KS2XBS goes off the air.
1955- WTTW channel eleven, Chicago's first educational television station goes on the air using the former W9XZV/KS2XBS transmitter.
1956- WNBQ begins color telecasting.
1956- WBKB airs Shock Theatre for the first time.
1958- WGN-TV begins limited color telecasting.
1961- WGN-TV moves to its state of the art facilities at 2501 Bradley Place.
1961- Bozo's Circus is on the air!
1961- The Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction (MPATI) begins beaming educational programming to schools on KS2XGA channel seventy-two and KS2XGD channel seventy-six.
1962- WBKB begins color telecasting
1964- NBC applies for and receives permission to change the calls WNBQ to WMAQ-TV.
1964- Chicago's first UHF station, WCIU channel twenty-six goes on the air.
1965- WXXW channel twenty, the city's second educational outlet, goes on the air.
1965- Jim Ruddle and Gary Park become Chicago's first news team on WGN-TV
1965- WBBM-TV begins regular color telecasting
1966- WFLD channel thirty-two, signs on and is the first UHF station to threaten the more powerful VHF stations. It is also the first UHF station to broadcast in color.
1968- Bill Jackson, late of WBBM-TV, debuts "Cartoon Town" on WFLD.
1968- Chicago's oldest television calls are retired. WBKB becomes WLS-TV channel 7
1968- WLS-TV introduces "Happy Talk" on "Flynn-Daly News."
1968- WTTW begins color telecasting
1970- WSNS on channel forty-four becomes the city's first all news television station.
1970- Screaming Yellow Theater with voice overs by Jerry G. Bishop premieres on WFLD channel thirty-two
1975- The calls WBKB turn up on a Alpena Michigan CBS affiliate on channel eleven
1976- WCFC channel thirty-eight becomes Chicago's first all religious programming station.
1981- ON-TV, a subscription television service operates via WSNS channel forty-four.
1981- Spectrum, another subscription service begins operations via WFBN channel sixty-six.
1982- WPWR channel sixty signs on with Sportsvision, a subscription service, a major part of its schedule.
1982- WBBS, sharing time with WPWR on channel sixty, signs on and begins to erode WCIU's Spanish speaking audience.
1983- Telefirst, a revolutionary pay per view service airs via WLS-TV channel seven
1983- WYCC debuts, replacing the long dark WXXW on channel twenty.
1984- Bob Bell portrays Bozo for the last time on WGN-TV's "The Bozo Show."
1985- ON-TV, Spectrum, and Telefirst are gone. WSNS and WFBN (later WGBO) go Spanish. WBBS goes dark. WPWR goes full-time.
1985- Frazier Thomas, Prime Minister of The United States, is dead.
1987- WPWR moves to channel fifty. WEHS, a Home Shopping Station, signs on channel sixty.
1995- WCIU becomes a general market station for the first time since 1964.
1997- Bob Bell aka Bozo The Clown, Andy Starr, and many others passes away.
1998- Pax Television Network purchases WCFC and changes it into general market WCPX. WCFC moves to Rockford and channel fifty-one.
1999- Chicago's first digital station on the air- WFLD-DT on channel thirty-one
2002- WXFT channel sixty, a Spanish language Telefutura network station replaces Home Shopping Network WEHS
2002- WPWR channel fifty is sold to Fox Television for $425 million
2004- Weigel launches WWME, a low power class A station, replacing WFBT.
There has been some confusion or disagreement as to who was first and when. Asking "Which station was Chicago's first" is a tricky one. In the 1920s there were many experiments in television as discussed elsewhere on this site. There is also the 1930s boom in mechanical television stations. But usually when people ask about being first, they usually mean one of two things. The first "electronic" station (referring to the analog and NTSC technology we use today) and "commercial television station" (pinpointing the change when stations were no longer considered experimental and were now allowed to generate income). With that in mind, the history plays out as such...
W9XZV- Chicago's first electronic television station signs on in 1939.
W9XBK becomes WBKB, Chicago's first commercial station in 1943
Paramount Pictures, original owner of WBKB spins off its broadcast interests as part of a U.S. Justice decree, transferring ownership to the newly-formed United Paramount Theaters Inc. 1953, a merger is finalized combining United Paramount Theaters Inc. and The American Broadcasting Company. WBKB moves to channel 7 replacing WENR-TV. The channel 4 assignment is sold to CBS which renames it WBBM-TV.
And here is where the confusion begins. It has been incorrectly stated that WBBM-TV is descendant from the original Paramount/UPT owned WBKB. It is not. CBS's only presence in Chicago television up to 1953 was as an affiliate of WBKB. It did not own it. In fact, CBS was unable to clear all its programs on WBKB, forcing the network to sign a secondary affiliation with WGN-TV, which also aligned itself with DuMont.
Stating that WBBM-TV is a WBKB descendant is akin to stating the old WXXW is now WYCC. Although both on channel 20, there is no connection.
Therefore W9XZV is Chicago's first television station. WBKB is Chicago's first commercial television station. WLS-TV is now Chicago's oldest continually operating station, having been on the air since 1940. WBBM-TV is Chicago's sixth station (or fifth commercial station) to sign-on.
1- W9XZV (KS2XBS)
2- W9XBK (WBKB, WLS-TV)
4- WENR-TV (WBKB, WLS-TV)
5- WNBQ (WMAQ-TV)