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|Slogan||We Are Chicago (general)|
Chicago's Home for Breaking News (news)
|Channels||Digital: 29 (UHF)|
(shared with WSNS-TV, to move to 33 (UHF))
Virtual: 5 (PSIP)
(NBC Telemundo License LLC)
|First air date||October 8, 1948|
|Call letters' meaning|
|Former callsigns||WNBQ (1948-1964)|
|Former channel number(s)|
|Transmitter power||350 kW|
398 kW (CP)
|Height||508 m (1,667 ft)|
509 m (1,670 ft) (CP)
|Public license information||Profile|
WMAQ-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 29), is an NBC owned-and-operated television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of NBCUniversal, as part of a duopoly with Telemundo owned-and-operated station WSNS-TV (channel 44). NBCUniversal, a Comcast subsidiary, owns both networks, along with regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago. WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV share studios at the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood and transmitter facilities atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.
On cable, WMAQ-TV is available on channel 5 on Comcast Xfinity, RCN, WOW!, Mediacom, NITCO (Morocco and Rensselaer, Indiana, which is also served by South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU-TV), MTCO Digimax TV (Marseilles), AT&T U-Verse, and Charter Spectrum (Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin, which are also served by Milwaukee NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV). In the few areas of the eastern United States where an NBC station is not receivable over the air, WMAQ-TV is carried on satellite via DirecTV and Dish Network.
The station first signed on the air on October 8, 1948, as WNBQ; it was the fourth television station to sign on in Chicago. It was also the third of NBC's five original owned-and-operated television stations to begin operations, after outlets in New York City and Washington, D.C., and before Cleveland and Los Angeles. WNBQ initially broadcast a minimum of two hours of programming per day.
The station originally proposed WNBY as its call letters. At NBC's request, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an application filed by the network to change the station's calls to WNBQ, a move that was announced on March 3, 1948. NBC officials cited the need to avoid possible confusion with WMBI (1110 AM) and to obtain a callsign that was closer to co-owned NBC Red Network radio station WMAQ (670 AM, frequency now occupied by WSCR; and 101.1 FM, now WKQX) as the reasons for the change. The station's first mid-week broadcast came the month following its sign-on when Paul Winchell and Joseph Dunninger were featured on the NBC variety series, The Floor Show. The half-hour program was recorded via kinescope and rebroadcast on WNBQ at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
WMAQ-TV originated several programs for the NBC television network from its original studio facilities--a 170,000-square-foot (15,794 m2) studio on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart on the city's Near North Side--during the 1950s, including Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, featuring Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison; Garroway at Large, starring Dave Garroway; and Studs' Place, hosted by Studs Terkel. Television critics referred to the broadcasts--often low-budget with few celebrity guests but a good deal of inventiveness--as examples of the "Chicago School of Television".
The station installed equipment to produce and transmit its programming in color in late 1953; WNBQ's first notable color telecast occurred in January 1954, when the station carried NBC's telecast of the Rose Bowl parade in the format. Channel 5 aired its first local program to be broadcast in color when John Ott's How Does Your Garden Grow? debuted in March 1955, which utilized time-lapse color film. On April 15, 1956, WNBQ became the first television station in the world to broadcast all of its programs in color, an event described by Broadcasting-Telecasting as "a daring breakthrough the black-and-white curtain", completing a project that cost more than $1.25 million to make the upgrades; the first color telecast from the station on that date was Wide, Wide World, which was transmitted to 110 NBC stations across the country.
Although NBC had long owned the WMAQ radio stations, the television station continued to maintain call letters separate from those used by its co-owned radio outlets; this changed on August 31, 1964, when the network changed the station's calls to WMAQ-TV. The call letters of its sister radio station were initially assigned by the government but were used to form the phrase "We Must Ask Questions", which the radio station took as its motto in the 1920s. Although the station's role as a program provider to NBC diminished in the 1960s, WMAQ-TV gathered and distributed more than 200 feeds of news footage per month from overseas and the Central United States to NBC News.
On December 3, 1985, NBC signed a $100 million+ agreement to lease office space in a three-story annex to the north of a planned 34-story, 1,000,000-square-foot (92,903 m2) skyscraper--a project developed by the Equitable Life Assurance Society and Tishman-Speyer Properties--that would be constructed as part of the Cityfront Center development on the northwest corner of Columbus Drive and North Water Street, in which WMAQ-TV's operations would occupy 251,000 square feet (23,319 m2) of the building. Under the plans for the project, NBC was given the option of acquiring an approximately 25% interest in the building. On October 1, 1989, after 40 years at the Merchandise Mart, the station officially relocated its operations and began broadcasting from the NBC Tower, located on 455 North Columbus Drive, six blocks east of the Mart. Ratings for WMAQ-TV's newscasts overtook those of WBBM-TV in the 1980s, but the station could not dethrone market leader WLS-TV during the period.
In 1986, WMAQ-TV became the first station in the Chicago metropolitan area to broadcast its newscasts in full stereo sound. All of the NBC network programs had begun their commercial stereo broadcasts in 1985.
In 1988, WMAQ-TV and the other NBC-owned stations began 24-hour broadcasting. WMAQ became the fourth station in the Chicago metropolitan area to begin airing 24 hours a day, following independent station WGN-TV, then-independent station (now The CW affiliated/MyNetwork TV owned-and-operated) WPWR-TV, and Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD. During the first years of the station's 24-hour schedule, the station signed off during the overnight hours on early Monday mornings for reasons other than necessary transmitter maintenance; the sign-off practice was discontinued in the mid-1990s, due to the station's rebranding and logo change.
In 1989, WMAQ-TV became the first station in the Chicago metropolitan area to adopt real-time closed captioning for the hearing impaired in all of its newscasts. Five years later, in 1994, closed-captioning was added to the station's morning newscast.
In the spring of 1992, the NBC Owned Television Stations division announced that they would no longer air paid programming on their owned-and-operated stations, including WMAQ-TV. the last infomercial aired on the station was a local weekly real estate show aired in 1992. Currently, the station runs infomercials on an occasional basis, mainly during overnights and weekends.
In 1995, WMAQ-TV changed its on-air branding from "Channel 5" to "NBC 5 Chicago". The station's logo was updated by removing its call letters and keeping the "Chicago" wordmark in its logo to reflect its on-air branding, with the call letters continuing in use during station identifications. Additionally, it became the first TV station in Chicago to launch a website, which provides news reports and information on the station's community initiatives and on-air staff members. The station expanded its Internet offerings in 2000, when they branded it as "Peacock Club". For most of its existence until 1995, the station had included the network's logo next to theirs, branding solely with the channel number and/or call letters vocally and visually (outside of network-created radio promos which listed the station as "NBC Channel 5" or "NBC Channel 5 Chicago"). The station is among the few in the nation which has their logo in a transparent bug, with time and temperature, at all times, including NBC network, syndicated programming, and news programming, though not during commercial breaks or paid programming.
On April 10, 1998, Rev. Michael Pfleger, a priest at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham and a group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders and clergy as part of the "Dump Jerry Springer!" coalition, called for a viewer and advertising boycott of WMAQ-TV due to one of its syndicated shows, The Jerry Springer Show, which was filmed at the station's NBC Tower studios until 2009. On April 23, 1998, Pfleger and the coalition organized a rally at the station's NBC Tower studios. On May 1, 1998, WMAQ-TV announced that they would cancel the show. Studios USA (now NBCUniversal Television Distribution), one of the show's distributors, said that the show would move to Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD the following month, ending a two-month boycott of the station. The show has since moved production to Stamford, Connecticut.
On June 5, 2000, to improve station reception, the station extended its Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) transmitter's western antenna height to 1,730 feet (527 m). In July 2000, NBC entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with WCPX-TV (channel 38) that indirectly resulted from NBC's partial ownership interest in WCPX-TV network partner Pax TV (now Ion Television) and a related management agreement with that network's owned-and-operated stations. Under the LMA, the two stations shared certain programs, while WMAQ handled advertising sales services for channel 38. The agreement also allowed WCPX to air rebroadcasts of channel 5's 6:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts on a half-hour delay. The LMA ended on July 1, 2005, upon Pax's rebranding as i: Independent Television.
In the fall of 2001, NBC acquired WSNS-TV outright, creating a duopoly with WMAQ-TV. After the acquisition, NBC converted that station into an owned-and-operated station of Telemundo, which NBC had purchased earlier that year. WSNS-TV subsequently integrated its operations into WMAQ-TV's NBC Tower facilities.
On September 6, 2003, WMAQ agreed to lease 4,000 square feet (372 m2) of space at the Equitable Building at 401 North Michigan Avenue (one block east of the NBC Tower), with the intent to build a streetside studio for the Chicago market, the first to be used for live broadcasting purposes by a Chicago television station. On February 26, 2004, WMAQ-TV garnered national attention when Katie Couric, Al Roker, and Lester Holt hosted the Today show on Cityfront Plaza to unveil the new studio (known as "Studio 5") at the building's northwest corner. The station's morning and noon newscasts were broadcast from the Michigan Avenue facility until February 2013, when the studio was closed and the space within the 401 Michigan Avenue building was put up for sale, at which time production of both newscasts was moved back to the NBC Tower.
In November 2007, the FCC proposed to fine WMAQ-TV $10,000 for "failure to publicize the existence and location of its children's television programming reports" because the station did not keep adequate records on commercial limits in children's TV programs.
In the fall of 2008, WMAQ-TV's website was relaunched, including a new layout, as part of a larger revamp of the websites of NBC's entire owned-and-operated station group. On January 18, 2011, the FCC and the Department of Justice approved the acquisition of WMAQ-TV's parent company NBCUniversal by Comcast (one of the largest cable providers in Chicago), with the deal being closed on January 28. As a result, WMAQ, WSNS, and regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago (now NBC Sports Chicago) became sister stations. In addition, WMAQ-TV's branding was shortened to "NBC Chicago" for a short period, and which was used only during mentions in some news reports, network and syndication program promotions, and public service announcements. However the station continued to use the "NBC 5" branding for news opens. Later in February 2012, after a year of using the "NBC Chicago" branding, the station reverted to its old "NBC 5" branding full-time. In January 2012, after 12 years of using the gold "5" logo, a new logo was officially introduced in some promos and in print ads; but the new, and current logo made its on-air debut on February 28, 2012, coinciding with new news graphics, music and set. On March 18, 2013, longtime WVIT president and general manager David Doebler was appointed president and general manager of WMAQ-TV, replacing longtime president and general manager Larry Wert, who later became president of WGN-TV's parent Tribune Broadcasting.
In December 2009, the Chicago local division of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communication Workers of America (NABET) launched a boycott of WMAQ-TV. The station spokeswoman told Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Sun-Times that they did not comment on the labor-related issues affecting the station. In October 1994, prior to the boycott of the station, the union, along with Republican candidate George Larney, had joined forces to boycott WMAQ-TV due to its negotiations involving its national contract with the network. In the summer of 1987, a handful of technicians at WMAQ-TV, WMAQ-AM, and WKQX-FM went on strike; technicians at other NBC-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland also went on strike as a result.
On February 3, 2012, the station rejected a political advertisement that contained anti-abortion talking points from activist and Democratic presidential candidate Randall Terry to air during Super Bowl XLVI, with the FCC's approval, the station determining that Terry did not have the bona fides of a serious candidate. The ad included the term "Democrat Party", which the Democratic National Committee considers a pejorative label, and it was contrary to the party's pro-choice platform in general.
In February 2015, WMAQ and the other NBC-owned stations offered live, web-based streaming of programming to subscribers of participating cable and satellite television providers, as provided through TV Everywhere Mobile Apps. A month later, in March 2015, WMAQ, WSNS, and Comcast SportsNet Chicago, along with sister stations WNBC, WNJU, and SportsNet New York in New York, KNBC and KVEA in Los Angeles, KXAS-TV and KXTX-TV in Dallas, WTVJ and WSCV in Miami, WCAU, WWSI, and NBC Sports Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and KNTV, KSTS, NBC Sports Bay Area, and NBC Sports California in San Francisco, went live on Sony's internet television service PlayStation Vue as part of its Access package. In the summer and fall of 2016, the other NBC owned-and-operated stations, including WVIT in Hartford, WRC-TV and NBC Sports Washington in Washington, D.C., KNSD in San Diego, and the company's regional cable news channel NECN, as well as Graham Media Group-owned NBC affiliates WDIV in Detroit and KPRC-TV in Houston, were also added to PS Vue's access package. 2 years later, in April 2017, WMAQ-TV, WSNS and NBC Sports Chicago, along with sister stations WNBC and WNJU in New York, KNBC and KVEA in Los Angeles, WCAU, WWSI and NBC Sports Philadelphia in Philadelphia, and KNTV, KSTS, NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California in San Francisco, were live on YouTube TV. The streaming service with live streams of programming from the 3 stations was officially launched on April 5, 2017.
On March 15, 2016, NBCUniversal pulled the signals of WMAQ-TV and WSNS-TV, along with co-owned cable channels USA Network, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC, and CNBC, from Dish Network systems in the Chicago metropolitan area, due to a dispute between NBC and Dish in which Dish Network claimed that NBCUniversal demanded to renew its carriage of 10 NBC-owned stations and 16 Telemundo-owned stations, including those removed due to the dispute. Three days later, on March 18, 2016, Dish Network announced it would continue to carry WMAQ-TV, WSNS-TV, and five other cable channels for another 10 days, while seeking arbitration from the FCC.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|5.1||1080i||16:9||NBC5||Main WMAQ-TV programming / NBC|
On January 1, 2012, Universal Sports transitioned into a cable- and satellite-exclusive service, causing its affiliates (such as WMAQ) to replace the network and remove the channel from their digital signals entirely, with WMAQ deleting digital subchannel 5.3 as a result of the loss of Universal Sports.
In January 2005, WMAQ launched digital subchannel 5.2 as a charter affiliate of NBC Weather Plus. On December 1, 2008, the weather network ceased national broadcasts, although afterward, as NBC Plus, the subchannel continued to provide local weather maps and traffic reports, as well as "raw" coverage of various live events, including Barack Obama's victory rally in Grant Park and Governor Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial. On November 1, 2010, WMAQ launched NBC Chicago Nonstop, a news and lifestyle network featuring local programming and programs produced by corporate sister LXTV. NBC Nonstop was relaunched as Cozi TV, which soft-launched on December 20, 2012 (officially launching on January 1, 2013).
On June 12, 2009, WMAQ-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 5, the official date on which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal continued to broadcasts on its pre-transition UHF channel 29. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 5.
From June 13 to July 12, 2009, in an "unprecedented" four-station partnership, WMAQ-TV simulcast most of its newscasts as a contributor to WWME-CA (channel 23)'s analog nightlight service for the Chicago area. The "lifeline" programming provided on analog UHF channel 23 included WMAQ's weekday and Saturday morning, weeknight 6:00 p.m. and weekend 5:00 p.m. newscasts, along with WGN-TV (channel 9)'s 9:00 p.m. newscast. The lifeline continued only as a simulcast of entertainment programming from WWME's sister station WCIU-TV (channel 26) until January 2011, when it switched to a simulcast of WCIU's "The U Too" subchannel.
On April 13, 2017, it was revealed that the over-the-air spectrum of sister station WSNS-TV had been sold in the FCC's spectrum reallocation auction, fetching $141.7 million. WSNS-TV will not sign off for good, but it will later share broadcast spectrum with WMAQ-TV. WMAQ-TV is one of nearly 1,000 television stations that will be changing their digital signal allocation in the upcoming spectrum auction repack in the fall of 2019. The station will reallocate to UHF channel 33 in phase six of the auction.
As is typical for a network-owned station, WMAQ-TV generally carries the vast majority of the NBC network schedule. However, the station does not clear the entirety of NBC's weekday overnight lineup. It pre-empts the network's rebroadcast of the fourth hour of Today, and airs The More You Know block on a half-hour delay due to its 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning newscast (which bookends the Saturday edition of Today), resulting in the third hour of the block being shifted to Sundays whenever network sports telecasts are scheduled on Saturdays during the 12:00 p.m. hour, in order to meet FCC educational programming quotas.
As of September 2017syndicated programming broadcast by WMAQ-TV includes Access (including its live counterpart), Steve (both being distributed by corporate sister NBCUniversal Television Distribution), and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. During the weekends, Our World with Black Enterprise and the brokered religious program In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley are carried. The former was produced by Chicago-based production company Central City Productions, together with Black Enterprise magazine after being acquired by America's Black Forums production ownership from the UniWorld Group in 2006, while the latter is carried by many Chicago-area stations in varying time slots under the same arrangement.,
From 1970 until 1997 (following the AFL-NFL merger), WMAQ-TV aired two Chicago Bears home games per year played against American Football Conference opponents at home at Soldier Field (prior to 1970, all Bears games were exclusively broadcast on WBBM-TV). During this time, the station also aired the Bears' 1986 appearance in Super Bowl XX.
From 1991 to 1993 and again from 2003 to 2007, WMAQ-TV carried select Bears preseason and regular season games, until in 2006 NBC reestablished its relationship with the NFL, with the network's acquisition of the Sunday Night Football package from ESPN. These marked the only NFL telecasts on the station following the loss of NBC's rights to the AFC in 1998, a lone exception occurring in the 2004 season when WMAQ aired two preseason games: on August 12, against the St. Louis Rams, and on September 3, against Cleveland Browns. Due to NBC's non-preemptable coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics, the two other preseason games--on August 21, against the San Francisco 49ers, and on August 27, against the New Orleans Saints--were moved to independent station WCIU-TV.
WMAQ-TV also aired the team's related programming during the NFL regular season, including the Sunday morning pre-game show Bears Gameday Live, and the Sunday evening post-game show Bears GameNight Live, which followed Sports Sunday, as part of the station's Bears Night in Chicago programming block. Until the preseason game rights moved to WFLD in 2008, the station rescheduled NBC network programs pre-empted by the preseason and any cable-originated Bears telecasts, a situation atypical for a network-owned station outside of breaking news and severe weather coverage necessitating such situations.
During the regular season, Bears games are rotated among WMAQ-TV (NBC Sunday Night Football), WBBM-TV (NFL on CBS), WLS-TV and WGN-TV (ESPN's Monday Night Football), and especially WFLD (NFL on Fox and, beginning in the 2018 season, Thursday Night Football through Fox's rights to the package it shares with NFL Network). Following the station's loss of the Bears preseason games, WMAQ-TV acquired the local rights to the Bears regular season game in the 2017 season against the Detroit Lions on December 16, 2017 (as part of a Thursday Night Football doubleheader which is aired on NFL Network).
From 2001 to 2002 and again since 2008, WMAQ has served as an official broadcaster of the Chicago Marathon, which is held annually in October. Because of its commitments to air the event, the station has had to reschedule NBC News programs pre-empted or delayed by the telecast of the marathon. Since 2012, WMAQ, through their station's official website NBCChicago.com, currently serves as an official web broadcaster of the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle. On June 15, 2017, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K, and WMAQ-TV announced they will extend their partnership. Sister Telemundo station WSNS-TV announced they would air the marathon in Spanish beginning with the 40th anniversary of the running of the marathon on October 8, 2017.
From 2002 to 2009, except for the 2004-05 season due to the league-wide lockout, WMAQ served as an official sponsor of the Chicago Blackhawks. The station displayed its in-rink advertisements promoting the station's website (and during its 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, promoting the program Sports Sunday) during all of the NHL franchise's home games held at the United Center, until NBC reestablished its relationship with the NHL with the acquisition of the league's broadcast package from ESPN in 2005; since then, all Blackhawks games that are part of NBC's NHL coverage are aired on the station. WMAQ occasionally runs special editions of its newscasts or its highlight program Sports Sunday to cover Blackhawks games (notably the Blackhawks' victory in the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, 2013 and 2015) that are broadcast nationally by NBC or through their sister regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago.
In 2012, WMAQ-TV partnered with the Chicago Fire Soccer Club to carry its matches in the 2012 season live on its NBC Chicago Nonstop subchannel, with the exception of the May 26, 2012 match against the Columbus Crew, which was simultaneously aired in English on the main channel and in Spanish on Univision, through its owned subsidiary station for that market, WGBO-DT. The national Fire games were also broadcast on the station and its sister network NBCSN as part of its package of Major League Soccer. The local free-to-air rights to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club matches eventually reverted to MyNetwork TV owned-and-operated (now The CW affiliated/MNT O&O) station WPWR-TV in 2013. Currently, the majority of matches are broadcast locally on ESPN's over-the-top subscription service ESPN+, and national Fire matches are broadcast by Fox (through its O&O station WFLD), FS1, ESPN, and ESPN2.
WMAQ-TV was the station that aired all six of the Chicago Bulls' NBA Finals victories in the 1990s, via NBC's broadcast contract with the NBA from 1990 to 2002. It also aired any Chicago Cubs or White Sox games via NBC's MLB broadcast rights from its 1948 sign-on until 1989.
WMAQ-TV presently broadcasts 41 hours, 25 minutes of locally produced newscasts each week (with 6 hours, 35 minutes on weekdays, four hours on Saturdays, and 4½ hours on Sundays). In addition, the station produces the half-hour sports highlight program Sports Sunday, which airs Sunday evenings after the 10:00 p.m. newscast.
WMAQ-TV's news department has helped launch the national careers of Jane Pauley, Deborah Norville, CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel, HLN morning anchor Robin Meade, Maury Povich, PBS reporter Ray Suarez, and Access Hollywood and The Insider host Pat O'Brien.
The station gained notice during the 1960s for its local newscasts anchored by Floyd Kalber, John Palmer, Jim Ruddle, and Jorie Lueloff, with weatherman Harry Volkman (later of WBBM-TV, WGN-TV, and WFLD), sports reporter Johnny Morris, and commentator Len O'Connor. In 1975, Jane Pauley, who would later join the NBC network as co-anchor of Today, briefly served as co-anchor of the station's 10:00 p.m. newscast, with Kalber. Carol Marin joined WMAQ-TV in 1978; Ron Magers followed suit three years later. Magers and Deborah Norville, later host of Inside Edition, co-anchored the station's hour-long 4:30 p.m. newscast during the 1980s; and Magers and Marin co-anchored WMAQ-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscast until they both resigned within three weeks of each other in May 1997. Allison Rosati has been the station's main anchor since 1990. From 1997 to 2009, she was teamed with Warner Saunders at 10 p.m., and the two were the longest-serving anchor team in Chicago television history. Political editor Dick Kay was at the station from 1968 to 2006.
In 1975, the station renamed its local newscasts from NewsFive to NewsCenter 5. This came after three other NBC owned-and-operated stations in New York City, Washington DC, and Los Angeles adopted the NewsCenter name in 1974. The moniker remained until 1983 when the newscasts were renamed Channel 5 News.
In 1989, WMAQ-TV became the first station in Chicago to have 24-hour round-the-clock news operation. Later, on September 6, 1990, WMAQ began airing 25-second news briefs, for which WMAQ adopted the slogan, "Your 24-Hour News Source". The news briefs were later discontinued, in January 1992, while the "24-Hour News Source" slogan remained in use until 1993.
In 1990, WMAQ-TV became the first station in Chicago to have an hour-long local morning newscast, entitled First Thing In The Morning (now NBC 5 News Today); other Chicago stations began their local morning newscasts later in the 1990s. Two years later, in 1992, the station added hour-long and half-hour Saturday morning, and two half-hour Sunday morning newscasts, becoming the first station in Chicago to expand its morning newscasts to weekends.
In January 1991, WMAQ announced plans to launch the Suburban News Source, a 24-hour local cable news channel featuring 4½-minute-long inserts of news headlines specific to suburban localities, placed within live simulcasts of the station's noon, 4:00, and 6:00 p.m. newscasts. Originally scheduled to debut on January 14, 1991, the service was to be distributed to Centel Videopath systems in Chicago's northern, northwestern, and southern suburbs. However, the service's launch was postponed three times due to logistical issues and demands by cable providers to gain a share of the service's advertising revenues. Station management scrapped plans for the channel in June 1991 (incidentally, WGN-TV eventually launched a similar cable channel, Chicagoland Television (CLTV), in January 1993).
In July 1992, NBC commissioned 615 Music to compose the theme NewsWire, a theme package that was quickly picked up by the other NBC affiliates. A year later in 1993, the theme also appeared in the commercial for Thierry Mugler's Angel perfume during its US launch.
On September 11, 1995, before the station rebranded itself as "NBC 5 Chicago", the station expanded the 4:30 p.m. newscast to an hour and Rosati replaced Saunders alongside Joan Esposito, but it was later canceled, on October 13, 1995, due to low ratings. On the same day, former WSVN anchor Robin Meade replaced Rosati on the morning newscasts alongside Art Norman.
In May 1997, the talk show host Jerry Springer was added as a commentator, whose segment was entitled "A Different Point of View", which lasted for only three newscasts. On May 1, in the wake of that controversy, Marin resigned after 30 years with the station. Rosati was temporarily promoted to a 10:00 p.m. anchor the next day before becoming the permanent anchor for the late newscast on May 16. Magers resigned, after 15 years, on May 21. Saunders was hired as permanent 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. co-anchor a day later. Mark Suppelsa was later promoted to become the anchor of the 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. newscasts, alongside Joan Esposito and Rosati, on May 19. Esposito remained as 6:00 p.m. anchor in the wake of the anchor changes at the station.
On June 9, 1997, the station dropped the longtime Channel 5/NBC 5 News branding and the Newswire theme, in favor of a new music package and the branding NewsChannel 5, the branding remaining for a short time, until 1998. In August 1998, the news branding was renamed NBC 5 Chicago News to focus on the "NBC 5 Chicago" branding, which was used for only three years. In 1999, the 1997 music package was revived and they began using 615 Music's Battery package, which lasted for a year, until 2000.
In January 1998, the station hired former WSB-TV anchor Marion Brooks as general assignment reporter and weekend evening anchor. 8 months later, she replaced Rosati, after her promotion, on the early evening newscasts with Suppelsa.
On August 24, 1998, WMAQ debuted its one-hour daily lifestyle and entertainment show NBC 5 Chicago Daytime, hosted by Rosati and Nesita Kwan alongside meteorologist Byron Miranda. Later, on April 26, 1999, the show was reduced to a half-hour. On April 23, 1999, Joan Esposito quit WMAQ after 10 years; Rosati was officially promoted to anchor the 6:00 p.m. newscast two days later.
On September 9, 1998, a technical glitch involving a circuit breaker for portions of the main newsroom control room caused a power failure 15 minutes into the 10:00 p.m. newscast. Startled anchors Warner Saunders and Allison Rosati, along with meteorologist Brant Miller and sports anchor Tom Shaer, were moved to the station's "weather center", near the main news desk, where there was a working, emergency camera.
In the Spring of 1999, after negotiations between WMAQ-TV management and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), all of the station's on-air talent, except for four, went on strike. On March 30, 1999, the station's on-air talent planned to authorize a strike vote, if a bargaining session with the station scheduled for late April failed. On May 14, 1999, four of the station's high-profile personalities--including 6:00 & 10:00 p.m. anchor Allison Rosati, chief meteorologist Brant Miller, sports anchor Mike Adamle and Weekend evening meteorologist Shelly Monahan--broke ranks with the union, following the strike authorization vote.
In August 2000, the station replaced the Battery package and the 1997 news theme with a new news music package, also produced by 615 Music, called The Tower, which remained in use until February 2012. In addition, a new logo was introduced, by moving the peacock logo to the left of the "5" logo; and the newscast brand "NBC 5 News" was reintroduced. The changes were part of a standard branding effort imposed by NBC across its owned-and-operated stations, which saw the incorporation of the NBC name into their local brands. Most of the other NBC O&Os retained their existing news branding, as sister stations such as WNBC in New York, KNBC in Los Angeles and WRC-TV in Washington, DC, as well as former sister stations WJAR in Providence and WCMH-TV in Columbus, retained their NewsChannel, Channel (number) News, or News (number) identities. The new logo--along with the new music, graphics, and reviving of the news branding--was launched just in time for the 2000 Summer Olympics. Sister station KNBC also began using the same graphics package, which remained until 2005; and they also began using "The Tower" theme, until 2004, when the LA station switched to Groove Addicts' "L.A. Groove" theme.
From 2000 to 2004, WCPX-TV rebroadcast WMAQ-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscasts.
From 2001 to 2003, a series of shake-ups hit the station's morning newscast. In August 2001, Miranda and weekend morning meteorologist Andy Avalos were traded for a new weekday morning meteorologist, before Miranda left the station for the first time. Morning co-anchor Norman was demoted from the morning newscast in September 2002. The station hired Dick Johnson as morning anchor after his 20-year work at rival WLS-TV, while the station also hired Zoraida Sambolin for the first time. Sambolin anchored the 11:00 a.m. newscast with Norman, while Kwan remained the morning co-anchor with Johnson. Traffic reporter Dawn DeSart left the station, after 7 years, in March 2002. Jeanne Sparrow replaced DeSart in November. In 2003, Ellee Pai Hong was hired by the station as a co-anchor following the promotion of Kwan to be the afternoon co-anchor.
In 2003, health reporter Nesita Kwan was promoted to anchor the 4:30 p.m. newscasts with Brooks following the departure of Suppelsa as co-anchor, making Chicago one of the few large markets with two female anchors on an evening newscast. The station hired Don Lemon as reporter and co-anchor of the 5:00 p.m. newscast, with Brooks, after his stint at NBC News in New York. After three years, Kwan left the afternoon, and Lemon left the early evening, newscasts because of changes in the station's early evening news lineup that went into effect on September 18, 2006.
In 2005, WMAQ hired Bob Sirott for the second time. He co-anchored, alongside Anna Davlantes, the weekend evening newscasts. A year after his rehiring, Bob was promoted to anchor the early evening newscasts, alongside Brooks and Anna later to solo-anchoring the weekend evening newscasts until July 2007, when former Dateline NBC correspondent Rob Stafford added as the co-anchor of the weekend evening newscasts. Also in the same year, they began using the Giant Octopus graphics; which has been also used by other NBC owned-and-operated stations throughout the country, WMAQ being the only NBC-owned station to continue using the graphic package until made their final on-air appearance on February 27, 2012. "The Tower" news theme was still in use due to the new graphic change.
In early fall 2006, additional changes were made to WMAQ's early evening lineup. On September 18, the station moved the afternoon newscast, with Sirott and Brooks, to 4:00 p.m. and moved the newsmagazine show Extra to 4:30. The early evening newscast remained at 5:00 p.m. A week later on September 25, 2006, Saunders and Rosati were promoted to anchor the 5:00 p.m. newscasts. In November 2006, WMAQ-TV announced that its half-hour 11:00 a.m. newscast would be replaced, in December, by a one-hour daily lifestyle and entertainment show entitled iVillage Live. After the change, WMAQ-TV, with only four hours per day, had the least airtime devoted to local news of any "big three" network-owned station.
On January 15, 2007, WMAQ altered the 4:00-5:00 p.m. hour, swapping the half-hour news at 4:00 with Extra. On the same day, WMAQ-TV debuted a weekday morning show called Barely Today, which was hosted by Bruce Wolf, who was the former weekday morning traffic/sports anchor for WMAQ. The new morning show was simulcast on WLUP-FM (owned at the time by Emmis Broadcasting). The show was canceled on June 6, 2007. A day later, on June 7, 2007, WMAQ-TV became the first station in Chicago to start its morning newscast at 4:30 a.m. Similar half-hour expansions later spread to other Chicago stations in 2010. In fall 2007, Pai Hong and Sambolin traded places in the morning newscasts: Sambolin became weekday morning anchor with Johnson, while Pai Hong became a weekend morning co-anchor with Rob Elgas.
On January 14, 2008, WMAQ-TV became the second television station in the Chicago market (after WLS-TV) to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. Only in-studio footage and some of the remote footage, from the field, were presented in HD, while most remote footage was in standard definition, using a mixture of 16:9 (widescreen) and 4:3 cameras.
In March 2008, Johnson was demoted from the weekday newscast but continued his reporting work, and Elgas was promoted to weekday morning anchor. On January 12, 2009, WMAQ and Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD entered into a Local News Service agreement, in which the two stations would share helicopter footage. This agreement reportedly paved the way for a larger pooling effort between the two stations. In Spring 2009, WMAQ-TV laid off an undisclosed number of employees. In addition, they canceled the Sunday morning newscasts due to budget cuts at the station. The Sunday morning newscasts were later revived on November 7, 2010.
In May 2009, the station announced that it would conclude the public affairs program City Desk after 57 years; the show had its final broadcast on May 17, 2009. Two weeks later, on May 31, 2009, The Talk debuted on WMAQ with Brooks as host. Prior to this, Sunday morning anchor Ellee Pai Hong left the station after six years. On June 12, 2009, Bob Sirott left WMAQ-TV for the second time, as his contract with the station had not been renewed. Later, on July 29, 2009, Davlantes' contract with the station was not renewed. On August 10, 2009, Stafford was promoted as WMAQ's main anchor. He, along with Rosati, co-anchored the 5:00, 6:00, and 10:00 p.m. newscasts.
For years, WMAQ-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscast was in second place behind WBBM-TV and, later, WLS-TV, with WBBM-TV third. At the conclusion of the November 2009 Nielsen Ratings sweeps period, WBBM-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscast overtook WMAQ-TV for second place for the first time in many years, largely due to the low ratings of the latter station's lead-in The Jay Leno Show, as WLS-TV continued to dominate the local newscast ratings in the Chicago market. WBBM-TV later regained second place at 10:00 p.m., although closer to third-place WBBM-TV than to WLS-TV. In the November 2010 sweeps period, WMAQ's 10:00 p.m. newscast slipped back to third, behind WBBM-TV in that time slot (and fourth among Chicago's late night newscasts, behind WGN-TV's 9:00 p.m. newscast), although WMAQ continued to place second in other time slots.
For five years, beginning in 2006 when WMAQ canceled its 11:00 a.m. newscast, WMAQ differed from most NBC stations in the Central Time Zone in that it did not carry a newscast in the weekday midday time period. This changed on September 12, 2011, when it debuted a half-hour newscast at noon (the program returned to 11:00 a.m. when it was reformatted as an hour-long newscast on September 8, 2014). On December 6, 2011, WMAQ-TV announced a partnership with The Chicago Reporter as part of a larger effort by NBCUniversal to partner with non-profit news organizations, following its acquisition by Comcast.
In January 2012, WMAQ-TV announced testing a news partnership with Merlin Media's WIQI (now WKQX) to use audio from all of WMAQ-TV's newscasts, including morning, noon, afternoon, 5, 6, and 10 PM newscasts, as well as the sharing of assignments and online content between the two stations. The news partnership ended on July 17, 2012, when WIQI switched to an adult hits format, branded as "i101".
On February 28, 2012, WMAQ-TV unveiled a new studio for its newscasts at NBC Tower, along with a new music and graphics package, the latter being the standardized "Look F" package, by NBC Artworks, that was rolled out to other NBC-owned stations around this time. Its logo was also updated, placing the new 3D glassed version of the peacock logo (which was introduced by the network in May 2011) to the left of the "5" logo, becoming the first NBC O&O to add the revised peacock to its logo. Months later (using a setup similar to that used by New York City sister station WNBC), five adjacent 21-foot (6.4 m)-wide Panasonic plasma monitors were installed in the studio behind the anchor desk, to be used as virtual windows and to display SkyCam views overlooking North Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River that were from a camera mounted on the 401 Michigan Avenue building that formerly housed the streetside studio.
On July 27, 2013, WMAQ expanded its weekend morning newscasts, with the early edition of the program on both days expanding to two hours with the addition of an hour-long broadcast at 5:00 a.m. (from a previous 6:00 a.m. start) and an additional half-hour added at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. On February 9, 2014, the Chicago Sun Times announced that it would end its content partnership with WMAQ-TV, and enter into a new content agreement with ABC-owned station WLS-TV on February 10, 2014. In 2015, WMAQ became the first television station in the Chicago market to upgrade its news helicopter's camera system to shoot footage in ultra-high-definition. On August 24, 2015, WMAQ expanded its weekday morning newscast to three hours, with the addition of a half-hour at 4:00 a.m., becoming the second Chicago television station to expand into the timeslot - possibly to compete with WGN-TV, which began expanding its weekday morning newscast into the time period in July 2011.
In February 2016, WMAQ-TV became the second television station in Chicago (following WBBM-TV) to have its own weather truck. The truck, branded as StormChaser 5, is a Ford F-250 pickup truck that has been customized with the addition of weather tracking equipment. Months later, WMAQ-TV became the first station in Chicago to be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to operate in the high-frequency S-Band; and they added mobile Doppler weather radar trucks, named StormRanger 5 and the live doppler radar Live Doppler 5, located in Naperville.
On June 21, 2016, WMAQ-TV, along with sister station WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., revamped their official websites. On June 22, 2016, WMAQ began testing its portions of the "Look N" graphics package during some of its newscasts. A week later, on June 28, 2016, starting with the 11:00 a.m. newscast, WMAQ became the fifth NBC-owned station to begin using the "Look N" graphics package in its entirety. The graphics package was first adopted by sister stations WNBC in New York City (the first station to use this package, on June 11, 2016), WVIT in Hartford, WTVJ in Miami/Fort Lauderdale, and KXAS-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth.
In addition, the news opens were updated, with the "NBC 5 Chicago" branding, instead of NBC 5 News Today (morning newscasts will also use the "NBC 5 Chicago" branding during Today news cut-ins) or NBC 5 News (other newscasts) in some opens. The NBC 5 Chicago News branding was revived for the first time since 2000 and is now used as a secondary branding for all newscasts. The voiceover was dropped.
On August 8, 2016, the station's hour-long 4:00 p.m. newscast was revived after a 21-year absence, serving as a replacement for Extra, which moved to WFLD after a 20-year absence. WMAQ-TV became the third station in Chicago to expand into the time period, following WGN-TV (which began its 4:00 p.m. newscast in September 2014) and WLS-TV (which began expanding into the time period in the 1980s), indicating a decreased reliance on syndicated programming. With this addition, WMAQ-TV was reduced to only three hours of syndicated daytime shows to back up its newscasts outside of NBC network programming.
On October 17, 2016, following the debut of its "Look N" graphics, the station removed the regionalized forecast from its on-screen bug during newscasts (sister station WCAU in Philadelphia also follows the same practice). The regionalized forecast in its on-screen bug was returned on April 12, 2017. In the spring of 2017, the news opens were modified, by removing the "News at (time)" or "News Today at (time) a.m." from the opens and beginning to use generic opens. However, they will continue to use the "NBC 5 Chicago" name and logo during the generic opens.
WMAQ-TV has many national honors for its news reporting for the past years, including three national Edward R. Murrow Awards from Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) in 2001, in the "Investigative Reporting", "News Series" and "Newscast" categories. In 2002, WMAQ earned two Murrow Awards in its "News Series" and "Investigative Reporting" categories. WMAQ earned another two Murrow Awards in 2003 for its story "A Sister's Last Hope" in the "Feature Reporting" category and in the Investigate Reporting category for its story "Code Blue, Code Red". In 2004, the station receives a Murrow Award for its series "Driving Blind". After a year's absence, WMAQ earned two Murrow Awards in the "Sports Reporting" and "Feature: Hard News" categories in 2006.
The station has earned a News & Documentary Emmy Award for its 2010 report "Burr Oak Cemetery Scandal", which is focusing on the scandal in the Burr Oak Cemetery. WMAQ has received three Peabody Awards: in 1980, for its 1979 report on the investigation into routine strip searches of female suspects by the Chicago Police Department; in 1984, for its 1983 report revealing "deadwood" committees and commissions of the Illinois State Legislature; and in 2016, for its 2015 report on the investigation of Laquan McDonald.
Veteran newsman Len O'Connor worked his way up from a news writer for NBC Radio's Blue Network to be the commentator at WMAQ-TV. O'Connor, who was well known for his often-acerbic political commentary, ran afoul of the station's management in 1974, when he reported on Governor Dan Walker's appointment of Bruce Sagan as head of the Illinois Arts Council. O'Connor was troubled by the council's funding grant to the Chicago Dance Foundation, which was headed by Sagan's wife. Following O'Connor's original, January 1974 commentary on the grant, Sagan was invited to appear on the station and rebut O'Connor's statements, but declined and subsequently filed a complaint with the FCC in May 1974. Sagan claimed that he had been personally attacked and felt that the station was not enforcing the FCC's Fairness Doctrine. He was again offered an opportunity to refute O'Connor's comments but declined once again, after the FCC dismissed the charges he levied. Sagan appealed the FCC's decision, and O'Connor believed that the company's attorneys had secretly met with Sagan and offered him airtime in exchange for Sagan withdrawing his appeal. WMAQ-TV management stated that they had been open with O'Connor on the matter.
O'Connor proceeded to deliver three commentaries on the 10:00 p.m. newscast from September 25 to 27, 1974, which were severely critical of the situation's handling by WMAQ-TV station management. In the commentaries, O'Connor claimed he had been deprived of his freedom of speech, that the station compromised his integrity, and that station management had made secret plans to fire him within a short time after his broadcasts. O'Connor left the station and continued his political commentaries, on WGN-TV, until his retirement from broadcasting in 1980.
WMAQ achieved notoriety in 1997 when, in an effort to boost ratings for its newscasts, the station hired Jerry Springer as a commentator. At that time, the station also adopted a more tabloid-style news format, after it hired Joel Cheatwood - previously known for establishing fast-paced tabloid newscasts during his tenures as news director at WSVN in Miami and WHDH in Boston (both owned by Sunbeam Television) - as WMAQ's news director.
Though Springer was once a two-term mayor of Cincinnati before becoming a news anchor for that city's NBC affiliate WLWT, his association with his infamous syndicated talk show (which, until 2009, was recorded at WMAQ's NBC Tower studios, and is now distributed by NBCUniversal through its syndication division) led to the belief that the newscast was being dumbed down. There were a handful of Springer supporters; nevertheless, the incident triggered a lot of negative publicity, on both the local and national levels. The station's longtime anchor team of Carol Marin and Ron Magers resigned in protest (with Marin resigning on May 1, and Magers following suit on May 16). As Marin signed off her last newscast, station personnel stood en masse in the newsroom behind her - WMAQ's newscasts at that time originated from a studio that opened into the station's newsroom - in a symbolic show of support for her decision to resign. Ratings declined, with the station's newscasts losing 20% of its audience share by the November 1997 sweeps period. Springer only made two commentaries before he resigned on May 8, feeling unhappy with the criticism he received.
Magers wound up at rival WLS-TV, where he remained until his retirement in 2016. Marin, meanwhile, joined rival WBBM-TV, while contributing reports for CBS News, before returning to WMAQ in 2004 as a special correspondent. Lyle Banks, who had hired Springer as a commentator, was fired from his position as general manager in January 1998 and was replaced by Larry Wert, who served as WMAQ's president and general manager until 2013, when he left to become president of WGN-TV parent Tribune Broadcasting. Five months later, on May 20, 1998, Cheatwood resigned as news director and was replaced by former WLS-TV news director Frank Whittaker, who served as WMAQ's news director until 1999, when he was promoted to vice president of news, where he remains today.
On July 10, 2007, Amy Jacobson, who had been a reporter at WMAQ-TV since 1997, negotiated her exit with the station, after the release of a videotape in which she and her two sons were spotted at the home of Craig Stebic, with Jacobson clad in a bikini. Craig's wife, Lisa Stebic, was missing and had not been found as of that date. The incident raised the issue whether Jacobson crossed a journalistic ethical line in being friendly with a subject of the story. The video of Jacobson at Craig Stebic's home was obtained by rival WBBM-TV, either taken by or given to its news department, which posted the entire six-minute video on its website. In 2008, Jacobson filed a libel lawsuit against WBBM for $1 million after the video was posted. The suit was thrown out by an Illinois judge in July 2013.
In October 2014, WMAQ-TV strongly objected to a video clip from one of its news reports appearing in a commercial for Governor Pat Quinn's re-election campaign. The commercial included an excerpt from a news report about Bruce Rauner, and an audio clip of reporter Carol Marin, based on the joint investigation by the station and its former news partner Chicago Sun-Times - reported by Marin, producer Don Moseley, and Sun-Times political reporter Dave McKinney - into Rauner's business practices. On October 10, 2014, the station released a statement on the 10:00 p.m. newscast, and on the station's website, that said that the station is required by law to air campaign commercials bought by bona fide candidates for public office and the commercial is not an endorsement of Governor Quinn by Marin and WMAQ-TV.
On December 19, 2017, during the station's morning newscast, the station mistakenly ran a video of South Korean pop group BTS, from their appearance on the syndicated program The Ellen DeGeneres Show in November, while reporting on the death of SHINee's founding member JongHyun. The fans of the respective K-pop groups commented on social media, using the hashtag #NBCChicagoApologize, with the hashtag trending worldwide on Twitter. The station apologized for the mistake on the morning newscast and on the station's social media accounts the next day.
In the May 2015 local Nielsen ratings, WMAQ-TV's newscasts placed second overall among Chicago's television stations. With a 7.4 rating, the 10:00 p.m. newscast was narrowly beaten by its closest late news competitor WLS-TV, which earned an 8.6; but WMAQ-TV beat WLS for first in the timeslot among adults ages 25-54 on weeknights by an even narrower margin (a 3.6 rating/9 share, versus WLS' 3.5 rating, with a tie for audience share). WMAQ-TV placed first, by three-tenths of a point (a 3.5, versus WLS-TV's 3.2 rating), when weekend newscasts were factored in, likely due to the station refocusing on investigative journalism and additional upgrades to its news product in recent years that have helped attract younger viewers. In the February 2015 local ratings, the 10:00 p.m. newscast finished second among the market's late-evening newscasts in that slot, with a 6.8 rating, down from a share of 9.1 in February 2014 (when ratings saw a boost from a strong lead-in by NBC's coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics).
For many years, WMAQ-TV, as part of its commitment to serving the community through extensive local programming, has run a series of different public service campaigns to help educate people on relevant issues and values of the day. The station has numerous relationships and partnerships, in serving the Chicago community, with charities and non-profit organizations including Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Special Olympics, American Cancer Society's Relay For Life, United Negro College Fund, and March of Dimes, among others. In addition, the station produces the news series "Making a Difference", which is aired on the station's newscasts as well as a half-hour special program which is aired twice each quarter on Saturdays. The station launched the "Making a Difference" initiative in March 2014; later in September 2015, the station also launched the "NBC5 Making A Difference Awards" to further spotlight these individuals at community events.
Carol Cooling-Kopp, WMAQ-TV's longtime community relations assistant and longtime Vice President for Special Projects & Community Relations died on October 30, 2013, after a battle with Lung Cancer; longtime WVIT Community Projects director Emma Asante appointed as WMAQ-TV's Vice President for Special Projects & Community Relations in March 2014, following her death.
As part of the station's community efforts, station president and general manager David Doebler, along with the station's management committee, announced the establishment of a community action board, the purpose of which would be to air community-related issues. The board is composed of members of community organizations and religious personnel living in the Chicago metropolitan area. The community action board hosts board meetings at the NBC Tower. Aside from helping to create the station's community action board, several members of the station's on-air talent and management are also board members of community organizations throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
For several years, WMAQ-TV hosted the Make a Wish Miles for Smiles telethon to raise funds for the Make a Wish Foundation. The first annual telethon was held on June 12, 2012, as a one-day-only telethon. Following the success of the first telethon, the second was held on June 13, 2013. Beginning in 2014, after the first two telethons were held in the summer, the telethon was held in the spring. In 2017, the Make a Wish Foundation announced they would cut their telethon partnership with the station; independent station WGN-TV announced they would assume the telethon duties beginning in May 2017.
In 1999, WMAQ-TV partnered with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Freddie Mac Foundation to create a news series called Wednesday's Child, which is aired on the 6:00 p.m. newscast on Wednesdays and on the Sunday morning newscasts. The mission of the news series is to bring the children to the living rooms of about 500,000 Chicago area residents that have never adopted. Allison Rosati, a former foster child, served as a host for the news series, and remained until their last report in 2005.
For many years, WMAQ-TV held its annual Health and Fitness Expo in September at the Navy Pier, including activities such as health screenings, workout sessions, cooking demos, consultations, and meeting the station's on-air personalities and celebrity guests. The first event, in 1997, was named the "Health, Fitness, and Fun Fair". In 2003 and 2005, the event was moved to January, and in 2008 and 2009, in March. Following the success of the Health and Fitness Expo, the station held their Travel Expo annually in November, in 2007 and 2008, also at Navy Pier. That expo included cultural presentations, trip planning, games, fun activities, and meeting the station's on-air staff and guests. In 2009 and 2010, WMAQ-TV management announced that the Travel Expo would not return for 2009, as a result of the massive layoffs at the station in Spring 2009, and that the Health and Fitness Expo would not return in 2011, due to the station's parent organization being acquired by Comcast in January 2011.
Since 1996, WMAQ-TV has held the Winter Coat Drive held during the holiday season. The Coat Drive has helped raised funds for The Salvation Army; along with Kerry Wood's Wood Family Foundation in the 2011 holiday season, and Chance the Rapper's SocialWorks in the 2018 holiday season. The mission is to raise awareness of needy Chicagoans and to give used or new coats.
Following the success of the Coat Drive, the station also launched its Back to School Supply Drive, held annually in summer, to raise funds, by donating school supplies, for the Chicago Public Schools' Supply the Future campaign. In 2016, the station announced that it would not hold its school supply drive for 2016. However, the station would continue to sponsor the CPS' 2016 Back to School campaign. The Back to School Supply Drive was returned for 2017, this time under the name of Supporting Our Schools: The NBC 5 Chicago/Telemundo Chicago Making a Difference Back to School Supply Drive. The campaign was held from July 17 to 28 of that year. This drive was eventually co-sponsored by local retailer Carson's and telecommunication giant T-Mobile, and is in support of Communities In Schools of Chicago and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, rather than the Chicago Public Schools and its Supply the Future campaign. In July 2018, the drive went online as a giving campaign, in partnership with nonprofit organization DonorsChoose.org, that allowed donations targeted to specific neighborhoods, classrooms, and subjects.
On August 15, 2015, WMAQ-TV and WSNS held its first annual "Clear the Shelters" pet drive, with several pet shelters, to raise money for pet-adoption fees and the adoption of 30,000 pets in need. The second annual pet drive was held on July 23, 2016, due to scheduling conflicts with the station's coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics. 40,000 pets were adopted by families in the Chicago metropolitan area. The third annual pet drive was held on August 19, 2017, with 50,000 pets adopted. The fourth annual pet drive was held on August 18, 2018, with 60,000 pets adopted. The fifth annual pet drive was recently held on August 17, 2019, with 70,000 pets adopted.
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