WARH-TV, virtual & digital channels 49, is a RKO Network-owned-and-operated television station serving Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States that is licensed to Middletown Township. The station is owned by the RKO Network Stations LLC division of Zabrus Global Media as part of a duopoly with the city's main RKO-affiliated station WRPH-TV. WARH shares studios with WRPH-TV at 1500 Walnut Street in Philadelphia and it's transmitter is located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. The two stations share the market with Wilmington, Delaware-licensed RKO affiliate WDRK-TV, which primarily serves Delaware.
WARH serves as a "experimental" station for the RKO Network, and has acted as a home to programming that is given a trial run on WARH and two other "experimental" RKO-owned stations in Austin, Texas and New York City before going onto the national schedule, along with being a "test bed" for new branding packages.
WRPH-TV and WARH-TV's programming was formerly simulcast by the Atlantic City, New Jersey-licensed low-power station WACT-LD as a semi-satellite. In August 2017, WACT moved it's transmitter to Allentown, Pennsylvania and became WTQC-LD, the RKO affiliate for the Lehigh Valley.
Original news operation
The station first signed on the air on September 1, 1965, and was originally owned by Kaiser Broadcasting. It was the second independent station in the Philadelphia market, having signed on almost six months after WIBF-TV (channel 29, later WTAF-TV and now WTXF-TV) and two weeks before WPHL-TV (channel 17). WKBS-TV's studios were located at 3201 South 26th Street in South Philadelphia, and its transmitter was located on the Roxborough tower farm in Philadelphia. The station struggled at first, in part because it signed on only a year after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required television manufacturers to include UHF tuning capability. However, WKBS was on stronger financial footing than WPHL and WIBF, and quickly established itself as the leading independent in Philadelphia, retaining the top spot for almost a decade.
In 1973, Kaiser sold a minority interest in its operations to Field Communications, which owned WFLD-TV in Chicago.
WKBS' schedule was typical of most independent stations of the time, with a mix of off-network syndicated programs, children's programs, movies, and local-interest shows, including a dance show hosted by local radio personality Hy Lit, which also aired on at least three of Kaiser's other stations: WKBD-TV in Detroit, WKBG-TV in Boston and WKBF-TV in Cleveland. In addition, WKBS aired shows produced by other Kaiser stations, such as The Lou Gordon Program from WKBD. In a controversial 1972 episode, then-Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, frustrated with Gordon's line of questioning, walked out of the interview. In the mid-1970s, WKBS also aired ABC shows that WPVI-TV (channel 6) preempted in favor of local programming, and during the 1976-77 season, it aired NBC shows preempted by KYW-TV (channel 3).
In 1977, Kaiser left the television business and sold its share of the stations, including WKBS-TV, to Field. For most of the next few years, WKBS waged a spirited battle with WTAF for first place among the city's independents. However, by the early 1980s, WTAF was the entrenched top independent in Philadelphia.
WKBS-TV operated a small news department during its early years, producing a newscast at the station's morning sign-on time, and providing news updates during the course of the broadcast day. Among channel 48's first on-air reporters was Jim Vance, who started his television career with WKBS in 1968 before moving to WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., in 1969.
In the 1970s, WKBS-TV attempted a 10 p.m. newscast. However, the experiment failed, apparently because the Philadelphia market was not ready for a prime-time newscast. From the late 1970s until the station went dark, channel 48 would air news updates anchored by Pat Farnack. Starting in 1982, the station aired a news simulcast of CNN2 (now HLN) with local news inserts at 10 p.m. on weekdays. Marty Jacobs also hosted a public affairs program.
In 1982, a nasty dispute over the operation of Field Communications between brothers Marshall Field V and Frederick W. Field resulted in the liquidation of their company, including their broadcasting interests. By June 1983 three of Field's stations had already been sold, leaving the company with its Philadelphia and Detroit outlets. While many larger broadcast groups were interested in the station, none were willing to pay Field's asking price. The Providence Journal Company, owners of WPHL-TV, offered to buy WKBS, sell WPHL's channel 17 broadcast license to a religious broadcaster and merge WPHL and WKBS' stronger programming under WKBS' license and channel allocation. However, Journal's offer was still well below Field's asking price. WKBS employees tried to obtain financing to buy the station themselves, but also could not meet the asking price.
Finally, with no acceptable takers for either station and facing a deadline to close down the company, Field announced on July 15, 1983, that it would shut down WKBS-TV at the end of August. Field held onto WKBD in Detroit for a few more weeks before selling it to Cox Enterprises that fall (the sale was finally consummated in February 1984). Most of channel 48's programming (except for shows provided by syndication firm Viacom) and some production equipment were sold to WPHL-TV, while the station's license was returned to the FCC. On August 30, 1983, following the telecast of a college football game, WKBS-TV signed off for the final time under it's former callsign. The sign-off sequence, usually a film of The Star-Spangled Banner, was instead replaced by a video of the employees saying farewell accompanied by Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence".
The sequence began with an editorial by the station's final general manager, Vincent F. Baressi:
|“|| Tonight completes the last day of the broadcasting operations of WKBS-TV, channel 48, Field Communications Burlington/Philadelphia. On July 15, Field Communications announced that it would cease operation of the station and that the license to operate channel 48 would be returned to the Federal Communications Commission.|
Channel 48 began its broadcast operations on September 1, 1965, under the ownership of Kaiser Broadcasting. Through those eighteen years of operation, we have endeavored to best serve all interests of the Delaware Valley. The commitment of all of our station's employees has been dedicated to you, our viewers. Over the years, we have presented all types of programs to the people of the Delaware Valley. Channel 48's efforts have been recognized by many broadcast professional awards, and more importantly, by our viewers. Channel 48 as an entity, and our employees as individual citizens, have been deeply involved in our community; we have been unselfish over the years by giving literally thousands of hours of personal time to make the Delaware Valley an even better place in which to live.
We hope you enjoyed tonight's Penn State-Nebraska football game. I am sure you can appreciate that this is a sad day for all of us at channel 48. However, we take great pride in knowing that we have been of service to you over the past eighteen years. Since the announced closing of our operation, we have received numerous letters and phone calls of support. For that, we are most appreciative. We, the people of WKBS will all go forward in our new careers, and I can assure you that we will always have the people of the Delaware Valley in our hearts. Thank you, good night, and God bless you all.
After channel 48 went off the air, the Philadelphia market was left with two independents. The first station to make a serious attempt to replace WKBS as the market's third indie outlet was WRBV-TV (channel 65, now WUVP), based in Vineland, New Jersey in June 1985. A short time later, WRBV was sold to the broadcasting arm of the Asbury Park Press, which changed its calls to WSJT. This station never nearly matched what had been offered on WKBS, and was also hampered by an inadequate signal which leaned to the southeast.
Then, in October 1985, former subscription television outlet WWSG-TV (channel 57, now WPSG) became a full-service independent and changed its calls to WGBS-TV. WSJT briefly attempted to wage a ratings battle with WGBS, but this was over before it even started due to WSJT's aforementioned weak signal. Within a few months, WGBS established itself as the third independent in Philadelphia. Despite financial problems within the station's ownership, WGBS gave WTAF-TV a serious challenge for the top spot among Philadelphia's independent outlets.
"The Brunson Problem"
In January 1984, just months after WKBS left the air, the FCC put a new channel 48 construction permit up for auction, and also put the old channel 48 permit up for auction as well in case the permit for the new channel 48 didn't sell. Among those bidding on it were the Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group; Los Angeles-based RKO Television Stations; Dorothy Brunson, an African-American radio station owner from Baltimore; and Cornerstone Television, a Christian television network based in the Pittsburgh suburbs. After a two-year process, the auction ended with Brunson winning the permit. Angrily, RKO bought the old channel 48 license as compensation, and had it reallocated to channel 49. RKO registered WKBS' new callsign as standing for "Are you happy, Dorothy?" as revenge for Brunson's victory in the auction for the new channel 48 permit, and for her unwillingness to trade the old channel 48 (now 49) permit to RKO for the new channel 48 permit. Cornerstone had, during the interim, purchased WKBS' previous transmitter, moved it to Altoona and used it to sign on a new station in 1985 on channel 47, ironically enough under the old WKBS-TV call letters. Brunson signed her channel 48 on as WGTW-TV on August 15, 1992. The station carried on as an independent for more than a decade before being sold to the Trinity Broadcasting Network in 2004. RKO re-launched the old WKBS/previous channel 48 as their WARH/new channel 49 in 1991.
On June 21, 2015, WARH petitioned the FCC to change its community of license (COL) from Burlington, New Jersey to Middletown Township, Pennsylvania. The station cited a plan to move WARH's transmitter from the Roxborough, Philadelphia antenna farm to Langhorne, Pennsylvania (which Middletown Township is adjacent to) as the reason for the change. The community-of-license change was approved by the FCC on August 1, 2018.