An early WPIX test pattern, 1948-1972.
The station first signed on the air on June 15, 1948; it was the fifth television station to sign on in New York City and was the market's second independent station. It was also the second of three stations to launch in the New York market during 1948, debuting one month after Newark-based independent WATV (channel 13, now PBS member station WNET) and two months before ABC-owned WJZ-TV (channel 7, now WABC-TV). Like its longtime Chicago sister station WGN-TV (which first signed on two months before in April 1948), WPIX's call letters come from the slogan of the newspaper that founded the station - in this case, the Tribune-owned New York Daily News, whose tagline was "New York's Picture Newspaper". Since 1948, WPIX's studios and offices have been located in the Daily News Building at Second Avenue and East 42nd Street (alternatively called "11 WPIX Plaza") in Midtown Manhattan. In its earliest years, WPIX maintained a secondary studio (called "Studio Five") at 110 Central Park South, where programs shot in front of a studio audience were produced.
Until becoming owned by Tribune outright in 1991, WPIX operated separately from the company's other television and radio outlets through the News-owned license holder, WPIX, Incorporated - which in 1963, purchased New York radio station WBFM (101.9 FM, now WFAN-FM), and soon changed that station's call letters to WPIX-FM (which then became WQCD in 1988). British businessman Robert Maxwell bought the Daily News in 1991. Tribune retained WPIX and WQCD; the radio station was sold to Emmis Communications in 1997. WPIX initially featured programming that was standard among independents: children's programs, movies, syndicated reruns of network programs, public affairs programming, religious programs and sports - specifically, the New York Yankees, whose baseball games WPIX carried from 1951 to 1998.
To generations of New York children, channel 11 was also the home of memorable personalities. In 1955, original WPIX staffer and weather forecaster Joe Bolton, donned a policeman's uniform and became "Officer Joe," hosting several programs based around Little Rascals, Three Stooges, and later Popeye shorts. Another early WPIX personality, Jack McCarthy, also hosted Popeye and Dick Tracy cartoons as "Captain Jack" in the early 1960s, though he was also the longtime host of channel 11's St. Patrick's Day parade coverage from 1949 to 1992. WPIX aired a local version of Bozo the Clown (with Bill Britten in the role) from 1959 to 1964; comic performers Chuck McCann and Allen Swift also hosted programs on WPIX during the mid-1960s before each moved to other entertainment work in Hollywood. Jazz singer Joya Sherrill hosted a weekday children's show, Time for Joya (later known as Joya's Fun School). Channel 11 produced the Magic Garden series, which ran on the station from 1972 to 1984. In the late 1970s and 1980s, "PIX Games" (including basketball and Tic Tac Toe) were played during commercial breaks of afternoon programs, in which kids would call into the station for the chance to play for prizes.
From its early years through the 1960s, WPIX, like the other two major independents in New York – WOR-TV (channel 9, now WWOR-TV) and WNEW-TV (channel 5, now WNYW) – struggled to acquire other programming. In 1966, WPIX debuted The Yule Log, which combines Christmas music with a film loop of logs burning inside a fireplace. Airing on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning initially until 1989, the film was made in 1966 and was shot at the Gracie Mansion, with the cooperation of then-Mayor John V. Lindsay. WPIX revived the Yule Log due to viewer demand in 2001, and has proven to be just as popular. Several of Tribune's other television stations (as well as WGN America and Antenna TV) have carried the WPIX version, complete with its audio soundtrack, on Christmas morning since the late 2000s. Channel 11 also airs a live broadcast of Midnight Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral every Christmas Eve.
The station's famous "Circle 11" logo - predating the existence of the World Trade Center, which it closely resembled - was first unveiled in 1969 (an advertising billboard for WPIX with the "Circle 11" logo began appearing that year at Yankee Stadium). By the mid-1970s, WPIX emerged as the second highest-rated independent station in the area, behind WNEW-TV. WPIX dropped the "Circle 11" when it rebranded as "11 Alive" in September 1976, though it continued to appear during station editorials until around 1982 (the "Alive" slogan was popularized by such stations as Atlanta's WXIA-TV, which itself has branded as "11 Alive" ever since that point, with the exception of a brief removal in 1995); the "Circle 11" logo returned as part of the "11 Alive" branding in 1984, before becoming used full-time in the fall of 1986. Its relaunch featured a series of humorous promos in which a fictional station employee, "Henry Tillman," was searching for a "big idea" for something uniquely New York in nature to serve as the perfect WPIX symbol. The running gag in these ads was the fact that Tillman was constantly surrounded by - but never noticed - objects resembling a giant "11", most notably the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
In 1978, WPIX was uplinked to satellite and became a superstation that was distributed to cable providers throughout the U.S. (many providers carried WPIX's signal until the early 1990s, when most systems outside of the Northeastern United States began replacing WPIX with the superstation feed of WGN-TV, though the station continues to be distributed through Dish Network domestically (which since it halted sales of the package to new subscribers in September 2013, is available only to grandfathered subscribers of its a la carte superstation tier) and on most cable and satellite providers throughout Canada). Two years later, WPIX began operating on a 24-hour programming schedule.
During the late 1980s, WPIX fell to sixth place in the ratings among New York's VHF stations, behind WNYW (which was now owned by Fox) and a resurgent WWOR (then owned by MCA–Universal). After president Leavitt Pope stepped down as general manager (though he remained as president and CEO of WPIX), Michael Eigner was transferred from Los Angeles sister station KTLA to become WPIX's general manager; in 1989, the station engineered a slow turnaround that eventually resulted in WPIX becoming the leading independent station in the market. In 1994, the station became the exclusive home of the New York City Marathon, carrying the event for the next five years. It was during the initial broadcast of that event that WPIX unveiled a stylized "11" logo; the new numerical look eventually became the full-time logo, augmented with The WB's logo after the station affiliated with that network in 1995.
On November 2, 1993, the Warner Bros. Television division of Time Warner and the Tribune Company announced the formation of The WB Television Network. Due to the company's ownership interest in the network (initially a 12.5% stake, before expanding to 22%), Tribune signed the majority of its independent stations to serve as The WB's charter affiliates, resulting in WPIX becoming a network affiliate for the first time upon its January 11, 1995 debut.
WPIX could have been considered The WB's "flagship" station (even though WGN-TV is actually the flagship station of Tribune Broadcasting) – however this is a designation in name only. The station was verbally branded as "The WB, Channel 11" (simply adding The WB name to the "Channel 11" branding in use since 1986), until it was simplified to "WB11" in 1997. Initially, WPIX's programming remained unchanged, as The WB had broadcast only primetime shows on Wednesday nights at its launch. WB network and syndicated daytime programs (such as Maury and Jerry Springer) became more prominent on channel 11's schedule starting in 1996 at the expense of most of its local-interest programming outside of news.
. On September 11, 2001, the transmitter facilities of WPIX, and several other New York City area television and radio stations were destroyed when two hijacked Boeing 767 airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center; both of the complex's main towers collapsed due to fires caused by the impact. WPIX lead engineer Steve Jacobson was among those who were killed in the terrorist attack. WPIX's satellite feed froze on the last video frame received from the WTC mast, an image of the North Tower burning and the start of the impact of the South Tower; the image remained on-screen for much of the day until WPIX was able to set up alternate transmission facilities (the microwave relay for WPIX's satellite feed was also located at the World Trade Center). Since then, WPIX has transmitted its signal from the Empire State Building.
. On January 24, 2006, the Warner Bros. unit of Time Warner and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN and in their place, would combine the two networks' respective programming to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. As part of the announcement, Tribune signed a ten-year affiliation agreements with the network for 16 of its 19 WB-affiliated stations, including WPIX. Tribune chose not to exercise an ownership interest in The CW - making WPIX the largest CW affiliate that is not owned by either CBS or Time Warner (although WPIX is the network's largest station by market size, CBS-owned WPSG/Philadelphia is The CW's official flagship station), and the largest English-language network affiliated station that is not an owned-and-operated station of its respective network, as well as the only major New York City television station that is not network-owned. WPIX began transitioning its on-air branding to "CW11" during the summer of 2006; prior to the start of the station's 10:00 p.m. newscast on September 17, 2006 (which aired following The WB's final night of programming and the night prior to The CW's official launch), the station aired a video montage of past WPIX logos, starting with a 1948 test pattern and concluding with the official unveiling of the new "CW11" logo.
On April 2, 2007, investor Sam Zell announced plans to purchase the Tribune Company, with intentions to take the publicly traded firm private. The deal was completed on December 20, 2007. Prior to the sale's closure, WPIX had been the only commercial television station in New York City to have never been involved in an ownership transaction (Tribune subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008, due to debt accrued from Zell's leveraged buyout and costs from the company's privatization; it emerged from bankruptcy in December 2012 under the control of its senior debt holders Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase). The station began gradually adopting a modernized "Circle 11" logo in mid-October 2008, featuring a slimmer version of the WB-era "11" (the CW logo is sometimes used next to the "Circle 11", primarily in station promos for CW programs). The station's branding was then changed to "PIX11" on December 1, 2008 (the "PIX" in the call letters are pronounced phonetically, similar to the word "picks").
On August 17, 2012, Cablevision removed the station from its New York area systems, part of a carriage dispute with Tribune in which WPIX's Hartford, Philadelphia and Denver sister stations were removed from Cablevision's systems in those markets. Cablevision accused Tribune of demanding higher carriage fees (claiming to total in the tens of millions of dollars) for use to help pay off debt, and alleged that it illegally bundled carriage agreements for WPIX and Hartford's WTIC-TV (which was later pulled as well, but unlike co-owned WCCT, was initially unaffected due to a separate carriage agreement); the company denied the claims, stating its approach complied with FCC regulations. The stations and WGN America were restored in an agreement reached on October 26, following a plea by Connecticut State Senator Gayle Slossberg for the FCC to intervene in the dispute.
On January 1, 2011, Tribune launched its new digital broadcast network, Antenna TV, which affiliated with WPIX through a new fourth digital subchannel. In May 2012, WPIX moved Antenna TV to digital subchannel 11.2, while digital channel 11.4 was removed (Estrella TV, which was carried on 11.4 at the time, is now affiliated with Port Jervis low-power station WASA-LD, which is owned by the network's parent company Liberman Broadcasting).
WPIX discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 11, at 12:30 p.m. on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 33 to VHF channel 11.
WPIX broadcasts 34 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 6 and half hours on weekdays, 2 hours on Saturdays and 1 and half hours on Sundays); in addition, the station produces the 15-minute sports highlight program PIX 11 Sports Desk daily at 10:45 p.m.
News has played an important role on channel 11 from the station's beginnings, due partly to its original ownership under the New York Daily News. As most stations did in the late 1940s and early 1950s, WPIX aired filmed coverage of news events. The station's first news program, TelePIX Newsreel, was the first in New York City to consist entirely of filmed coverage. From 1948 to 1965, WPIX produced Three Star News, a 6:30 p.m. newscast which employed a three-anchor format - with Kevin Kennedy reading world and national news headlines, John Tillman reporting local stories and Joe Bolton as the weatherman. Bolton was later assigned to host children's programming and was replaced by Gloria Okon. The program was cancelled after an FCC complaint that some of Tillman's "man on the street" interviews were staged with paid actors, most notable of which was a "pro-Castro sympathizer" who was "interviewed" with a copy of the Daily Worker newspaper conveniently tucked under his arm.
WPIX also produced many acclaimed news documentaries during the 1950s and early 1960s through its WPIX International production arm. Among its productions were The Secret Life of Adolf Hitler; Cuba, Castro and Communism; and the Eva Perón profile The Most Powerful Woman of the Century. Channel 11's efforts first got attention when the station covered the collision, and later, sinking of the New York-bound oceanliner SS Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket in 1956. From 1977 to 1984, WPIX used the Action News title and format for its local news programs. The station aired a half-hour newscast at 7:30 p.m., and a one-hour program (which at some points, also ran for 30 minutes) at 10:00 p.m.
WPIX produced the Independent Network News, a national newscast that was syndicated to independent stations from June 1980 to June 1990. The program - whose live feed was transmitted nationally weeknights at 9:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) - featured the same on-air staff as channel 11's newscasts and was broadcast from the same news studio, with INN logos covering the station's own logo on various set pieces. In New York City, WPIX paired a 10:00 p.m. replay of the national show with a live local newscast at 10:30 p.m., called the Action News Metropolitan Report. As part of a midday expansion of INN starting in 1981, channel 11 also launched a newscast at 12:30 p.m. During the decade, WPIX also produced two other programs syndicated to stations that carried the INN program: the business-oriented Wall Street Journal Report; and From the Editor's Desk, a Sunday news discussion program hosted by Richard D. Heffner, host of the long-running public-affairs program The Open Mind.
WPIX was also famous for the many post-news editorials that were delivered by Richard N. Hughes, vice president of news operations from 1969 to 1995. His editorials ended with the tagline "What's your opinion? We'd like to know". Periodically, he would read excerpts from viewers' letters in response to the editorials, invariably closing each excerpt by saying, "And that ends that quote." In 1984, the station renamed its local and syndicated news programs as The Independent News. In 1986, the national INN newscast was renamed USA Tonight and aired at 10:00 p.m., while the 7:30 program retained the Independent News title and the 10:30 local newscast was renamed New York Tonight. When INN was cancelled, the 7:30 program ended as well, and WPIX focused its efforts on the 10:00 p.m. newscast.
Over the years, channel 11 has won many news awards, and was the first independent station to win a New York-area Emmy Award for outstanding newscast, first earning the statuette in 1979 and again in 1983. It was a significant comeback for a news operation that was accused of falsifying news reports in the late 1960s, such as labeling stock footage as being shown "via satellite", and claiming a voice report was live from Prague when it had actually been made from a pay telephone in Manhattan. As a result, Forum Communications - led by future PBS and NBC News president Lawrence Grossman - approached the Federal Communications Commission to challenge WPIX Inc.'s license to operate channel 11. WPIX and the Daily News prevailed in 1979 after years of litigation. On June 5, 2000, WPIX launched a weekday morning newscast, the WB11 Morning News (now the PIX Morning News), which has grown to challenge the established network morning programs as well as its more direct competitor, WNYW's Good Day New York.
On April 26, 2008, WPIX became the fourth television station in New York City to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. The station resumed a half-hour early evening newscast on September 14, 2009, that ran nightly at 6:30 p.m. The 6:30 p.m. newscast was discontinued on June 27, 2010, with the cancelled program being replaced with syndicated reruns. Three months later on September 11, the station launched a weekend evening 6:00 p.m. newscast (making WPIX one of the few U.S. television stations to carry an early evening newscast on weekends, without an existing weekday news program in that daypart). On September 20, 2010, WPIX expanded its weekday morning newscast to five hours, with the addition of an hour at 4:00 a.m.
On October 11, 2010, newly appointed news director Bill Carey (notable for executing a 1996 mass firing of seven on-air news staffers from WCBS-TV) instituted controversial format changes for the newscasts in an attempt to boost the station's ratings. Carey made the newscasts flashier than they had previously been; Kaity Tong and Jim Watkins were replaced as anchors of the weeknight 10:00 p.m. broadcasts by Jodi Applegate, and multiple commentators and an edgy graphics and music package were introduced. The revamped newscast's first week was not well received by most viewers or critics, with the station fielding numerous complaints through phone calls, emails and Facebook comments, as well as a scathing review in the Daily News. A Facebook page was created calling for Tong and Watkins's return to the weeknight 10:00 p.m. newscast. WPIX's sports department was shut down in March 2011, with sports segments being reduced to a two-minute feature presented by the station's news anchors. In September 2011, WPIX relieved Watkins of his duties as weekend anchor, replacing him with Tong (who now solo anchors the 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts on Saturdays and Sundays). By late 2011, the station's newscast ratings would fall to last place. Carey, who stepped down on October 3, 2012, was replaced as news director by Mark Effron in April 2013.
On September 12, 2011, WPIX restored an early evening newscast to its weeknight schedule with the debut of an hour-long 5:00 p.m. newscast, which was originally aimed at women between the ages of 18 and 49. On December 19, 2012, Jodi Applegate left WPIX, in preparation of the birth of her child with husband Michael Kay through a gestational surrogate. Morning anchor Tamsen Fadal was later named her replacement; the station later restored a two-anchor format with the hiring of WNBC sports anchor Scott Stanford as Fadal's co-anchor on the 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. newscasts in September 2013. In March 2014, WPIX hired consumer reporter Arnold Diaz (who was fired by WNYW two months earlier due to the shutdown of its consumer investigative unit) to head up a new four-person investigative unit. On April 5, 2014, WPIX moved its weekend early evening newscast one hour earlier, from 6:00 to 5:00 p.m.
On April 23, 2014, the station debuted a new graphics package during its 5:00 p.m. newscast (the opening sequences used in this package had previously debuted in January 2014, but were updated with the revamp); along with the change, the station brought back Non-Stop Music's "WPIX Custom News Package", which had previously been used as the theme for WPIX's evening newscasts from 1994 until the 2010 format change. On June 9, the station reduced the morning newscast to four hours (with the 4:00 a.m. hour being replaced with syndicated programs) to allow the station "the flexibility to invest more resources into the key morning hours". On July 14, 2014, John Muller (who joined WPIX in 1999 and served as anchor of the morning newscast from its launch until he left for ABC News in 2011) returned to the station as evening co-anchor; Scott Stanford was reassigned to lead sports anchor (as part of a gradual reformation of the sports department that included the launch of the highlight program PIX11 Sports Desk). During the July 2014 ratings period and again during the August 2014 ratings period, WPIX beat WNYW and WNBC earning 3rd place in ratings only behind WABC and WCBS in the 5:00 p.m. timeslot among adults 25–54 (as well as in certain other demographics) for the first time since 2011; it was the only newscast in the market to make year-to-year gains in key demographics. WPIX's newscasts also saw increases in the morning and at 10:00 p.m. in the 25–54 demographic.
On Monday April 20, 2015, PIX11 debuted a weekday only 6:00 pm newscast with current 5 and 10 PM anchors John Muller and Tamsen Fadal heading that broadcast.
WPIX served as the longtime over-the-air television broadcaster of New York Yankees baseball from 1951 to 1998. For most of that time, Phil Rizzuto served as the primary announcer for the broadcasts; Rizzuto, with his "Holy Cow!" call, became very popular especially through the 1970s. At various points, WPIX also aired the Major League Baseball New York Giants, the New York Giants of the NFL and New York Jets football teams, the NHL's New York Rangers and local college basketball. However, it was through its coverage of Yankees baseball that WPIX gained perhaps its greatest fame and identity.
WPIX lost the broadcast rights for the Yankees to WNYW in 1998, more so the result of regional cable sports networks (in this case, the Madison Square Garden Network) gaining team broadcast rights, leaving broadcast stations with fewer games to air. In 1999, the station acquired rights to New York Mets games, which up until that point had spent their entire televised history with WOR/WWOR.
As of 2015, WPIX is the television broadcast home of both of New York's baseball teams after signing an agreement with the Yankees. The two teams' flagship stations, SportsNet New York and the YES Network, will produce the games with their respective production units. The Yankees will be carried twenty times on WPIX in 2015. In December 2014 PIX11, Tribune Broadcasting’s New York flagship station, Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders in Brooklyn announced a multi-year exclusive marketing partnership.