The station is available to Dish Network subscribers as part of the satellite provider's superstations package (available to grandfathered subscribers that purchased the a la carte tier before Dish halted sales of the package to new customers in September 2013), except in markets where the local MyNetworkTV affiliate invokes syndication exclusivity to block access to WWOR's programming within the market.
Channel 9 signed on the air on October 11, 1949 as WOR-TV. It was owned by the Bamberger Broadcasting Service (a division of R. H. Macy and Company and named after the Bamberger's department store chain), which also operated WOR radio (710 AM) and WOR-FM (98.7, now WEPN-FM). Exactly ten months earlier, Bamberger launched Washington, D.C.'s fourth television station, WOIC, also on channel 9. WOR-TV entered the New York market as the last of the city's VHF stations to sign on, and one of three independents - the others being WPIX (channel 11) and Newark, New Jersey-based WATV (channel 13, later WNTA-TV). On WOR-TV's opening night, a welcome address was read by WOR radio's morning host, John B. Gambling. However, the audio portion of the speech was not heard because of a technical glitch. The problem was fixed and Gambling repeated the message later that evening, prior to the station's sign-off.
That first broadcast and other early WOR-TV shows emanated from the New Amsterdam Roof Theatre, located west of Times Square. For a short time, the station's transmitter operated from WOR TV Tower in North Bergen, New Jersey and was later moved to the Empire State Building. In 1949, the station moved uptown to the newly constructed "9 Television Square" facility on West 67th Street (near the present-day location of WABC-TV's studios). At the start of 1950, Bamberger Broadcasting changed its name to General Teleradio. Later that year, WOIC was sold to a joint venture of the Washington Post and CBS, who would change that station's callsign to WTOP-TV (it is now WUSA). In 1953, WOR-TV began operating a separate studio for news and special events programming located on the 83rd floor of the Empire State Building.
In 1952, Macy's/Bamberger's merged the WOR stations with the General Tire and Rubber Company, which already had broadcasting interests in three cities through two other subsidiaries: the regional Yankee Radio Network and WNAC-AM-FM-TV in Boston; and the Don Lee Broadcasting System, which operated KHJ-AM-FM-TV in Los Angeles and KFRC-AM-FM in San Francisco. The subsidiaries were the brought together under the General Teleradio name. The main impetus for the merger was to give General Tire a controlling share in Mutual Radio Network, which was affiliated with and partially owned by WOR and other stations. The merger also raised speculation that Mutual would launch a television network, plans that were discussed since before WOR-TV went on the air but ultimately did not come to fruition.
In 1955, General Tire purchased RKO Radio Pictures, giving the company's TV stations access to RKO's film library, and in 1959, General Tire's broadcasting and film divisions were renamed as RKO General. During the early years of RKO General ownership, WOR-TV moved back to Times Square, and closer to its radio station sisters. Channel 9's studios were co-located with WOR radio at 1440 Broadway (near West 40th Street) for several years. During the 1950s and early 1960s, all three of New York's independents struggled to find competitive and acceptable programming. The field would increase by one in 1956 when former DuMont flagship station WABD (channel 5, later WNEW-TV and now WNYW) became an independent. During this era, WOR-TV's programming was comparable to its rivals, with a blend of movies, children's programs and public affairs shows. In 1962, the field of independent stations was narrowed to three, as WOR-TV and its competition benefited from the sale of WNTA-TV to the non-profit Educational Broadcasting Corporation, who would convert channel 13 into a non-commercial educational station (it is now WNET).
For much of the 1960s, WOR-TV was a standard independent station with a schedule composed of some local public affairs shows, off-network programs, children's shows such as Friendly Giant and Romper Room (which moved to the station from WNEW-TV in 1966), sporting events, and a large catalog of movies, some of which came from the RKO Radio Pictures film library. Until 1990, the station had a tradition of showing King Kong; Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young on Thanksgiving, and Godzilla films on Thanksgiving and the day after.
In 1962, nostalgia maven Joe Franklin moved his daily talk program to WOR-TV, after a 12-year run on WABC-TV. The Joe Franklin Show ended on August 6, 1993, making it one of the longest-running programs in television history, local or national. The long-running public affairs show Firing Line began on WOR-TV in 1966 and ran on the station until 1971, after which its host, William F. Buckley, Jr., moved the program to public television where the program aired until it ended in 1999. In 1968, the station continued to maintain offices at 1440 Broadway, while the station moved to new studio facilities two blocks north at 1481 Broadway.
By the early 1970s, WNEW-TV evolved into the leading station for cartoons and sitcoms, while WPIX aired a similar format though with more movies. In the early 1970s, WOR-TV had shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan's Island and The Avengers. But channel 9 was behind the other two independents in the local ratings. Beginning in 1971, the station began gradually seeking a different programming strategy - one that was more adult-oriented with a heavy emphasis on films, reruns of hour-long network dramas, game shows and sports. The station also gradually phased out most sitcoms and all children's programming with the exception of Romper Room. It was also the first New York City station to have a 12 p.m. newscast on weekdays, in addition to producing several hours a day of local talk shows (such as The Joe Franklin Show, Straight Talk and public affairs shows such as Meet the Mayors, titles that were shared by other RKO General television stations).
Later in the 1970s, WOR-TV looked towards the United Kingdom for alternative offerings. On September 6, 1976, WOR-TV offered a week of programs from Thames Television during prime time; many of these shows had never before been seen on American television, including the first U.S. telecast of The Benny Hill Show, and an airing of an episode of Man About the House, which would be adapted by ABC as Three's Company the following year. WOR-TV also aired episodes of the ITV musical drama Rock Follies and the BBC science-fiction series Doctor Who during this period. On April 5, 1980, WOR-TV presented Japan Tonight!, a seven-hour block of programs from Japan's Tokyo Broadcasting System, featuring shows that were either dubbed or subtitled in English. During this period, various sports telecasts aired on most nights in prime time, with feature films running on nights where sports did not air under the Million Dollar Movie banner.
Despite its ambitious programming, WOR-TV was perceived by people that preferred a more traditional independent to be an also-ran, even though the station was very profitable for RKO General. In 1984, WOR-TV began moving classic sitcoms like Bewitched, Burns & Allen, I Dream Of Jeannie, and others into its weekday lineup, focused slightly less on sports, and added more off network drama shows to the lineup. The station also pulled back religious programming as well, pushing it earlier in the morning. With the advent of cable and satellite-delivered television, independent stations were being uplinked for regional and national distribution, thus becoming "superstations". In April 1979, Syracuse, New York-based Eastern Microwave, Inc. began distributing WOR-TV to cable and C-band satellite subscribers across the United States, joining WTBS (now WPCH-TV) in Atlanta and WGN-TV in Chicago as national superstations.
Troubles with the FCC
While WOR-TV was gaining national exposure, a battle for the station's survival - and that of its owner – was well underway. In 1975, RKO applied for renewal of its license to operate WOR-TV. The Federal Communications Commission conditioned this renewal on that of its Boston sister station, WNAC-TV. In 1980, the FCC stripped RKO of WNAC-TV's license due to a litany of offenses dating back to the 1960s, but ultimately because RKO had withheld evidence of corporate misconduct by General Tire. The decision meant that RKO lost WOR-TV's license and that of Los Angeles sister station KHJ-TV. However, an appeals court ruled that the FCC had erred in tying WOR-TV and KHJ-TV's renewals to WNAC-TV, and ordered new proceedings. RKO soon found itself under renewed pressure from the FCC, which began soliciting applications for all of the company's broadcast licenses in February 1983.
Move to New Jersey
"Endcap" used during final months of RKO ownership before changing to WWOR-TV (1986) In order to buy itself some time, RKO (with the help of New Jersey senator Bill Bradley) persuaded the U.S. Congress to pass a law requiring the FCC to automatically renew the license of any VHF station that moved its license to a state not served by a commercial VHF station. New Jersey and Delaware were the only states not to be served by a commercial VHF station, and there were complaints for many years that New Jersey in particular had been "underserved" by VHF stations from the New York City and Philadelphia markets (New Jersey was left without any commercial VHF allocations located within the state due to the 1962 conversion of Newark's channel 13 to a non-commercial outlet). RKO was able to retain WOR-TV by moving the channel 9 license to Secaucus, New Jersey (seven miles west of Manhattan) on April 20, 1983. However, for all intents and purposes, it remained a New York City station. WOR radio had originally been licensed to Newark when it signed on in 1922; while it moved its studios across the Hudson River in 1926, it remained licensed in Newark until 1941.
One of the FCC's conditions of renewing channel 9's license required RKO to also move the station's main studio to New Jersey. Three years after its city of license was moved to New Jersey, WOR-TV would establish a physical presence in that state with the opening of the Nine Broadcast Plaza studio facility on January 13, 1986. The FCC also required WWOR to increase its coverage of events on the New Jersey side of the market. One month later, the New Jersey State Senate petitioned the FCC to approve an extension of the channel 9 signal into southern New Jersey. Because of various other issues, one of which would be the fact that rights to most syndicated programs would interfere with the local broadcast rights to these shows on Philadelphia stations, the request was denied.
The move to New Jersey did little to relieve the regulatory pressure on RKO. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, RKO put channel 9 up for sale in 1985. Westinghouse Broadcasting, Chris-Craft Industries, and a joint venture of Cox Enterprises and MCA/Universal emerged as the leading suitors for WOR-TV; the station was sold to the Cox/MCA group in late 1986 for $387 million. Cox later backed out due to disagreements between the two firms on who would be responsible for running the station. MCA took control of WOR-TV on April 21, 1987. The sale came just in the nick of time for RKO: two months after MCA closed on the purchase, an administrative law judge recommended that RKO be forced out of broadcasting altogether due to a litany of misconduct. Eventually, WOR radio would be sold to Hartford, Connecticut-based Buckley Broadcasting, and WRKS-FM would go to Summit Broadcasting.
Upon taking control, MCA changed the station's callsign to WWOR-TV on April 29, 1987. MCA knew it had to change the call letters, but still wanted to trade on the 65-year heritage of the WOR calls in the New York area; programming stayed pretty much the same, while the RKO-era "dotted nine" logo was replaced by a new "red nine". That fall, WWOR-TV relaunched as a station perceived as different from a year prior, though only about 6 hours a day of programming a day actually changed. A new, all-CGI look was created for the station, with a new "Venetian-blinds nine"; movie and special presentations were preceded by a new, more dramatic intro, while a new, three-pointed triangle was used in the main ident and in the first intro for The News at Ten, representing the Tri-State area; the RKO-era announcers stayed on. The station dropped most of its public affairs shows, Romper Room was cut back to a half-hour and moved to 6:00 a.m., all religious shows except for the Sunday Mass were dropped, cartoons were added to the station's morning lineup, and stronger syndicated shows were added in the early evenings. Late morning timeslots consisted of classic sitcoms and afternoons continued to consist of game shows, drama series and movies – programs seen in both dayparts were largely those held over from the station's later years under RKO ownership. Later that fall, in primetime, the Million Dollar Movie was relegated to weekends in favor of Morton Downey Jr.'s controversial new talk show, while the 8:00 newscast was moved to 10:00 p.m., and expanded to one hour (to emphasize this, it was briefly titled The News at Ten; this did not last long and by 1988, they simply renamed it Channel 9 News). The overhaul continued in 1988 and 1989, when it added the locally produced kids' show Steampipe Alley, and more evening sitcoms, including among others, reruns of NBC's top-rated sitcom The Cosby Show, Who's The Boss? and 227. WWOR-TV also borrowed program formats used on the Westinghouse stations: a short-lived version of Evening Magazine aired in primetime, and a locally produced talk show called People Are Talking ran at 11 a.m. That show would later change its title to 9 Broadcast Plaza (named after the station's Secaucus studio location), and then to The Richard Bey Show for syndication.
In 1989, the FCC passed the "Syndicated Exclusivity Rights" rule (or "SyndEx") into law - which required cable providers to block out certain syndicated programs on out-of-market stations that stations claim the rights to air in a particular market. In order to lighten the burden on cable providers as a result of this law, Eastern Microwave acquired the rights to programs that no stations claimed in-market exclusivity to for broadcast on WWOR's national feed to replace programs that could not be aired nationally. Most of the programs came from the Universal and Quinn Martin libraries, along with some shows from the Christian Science Monitor 's television service, as well as some holdover shows that had aired on the local New York feed before the SyndEx law's passage. Eastern Microwave would eventually launch a separate feed for satellite and cable subscribers on January 1, 1990, called the "WWOR EMI Service". By the early 1990s, WWOR and WPIX began to be replaced on many cable systems by the its superstation feed of WGN-TV.
In the fall of 1990, WWOR-TV began branding itself as Universal 9 on-air, highlighting its association with the MCA/Universal entertainment empire. However, MCA's ownership of the station ended with the company's purchase by Osaka, Japan-based Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., which is now known as Panasonic. Since FCC regulations do not allow foreign companies to own more than a 25% interest in a television station, MCA spun off the assets of WWOR-TV into a new company called Pinelands, Incorporated on January 1, 1991. However, the station continued to brand itself as Universal 9 on-air until early 1992. In 1993, Pinelands was acquired by Chris-Craft Industries subsidiary BHC Communications, which had unsuccessfully bid for the station seven years earlier. In 1993, BHC aligned its independent stations with the Prime Time Entertainment Network. WWOR carried Spelling Premiere Network at its launch in August 1994.
In 1994, Chris-Craft and its broadcasting subsidiary, BHC Communications, and Viacom's newly acquired subsidiary Paramount Pictures partnered to form the United Paramount Network, which debuted on January 16, 1995. At the network's launch, WWOR-TV was UPN's "flagship" station. However, UPN did not allow WWOR's superstation feed to carry the network's programs nationally (in contrast, The WB allowed WGN-TV to air network programming on cable feed during that network's first four years on the air). In the 1990s, the station continued with a large amount of younger-skewing talk shows, reality programming, some sitcoms in evenings, and syndicated cartoons during the morning hours.
On January 1, 1997, with only a month's advance warning, Advance Entertainment Corporation, which had purchased the satellite distribution rights to WWOR from Eastern Microwave a few months earlier, stopped uplinking the national version. The EMI Service's transponder space was sold to Discovery Communications for the then six-month-old Animal Planet. Amid outcries from satellite dish owners, National Programming Service, LLC uplinked the station again exclusively for satellite subscribers. The national feed was once again the same feed as the New York market feed. NPS dropped WWOR in 1999, in favor of Pax TV, but Dish Network still carries the New York feed of WWOR as part of its superstations package except in areas where the local UPN (and later, MyNetworkTV) affiliate invoked SyndEx to block the feed.
In 2000, Chris-Craft announced that it was selling its television stations. It was believed that Viacom, which had purchased Chris-Craft's half of the network that year not long after buying CBS - gaining full control of UPN (and effectively stripping WWOR of its status as an owned-and-operated station of the network in the process), would buy the stations. However, Viacom lost its bid for the group to News Corporation on August 12, 2000 in a $5.5 billion deal, making WWOR-TV a sister station to longtime rival WNYW – creating a unique situation in which the largest affiliate station of one network was owned by the operator of another network. While some cast doubt on UPN's future, Fox quickly cut a new affiliation deal with UPN.
On September 11, 2001, the transmitter facilities of WWOR-TV, eight other New York City television stations and several radio stations, were destroyed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into and destroyed the World Trade Center towers. The attacks delayed the closing of the Chris-Craft deal for several days. With its broadcast signal shut down, WWOR fed its signal directly to cable and satellite systems, running wall-to-wall coverage of the attacks from CNN and later the Fox News Channel; channel 9 resumed regular programming on September 17, 2001. The transmitter has since been relocated to an antenna located atop the Empire State Building (where the transmitter had been based prior to 1975) along with most of the other major New York City stations.
Fox began integrating the operations of its two stations soon afterwards. In the fall of 2001, the Fox Kids weekday afternoon block moved to WWOR-TV from WNYW, while the station also ran UPN's Disney's One Too during the morning hours. Channel 9 was New York City's last remaining commercial station to air children's programming on both weekday mornings and afternoons, an ironic twist from 20 years earlier; however, Fox later discontinued the Fox Kids weekday block in January 2002 while UPN ended its cartoon block in August 2003, WWOR then picked up syndicated cartoons in the fall of 2003 in the 7 to 9 a.m. slot (and later until 8 a.m.), before dropping them in 2006. This made WWOR-TV the last commercial station to run any cartoons on weekdays. This will be the second time the station phrased out cartoons in favor of mandated children's programing which WWOR has aired in its early years. WNYW also placed several of its underperforming syndicated shows on WWOR, and cherry-picked channel 9's stronger programs for broadcast on channel 5's schedule. Currently, WWOR offers several "double-runs" of WNYW's programs, but the two stations' individual schedules (outside of network programming) are much different.
In 2004, Fox Television Stations announced that it would shut down WWOR-TV's Secaucus facilities and move its operations to WNYW's facility at the Fox Television Center in Manhattan. WNYW had already been handling some of WWOR's internal operations for some time before then. Fox planned to keep 9 Broadcast Plaza as a satellite relay station for WNYW and WWOR (the facility also performed master control operations for Baltimore's MyNetworkTV affiliate WUTB until locally based Sinclair Broadcast Group purchased WUTB from Fox in 2013). While some office functions were merged, plans for a full move to Manhattan were scuttled later that year due to pressure from New Jersey Congressman Steve Rothman (whose congressional district included Secaucus) and Senator Frank Lautenberg. The two lawmakers contended that if WWOR moved its operations back across the Hudson to New York, it would be violating its conditions of license. According to Rothman, WWOR's license specifically requires that its main studio be based in New Jersey. Even without this to consider, a full merger of WNYW and WWOR's operations would have likely resulted in channel 9's news department being at the very least downsized it to the point that it would not be able to adequately cover news events focused on New Jersey, if not shut down altogether. The company also considered moving WNYW's operations to Secaucus, but to date both stations continue to maintain separate studio facilities.
On February 22, 2006, News Corporation announced the launch of a new "sixth" network called MyNetworkTV, which would be operated by Fox Television Stations and its syndication division Twentieth Television. MyNetworkTV was created to compete against another upstart network that would launch at the same time that September, The CW (an amalgamated network that was originally consisted primarily of UPN and The WB's higher-rated programs) as well as to give UPN and WB stations that were not mentioned as becoming CW affiliates another option besides converting to independent stations. WPIX, which had been a WB affiliate since 1995, was announced as The CW's New York City area affiliate as part of a 10-year affiliation deal with channel 11's parent company Tribune Broadcasting. The network's officials were on record as preferring the "strongest" stations among The WB and UPN's affiliates, none of which included any of Fox's UPN-affiliated stations – locally, WPIX had been well ahead of WWOR-TV in overall viewership for some time. The day after the announcement of The CW's formation (January 25, 2006), Fox removed all network references from the on-air branding of its UPN affiliates, and stopped promoting UPN programs altogether. WWOR accordingly changed its branding from "UPN 9" to "WWOR 9" (although the station was referred to on-air as simply "9"), and altered its logo to only feature the boxed "9" with a small red strip on the left side. WWOR had just introduced a new graphics package for its newscasts and a revised logo almost three weeks prior, with UPN branding.
With the impending switch to MyNetworkTV, channel 9's on-air branding was changed to My 9 beginning on April 4, with the new brand being introduced during Nets and Yankees game telecasts; two weeks later on April 17, WWOR incorporated the My 9 name into the station's remaining branding elements, including news. On June 2, WWOR changed its logo again, this time adopting one similar to the MyNetworkTV logo presented at the launch announcement. Despite MyNetworkTV's announcement that its launch date would be September 5, 2006, UPN continued to broadcast on stations across the country until September 15, 2006. While some UPN affiliates that switched to MyNetworkTV aired the final two weeks of UPN programming outside its regular primetime period, WWOR and the rest of the network's Fox-owned affiliates dropped UPN's programming entirely on August 31, 2006.
On December 15, 2011, WWOR introduced an official mascot, C.More (pronounced SEE-more, and corresponding with its new slogan, "C.More My9"), an anthropomorphic "My9" logo featured on station promotions. WWOR started a Facebook and Twitter page dedicated to C.More, and also uploaded a YouTube video that C.More "recorded via webcam". Localized versions of the C.More mascot have since been used on Fox's other MyNetworkTV owned-and-operated stations.
Retransmission dispute with Cablevision
On October 15, 2010, News Corporation pulled WWOR, WNYW, Fox Business Network, Fox Deportes, and National Geographic Wild from Cablevision systems in the New York City Tri-State area due to a dispute between Fox and Cablevision in which Cablevision claimed that News Corporation demanded $150 million a year to renew its carriage of 12 Fox-owned channels. News Corporation responded to Cablevision's claims, stating that "Cablevision has refused to recognize how much [its subscribers] value our programming." Cablevision offered to submit to binding arbitration on October 14, 2010, though News Corporation rejected Cablevision's proposal, stating that it would "reward Cablevision for refusing to negotiate fairly". WWOR, WNYW and the three cable channels were restored on October 30, 2010, when Cablevision and News Corporation struck a new carriage deal.
2007-2014 license renewal and objections
Before August 2014, the station awaited renewal of its broadcast license since 2007, the same year that two petitions to deny the license's renewal were submitted. According to claims from U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and media observers, who filed a complaint with the FCC in November 2009, WWOR-TV's performance was "clearly inadequate to meet its public interest obligations" and he questioned the truthfulness of its application. The station was also accused of misrepresenting the number of station employees based in Secaucus, and failed to report a reduction in local news coverage.
On February 17, 2011, the FCC opened an investigation against then-WWOR parent News Corporation to determine whether the company misrepresented information about WWOR-TV's news operations and programming during the station's license review. News Corporation would have been stripped of its licenses to operate both WWOR-TV and sister station WNYW, as well as facing other penalties if found guilty of any wrongdoing (News Corporation spun off both stations and its other U.S. television properties to 21st Century Fox in June 2013). Legal representation hired by WWOR stated that the station had fulfilled its commitments. In December 2012, Lautenberg called for an investigation into the potential relaxing of FCC rules regarding ownership consolidation within media markets stating that News Corporation’s co-ownership of WNYW and the New York Post “has not served New Jersey well.” Following Lautenberg's June 3, 2013 death and the subsequent announcement of the WWOR news department's closure one month later, fellow New Jersey senator Robert Menendez took up the cause, saying it was increasingly critical with WWOR dropping their newscast and going with the outside Chasing New Jersey for coverage of state issues for the FCC to make a ruling on WWOR's license and their fulfillment of their obligations. Rep. Frank Pallone also called for the revocation of WWOR's license. In November 2013 the New Jersey Legislature passed a resolution urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revoke the station's license.
In March 2014, NJ's senior United States Senator Bob Menendez wrote to the FCC asking for swift action to determine if the station had been fulfilling its licensing requirements.
"New Jersey is one of the most densely populated states in the country, but because of its location between New York City and Philadelphia, does not have a designated market area (DMA)...WWOR is required to fill this gap by operating in the state of New Jersey to the benefit of all residents. Unfortunately, concerns have mounted that the operations of WWOR have not fulfilled these requirements."
On August 8, 2014, the FCC renewed WWOR's license, dismissing all of the objecting petitions, though the permanent waiver allowing Fox Television Stations to run both WNYW and WWOR along with 21st Century Fox's ownership of the New York Post was denied; a temporary waiver was granted. Those objecting to the license renewal have until October 8, 2014 to file their arguments, with statements in favor of the renewal due by October 23, and replies due by November 3.