WJXX
Next to the ABC network logo, a black disk with white letters "abc", a black "25", with the 2 higher than the 5, drop shadowed in white and red. The letters WJXX in a sans serif, also in black and drop shadowed in white and red, appear below the ABC and 2.
The words "FIRST" and "COAST", directly touching, with "FIRST" bolded, in blue. Beneath, the NBC and ABC logos and the word "NEWS" in blue.
Channels
BrandingWJXX ABC 25; First Coast News
Programming
Affiliations
Ownership
Owner
WTLV
History
First air date
February 9, 1997 (25 years ago) (1997-02-09)
Former channel number(s)
Analog: 25 (UHF, 1997–2009)
Call sign meaning
"Jax" (informal abbreviation for Jacksonville)
Technical information
Licensing authority
FCC
Facility ID11893
ERP29.5 kW
HAAT290.7 m (954 ft)
Transmitter coordinates30°16′24″N 81°33′13″W / 30.27333°N 81.55361°W / 30.27333; -81.55361Coordinates: 30°16′24″N 81°33′13″W / 30.27333°N 81.55361°W / 30.27333; -81.55361
Links
Public license information
Websitewww.firstcoastnews.com

WJXX (channel 25) is a television station licensed to Orange Park, Florida, United States, serving the Jacksonville area as an affiliate of ABC. It is owned by Tegna Inc. alongside NBC affiliate WTLV (channel 12). Both stations share studios on East Adams Street (near TIAA Bank Field) in downtown Jacksonville, while WJXX's transmitter is located on Anders Boulevard in the city's Killarney Shores section.

Though plans for an Orange Park television station dated to 1977 and the construction permit to 1988, it took upheaval in the city's ABC affiliation to induce the construction of channel 25, which began broadcasting in February 1997. The launch was two months ahead of schedule; final transmission facilities were not built out for another seven months, and signal issues alienated viewers in Jacksonville, a market already comparatively weak for the ABC network. Even though the founding owner, Allbritton Communications, built studios and started a local news team, WJXX made little headway in the ratings. As a result, it sold WJXX to WTLV just as common ownership of two stations in a market was permitted, with the two stations consolidating at WTLV's studios in 2000 and beginning to simulcast nearly all local newscasts under the name First Coast News.

History

Early years

In 1977, a group known as Clay Television, Inc., was formed and petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allocate channel 25 to Orange Park, a community in Clay County, Florida, 12 miles (19 km) south of Jacksonville. The FCC allocated the channel in January 1980,[2] and in October, Clay filed an application for construction permit to build the proposed station.[3] Principals in Clay Television consisted of Richard Fellows, a former city manager in Green Cove Springs and Orange Park, and his son, as well as three Clay County physicians and their wives.[3][4] A second application was received for the channel in early 1981 from Orange Park Florida T.V., a company majority-owned by Malcolm Glazer.[5]

In 1982, an FCC administrative law judge returned both applications and refused to grant the channel. Clay Television had experienced a cumulative change of 50 percent of ownership which, per the judge, required refiling; Orange Park Florida T.V. was "basically and technically unqualified" because its antenna site did not meet minimum spacing requirements to other stations.[6] The FCC then permitted Clay to cure the defect on its application, citing uncertainty about processing practices, and ultimately granted a construction permit in October 1982; the former action was vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1987 and remanded to the FCC.[7] The FCC reviewed the action in 1988; deeming that continuing the lengthy comparative hearing was not in the public interest as Orange Park had continued to wait for new TV service, it upheld Clay's victory.[7] As part of a sequential assignment of television station call signs across the United States in 1989, Clay Television received the call sign WYDP; other stations assigned call signs that same day include WYDC in Corning, New York, and WYDO in Greenville, North Carolina.[8]

The station remained unbuilt due to financial difficulties. In December 1992, after offering WYDP to the Clay County school board, Clay Television filed to sell the construction permit to the University of North Florida.[9] The university proposed to partner with public television station WJCT (channel 7) to build WYDP as a student-run TV station if the Florida Board of Regents would approve the financial outlay.[10]

ABC upheaval

On February 16, 1996, Allbritton Communications Company announced it would purchase WBSG-TV (channel 21) in Brunswick, Georgia, north of Jacksonville in Glynn County, for $10.5 million. Allbritton simultaneously announced that its entire portfolio of stations would either renew their existing ABC affiliations or—in the case of stations in Charleston, South Carolina; in and around Birmingham, Alabama; and WBSG-TV in Brunswick—switch to ABC. At the time, WBSG-TV operated as an affiliate of The WB and also had a news department producing local newscasts covering southeast Georgia, though it was not considered the WB affiliate of record in Jacksonville;[11] the local newscasts had gone on the air with the station in April 1990[12] and been cut back to early and late evening airings by 1996.[13] Allbritton announced that it would shift the focus of WBSG-TV to Jacksonville by building a full station facility there. The news blindsided WJKS (channel 17), which had served as the ABC affiliate for the First Coast from 1966 to 1980 and again since 1988.[11] The switch was to occur on January 1, 1997, making the Jacksonville switch among the last in a years-long period of national affiliation realignment that had started in 1994.[14]

The WBSG-TV transmission facility did not provide sufficient coverage of Jacksonville, particularly homes south of Interstate 10. As a consequence, Allbritton filed to erect a new 2,000-foot (610 m) tower in Kingsland, Georgia.[14] WJKS attempted to block this move by making its own application for a tower in Kingsland, though it retracted this request; the FCC rejected WBSG's Kingsland proposal, leading Allbritton to instead increase the height of the existing WBSG-TV mast at Hickox, Georgia, and increase power, though this did little to expand coverage to the south.[15] By August, when the FCC approved the upgraded Hickox facility, the affiliation switch had been put off until at least February, and WJKS had given up its fight to remain with ABC.[16]

We've been put in a position where we need to accelerate the process so we can get the people in Jacksonville the programs they want as quickly as possible.

Leonard Firestone, general manager, WBSG-TV, on throwing forward the affiliation switch[17]

While a date of April 1, 1997, was eventually fixed for Allbritton to assume the ABC affiliation in Jacksonville, those plans were changed in January 1997 when, with little warning, WJKS began extensive preemptions of ABC programs to air syndicated shows and output from its new affiliate partner, The WB. Of 22 prime time hours offered by ABC, WJKS was refusing to clear 12+12 hours as well as any new programs introduced by ABC; it aired the remainder, as well as ABC's network news and soap operas.[17] ABC, scrambling to ensure the region could view its programs, and Allbritton agreed to accelerate the switch from April 1 to February. Even though 70 percent of Jacksonville television households subscribed to cable, those that did not and could not receive WBSG-TV were at risk of losing all access to ABC network programming.[17]

Allbritton reached a deal to operate the long-dormant WYDP, which had been sold in the interim to WRP L.P., under a local marketing agreement[18] and build an interim facility to provide network coverage to Jacksonville and particularly the southern and western portions of the market.[17] On February 9, 1997, channel 25 came to air under new WJXX call letters; simultaneously, WBSG-TV joined ABC.[19] For viewers in Georgia dependent on the WBSG-TV transmitter, the switch went well; that station alone continued to air its regional newscasts.[20] Viewers in the Jacksonville area relying on the interim WJXX installation from the final transmitter site north of Lake Asbury, were greeted with a "patchy" signal; one cable company serving St. Augustine could not get a clean signal to feed to 24,000 subscribers.[21][22] A direct link from WJXX to the primary cable company in Jacksonville was not established until December; the station was placed on channel 7 on cable systems, resulting in ingress issues with the over-the-air signal of WJCT on the same frequency and a poor picture even in cable households.[23] Closed captioning was unavailable, even for ABC network programming, for nearly six months.[24]

In April, Allbritton filed instead to buy WJXX outright while leasing WBSG-TV, paying $5 million for channel 25.[25] The deal was concluded in September.[26]

A dual construction project

The rush job of ensuring the partial continuity of ABC programming in the Jacksonville area was completed, leaving Allbritton with two remaining tasks: installing the permanent transmitter facility and constructing local studios and hiring a news team. The former was finished first, but FCC authorization to activate the new antenna was delayed; pressure by U.S. representative Tillie Fowler helped WJXX secure FCC authorization in September, in time for the Jacksonville Jaguars' first home game on Monday Night Football.[27][28]

Meanwhile, Allbritton acquired a parcel of land on A. C. Skinner Parkway, visible from J. Turner Butler Boulevard, to build a 28,000-square-foot (2,600 m2) studio facility.[29] The site was designed to accommodate 100 employees, including a news staff of 60 to begin producing local newscasts for the First Coast.[30] In the interim, a 7 p.m. magazine program, ABC 25 Tonight, began airing as the station's only local program.[23]

On December 15, 1997, ABC 25 News debuted from the new studio with 4+12 hours each weekday of local news programming, most of it also airing on WBSG-TV in Brunswick.[23] Most of the anchors came from outside the market, having last worked in such markets Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta; Donna Savarese moved from a job in Hartford, Connecticut, to work at WJXX.[31] In March 1998, WBSG-TV in Brunswick ceased producing full-length 7 and 11 p.m. newscasts, with southeast Georgia news instead provided from Jacksonville as inserts into WJXX's newscasts; 11 jobs were lost.[32]

In June 1998, ABC parent The Walt Disney Company entered into negotiations to purchase the eight Allbritton stations and the LMAs with WJXX and WJSU, reportedly offering the company more than $1 billion to acquire them.[33][34] The sale would have made WJXX the first commercial station in Jacksonville to be an owned and operated station of a network. Negotiations between Disney and Allbritton broke down when the former dropped out of discussions to buy the stations the following month.[35]

Allbritton faced a tough task establishing WJXX in the market. Because the affiliation switch and construction of WJXX had to be brought forward to prevent ABC from losing the Jacksonville market for a two-month period, attention was diverted to the installation of temporary facilities.[36] The seven months of inadequate transmitter coverage of Jacksonville and the even longer stretch without a direct feed to the cable company confused and alienated viewers just as channel 25 needed to make a good first impression.[37] Further, historically, Jacksonville had been a poor market for the ABC television network. In 2003, Charlie Patton, television editor for The Florida Times-Union, noted that "Jacksonville never acquired the ABC habit".[38] Total-day ratings trailed the other major network stations in Jacksonville as well as WJKS—which had become WJWB, one of the nation's top WB affiliates—though they were on an upswing by the fall 1999–2000 television season.[37] News ratings, despite a quality service superior to that WJKS had produced as an ABC affiliate, lagged longtime Jacksonville news leaders WJXT and WTLV;[37][39] one bright spot was the market's only local newscast at 7 p.m.[40]

Duopoly with WTLV

On November 15, 1999, the FCC legalized television station duopolies—the common ownership of two stations in one market. The next day, November 16, the Gannett Company, owner of WTLV, announced it would purchase WJXX from Allbritton. The deal was initiated after Allbritton approached Gannett about a possible sale.[41] While the new duopoly rules barred cross-ownership of two of the top four television stations in the same market, a restriction that typically prevented Big Four network affiliates from coming under common ownership, WJXX's fifth-place finish in total-day ratings allowed the deal.[41]

The news came as a surprise to employees, who counted on Allbritton's commitment to building itself up in Jacksonville despite low ratings. It became apparent within a month that WTLV's recently expanded facilities and newsroom would form the core of the combined operation, and staffers started to leave WJXX in numbers sufficient enough that WJXX's general manager, Lewis Robertson, warned that employees from other Allbritton stations might have to be seconded to Jacksonville to maintain station operations in the interim.[42][37]

The WTLV–WJXX studios on Adams Street in Jacksonville
The WTLV–WJXX studios on Adams Street in Jacksonville

The FCC approved the purchase on March 16, 2000. Gannett took control the next morning, and about 36 WJXX employees—including 13 in news—joined the new combined WTLV operation, which immediately began simulcasting newscasts on both stations before relaunching on April 27 under the umbrella brand of First Coast News.[43][44] Newscasts continued to be broadcast at the same time on each station, including the WJXX 7 p.m. newscast.[45] WBSG-TV in Brunswick was not included, and Allbritton converted it to programming from the Pax network; its owner, Paxson Communications Corporation, then purchased WBSG-TV, which is now WPXC-TV.[46][47]

It took nearly two years for Gannett to dispose of the mothballed A. C. Skinner Parkway studio, with its prominent clock tower visible from Butler Boulevard. Two attempts to sell the property fell through before a consortium of investors acquired the building in 2002 and leased it to cellular company VoiceStream Wireless.[48][49]

On June 29, 2015, the Gannett Company split into two separate companies, with one side specializing in print media and the other side specializing in broadcast and digital media. WJXX and WTLV—along with Gannett's other television station properties—were retained by the latter company, named Tegna.[50]

News operation

Main article: First Coast News

News set used by First Coast News in the 2010s
News set used by First Coast News in the 2010s

After the merger, continuing a trend already set by WTLV, the gap in viewership between First Coast News and market leader WJXT slowly closed to create tough competition in the Jacksonville market.[51][52][53] The combination of WTLV and WJXX also surpassed WJXT in total revenue.[54]

In 2002, the news department of Fox affiliate WAWS (channel 30) expanded to accommodate the move of the CBS affiliation to WTEV (channel 47). The two stations rebranded as WFOX-TV and WJAX-TV in 2014 and their news as Action News as part of a wholesale change which included the firing of the previous main anchors. The Action News revamp improved ratings at the traditional third-place news operation in Jacksonville just as First Coast News remained without a news director for a year, causing a decline in viewership, and several key news personalities defected to Action News.[55] Rob Mennie, who assumed the post of news director in 2014, noted of the newsroom as he encountered it, "This was a station ... I'll just use the word confused. They didn't know who they were. ... They were trying to figure out what makes us tick."[56]

Notable staff

Technical information

Subchannels

The station's digital signal is multiplexed:

Subchannels of WJXX[65]
Channel Video Aspect Short name Programming
25.1 720p 16:9 WJXX-HD Main WJXX programming / ABC
25.2 480i Weather This TV
25.3 Quest Quest
25.4 Mystery Ion Mystery
25.5 Twist Twist
25.6 TheGrio.TV
25.7 QVC QVC
25.8 First Coast News Weather Plus

Analog-to-digital conversion

On June 12, 2009, WJXX terminated its analog signal, on UHF channel 25, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition VHF channel 10, using virtual channel 25.[66]

References

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