401 Main Street
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201-3801
Telephone: (501) 324-7760
Fax: (501) 324-7852
Web site: https://www.katv.com
Subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.
NAICS: 515120 Television Broadcasting
KATV, LLC, operates KATV Channel 7, a television station based in Little Rock, Arkansas. KATV is primarily an ABC network affiliate but also operates three digital sub-channels. The secondary channels are affiliates of Comet, which offers science-fiction, horror, and fantasy programming; Charge!, a multicast network devoted to action- and adventure-based content; and TBD, a network that targets a younger demographic with a mix of internet-based series and other digital content. A longtime leader in news ratings, KATV broadcasts more than 30 hours a week of locally produced newscasts, including weekday broadcasts at 5 and 6 a.m. and p.m., and 10 p.m. The station maintains additional studios in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Little Rock's River Market District. KATV is a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., which also owns the Comet, Charge!, and TBD digital television networks.
KATV was part of a third wave of television stations established across the United States. Commercial television began in New York in the summer of 1941, but the United States' entry into World War II delayed further development. Following the war, many stations went on the air, but because of overlapping signal problems and other issues the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed a freeze on the issuance of new licenses in 1948. The temporary measure lasted until April 1952.
KATV was founded by John Griffin and his brother-in-law James C. Leake. Griffin's father, J. T. Griffin, had established Griffin Foods in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and became interested in radio. In 1932 he launched KTUL-AM in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After his death in 1944, his son and son-in-law assumed management of the family enterprises, including the Tulsa Broadcasting Company. After the FCC freeze was lifted, they became half owners in KWTV in Oklahoma City and secured licenses in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Both communities were located about 50 miles from larger markets, Tulsa and Little Rock, respectively. There was less competition for the licenses in the smaller markets, but Griffin and Leake were not content to remain there. For example, the broadcast tower for Muskogee station, KTVX, was located slightly closer to Tulsa than Muskogee. KTVX then opened a satellite studio in Tulsa and eventually secured FCC permission to relocate to Tulsa, becoming KTUL-TV.
KATV harbored its own designs on Little Rock. It signed on the air from Pine Bluff for the first time on December 19, 1953. It was the first television station in central Arkansas, but its signal reached Little Rock and was received in communities in at least four states, including Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The picture was snowy in most communities but improved significantly in February 1954 when KATV increased the power of its transmitter from 43,000 watts to 172,600 watts. At the time, Little Rock was served by a single television station, KRTV, which broadcast on channel 17 on the less-powerful UHF spectrum. In March 1954 Griffin and Leake brokered a merger with KRTV. As a result, KATV absorbed the KRTV studio in the former Prospect Theater and all of the equipment but continued to broadcast over Channel 7. In essence, KATV used a backdoor to enter the Little Rock market before other groups had a chance to launch competing VHS stations.
In 1958 KATV reached an agreement with Pine Bluff officials, who did not object to the Little Rock move provided the station's transmitter remained in place 12 miles northwest of Pine Bluff. In 1962, however, KATV filed a request with the FCC to move the transmitter to a location 12 miles west of Little Rock. Pine Bluff opposed the move, but KATV insisted that the change was a matter of economic necessity. In the end, the FCC agreed with the station and a new broadcast tower was erected near Redfield, Arkansas, in 1967. At 2,000 feet, it became the third-tallest human-made structure in the world.
When KATV first went on the air, it was an affiliate of the CBS network, but it also carried programming from the ABC network, which was not yet represented in the area. When KTHV reached the air in November 1955, it became the CBS affiliate because of its owner's long-standing ties with the CBS radio network. KATV, as a result, became a dedicated ABC station.
KATV was fortunate that it retained its Pine Bluff studio. In December 1957 a fire of undetermined origin began in the back of the station's Little Rock facility.
The two-story building was completely destroyed, causing an estimated $400,000 in damages. By chance, KATV's remote truck had also been driven earlier in the day to the Pine Bluff studio, where the station was able to continue broadcasting uninterrupted until a new home could be constructed at a former Little Rock furniture store. It was here, in 1959, that 26-year-old Robert Doubleday took charge of KATV, becoming one of the country's youngest general managers.
Griffin and Leake sold their radio interests in 1956 to focus on television. They bought out their partners in KWTV in 1964 and used KATV, Inc., to serve as the parent company of KWTV, KTUL, and KATV. A year later, the company adopted a new name, Griffin-Leake TV, Inc. The brothers-in-law finally divided the holdings between themselves in 1969, with Leake taking ownership of KATV, KTUL, a cable television system, and a stake in a prospective Puerto Rico television station. That same year, KATV acquired the historic Worthen Bank building in downtown Little Rock and in 1970 moved its broadcast operations there. The change coincided with a greater commitment to local news coverage. “Early in the 1960s,” according to a November 19, 1990, Arkansas Business article by Carrie Rengers, “Channel 7 was the weakest station in town. By the time the 70s rolled around, however, Channels 7 and 4 were locked in a battle for first place in the ratings book while Channel 11 remained a distant third.”
Key to KATV's success was Dale Nicholson. He had joined the station in 1962 as an announcer. He also worked in sales and briefly left to start an ad agency that failed to take root. Nicholson returned to the station and was groomed by General Manager Doubleday to run the station. In 1975 Nicholson succeeded Doubleday and served as general manager for the next 33 years.
Leake owned KATV until November 1982, when he sold it and KTUL for $80 million in cash to Allbritton Communications Co., a company owned by real estate investor and banker Joe L. Allbritton. In 1975 he had purchased the Washington Star newspaper and its radio and television stations. Because of ownership rules in effect at the time, he was forced by the FCC to choose between the Star or his Washington television station. In 1978 he sold the Star, which ceased publishing that same year.
In 1998 it appeared that KATV and other Allbritton television station would be sold to The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of the ABC network. Just two years earlier, Allbritton had signed a new 10-year affiliation agreement with the network for its station group. After months of rumors about the sale to Disney, station managers finally scheduled staff meetings to announce the deal. The announcement was never made. For undisclosed reasons, the sale to Disney was scuttled.
KATV carried on as an Allbritton station into the new century and remained the local news leader under Nicholson's leadership. His tenure finally came to an end in October 2009 when he turned over the reins to Mark Rose. Before his departure, however, he managed one last major crisis. In January 2008 the station's broadcast tower collapsed while workers were adjusting the guylines. Because it did not topple over but collapsed downward in small sections as designed, no major injuries were incurred. KATV relied on an auxiliary antenna until a new permanent tower began broadcasting on Shinall Mountain in February 2009.
The station's analog signal would not be needed much longer. As mandated by the FCC, all analog television signals in the United States were turned off in June 2009. It was part of a planned transition to digital broadcasting, which brought the benefit of sub-channels. In addition to its ABC programming and local newscasts on its primary channel, KATV added a second feed in 2005 with the launch of KATV News Now, a 24-hour news and weather service on channel 7.2. In 2010 the station added AccuWeather 24/7, a 24-hour weather channel on 7.3. It was replaced the following year with the Live Well Network, a lifestyle-oriented multicast network. Also in 2011, KATV began broadcasting local newscasts in high definition.
In the summer of 2013 Allbritton Communications announced the sale of KATV and six sister stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group, based in Baltimore, Maryland. The $985 million transaction was completed the following year after receiving regulatory approval. KATV's commitment to local news remained unchanged under new ownership, but Sinclair's influence was felt.
Sinclair presented group stations with “must run” video segments produced by the company that espoused its conservative political viewpoints. Starting in November 2015 stations were required to air a daily report from a “Terrorist Alert Desk,” detailing news that was allegedly terrorism-related (though not all the stories were verifiable and one regarded only bathing suits worn by Muslim women). During the 2016 presidential election, according to a May 13, 2017, Arkansas Times report by Max Brantley, Sinclair “sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery.” In 2018 Sinclair required local news anchors to read copy, as if they had written it themselves, decrying so-called fake news, thus lending local credibility of its anchors to a corporate viewpoint.
Under Sinclair's ownership, KATV juggled its digital channel lineup. In 2014 Channel 7.2 began carrying sporting events from Sinclair's American Sports Network and 7.3 offered male-oriented content from the Grit channel. Sinclair developed more of its own slate of multicast channels to fill the slots. In October 2015 the Comet science-fiction network was launched. The Charge! network of action and adventure fare made its debut in February 2017. Around the same time, the TBD network of internet-based series and digital content conducted a soft launch.
KATV now offered four channels of content. As it had for more than 60 years, programming from the ABC network remained at the heart of the station's content. The affiliation was scheduled to end at the close of 2017 but an extension was signed in early 2018 to maintain the relationship between ABC and KATV, as well as other Sinclair stations, for another five years, through the end of 2022.
Arkansas Educational Television Network; Mission Broadcasting, Inc.; Nexstar Media Group, Inc.
Brantley, Max. “Sinclair Broadcasting Gets Broader Footprint Nationally and in Arkansas.” Arkansas Times (Little Rock), May 13, 2017.
Chaney, Don. “Disney Trying to Buy KATV, Reports Say.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), June 18, 1998.
Chase, Glen. “KATV, 6 Other Stations Sold in $985 Million Deal.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), July 30, 2013.
“FCC Accepts TV Antenna Move.” Hope (AR) Star, March 3, 1964.
“Fire Razes TV Station.” Camden (AR) News, December 13, 1957.
Hengel, Mark. “Changing the Channel.” Arkansas Business, August 17, 2009, 30.
Hinkel, Nate. “Tower Trouble.” Arkansas Business, January 21, 2008, 30.
“Little Rock TV Station to Quit.” Camden (AR) News, March 8, 1954.
Rengers, Carrie. “Battle Rages over TV Turf.” Arkansas Business, November 19, 1990.