WJKS becomes WCWJ, then joins Graham Media
Channel 17 signed on 51 years ago
Channel 17 signed on February 19, 1966, as WJKS, Jacksonville's first full-time ABC affiliate. Rust Craft, primarily known as a greeting card company, built the station. It confidently declared it was ready to "create our own shock wave of interest," serving a market that had been without a full-time ABC station long enough.
Programming in this first ABC phase included numerous panel discussion shows, telethons, as well as children's news briefs (News For Little People) and an innovative, concise 5:55 p.m. newscast that broke the day's top stories literally minutes before the competition.
In 1978, 17 hired the legendary Bert Roselle as news anchor and expanded NewsWatch to a 5:30 p.m. start, another first in the market.
In 1980, Channel 17 picked up NBC, then in 1982, Media General purchased the station from Ziff Davis. During this period, Media General invested in the station as never before and NewsWatch improved to a solid No. 2-rated station in the local news race. By 1988, NBC improved its standing as well, regaining the No. 1 spot in the ratings nationally, and reunited with its original VHF station. ABC returned to WJKS, but despite a massive promotional campaign, 17 lost 40 percent of its audience in the short term.
In 1991, WJKS entered into a news outsourcing agreement with then-WAWS-30, producing Jacksonville's first 10 p.m. newscast, known as First Coast News.
In 1995, Channel 17, through ABC, aired the first game in Jacksonville Jaguars team history: the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, against the Carolina Panthers. And leading into Monday Night Football each week, sports anchors Mike Lyons and Jeff Prosser hosted the popular, live, Monday Night Fan Ball.
Unfortunately, 17's Monday night sports dominance would soon end, as ABC signed a long-term contract with major affiliate partner Allbritton Communications. Allbritton had recently purchased a station in Brunswick, and would later purchase a license and build another Jacksonville station from the ground up. ABC reassured Media General this had nothing to do with 17's performance -- it was a group deal -- and there was no turning back. As a further complication, Media General's research showed that continuing a local news operation, without major network programming was not economically viable.
While the network shift and news cancellation could have devastated any other station, all this led to one of 17's most memorable and successful incarnations as WJWB. WB17 not only maintained its overall position in the market, it was also one of the network's all-time top affiliates. Along with the popular Weekend Showplace, which continues to this day, countless viewers witnessed the antics of Michigan J. Frog (aka Account Executive Philip Green) at live station appearances.
In 2006, WJWB morphed into WCWJ, as The WB and UPN merged to form The CW. Three years later, Media General sold the station to Nexstar Broadcasting Group. With Nexstar came a renewed focus on local programming and community service, along with its own "Locally Yours" campaign, across the dial from "The Local Station." But soon, the two "local" stations would share more than one word.
Graham Media Group purchased WCWJ from Nexstar in 2017. This transaction, which also included Media General's WSLS in Roanoke, Virginia, cleared the way for Nexstar to purchase Media General, combining the assets of two of 17's past owners.
Today, WCWJ and WJXT are sister stations, operating together at 4 Broadcast Place. This is Graham Media Group's first two-station market. While such duopolies are commonplace in television, Channels 17 and 4 are unique in that they complement each other, rather than compete directly.
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