KDNL-TV started broadcasting on June 8, 1969 as the first UHF television station in the St. Louis market. It was St. Louis’ second independent station until 1986. The station was owned by Evans Broadcasting. Initially, KDNL ran a format of business news, religious shows, old network sitcoms, rejected network programming from KSDK and KTVI, and old movies. KDNL offered Japanese live-action and cartoons dubbed into English including, Johnny Sokko and Ultraman.
By 1979, business news had been eliminated. Evans sold the station to Cox Enterprises in 1981. Programming during most of 1982 and early 1983 continued to be general entertainment during the day and Preview Subscription Television at night. This included religious shows, old movies, classic off-network sitcoms and dramas. By 1984, cartoons had been added to the lineup. Also under Cox, the station won bids for stronger off-network sitcoms.
In 1986, KDNL joined the then-fledging Fox after KPLR-TV turned the network down, going under the name Fox 30. In addition, KDNL was the television home of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues between 1976 and 1981, and again from 1983 through 1986. In 1991, Cox sold KDNL to St. Louis-based River City Broadcasting.
As an ABC affiliate
In 1994 New World Communications, bought St. Louis’ longtime ABC affiliate, KTVI, along with 3 other stations from Argyle. New World had cut an affiliation deal with Fox. By the time KPLR took on affiliation with The WB, that station also turned down ABC despite being a VHF station. So instead KDNL took the ABC affiliation and also agreed to run UPN programming as a secondary affiliate. Despite its size, the St. Louis market did not have enough willing commercial stations at the time to support a full-time UPN affiliate until 2003 (when WRBU dropped HSN to become a regular commercial operation with UPN affiliation). New World completed its acquisition of KTVI in the summer of 1995, and Fox moved to KTVI.
After becoming the ABC affiliate, KDNL also began to air more first-run syndicated shows and reduced its reliance on older sitcoms. In 1996, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought River City. KDNL dropped UPN programming in 1997, and KNLC and KPLR-TV began sharing UPN. St. Louis didn’t have a full-time UPN affiliate until WRBU in East St. Louis took on the affiliation in April 2003. In 2004 KDNL preempted the movie Saving Private Ryan; all Sinclair-owned ABC affiliates preempted the movie.
Sinclair had refused to allow Charter Communications, the dominant cable provider in the St. Louis area, to carry KDNL’s HDTV channel, being the longest hold out in the area (not counting KMOV’s pulling of their signal in January 2007) until April 2007, when Sinclair and Charter came to a national retransmission agreement for three years until 2010. Subsequently, KDNL-DT began airing on Channel 780 on Charter systems on April 19, 2007 .
The station, due to the lack of any local news presence and a schedule heavy on mainstays of syndication such as Judge Mathis, Maury, The People’s Court and The Simpsons which are usually taken by Fox, The CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates, along with a heavy schedule of paid and religious programming, provides the ABC schedule itself very low lead-ins. This classifies ABC programs such as Good Morning America and World News with Charles Gibson as unrateable by A.C. Nielsen at times due to a sample too small to classify with a ratings number, along with inexplicable pre-emptions of the ABC primetime schedule for paid programming . The station regularly rates fifth in the St. Louis market behind KPLR , making the station among the weakest ABC affiliates in the nation. There is also regular talk of Tribune Broadcasting pursuing the ABC affiliation for KPLR after KDNL’s affiliation agreement expires in the St. Louis market, due to that station’s management agreement with Local TV LLC-owned KTVI and their playing down of the CW as part of their branding, along with experimentation with the CW schedule to maximize ratings.
Local news on KDNL premiered on January 1, 1995. Initially, news was limited to a daily 9 p.m. newscast. When KDNL became an ABC affiliate, the 9 p.m. news moved to 10 p.m. and an additional evening newscast was added. Although ratings were initially good, KDNL was never competitive with KMOV, KSDK (both have had at least 20% shares over the years), or even KTVI. The evening newscast fluctuated between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and was even cancelled outright for a time. Turnover in the newsroom was very high, and it showed in the ratings.
In the spring of 2001, a transmitter failure left KDNL off the air for a number of days (or at least was broadcasting at lower power than it did). What little audience there was for KDNL’s news switched to other sources and never returned. KDNL finally dropped news altogether on October 12, 2001. To this day, KDNL-DT is one of the very few major network affiliates that does not have local news. KDNL is the largest (in terms of DMA) of any major network affiliate that has no newscast(s) (CBS O&O WWJ in Detroit was the largest until May 5, 2009, when it launched a morning show). Most major network affiliates are contractually obligated to air local news, but KDNL’s affiliation agreement does not have such a clause. KDNL now occasionally employs its former news staff to offer commentary on sporting events. KDNL also has weather updates during GMA which were formerly compiled and presented by Tony Pagnotti at Sinclair’s News Central headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland. These updates are now compiled and presented from Columbus, Ohio sister operation WSYX/WTTE by that station’s morning meteorologist, Lisa Colbert.
KDNL has been one of ABC’s weakest-performing affiliates in the decade-and-a-half since it joined the network. In contrast, KTVI was one of ABC’s strongest-performing affiliates.
Post-Super Bowl XL criticism
Following Super Bowl XL in 2006, KDNL was criticized for airing an hour-long local postgame show after network coverage instead of the much-hyped ‘Code Black’ episode of Grey’s Anatomy, despite St. Louis not having any stake or connections to Super Bowl XL. The postgame show, followed by Grey’s at 10:15pm, was listed in local paper listings and in electronic program guides, however the station did not disclaim it within any promos that aired through the game and those who use the TV Guide as their main listings source didn’t know about the local postgame show, causing the station and other local media (such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) to be overwhelmed with complaints about KDNL’s problems as the city’s ABC affiliate.
This incident, along with off-synced TiVo and VCR recordings nationwide which didn’t capture the entire episode, was instrumental in forcing ABC to reair the episode the following Thursday, after Dancing with the Stars.
Former on-air talent
News Music Packages