ABC 7 Celebrates 75 Years of Broadcasting in Chicago

ABC 7, the Most Watched Television Station in Chicago, Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary Sept. 17, 2023

During a time when milk was 34 cents a gallon, the average cost of a home was $1,250 and 1% of American households had televisions, the ABC station WENR-TV/Channel 7 made its television debut in Chicago on Sept. 17, 1948. In 1968, the station changed its call letters to WLS-TV, an acronym for the “World’s Largest Store,” after its sister radio station’s previous owner, Sears, Roebuck & Co. The Walt Disney Company purchased WLS-TV in 1996.

According to John Idler, ABC 7 president and general manager, “Throughout our history, we have led the way in news, technical innovation and service to the community. We are tremendously proud to be the No. 1 station in Chicago and look forward to another 75 years of excellence and community connection.”

The site of ABC 7’s State Street Studio stands in what was originally a vaudeville house built in 1919 by famous Chicago architects C.W. Rapp and George L. Rapp. It was called the State-Lake Theater and featured live stage acts and movies.  By the early 1940s, stage shows disappeared from the State-Lake Theater and it just served as a movie palace until it closed on June 28, 1984. The theater space was then converted into TV studios for ABC 7 news and programming, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

After 75 years, ABC 7 continues to be the most-watched television station in Chicago. The station has also been the top choice for news in Chicago, boasting No. 1 ratings year after year for decades. ABC 7’s 10 p.m. news has captured the No. 1 spot for more than two decades and the station’s 4, 5, and 6 p.m. newscasts have retained their No. 1 ranking for an extraordinary 30-plus years.

Notable WLS highlights include the following:

  • 1984 – Oprah Winfrey debuts as host of the station’s AM CHICAGO.
  • 2004 – The first and only station to air the Chicago Pride Parade.
  • 2007 – The first station to broadcast all of its local news and programming in HD.
  • 2017 – The first Chicago television station with more than 2 million Facebook followers.
  • 2022 – Station launches 24/7 streaming with additional newscasts

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