ABC7 celebrates 75 years of broadcasting in Chicago

ByABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Monday, September 18, 2023
Back to the beginning: ABC7 Chicago celebrates 75 years
Cheryl Burton takes us back to the beginning of ABC7 Chicago, 75 years ago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- 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.

Former anchors, reporters and photographers take a look back at some of the biggest stories of the past 75 years at WLS.

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

About ABC7/WLS-TV Chicago

ABC7/WLS-TV Chicago is the No. 1 local news source and most-watched television station in Chicago. With top-rated daily newscasts spanning decades and the largest social media presence in the market with more than 2.6 million Facebook followers, ABC7 Eyewitness News provides breaking news, investigative reporting, weather, politics, traffic and sports in the multiplatform space toChicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana. Named Best News Operation by the Associated Press for four consecutive years, ABC 7 Eyewitness News produces "Chicago Proud," a series of features that spotlights everyday heroes in and around Chicago.The station also produces the highest-rated New Year's Eve special in Chicago, holiday kickoff special "The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival," syndicated to a national audience, as well as the award-winning program series "Our Chicago," which showcases the city's diversity and highlights contributions in the Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+ communities, among others.Every Friday, Windy City Weekend, entertains while giving Chicagoans everything they need to know about what's happening in the city. ABC 7 is the only Chicago station producing and broadcasting parades representing Chicago's rich cultural history. In addition to producing town halls focused on current social issues, the station has a long and proud tradition of broadcasting political candidate debates keeping Chicago's electorate informed.ABC7's outreach efforts include annual partnerships with the Red Cross for life-saving blood drives, one of the biggest one-day drives in the country and, most recently, spearheading an effort to raise more than $1.5 million for area food pantries.