Ken Foote’s Radio/TV Files: The Big Network Switch
The 1990’s was a decade of changes in the television industry, one in particular that affected DFW television watchers. But the event that triggered it was somewhat unusual for its day.
In the fall of 1993, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who headed the NFL’s broadcasting committee, announced along with the league that the network television rights to the NFC games would move from CBS to FOX. CBS had been the rights holder to those games since the 1950’s and continuing after the NFL and AFL merged in 1969, creating the NFC and AFC Conferences. This shocked local TV management at CBS stations everywhere. After all, these games had been on CBS forever! Moving to FOX?
In 1993, the FOX Television Network had only been in existence for about seven years. FOX’s Rupert Murdoch had just acquired the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation from oilman Marvin Davis in 1985, bought 7 TV stations from John Kluge at Metromedia, and launched the FOX Network in 1986. Not many people had heard of Murdoch in the States, being primarily a newspaper baron, although at one time he owned the San Antonio Express. Most TV executives scoffed at FOX, saying there wasn’t room for a fourth TV network, that they were a flash in the pan, that their “lowest common denominator” shows, like Married With Children, wouldn’t last. But many people misjudged Murdoch and his plans to transform television in the U.S. like no one since the early days of TV.
Another event took place around that time when the owners of KDFW Channel 4 in Dallas , Argyle Television, agreed to sell the station to New World Communications Group, a company controlled by Ron Perelman, the owner of Revlon. New World owned a number of other network affiliated TV stations around the country as well. Across the street, KTVT was an independent, KDAF was the FOX owned and operated station, and KXTX Channel 39 was airing The WB. But change was going to impact those stations too.
When the NFC debuted on FOX affiliates in 1994, the national Nielsen ratings weren’t quite as high as they had been on CBS affiliates in previous years. Apart from the FOX owned group of 7 VHF stations, many FOX affiliates were high band UHF stations whose signal coverage was not as good as VHF stations. FOX was paying a lot of money to the NFL and, with Murdoch’s plan to expand with a 24 hour all news cable channel to compete with CNN, more change was on the way. Murdoch needed not only strong stations for the NFC, he needed stations with a strong local news operation to provide content to what would become the FOX News Channel, something he didn’t have with his existing affiliates in 1994. New World’s stations provided that strong base of VHF stations with good local news operations. Murdoch needed those stations.
Finally, it was announced that FOX would invest approximately $500 million into New World in exchange for switching the network affiliations of 10 New Word stations to FOX. Here in Dallas, KDFW Channel 4 had been the CBS station since 1949 and now it was going to become a FOX affiliate (today it has been a FOX owned station since January 22, 1997). Almost simultaneously, it was announced that KTVT Channel 11 would affiliate with CBS, and KDAF Channel 33, the then current FOX station, would affiliate with the WB. KXTX Channel 39 would then revert back to being an independent station.
On Saturday. July 1, 1995, at 10pm, the last CBS Television Network program ever to be aired on KDFW, Walker Texas Ranger, had finished for the evening. Immediately thereafter, David Whitaker, President & General Manager of KDFW, went on the air to announce what was happening and what viewers could expect. And Ed Trimble, Vice President & General Manager of KTVT, also took to the air to inform KTVT’s viewers of this event.
CBS later bid successfully for the AFC rights in 1998 where they have been to this day and have been renewed through the year 2022!!
Three stations…. changing network affiliations…. all at the same time! And yes, viewers were confused for sure. Many people thought that the local news anchors and reporters would move along the affiliation switch. But they didn’t and at the end of the day, the only thing that changed was the network programming they saw. The confusion lasted for awhile but for the most part it has subsided after almost 17 years. But what a monumental event in DFW broadcasting history!
See you next time!