The Goodwill Stations in Detroit, Michigan (the owners of WJR Radio) placed the first application for an FCC broadcast license for WJRT-TV. The FCC had to consider all applications for the channel and there were many. There were also attempts by competitive broadcasters in the area to block the granting of the license because this particular channel position would provide a great deal of competition for them. Therefore, four years of legal maneuvering and hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in obtaining final approval for a construction permit to build the facility. WJRT-TV first took to the airwaves on October 12, 1958.
WJRT-TV remained under the ownership of Goodwill Stations until September 10, 1964. On that date, the Goodwill Stations were purchased by Capital Cities Communications, Inc., a deal which had been pending since the preceding May. Capital Cities Communications, Inc., a large broadcast operation, owned four other VHF television stations and two UHF stations. Their purchase of the Goodwill stations included WJRT-TV and another VHF station, WSAZ-TV in Huntington, West Virginia. This increased the Capital Cities Communications, Inc. ownership of VHF stations to a total of six; at that time, the FCC had set a limit on VHF ownership at five. Therefore, Capital Cities Communications, Inc. found it necessary to resell one of the VHF stations to reduce their ownership from six to five. The FCC approved the formation of a new corporation lead by John B. Poole, a Detroit attorney who had formerly held interest in Capital Cities Communications, Inc. The new corporation was named WJRT, Inc.
Within one transaction, WJRT-TV became separate from one broadcasting group (Goodwill); affiliated with another (Capital Cities Communications, Inc.) and then was spun off into a third corporation, WJRT, Inc., which had no affiliation to either of the previous companies.
In 1967, a second VHF television station was purchased: WPRI-TV, Providence, Rhode Island. With this purchase, the name of the corporation was changed to Poole Broadcasting Company. Poole Broadcasting Company acquired its third VHF station, WTEN-TV, with a UHF satellite, WCDC-TV, Albany, New York, in 1969.
In April 1978, Poole Broadcasting Company was purchased by Knight Ridder Newspapers, inc., which formed the Knight Ridder Broadcasting, Inc., division. In the fall of 1988, Knight Ridder made the decision to sell all eight of its television stations. George Lilly and partners purchased WJRT-TV and a new corporation was formed: SJL of Michigan Corporation.
On August 29, 1995, WJRT-TV was acquired by Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. from SJL of Michigan. On February 8, 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired Capital Cities/ABC, Inc.
On April 1, 2011, The Walt Disney Company/ABC, Inc. sold the station (along with WTVG in Toledo, OH) to SJL Broadcasting (formed by the principal owners of Lilly Broadcasting teamed with Bain Capital).
The technical history of WJRT-TV remained constant with an allocation of 316,000 watts on a 1,000-foot transmitter tower until switching to digital at 30 kilowatts. The Transmitter tower is located near Chesaning in Saginaw County, Michigan. WJRT-TV feeds a city grade signal to Flint, Lansing, Saginaw, Bay City, Midland and Mt. Pleasant.
Since its inception, WJRT-TV has been affiliated with the ABC Network, which provides about 50 percent of the station's programming. Station management recognizes its responsibility to the communities it serves and makes every effort to offer Mid-Michigan viewers a balanced program schedule of news, information and entertainment.
In 1959 with less than a year on the air, WJRT broadcast the 1959 Buick Open, a huge technological undertaking in those days. Incredibly, the station was using videotape, which was a new technology around that time. WJRT continued to provide local coverage of this long-standing PGA Tournament from Warwick Hills Golf Club in Grand Blanc, MI until General Motors pulled its sponsorship after the 2009 tournament.
WJRT was the first station in Michigan outside of the Detroit market to switch to color in 1967, the first in Mid-Michigan to install live weather radar equipment in the mid-1960's and the station had more locally produced programming per week on the air than any other television station outside of Detroit.
From its very beginning in Mid-Michigan, WJRT connected with the community and local viewers through a commitment to producing local programming.
Viewers still fondly remember Frank Cady, who joined the WJRT staff in 1960 to bring such entertaining and beloved personalities to the air as Mr. Magic (1960-67) and Bozo the Clown (1967-79)
The Bozo Show ended its 12-year run in 1979, and the show is gone, but the Bozo (Cady) fans remain.
Viewers still call to say they remember being on the Bozo show and wonder if there might be an old program in the station archives from the year they were on the program. Sadly, no such tangible evidence remains of those wonderful days.
Frank retired from WJRT in 1989.