WDAF-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 34), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Kansas City, Missouri, United States and serving the Kansas City metropolitan area. The station is owned by the Nexstar Media Group. WDAF-TV’s studios and transmitter are located on Summit Street in the Signal Hill section of Kansas City, Missouri. On cable, the station is available on Charter Spectrum, Comcast Xfinity and Consolidated Communications channel 6, and Google Fiber and AT&T U-verse channel 4. There is a high definition feed provided on Spectrum digital channel 1206, Xfinity channel 805, Consolidated channel 640 and U-verse channel 1004.
WDAF-TV also serves as an alternate Fox affiliate for the St. Joseph market (which borders the Kansas City Designated Market Area to the north), as the station’s transmitter produces a city-grade signal that reaches St. Joseph proper and rural areas in the market’s central and southern counties. WDAF previously served as the default NBC station for St. Joseph until it disaffiliated from the network in September 1994 (presently, NBC programming in St. Joseph is provided by KNPG-LD), and as the market’s de facto Fox affiliate from that point on until KNPN-LD (channel 26) signed on as an in-market affiliate on June 2, 2012.
As of September 2017, WDAF-TV presently broadcasts 62 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 10½ hours on weekdays, 4½ hours on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the highest local newscast output among the Kansas City market’s commercial television stations. WDAF-TV’s Sunday 5:00 p.m. newscast is subject to pre-emption due to network sports coverage, as is standard with Fox stations that carry early-evening newscasts on weekends (though the Saturday 5:00 p.m. newscast is usually delayed to 6:00 p.m. during the baseball or college football seasons, if Fox is only scheduled to air a daytime game telecast). The station operates a Hummer, branded as “Storm Fox”, which the station primarily uses as a storm chasing vehicle to cover severe weather events affecting its viewing area.
News department history
Local news has always maintained an important presence at WDAF-TV throughout its history, an ideology fitting of a station that was founded by a newspaper. Dating back to its NBC affiliation, channel 4 has long battled KMBC-TV (and at times, KCTV as well) for the most-watched local television newscast in the Kansas City market for the better part of four decades. During the late 1970s and 1980s, WDAF-TV’s newscasts sat in second place in the ratings, behind KMBC; however, coinciding with the rise of NBC’s ratings fortunes during that period, it ended the latter decade in first place, overtaking KCTV for the top spot. In 1982, WDAF-TV became the first television station in Kansas City to use a helicopter for newsgathering; the helicopter (originally known as “Chopper 4” until 1992, then as “NewsChopper 4” from 1992 to 1999, and later “Sky Fox” thereafter) was used to provide aerial coverage of breaking news and severe weather events, and periodically for traffic reports during its weekday morning and 5:00 p.m. newscasts; the helicopter was grounded by station management on August 31, 2009, citing budget issues with the leasing of the helicopter.
Also in 1982, WDAF launched a feature titled “Thursday’s Child,” a segment that aired weekly during its 10:00 p.m. newscast, which highlighted Kansas City area children in the foster care system who were seeking adoptive families; the segment was produced by the WDAF news department, in conjunction with the Love Fund for Children, a charity founded through a $1,200 endowment from several WDAF-TV employees. In September 1984, the station debuted a 20-minute local sports news program within the Sunday edition of its 10:00 p.m. newscast, The Kansas City Sports Machine, which borrowed its title from the syndicated The George Michael Sports Machine, which aired on WDAF from 1982 until it concluded its syndication run in September 2007; the WDAF version lasted until 1999, when it evolved into a conventional sports segment within the Sunday 10:00 newscast.
When WDAF-TV adopted the “Newschannel 4” brand in April 1992, the station also implemented the “24-Hour News Source” concept (which was enforced in the promotional slogan used by the station until 1999, “Kansas City’s 24-Hour Newschannel”). Its iteration of the concept involved both the production of 30-second news updates that aired at or near the top of each hour during local commercial break inserts – even during prime time network and overnight programming – and five-second end-of-break weather updates (consisting of an image of the station’s Doppler radar, then known as “Doppler 4 Radar”, usually accompanied by a brief voiceover by one of the station’s meteorologists illustrating the short-term forecast or teasing the weather segment in an upcoming newscast), during time periods when the station was not airing its regularly scheduled, long-form newscasts. In September 1992, WDAF became the first television station in Kansas City to launch a weekend morning newscast, with the debut of two-hour-long Saturday and Sunday broadcasts that initially aired from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. (both editions would later move to 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. in September 1997, with the Saturday moving one hour earlier on April 23, 2016).
After WDAF became a Fox affiliate on September 12, 1994, the station underwent a major shift in its programming philosophy that more heavily emphasized its local news programming. It retained a news schedule similar to the one it had as an NBC affiliate, but increased its news output from about 25 hours to nearly 45 hours per week by expanding existing newscasts and adding ones in new time periods (with its weekday news schedule expanding from 3½ hours to seven hours per day). In its early years with Fox, local news programming on the station ran on weekdays from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m., 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. and nightly from 9:00 to 10:30 p.m., as well as on weekend mornings and early evenings. The station retained the “24-Hour News Source” format after the affiliation switch, continuing to offer news updates on an hourly basis during commercial breaks until it discontinued the concept in May 1999. With New World Communications heavily investing in the news department’s expansion, WDAF increased its news staff from 80 to 120 employees; it hired up to 40 additional employees (including additional reporters and behind-the-scenes staff members) to handle the expanded news coverage that the new news-intensive lineup would allow.
The weekday morning newscast’s expansion from one to three hours – with the addition of a two-hour extension from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. – and the consolidation of its half-hour weeknight 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. newscasts into a single 90-minute block – although the early-evening block was structured as three separate half-hour broadcasts – filled timeslots vacated by the departures of Today and NBC Nightly News from its schedule as Fox, unlike NBC, does not have daily national news programs. The weekday morning newscast would gradually expand over time, eventually attaining its current 5½-hour format with the addition of an hour-long block at 9:00 a.m. on March 24, 2011 and a half-hour early extension at 4:30 a.m. on October 3 of that year. Since Fox does not provide network programming during that hour, Channel 4 also added an hour-long prime time newscast at 9:00 p.m. – originally titled Newschannel 4 Primetime until January 1997 and then Fox 4 News: Primetime at 9:00 until September 1999, when it was renamed as simply Fox 4 News at 9:00 – to lead into its existing 10:00 p.m. newscast (WDAF is one of several Fox stations that offer newscasts in both the final hour of prime time and the traditional late news time slot – as well as one of the few affiliated with the network that runs a nightly newscast in the latter slot – and one of ten that continued its Big Three-era late-evening newscast after switching to Fox); the addition marked the first time WDAF had aired a local newscast at that hour since its days as a hybrid NBC/ABC/CBS/DuMont affiliate, when the station aired its late-evening newscast at 9:30 from its sign-on in September 1949 until the program moved to 10:00 p.m. after the station became a full-time NBC affiliate in September 1953.
In February 1996, WDAF-TV reformatted its 5:30 p.m. newscast as Your World Tonight, a program focusing primarily on national and international news headlines that was modeled similarly to the national news programs of ABC, CBS and NBC (as with the national newscasts that Your World Tonight competed directly against, the program maintained a single-anchor format, with Phil Witt – who joined WDAF in August 1979 as a weekend evening anchor/reporter, before being promoted to main co-anchor of the weekday evening newscasts in 1981, a role in which he remained until Witt retired from broadcasting on June 20, 2017 – at the helm). Because Fox did not have a news division – and by association, an affiliate news service – at the time WDAF joined the network, the program – as was the case with WDAF’s news department as a whole since the September 1994 switch to Fox – initially relied mainly on external video feeds from CNN Newsource for coverage of national and international news stories, although with the associated launch of Fox News Channel that August, it also added content sourced from Fox’s in-house affiliate video service Fox News Edge. The Your World Tonight concept was not successful, and the 5:30 p.m. broadcast was retooled as a traditional local newscast, formatted as an extension of its lead-in 5:00 broadcast, on January 6, 1997.
Not long after WDAF-TV switched to Fox, KMBC made a short resurgence in news viewership amid viewer confusion caused by the switch, overtaking it for first place among the market’s local television newscasts; this situation would further intensify the ratings rivalry between the two stations. Since the late 1990s, WDAF-TV’s newscasts have rotated between first and second place with either KMBC or KCTV depending on the time slot, with the station’s strongest ratings being logged in the morning and at 9:00 p.m., where WDAF regularly finishes at #1 (in time periods where that station does not have an absolute hold in that position, WDAF competes for second place with CBS affiliate KCTV). Channel 4 has maintained its status as the ratings leader in the 9:00 p.m. hour, even as it has faced added competition in recent years from a KCTV-produced newscast on MyNetworkTV-affiliated sister station KSMO-TV (which premiered on the latter station as a WB affiliate on September 12, 2005) and a KMBC-produced newscast on that station’s CW-affiliated sister KCWE (which began as a half-hour program on September 14, 2010).
In February 2003, WDAF-TV launched an investigative reporting unit, the “Fox 4 Problem Solvers”, which conduct investigative reports centering on businesses that have ripped off local consumers and uncovers various consumer scams. In April 2007, fellow Fox affiliate KTMJ-CA in Topeka, Kansas began simulcasting the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. block of WDAF-TV’s weekday morning newscast and its nightly 9:00 p.m. newscast (ironically, the over-the-air signals of WDAF-TV and several other Kansas City area stations adequately cover most of the nearby Topeka market due to the close proximity of the two markets, Topeka being located 55 miles (89 km) due west of Kansas City). The simulcasts were dropped in November 2008, when KTMJ’s earlier purchase by New Vision Television led to their replacement by locally based newscasts produced by its NBC-affiliated sister station KSNT.
On October 12, 2010, WDAF-TV became the fourth (and last) television station in the Kansas City market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. On April 11, 2011, the station extended its existing pre-Fox-era late newscast, with the debut of a separate 10:30 p.m. news program on Sunday through Friday nights (Fox late night programming airs on Saturdays during that half-hour); as a result, it became the first Fox station – and one of only a handful of television stations in the Central and Mountain time zones – to expand its 10:00 p.m. newscast to a full hour, a format more common in that timeslot with prime time newscasts aired on Fox stations and non-major-network outlets in the Eastern and Pacific Time Zones.