Chicago Station Plans Return to ‘Eyewitness News’ Brand

By Kevin Eck 

Chicago media writer Robert Feder reports ABC owned Chicago station WLS will once again brand itself as “Eyewitness News.”

Feder said the “Eyewitness News” name ran from 1969 until 1996 on WLS. Today, WABC in New York, KABC in Los Angeles, KTRK in Houston and WTVD in Raleigh-Durham use the brand.

WLS general manager John Idler told Feder, “The reality is [‘Eyewitness News’] still has a very strong identity with this station — even though it was dropped a number of years ago. It’s still very important to our viewers, and they associate it with ABC 7. That’s principally why we’re bringing it back.”

Idler emphasized that the goal isn’t to go retro. “The execution of this is going to be very contemporary,” he said. “It is not going to be a look back to ‘Eyewitness News.’ It is going to be a look forward to what ‘Eyewitness News’ means to viewers today.”

Asked about the timing of the move, Idler said it was “driven by a desire to freshen up the look of the station.” It also comes as ABC 7 is battling to retain its status as the top-rated news operation in the market. After more than a quarter-century of local news dominance, its margins of victory have been shrinking and, in some key demographics, have evaporated.

“Eyewitness News” was conceived in the late 1960s to emphasize the role of the reporter on the street and project the personalities of the newscasters. Credited with inventing the format was Al Primo, a news director in Philadelphia, who went on to become its chief proponent and an influential news consultant. All of the ABC-owned stations, including WLS, quickly embraced the concept, presenting their newscasts in a looser, more conversational manner than viewers had ever seen. Critics at the time derided it as “happy talk,” a term coined by Morry Roth, the Chicago bureau chief for Variety. Ratings skyrocketed.

Three ABC owned stations do not use “Eyewitness News,” Philadelphia’s WPVI and KFSN in Frenso call themselves “Action News” while KGO in San Francisco goes by “ABC7 News.”