WDSU-TV signed on the air on Saturday, December 18, 1948 as the first television station in Louisiana. It was owned by New Orleans businessman Edgar B. Stern, Jr. along with WDSU radio (1280 AM, now WODT; and 93.3 FM, now WQUE-FM).
The station initially carried programming from NBC, CBS, ABC and DuMont. Even after WJMR-TV on channel 61 (now Fox affiliate WVUE on channel 8) signed on in 1953 as a primary CBS and secondary ABC affiliate, WDSU continued to "cherry-pick" a few of the higher-rated CBS and ABC programs until 1957, when WWL-TV signed on as a full-time CBS affiliate. At that time, WJMR took the ABC affiliation full-time, leaving WDSU as an exclusive NBC affiliate. It lost DuMont when that network ceased operations in 1956.
The radio station was originally located at the DeSoto Hotel (now Le Pavillon Hotel) on Baronne Street; the "DS" in the name was said to refer to the DeSoto. WDSU-TV began operations in the Hibernia Bank Building, at that time the tallest building in New Orleans. The WDSU stations moved into the historic Brulatour Mansion on Royal Street in the French Quarter in April 1950. At that point, Stern reorganized his broadcast holdings as the Royal Street Corporation. The transmitter site remained at the Hibernia Bank Building until 1955 when the new transmitter facilities were completed in Chalmette, where the tower remains today.
In the 1950s, WDSU-TV became the springboard for the career of Dick Van Dyke, first as a single comedian and later as emcee of a comedy program.
WDSU was the ratings leader in New Orleans for over a quarter century, largely because of its strong commitment to local coverage. It originated the first live broadcasts of the Sugar Bowl and Mardi Gras, and was the first area station to have extensive local coverage of a hurricane.
Royal Street merged with Cosmos Broadcasting of Columbia, South Carolina in 1972. Cosmos had to sell off the radio stations because it was over the Federal Communications Commission's ownership limit of the time. Cosmos eliminated much of the local flavor that had been the station's hallmark, opting to concentrate on its already strong news operation (it had been saluted by Time as a news pioneer in 1966). By the early 1980s, rival WWL-TV had overtaken WDSU as the ratings leader. WDSU has been a solid runner-up to WWL for most of the last quarter-century, though in recent years it has had to fend off a strong challenge from a resurgent WVUE.
Today, WDSU generally clears NBC's entire lineup; however, in the early 1980s, the station sustained local criticism when it preempted Late Night with David Letterman in favor of Thicke of the Night, a notorious syndicated talk show flop, along with carrying films in late night instead of the short-lived NBC News Overnight. When Letterman returned, the station aired the show later than the network-mandated timeslot, instead airing reruns of The Love Boat.
Cosmos sold WDSU to Pulitzer in 1989. Pulitzer sold its entire television division, including WDSU, to Hearst-Argyle Television (predecessor to the present-day Hearst Television) in 1999. The station moved into a new facility on Howard Avenue and Baronne Street in March 1996.
WDSU became the first station in the market to provide color telecasts in 1955, and the first New Orleans station with its own doppler weather radar in the 1990s (Super Doppler 6000).
On November 11, 2006, after a remarkable 51 years in New Orleans broadcast television—nearly all of them with WDSU—anchor and former news director Alec Gifford officially announced his retirement. His retirement became effective in December 2006. WDSU looked back on six decades of broadcasting on December 18, 2008.
The station contracts with Cumulus Media's New Orleans FM cluster (KKND, KMEZ, WRKN and WMTI) to provide additional channels of audio simulcasting during hurricane coverage.
WDSU also airs any ESPN Monday Night Football games the New Orleans Saints play (Hearst holds a 20% interest in ESPN) and have added analysis from former Saints coach Jim E. Mora.
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