Western Broadcasting Company, Inc., better known as WBC, and known as Johnson TV (JTV) from 1982 to 1991, is a major television network officially established in 1968. Headquartered in San Jose, California, it is owned and operated by Johnson Industries as the main network in WBC Networks, and is one of the Big Ten television networks. It is sometimes called the "Blue Globe Network", in reference to its use of the stylized "Blue Globe" logo from Continental-branded subsidiaries and the San Jose Times newspaper.
WBC has seventeen owned-and-operated stations and nearly 300 affiliates throughout the contiguous United States, Hawaii, Alaska, the Japanese isles, and other American territories, some of which are also available in Canada, Mexico, and Russia via pay-television providers or in border areas over-the-air; WBC also maintains brand licensing agreements for international channels in Korea, South China, France and Germany, and owns international channels in the United Kingdom (as a sister channel to Johnson-owned BBC), Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Scandinavia, Turkey, Benelux, the Middle East, other parts of Latin America, Africa, and other Asian countries, all of which were acquired when Johnson acquired assets of 21st Century Fox on March 20, 2019; prior to the acquisition, they had the Fox branding and were part of Fox Networks Group.
The company is also known for featuring five major continuities, these being the Johnson Aligned Universe, the Detective Jenny, Ludicrous Limericks, and Monster World continuities, and the Nirn Anthology, a multimedia franchise created by Johnson in 2013 consisting of the Elder Scrolls, Legend of Zelda, Moesia, Wakfu, Mount & Blade, Frozen, and Tangled franchises.
WBC's origins can be traced back to mid-1967, when then-Johnson Industries CEO Sheldon Johnson decided he wanted to try his luck at a TV network, and acquired a few small TV stations in southern California, including a former DuMont Network affiliate, KCCC, which was renamed KSC-40 in 1974, as well as the entire surviving DuMont Television Network archive to fill in spare timeslots. Originally named the Johnson Broadcasting Network (JBN), airing under that name in a few test markets in December 1967, the network was renamed Western Broadcasting Company (WBC), to bring it in line with NBC and ABC, on April 12, 1968. The logo used the "Blue Globe" logo of the Continental brand.
On October 11, 1968, the network was launched nationally as a viable fourth network alongside ABC, NBC, and CBS. Johnson Radio personality Don George anchored the network's news broadcasts from its inception until his death in 1995, at which point Tom Stephenson, the "Roving Reporter", took over and remains in the post to this day. WBC's first broadcast was of the launch of Apollo 7. Throughout the Apollo program, WBC provided its own brand of coverage, using scale models to illustrate the missions. The network’s original announcer was John Harlan, who retired in 1992 and was replaced by voice actor Joe Leahy, who holds the position to this day. One of the first programs to air on WBC was The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, which still airs to this day, and used new bridging material provided by DePatie-Freleng Productions. In 1969, after fourteen years on CBS, fellow anthology series Chocodile and Friends moved to WBC, where it became even more successful, and cemented its place as one of the "Big Four" television networks.
In 1972, WBC picked up a revival of The Price is Right, its first game show produced by an outside company (Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions), as its first game show overall, Luck o' the Truth, was produced by Johnson Television. 1977 saw WBC greenlight a revival of Supermarket Sweep, a game show that had aired on ABC for two seasons from 1965 to 1967. 28-year-old David Ruprecht was chosen as the host after an audition of over 500 people, as Sheldon wanted a "fresh, new face on TV" to host. Ruprecht was paired up with announcer Johnny Gilbert, who remained until his 2000 retirement. Randy West was chosen as his replacement, and is still the show's announcer. Winnings caps were never placed on any WBC game show, though the network still oversees production, as Sheldon wanted contestants to earn particularly large winnings.
On June 1, 1981, Phil Stacker's company Stacker and Associates bought Johnson Industries. WBC began to suffer under Stacker's regime. Many beloved shows were canceled because Stacker thought they were "old-school" and "not hip or cool". He replaced them with shows that were criticized for gaudy graphics, cheap production values, synth music by Johnson's new synth music department rather than the Johnson Philharmonic Orchestra (though in hindsight, much of the synth music was positively received), poor writing, cringe-inducing 80s slang, and bad acting. Their sports broadcasts were also mocked for having graphics that tended to glitch and broadcasters being biased in favor of certain players or teams, and many of their new game shows during this time were massive, low-budget flops that often gave less winnings than most game shows from rival networks, and sometimes, had huge problems with paying out contestants and staff, most notoriously Groovy Gold, which only ran for three weeks in 1983, replacing the successful Money Wheels. Only The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, The Newlywed Game, Luck o' the Truth, The Hollywood Squares, Supermarket Sweep, The Price is Right, and drama series Tales from the Rails, remained on the air though almost all of them, with the exceptions of Newlywed, Squares, Sweep, and Price (all produced by outside companies), also featured synth music. Harlan and many affiliate announcers, along with a large number of local personalities, continued to call the network "WBC" out of spite for a clueless Stacker, and several affiliates, mainly in the East Coast and the Japanese Isles, never rebranded to JTV at all. The only successful shows in the Stacker era between 1983 and 1987 were the aforementioned shows, Chocodile and Friends, and Police Squad!, as well as the syndicated show Siskel & Ebert, which still runs to this day.
One of the most infamous series in this timeframe was The Cool Adventures of Chocodile, running from September 29, 1984 to April 25, 1987, in which Chocodile was not only depicted by a man in a costume (but still voiced by Mel Blanc), he was joined by two sidekicks: Vanillagator and Caracaiman, both of whom were considered extremely annoying; conversely, Chocodile was the best-received part of the series, as he was used by the writers as an avatar to make their displeasure with the state of the company as a whole known (a recurring antagonist, Phil Sourfox, was based on Stacker himself). To make matters worse, a badly-dressed rock band, The Radicals, with Den (played by Jason Carmichael) as lead singer, Becky Jo (Ashley Wallace) on guitar, Jeff (Casey Locklain) on drums and Betty and Ben (Brooke and Lane Pierce) as backup singers, became the network's mascots, and the network itself was renamed Johnson TV (JTV) on September 1, 1982, as Stacker didn't want to be associated with "the other WBC" (the Westboro Baptist Church), and because he wanted to build a brand new, "younger and hipper" identity.
On January 16, 1987, during a progress report meeting, Phil Stacker was informed of the decline of the company. Rather than brushing off these concerns, Phil was reported to have buried his face in his hands, muttering various obscenities and saying "Oh, God" over and over again. He soon began seeking ways to reverse the trend, and began restructuring JTV, most notably having production of The Transformers moved from Sunbow to JTV, and began making a full fourth season, as well as eight more seasons from 1988-1989, and then 1993-1999 (1990-1992 were marked by three primetime specials: Zone, The Decepticons Strike Back, and Operation Combination; seasons seven through nine carried the subtitle Generation 2, while the remaining seasons carried the subtitle Machine Wars), making it one of the longest-running American cartoons in history, and moving production of The Chipmunks from DiC to JTV in 1990. A full ninth season was created, with the series continuing to 1995, and a revival began airing in 2015. JTV also produced a new animated sitcom called The Floyds, which ran from 1988 to 2001, and planned to start a TV satellite service called ContinentalNet (scrapped with Johnson's 1992 PrimeStar buyout). ContinentalNet later became the name of Johnson's satellite service in Europe starting in 1995, and in Australia since 2004. Stacker also picked up the daytime version of the game show Wheel of Fortune, which had been canceled by NBC in 1989, and it continues on WBC today, with hosts Rolf Benirschke and Vanna White, and greenlit new series in America's Funniest Home Videos and Cops, which also still air today. He also revived Money Wheels, a game show that ran from 1980 until Stacker had canceled it in 1983, though in 1990, Bob Goen replaced former host Bert Convy, who contracted cancer and died the following year (the show is currently hosted by Michael Burger), and picked up revivals of Match Game with Gene Rayburn (the show is currently hosted by Ross Shafer) and Family Feud with Ray Combs.
During the Stacker-Johnson transition, JTV was dead-air, only showing the test card from 1968 to 1982, and added text at the bottom saying: "The Stacker Era is over. Stay tuned." In addition, episodes of The Transformers from the first two seasons, and episodes of The Chipmunks from the first season, along with various movies from the Johnson Studios library, were shown throughout the day, the test card being used where commercials would normally be. As this was the era before the "Emergency Tapes", and the dead-air situation was short-notice, the Transformers episodes used the pre-broadcast masters later made infamous by the Kid Rhino home video releases between 1999-2004.
After the Johnson family regained control on October 23, 1991 (twenty-three years to the day when the network began), JTV was rebranded back to WBC for the rest of the 1991-1992 season, the Radicals were retired (it was explained that the band was fired for being terrible, in keeping with the company's infamous reputation for being brutally honest; this was explained further in a mockumentary released in 2012, called Behind the Radicals), almost all shows produced under the Stacker regime were canceled (The Transformers and The Chipmunks were allowed to finish out, and both franchises have remained a part of Johnson up until the present day), and all synth music was excised from network bumpers. In fact, in a live event shortly after the network had signed on for the day, Chocodile brutally and unceremoniously killed Vanillagator and Caracaiman by shooting them offscreen in a P-51 Mustang privately owned by Don George (it was no secret that Chocodile utterly hated them, as he was always leading them into deadly situations that they got out of thanks to sheer luck and/or stupidity, and the Johnson family regaining control, according to him, compelled him to finally get rid of them), much to the relief of longtime viewers, with critics stating that it was an assurance that Johnson "was back to its roots”. George himself stated on-air that he was relieved to say "WBC news report" again instead of "JTV news report", having openly hated the JTV rebrand.
On February 1, 1994, WBC became the first network to switch to widescreen television. This move coincided with PrimeStar switching to widescreen around that time, as well as the premiere of the television adaptation of Detective Jenny.
WBC experienced a major embarrassment on October 17, 2000, when a contestant on the revived Press Your Luck repeated Michael Larson's infamous two-episode run and won $2,525,255 across ten games. The contestant kept the winnings, but Sheldon Johnson, Jr. chewed out the production staff for making the spin patterns too predictable despite the presence of more patterns, which was the exact same reason Larson was able to rack up $110,237.
All WBC stations transitioned to digital on June 12, 2009 at midnight, depending on the timezone. Before the final sign-off, all stations aired "High Flight", then a montage of memorable WBC moments from 1968 to 2009, including the network's very first telecast of the launch of Apollo 7, coverage of major events such as the landing of Apollo 11, the Yom Kippur War, the Fall of Saigon, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Desert Storm, 9/11, the deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan, shows such as NFL on WBC, the daytime version of Wheel of Fortune, Tales from the Rails, Elk Cabin, Luck o' the Truth, The Hatfields, Link's World, The Price is Right, Supermarket Sweep, Star Pirates, Detective Jenny, EarthBound: The Series, Monster World, The Casino of Luck, Press Your Luck, Card Sharks, and The Wayne Knight Show. The montage was set to "Great Moments" by Gregor F. Narholz, and ended with the station's own network ID (varied between stations, and in all cases was the original ID they had either when they first began broadcasting, or became a WBC affiliate), with Chocodile, Jenny, and Rei (long considered the network mascots) giving the final farewell.
On January 20, 2017, in what was widely considered a controversial move, Tim Johnson organized a "protest" by not airing any inauguration coverage of President Donald Trump on WBC, instead choosing to air a Terrahawks marathon (consisting of all 39 episodes of the original series, plus the two-part Monster World crossover made during the latter's fifth season in 2002); he was scheduled to host the marathon, but was replaced by Chloe after he caught a cold (though he did appear in pre-recorded segments, and mustered enough strength and willpower to appear towards the end of the marathon, wearing a mask so he wouldn't infect others); during the marathon, Chloe interviewed original voice actors Jeremy Hitchin, Denise Bryer, and Windsor Davies, as well as series co-creator Christopher Burr, and stated that the reason why the marathon was aired in place of inauguration coverage was that "the other networks were broadcasting the rise of a dictator". The marathon was repeated for Trump's State of the Union addresses, though without the host segments.
New Year's Blocks
On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, WBC has a 48-hour marathon of certain shows. The tradition started in 1968, and continues to this day. Commercial bumpers are accompanied by a short piano rendition of "Auld Lang Syne", except between 1982 and 1990, when they were accompanied by a rock rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" played by The Radicals.
- 1968-1977: Thunderbirds
- 1978-1980: Tales from the Rails
- 1981-1986: The Three Stooges
- 1987-1996: The Transformers
- 1997-2000; 2005-2012: Detective Jenny
- 2001-2004: EarthBound
- 2013-present: Monster World