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Milwaukee, Wisconsin
United States
Branding WISN 12 (general)
12 News (newscasts)
Slogan Leading the Way with Important Local Coverage (news)
WISN 12: One of America's Leading ABC Stations (general)
Channels Digital: 34 (UHF)
Virtual: 12 (PSIP)
Subchannels 12.1 ABC
12.2 Movies!
Affiliations ABC (1954–1961 and since 1977)
Owner Hearst Television
(WISN Hearst Television, Inc.)
First air date October 27, 1954
Call letters' meaning The WISconsin News
(former Milwaukee newspaper owned by Hearst, that merged with The Milwaukee Sentinel)
Former callsigns WTVW (1954–1955)
Former channel number(s) Analog:
12 (VHF, 1954–2009)
Former affiliations Primary:
CBS (1961–1977)
DuMont (1954–1955)
Transmitter power 1,000 kW
Height 302.7 m
Facility ID 65680
Transmitter coordinates
Licensing authority FCC
Public license information: Profile

WISN-TV, virtual channel 12 (digital channel 34), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. The station is owned by the Hearst Television subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation (and is one of the group's three flagship stations – alongside WCVB-TV in Boston and WBAL-TV in Baltimore – as well as the second-oldest television station to remain with the company in all of its various iterations). WISN maintains studio facilities located at North 19th Street on the west end of the Marquette University campus, and its transmitter located in Lincoln Park in the northeastern part of Milwaukee (next to the Weigel Broadcasting tower, which is used by CBS affiliate WDJT-TV, channel 58, and its sister stations).


  • History 1
    • First tenure with ABC 1.1
    • Switch to CBS 1.2
    • Second tenure with ABC 1.3
    • Summer 2012 Time Warner Cable carriage dispute 1.4
  • Digital television 2
    • Digital channel 2.1
    • Analog-to-digital conversion 2.2
  • Programming 3
    • Sports programming 3.1
  • News operation 4
    • Notable former on-air staff 4.1
  • References 5
  • External links 6


First tenure with ABC

The station first signed on the air on October 27, 1954 as WTVW (for its on-air slogan "Wisconsin's TeleVision Window"). WTVW's transmitter building was built under a tent, as rain had threatened to delay construction. After the building was finished, a second tent was erected, and used for live automobile commercials, until it collapsed one day in early 1955. In early 1955, the station was purchased by the Hearst Corporation, publishers of The Milwaukee Sentinel and owners of WISN radio (1130 AM); the new owners changed channel 12's call letters to WISN-TV, after its radio sister (whose calls were derived from now-defunct newspaper The Wisconsin News, which merged with the Sentinel;[1] the WTVW calls are now used by the CW-affiliated station in Evansville, Indiana). The station originally operated as a primary ABC affiliate with a secondary DuMont affiliation.[2] WISN-TV lost the DuMont affiliation when that network ceased operations in 1956, leaving it exclusively with ABC.

In January 1958, WISN-TV became the flagship station of the Badger Television Network, a three-station network serving Wisconsin that also included WFRV-TV in Green Bay and WKOW-TV in Madison.[2] Programs broadcast by the network included Homemaker's Holiday, a quiz show hosted by Charlie Hanson; Good Housekeeping, hosted by Trudy Beilfuss titled after the Hearst magazine of the same name; and Pretzel Party, a variety program originally hosted by Larry Clark. All three programs originated from WISN-TV's studios. During March 1958, the network also aired Senate Investigation Committee hearings during late-night hours. The network ceased operations on August 8, 1958.[2] WISN-TV and WISN radio would gain an FM radio sister when Hearst signed on WISN-FM (97.3, now WRNW) in 1961.

WISN-TV's main logo since the switch to ABC was announced in 1976, used solely for news imaging from 2006 to 2012. It returned into use as the main logo on all programming on September 17, 2012, paired with the WISN calls to the left in Hearst's trademark Bank Gothic font, which has been used by the station since 1994 for various elements. The ABC circle logo is added to the station-generated bug for syndicated programming.

Switch to CBS

In 1961, CBS decided to affiliate with WISN-TV, as its sister radio station had been a longtime affiliate of the CBS Radio Network. As a result, Storer Broadcasting-owned WITI-TV (channel 6) and WISN swapped networks: channel 12 switched its affiliation to CBS and channel 6 became an ABC affiliate on April 2, 1961.[3] During its tenure with the network, WISN-TV cleared most CBS programs; although by the early 1970s, it would pre-empt Search for Tomorrow in order to expand its daytime talk show Dialing for Dollars, and would pre-empt or delay several primetime programs to run Marquette University and Milwaukee Bucks basketball games.

Hearst sold the Milwaukee Sentinel to Journal Publishing (the publishers of the Milwaukee Journal) in 1962, retaining WISN-TV and WISN radio. The Journal also competed with the Sentinel (both of which were eventually consolidated into the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1995) in broadcasting as owners of WTMJ radio (620 AM) and WTMJ-TV (channel 4), which Journal operated until April 1, 2015, when Journal and E.W. Scripps Company merged and split their assets into the broadcast-specific Scripps company, and publishing operations into the Journal Media Group.

Second tenure with ABC

On September 26, 1976, CBS announced it was moving its Milwaukee affiliation back to WITI-TV.[4] Storer Broadcasting had much better relations with CBS than it reportedly had with ABC; weeks earlier, ABC opted to drop Storer's San Diego station KCST-TV from the network after a four-year dispute stemming from KCST's successful battle to strip that market's ABC affiliation from XETV-TV in nearby Tijuana, Mexico. Meanwhile, ABC had become the top-rated television network in the United States, thanks in large part to two Milwaukee-set sitcoms: Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. WISN-TV and ABC agreed to a new affiliation contract about a month later;[5] the two stations swapped networks once again on March 27, 1977. WISN even used Happy Days star Henry Winkler (in character as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli) to herald its return to ABC with the slogan "Happy Days are Here Again" in on-air and print campaigns leading up to the switch. To this day, WISN-TV has been one of ABC's most successful affiliates, and bills itself as such in its own promotions.

Around the same time, the station was the first which utilized newscast composer Frank Gari's "Hello News" package, which included an imaging song individualized to each market's city; in this case "Hello Milwaukee", which remains well-remembered and remains used in various ways by WISN-TV to the present day, and was cited as one of the factors in driving viewers to the station in the late 70's and allowing it to be competitive.[6]

For most of its years with ABC, the station did not include the network's logo next to theirs, branding solely with the channel number and/or call letters vocally and visually (outside of network-created radio promos which listed the station as "12 ABC") until 2012, when the network began to contractually require the ABC logo be included with any affiliate's logo redesign. In November 2014, the station unveiled their current logo with the call letters beneath the long-used "12" logo form and the ABC logo on the right side of the "12" number mark, the first with the ABC logo blended in for all uses, including for news and entertainment programming, and ending a long run where the station's call letters were rendered in Bank Gothic font. Vocally, the station remains "WISN 12". The station is among the few in the nation which has their logo in a transparent bug at all times, including ABC network and news programming, though not during commercial breaks or paid programming.

Channel 12 was the first commercial station in the market to produce a high-definition broadcast, airing the Summerfest "Big Bang" fireworks show in HD on June 29, 2006.[7] Milwaukee Public Television assisted WISN-TV in the production of the broadcast, and have continued to do so each year since, with additional help from sister stations in Sacramento and Boston in later years.

Hearst sold WISN radio and what by then became WLTQ to Clear Channel Communications in 1997. All ties between WISN-TV and its former sister radio stations were severed when a longtime agreement with channel 12 to provide forecasts for WISN (AM) and the then-WQBW (now WRNW) and four others within Clear Channel's Milwaukee radio cluster ended on July 27, 2009 (though WRNW continues to transmit from WISN-TV's tower), as WITI began its own weather/news content agreement with the stations.[8] WISN-TV then began a news content agreement with Saga Communications for its five area radio stations (WKLH, WHQG, WJMR-FM, WJYI and WNRG-FM).[9] Due to the now separate ownership of the two stations, WISN-TV's news staff disclaim both on-air and through their social networking channels that the station has no connections with WISN radio's conservative talk format other than sharing the same call letters, a point of contention and confusion during events such as live shots at the Wisconsin State Capitol for the 2011 state budget debate.[10]

Summer 2012 Time Warner Cable carriage dispute

As Hearst and Time Warner Cable entered into a retransmission consent dispute that resulted in Hearst's stations being removed from TWC's systems in certain markets on July 10, 2012, WISN was not immediately removed from its Milwaukee area systems in an eleventh hour announcement, as the direct fiber connection between WISN and TWC is also provided by the cable provider to Charter Communications (which serves outer portions of the market such as western Waukesha County and most of Washington, Fond du Lac and Sheboygan Counties) under a side agreement between the providers which TWC and Hearst were contractually obligated to honor.[11] It was the only Hearst station to remain on TWC during the dispute, but with both Start Over video on demand and the ability to record station programming to TWC DVRs completely removed.[12] Charter then tried to pursue a different method of transmitting WISN's signal to remove itself as an intermediary from the dispute,[13] and was able to make the arrangements by July 12,[14] allowing WISN's removal from Time Warner Cable one day later, with WISN's SD and HD channel slots replaced with Hallmark Movie Channel. The dispute was resolved on July 19, returning the station to TWC's systems that evening.

Digital television

Digital channel

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[15]
12.1 1080i 16:9 WISN-TV Main WISN-TV programming / ABC
12.2 480i WISN-SD Movies!

WISN is one of several Hearst-owned stations that broadcasts its digital signal in the 1080i high definition format, instead of ABC's preferred 720p resolution format. WISN's Hearst-owned sister ABC affiliates WCVB-TV in Boston, WMUR-TV in Manchester, New Hampshire, WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, KMBC-TV in Kansas City, KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City and KETV in Omaha also broadcast HD programming in this format. WISN-TV began transmitting its digital signal in the 1080i format in mid-June 2011.

WISN-TV was one of the few Hearst-owned stations that never carried any digital subchannels until August 2014; because of Weigel Broadcasting's presence in the market, the station has not been included in affiliation agreements involving Hearst stations to carry Weigel's Me-TV, along with Tribune Broadcasting's This TV (which was formerly owned by Weigel); both networks air locally on subchannels of WDJT-TV (Tribune has owned WITI since December 2013, although This TV remains on WDJT for the time being). WISN did not utilize Hearst's now-defunct "More TV" subchannel station format as the market has an independent station of its own (WMLW-TV channel 49, which is also owned by Weigel); similarly, it never ran The Local AccuWeather Channel during Hearst's agreements to carry the network on its other stations due to WTMJ-TV and WMVS (channel 10) sharing local carriage rights to the network.

On August 4, 2014, WISN added a 12.2 subchannel for the first time which features Weigel's newest network, Movies!, a 24-hour film network; the network aired since its launch in May 2013 over WMLW-DT3.[16] The subchannel began to be carried on Charter channel 180 as of September 23, 2014. It is unknown yet if the subchannel will be used to air ABC programming at its usual time pre-empted due to sports or breaking news coverage, as is done in Hearst's other markets. As of March 2015 WISN-DT2 began to carry Entertainment Tonight Weekend on Sunday mornings, along with an hour-delayed replay of the station's Sunday morning 8 a.m. newscast; the former assures that ET Weekend, which is often subject to pre-emption on the weekends, airs in some form on WISN. Severe weather coverage is also simulcast on WISN-DT2.

In February 2014 the station added an SAP audio channel, allowing the station to carry ABC programming featuring audio description or a Spanish language dub, and complying with the FCC's requirements to offer audio description.

Analog-to-digital conversion

WISN-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 12, at 8:30 a.m. on June 12, 2009 (the transition was led by a retrospective on the station's history narrated by former longtime anchor Jerry Taff, followed by a still of digital transition information that remained until 12 p.m. when its analog transmitter was permanently shut down). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 34.[17][18] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 12. The channel 12 frequency was subsequently used as the post-transition digital signal of WBBM-TV in Chicago.

On May 17, 2010, WISN-TV filed an application to upgrade its digital transmitter's power to 1 megawatt, mainly to place the station's digital antenna at the taller height of the dormant analog antenna, which would be replaced by a new digital unit.[19] The analog antenna was removed in September 2010, and the digital antenna was activated from the new placement in early October 2010.


WISN-TV presently clears the entire ABC schedule; however, it airs Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Nightline on a half-hour delay to facilitate the station's hour-long 10 p.m. newscast, and airs the Litton Weekend Adventure block on both Saturdays (airing 9-11 a.m.) and Sundays (11 a.m.-noon) due to the July 31, 2010 expansion of its weekend morning newscasts. From September 2006 until the program was dropped by ABC on August 28, 2010, WISN preempted ABC Kids broadcasts of the Power Rangers series due to lack of E/I content (as was common with Hearst's other ABC stations); the station tape-delayed Kim Possible and Power Rangers SPD for broadcast on early Monday mornings before World News Now during the 2005-06 season for the same reason.

The station airs most of the highest-rated programs in syndication and because of this has usually had very limited turnover in its schedule each fall for the last few years, with syndicated programs presently including Live! with Kelly and Michael, The Dr. Oz Show, Meredith Vieira, Steve Harvey, The Ellen DeGeneres Show among others. Channel 12's local programming and select ABC programs are also available on Time Warner Cable's "Start Over" service, allowing viewing of a program after it has already started.

WISN was the flagship station for the Wisconsin Lottery from the agency's inception in 1989, playing host to the state lottery drawings and the weekly Wisconsin Lottery Money Game game show (later known as The Super Money Game Show). The lottery discontinued the Money Game at the end of 2003 due to budget cuts, and televised drawings were dropped at the same time, with the drawings moving to the state lottery offices in Madison. WISN continues to announce the lottery numbers on-screen after the drawing is held on a bottom-screen ticker during programs airing in the 6:30 p.m. timeslot and during the 10:30 p.m. half-hour of the late newscast, and also broadcasts Powerball drawings only in the case of a record-breaking jackpot pool.

The station ran The Oprah Winfrey Show from 1994 until the show ended in 2011, through a groupwide distribution deal with most of Hearst's stations, and aired Dr. Phil from its September 2002 premiere until September 2011, when it moved to WDJT-TV (channel 58). On September 8, 2008, WISN became the first Milwaukee station to broadcast syndicated programming in high definition. Later that year, the station became the first in the market with HD tape-delay and character generator capabilities.

WISN has made the claim based on market size and household ratings percentages by Nielsen Media Research that it is among the top-rated ABC affiliates in the nation (an honor that was shared with WPTA-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana).[20] In fact, ABC's three highest-rated affiliates are all owned by Hearst (WISN, KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City and KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Missouri). "One of America's Leading ABC Stations" had been the station's slogan until September 24, 2007, the top-rated station claim returned in on-air voiceovers in late 2009 until the station upgraded its newscasts to widescreen SD in late 2010. The slogan returned once again to on-air use at the start of 2014.

Sports programming

WISN has been the local over-the-air broadcaster of Monday Night Football games involving the Green Bay Packers since 2006,[21] airing simulcasts of ESPN-televised games (the same arrangement was in place for the December 2007 NFL Network telecast of the Packers' matchup with the Dallas Cowboys). Hearst holds a 20% ownership stake in ESPN (the network's remaining ownership interest is held by ABC parent The Walt Disney Company), and the company (as with ABC for its owned-and-operated stations) have right of first refusal for simulcasts of ESPN's NFL telecasts in a team's home market, which it has never declined for WISN (in these situations, the station reschedules ABC's Monday lineup: Dancing with the Stars airs after the late newscast on the night of its original broadcast with a voting window opened up for the Milwaukee market, while it airs Castle that weekend in the afternoon). The station also airs Inside the Huddle from Green Bay Fox affiliate WLUK-TV.

WISN also carried 12 Milwaukee Brewers Sunday baseball games during the 2003 season,[22] sharing over-the-air rights with WCGV-TV (channel 24, which carried the remaining 38 games out of the 50 telecasts). All telecasts were produced by the team's longtime cable rights holder, Fox Sports Wisconsin.

The station also has a branding alliance with ESPN Radio affiliate WAUK (540 AM), which carries a daily program hosted by sports director Dan Needles, including a co-marketed spotlight high school sports "game of the week" (in men's basketball or football, depending on season) under Hearst's "Operation Football" high school sports branding, which airs live Friday evenings on WAUK. As part of this, The Big 12 Sports Show with 540 ESPN, a sports talk program hosted by Needles and radio partner Drew Olson that provides analysis on the next day's Packer game and acts as a post-game or pre-game for that day's Badger football game, along with coverage of other sports, airs before ABC primetime on Saturday evenings.[23]

News operation

WISN 12 News newscast title card.

WISN-TV presently broadcasts 31½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 4½ hours each on weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays); the station does not run a midday newscast on weekdays, though as with most of Hearst's other ABC affiliates in the Central and Mountain Time Zones, WISN runs a two-minute news and weather update before its noon telecast of ABC's The Chew. The station utilizes two weather radars as part of its "Doppler 12 Radar Network", using radar sites based at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sullivan, and atop Froedtert's Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls, which is operated by the station.

Longtime anchor Jerry Taff retired in May 2005, as WISN's newscasts began to climb in the ratings. Its success stems from hiring popular local anchors and reporters released from other stations, a stronger ABC schedule, and a period of change at rival WTMJ-TV due to NBC's weaker ratings and changes in its newsroom staff. The station's biggest hire came when longtime WTMJ anchor Mike Gousha joined channel 12 in 2007, a year after he retired as WTMJ's evening news anchor in order to focus on his new position as a distinguished fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University.[24] Gousha currently serves as a political analyst for WISN, and hosts the Sunday morning program UpFront with Mike Gousha, which is a mix of the interview segments familiar to viewers of his former WTMJ program Sunday Night, and local political analysis.[25] Hearst has syndicated the show to other stations statewide, and in August 2010 all of the stations involved (along with Milwaukee Public Television, which provided technical assistance with HD production) broadcast a Gousha-moderated forum for the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidates called the "UpFront Town Hall Challenge" from Marquette's new law building, which was purposefully structured to avoid classification as a traditional debate where either candidate could use the format to "sell" themselves. The format was repeated in October 2010 between the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and U.S. Senate.

WISN has gradually expanded its newscast schedule since 2007, and is unusual in programming hour-long newscasts, starting that year with a Sunday at 10 p.m. broadcast and for a time, an hour-long Saturday 6 p.m. newscast (the 6:30 p.m. half-hour currently features either On the Money or 12 Sports Saturday). On July 30, 2010, WISN, like most of its ABC-affiliated sister stations under Hearst did on that date, added a one-hour extension of its weekend morning newscast from 8-9 a.m. On September 6, 2010, WISN expanded its weekday morning newscast a half-hour early to 4:30 a.m., extending the program to 2½ hours.[26]

On April 21, 2009, the station began using full-time pillarboxing with the station logo and callsign on the respective sides of the screen for newscasts and other standard definition programming.[27] Afterwards, the station began to slowly implement 16:9 graphical elements; in March 2010, WISN-TV unveiled 16:9-optimized weather alert graphics to allow programs to continue to be shown in HD rather than force a downscale to a modified 4:3 mode in which the program was displayed in 3:3 (to much viewer complaint over the years, especially with ABC primetime programming), with the weather warnings taking up the remainder of the screen. News tickers and logo bugs were also later upgraded; the only HD news segments until late June 2011 aired on its newscasts the day of the Summerfest "Big Bang" fireworks show, usually scenic and human interest pieces, along with Milwaukee Public Television co-productions. On October 10, 2010, the station began broadcasting its newscasts in 16:9 widescreen standard definition, with the pillarboxes being removed. Then on June 28, 2011, WISN-TV became the third station in Milwaukee (behind WTMJ-TV and WITI) to begin broadcasting its newscasts in high definition. Footage shot in-studio is broadcast in HD, while all news video from on-remote locations was initially upconverted to widescreen standard definition for broadcast. Since 2012, the station has upgraded its mobile units and field cameras to HD as equipment has needed replacement. In May 2013, the station unveiled its first HD skycam, overlooking the downtown Cathedral Square Park.

On January 24, 2011, WISN-TV expanded its 10 p.m. newscast to one hour (becoming the third Hearst-owned station with an hour-long late local newscast, along with Albuquerque's KOAT and Honolulu's KITV).[28] This bumped Access Hollywood from its longtime 10:30 p.m. slot to 12:30 a.m., resulting in NBCUniversal Television Distribution asking for an opt-out from the program's syndication contract with WISN to move Access, ending up on WTMJ at 6:30 p.m. on April 11, 2011[29] (Access aired at 1:37 a.m. from January 2013 until September 2014 due to WTMJ's January 2013 relaunch of its 6:30 p.m. newscast as the newsmagazine Wisconsin Tonight; it now airs on WITI weeknights at 11:35 p.m.).

Notable former on-air staff


  1. ^ "Hearst acquires WTVW (TV) Milwaukee; NBC buys WKNB-TV New Britain, Conn." Broadcasting - Telecasting, January 10, 1955, pg. 7. [4]
  2. ^ a b c Golembiewski, Dick (2008). Milwaukee Television History: The Analog Years. Marquette University Press. pp. 213–270.  
  3. ^ "Milwaukee stations to switch networks." Broadcasting, January 30, 1961, pg. 9. [5]
  4. ^ "In Brief." Broadcasting, September 27, 1976, pg. 28. [6] (the text incorrectly states that WISN-TV had been a CBS affiliate since 1954, omitting the 1961 affiliation switch.)
  5. ^ , October 18, 1976, pg. 36Broadcasting"Milwaukee connection."
  6. ^ Dudek, Duane (21 March 2014). "Hello again, Milwaukee: The little TV jingle that will not die".  
  7. ^
  8. ^ Accord puts Channel 6 weather, news on Clear Channel radio stations, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 24, 2009.
  9. ^ Foxx tells 'Idol' contestants 'the real deal', Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 29, 2009.
  10. ^ Veteran WISN Reporter Nick Bohr Heckled by Protestors in Madison, TVSpy, February 22, 2011.
  11. ^ Kirchen, Rich (10 July 2012). – -for.html "Channel 12 stays on Time Warner Cable – for now" .  
  12. ^ Dudek, Duane (10 July 2012). "Battles between cable systems, broadcasters alienating viewers".  
  13. ^ Dudek, Duane (11 July 2012). "WISN-TV disputes Time Warner's 'blackout' assertions". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Dudek, Duane (12 July 2012). "WISN-TV off Time Warner Cable midnight Thursday". Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  15. ^ RabbitEars TV Query for WISN
  16. ^ "Facebook status: We can't wait to launch our new "Movies! Milwaukee" network on August 4!". WISN-TV via  
  17. ^ "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24. 
  18. ^ CDBS Print
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Brewer games to air on Spanish network and WISN-TV, Milwaukee Business Journal, February 10, 2003.
  23. ^ Station press release (9 August 2011). "WISN 12 To Launch Distinctive New Live Sports Show On Aug. 20 'Big 12 Sports Saturday With 540 ESPN' A Collaboration Between Stations". Retrieved 29 November 2011. 
  24. ^ Michael R. Gousha - Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy
  25. ^ UpFront with Mike Gousha
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ WISN-TV expands 10 p.m. news to one hour, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 14, 2010. Retrieved 12-15-2010.
  29. ^ OnMedia: Channel 4 drops its 6:30 news,, March 24, 2011.
  30. ^ "John Coleman bio".  
  31. ^ "Ben Tracy biography".  

External links

  • Official website
  • Query the FCC's TV station database for WISN
  • BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WISN-TV
  • Program Information for WISN at
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