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An independent station is television terminology used to describe a television station broadcasting in the United Statesmarker or Canadamarker that is not affiliated with any network. The equivalent in radio is indie radio.


During the 1950s and 1960s, independent stations filled their broadcast hours with movies, sports, cartoons, newsreels, filmed travelogues, and some locally-produced programs, including newscasts. Independents on the air during this period would sign on at times later than network-affiliated stations, some in the middle of the morning.

Another source of programming became available to independent stations by the mid-1960s: Reruns of network programs which, after completing their initial runs, were sold into syndication.

By the start of the 1970s, independent stations typically aired children's programming in the morning and afternoon, and movies and other adult-oriented shows (some stations aired paid religious programs) during middays. They counter-programmed local network stations' news programs with syndicated reruns—usually sitcoms and hour-long dramas—in the early evening, and movies during prime time and late-night hours. In some areas, independents carried network programs that were not aired on a local affiliate.

In larger markets such as New York Citymarker, Chicagomarker, and Los Angelesmarker, independent stations benefited from a Federal Communications Commission ruling barring network-affiliated stations within the top 50 television markets from airing network-originated programs in the two hours preceding prime time. What was known as the Prime Time Access Rule was in effect from 1971 to 1995, and as a result independents faced less competition for syndicated reruns.

In the 1980s, television syndicators began offering original, first-run programming -- series such as Fame, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Star Search and Star Trek: The Next Generation, and made-for-television movies and miniseries like Sadat -- and this trend primarily benefited independent stations. Independents scheduled these first-run programs during prime time and on weekends. Some stations in larger markets ventured into local news broadcasts, usually at 10:00 p.m. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, and 9:00 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones. Network stations aired their late newscasts an hour later.

More than 300 independent stations existed in the United States in the mid-1980s. Many belonged to the Association of Independent Television Stations, a group similar to the National Association of Broadcasters, and which lobbied the FCC on behalf of independents.

In the United States, many independent stations were commonly-owned. Companies that operated three or more independents included:

In 1986, several groups of independents, led by the Metromedia stations, formed the Fox Broadcasting Company, the fourth U.S. broadcast-television network. Many affiliates, however, still filled its broadcast hours with independent-like programming as Fox only programmed two hours a day, leaving over 20 hours daily for syndicated shows. Fox still only offers two hours of programming on weekdays.


True independent stations have become rare. In 1995, many remaining independent stations formed the WB and UPN networks, and other stations banded together for the Pax (now ION Television) network in 1998. Several stations affiliated with The WB and UPN became independent again when the networks merged to form the CW Television Network in September 2006. Some of the newly-independent stations subsequently found a new network home through My Network TV. Similar to Fox affiliates, however, many such stations still behave much like independents, as they program far more hours a day than an affiliate of the Big Three television networks.

Current independents follow a very different program format from their predecessors. While sitcoms are still popular, expanded newscasts and other syndicated product such as talk shows, courtroom shows, and paid programs such as infomercials and Christian religious programs have replaced children's shows and movies.

A list of notable U.S. independent stations, past and present

(a partial listing; bold text denotes a current independent station)

A list of notable Canadian independent stations, past and present

While independent stations were not as common in Canadamarker, there were several notable examples of such:

Since the mid-1990s, most independent television stations in Canada have merged into television systems, such as Citytv or A, or have become fully owned-and-operated network stations. However, this trend was partially reversed in 2009 with the demise of Canwest's E! television system, which resulted in three of its stations (Hamiltonmarker's CHCH, Montrealmarker's CJNT, and Victoriamarker's CHEK) becoming independent.

CHCH, CHEK and Toronto's CKXT are the only television stations in Canada currently operating as an independent station in the American sense of the term. CJNT is a multicultural station airing a mix of foreign films, locally-produced ethnic programming and English-language music videos. CJON in St. John's, while officially unaffiliated with a network, in practice airs a mix of programming sublicensed from Canada's commercial networks rather than purchasing broadcast rights independently. The independent stations that do still exist in Canada are mostly community-oriented specialty stations, such as CFTV-TV in Leamington, Ontario, CFTU-TVmarker in Montreal, and CHCT-TV in St. Andrews, New Brunswickmarker, which do not target a general entertainment audience.

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