Iowa TV Affiliate Guide

(or, "Who Cares About Keosauqua?")

(click to skip text and go to table)

Living on a hill in Tama County is a nice thing when you don't have cable. (At least, it used to be - see September 2010 note on this page.) With a rooftop antenna, signals from both the eastern Iowa and Des Moines TV stations come in. When one area goes wall-to-wall weather, or KCRG gets stuck with a bad Big Ten game, the other area is available. One day, just flipping around, I came across a fuzzy transmission of KIMT - the CBS affiliate in Mason City. Now, according to the weather map, that signal was supposed to stop around New Hartford, but it made it into Tama County.

And it made me wonder: Where do Iowans get their television? What counties does each network affiliate encompass in its area? The same area won't necessarily have the same boundaries. This question isn't just for border towns like Lansing and Larchwood; this question also applies to places like Humboldt, Carroll, and What Cheer. Does Tipton prefer news from Cedar Rapids or Davenport? Just where do people in Van Buren County - left out of the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport viewing areas - get their news? I may not be able to find out which station people in a town prefer, but I can learn what is available.

The best way to find out is by looking at their weather maps. Often the counties will be shown during a rundown of the day's temperatures; KCRG is a great example and KCCI sometimes is. Other times you may have to wait for severe weather, when the lower-left corner of the screen shows you the counties. Sometimes the station's website will show a similar map - WQAD and KELO lead here. As you can see, much of this requires first-hand experience of the station. Throughout the 2000s, KGAN showed a county outline precisely once, but a 2008 severe weather map showed a much-smaller area.

These lines aren't set in stone. Since 2000 counties have been added or deleted in the Des Moines area, sometimes multiple times. In October 2004, KWWL appeared to have done a massive truncation - for a while the lines were still on the map, but now they're universally gone. (Or were, until the summer of 2008, when the old map came back to take up an eighth of the screen during severe weather.) It might be a bow to logic, since I can't really envision some in southeast Iowa using a Waterloo station as the primary NBC affiliate. Such additions and deletions are marked with numerical footnotes. Cable providers' choices as to which stations to carry may also factor into changes - although the reverse may also be true, that carried stations don't include that area. (Buffalo Center, in Winnebago County 55 miles northwest of Mason City, offers both KELO and WHO!)

I tried to list the stations in order based on inference of what each county might consider its "primary" station, by educated guess, area websites, or even a town's cable listings. Usually when the border overlaps I give the county to the nearer area; thus all those shared by Des Moines and Omaha I consider in Omaha's sphere. Grant and Crawford counties in southwest Wisconsin and Jo Daviess County, Illinois, are had been universally covered by the eastern Iowa affiliates, hence their inclusion on the maps. Eastern Iowa's numbers of 2, 7, and 9 are identical to the batch used by three of Chicago's four main TV stations (WBBM, WLS, and WGN) and the fourth (5, WMAQ) is used in central Iowa.

KDLT had been based off not a station map, but "antenna map" showing strength and coverage by various antennas, but had a map on its website by late 2008. Until 2008, the KTTC map was based on a screen capture advertising their "Desktop Alert," a source I used in spite of the fact it doesn't work on a Mac. At least it let me in the door as opposed to some other stations, which didn't let me try at all. ("This feature is not supported for your system configuration" is often code for "We don't care about Mac users.")

"Bonus" stations: KEYC, a CBS affiliate in Mankato, Minnesota, includes counties in Iowa all the way down to Pocahontas and Humboldt (or it did), overlapping with KMEG on five and KIMT on five. While most of the stations come in threes, there is not an NBC or CBS station in the Mankato area to do the same. I didn't even know about this station until I came across it in Spencer during my March 2003 road trip. There are also two TV stations based in La Crosse, Wisconsin: WXOW (ABC) and WKBT (CBS). The former added its counties onto its Web site weather maps. Compared to the other stations around Iowa, its coverage area is rather small; I suspect that both La Crosse stations serve as stronger signals for those points where other stations (e.g. Minneapolis, Cedar Rapids, Madison) run low. Elkader cable offers WKBT, but Clayton County isn't officially included there.

Different stations owned by the same company will use identical branding. For example, the "Eyewitness News/I See" lines and logo design were identical for KCAU (Sioux City), WOI (Des Moines), and WHBF (Quad Cities) in the middle of the past decade. But only one station per area gets to use "Your 24 Hour News and Weather Source" (e.g. KCRG and WHO). (Weather is big in Iowa. Stations joust over the capacity of their radars. The classic "What's Bugging Andy: Doppler Wars" from WHO took this head-on. As the decade went on, though, this emphasis diminished.)

Despite all my research, some boundaries are still indeterminate. Although news from a nearby county may sometimes be included in newscasts, tables and maps are limited to official areas. Good reception may not be available in the entire county. (So the Minnesota stations may glance at Franklin County, and WGEM may have news from Burlington, but those aren't official.)

Bonus note: The antenna towers for KCAU, KCCI, WOI/WHO, KWWL, and KDLT, all at 2000 feet, are tied for fourth fifth place in the list of the world's tallest land-based structures. KDLT's tower, half a mile north of the Iowa line, is the tallest structure in South Dakota; the rest are in Iowa.

Double bonus note: The switch to digital television ends the era of "Channel 6 on the radio." Because 87.7 FM is also within the range of VHF Channel 6, a "simulcast" enabled you to hear the station in your car with the volume turned up. This blog entry from WJBF, a Channel 6 station in Augusta GA, made it pretty clear that my days of hearing the news on WOWT, KAAL, and KWQC when I'm on a road trip in those areas is over. (WOWT and KWQC also have "Jeopardy". Another bummer.) It's really for historical reasons, then, that I listened to 87.7 on Labor Day weekend 2008, seeing how far some signals carried. WOWT's signal stayed available all the way to Pocahontas, where the weakening sounds of "NBC Nightly News" began to duel with KAAL's transmission of Alliant Energy's "PowerHouse" - and neither station officially includes Pocahontas County. KWQC was easy to about Iowa City, and then died in good conditions around the Iowa County line.

Update, August 2006: Due to extremely high humidity on July 17, 2006, I was able to watch KIMT and KTTC from Tama County, though KTTC's signal degraded before the noon weather. But that's not all; the night before, a fuzzy signal came in on Channel 6, but it wasn't KAAL - it was WITI, the Fox affiliate in Milwaukee. That's got to be some sort of record.

Update, September 2010: Who would have thought that the simple lead-in at the top of this page would be rendered inaccurate and irrelevant as a victim of the times? The first factor, of course, is digital television, which is an unmitigated disaster for rural Americans using antennas. Forget KIMT; now it's impossible to get KGAN. The rest are marginally better, if you don't count the facts that one TV can't go an hour without getting digital artifacts and the other only can get two stations, three on a good day.

The second factor is the worst thing to happen to college football since the corporate takeover of bowl names: The Big Ten Network. With - or more precisely, without - the BTN, this is what the noon hour on a Saturday in late September looks like across six stations: Infomercial, infomercial, golf, infomercial, infomercial, golf. ABC lost its 11 AM game, and neither KGAN nor Fox stations carry a game as part of "ESPN Plus" programming. So add two more infomercials to the rundown if you throw in KFXA and KDSM.

The third factor is not unrelated to the second: Nebraska abandoning century-long rivals and jumping ship to the Big Ten - um, Big Eleven - um, Big Twelve, no wait, that's taken - um, Big Television. On many Saturday afternoons in the late 1990s and 2000s, the Cedar Rapids/Des Moines markets marked the dividing line between Big Ten and Big 12 games. See, for example, here and especially here. It is quite possible that in the new conference landscape, aside from marquee matchups, it will be next to impossible to catch a Big 12 game on ABC anywhere in Iowa. "But Iowa State's still in the Big 12," you say. Well, among the many things Iowa State learned in the Big 12 Missile Crisis, one is that playing second fiddle in your own media market makes you about as popular and desirable as a telethon.

In addition to the table below, I have also created outline maps and one shaded map marking the number of stations per county. They have been placed on this page. Also on that page is a listing of dates each station began broadcasting.

Data compiled as follows (with some duplication for confirmation): Personal experience: All Eastern Iowa and Des Moines-various 2000-2008, KIMT-2000 and 2006, Quad Cities-January 2000, KEYC and KSFY-March 2003; Neil Bratney: Omaha-2003; Kurt Berge: KELO, KSFY, Sioux City; Station websites: KDLT, KWQC, KELO, KMEG, KTTC, WXOW, KEYC, KTVO, WGEM, WQAD, KAAL, KTTC; Upper Midwest Broadcasting website: KHQA, WHBF, KTVO (only 100% definitive on first two); Owen McCormick: WKBT, KTVO, WGEM; Jason Hancock: Quad Cities; Rich Piehl: KHQA and WGEM

Area network numbers (ABC-CBS-NBC): Sioux Falls 13-11-5; Omaha 7-3-6; Sioux City 9-14-4; Des Moines 5-8-13; Mason City/Rochester 6-3-10; Eastern Iowa 9-7-2; Quad Cities 8-4-6; Southeast Iowa 3-7-10; and oddballs 8, 12, and 19. According to Wikipedia, of Iowa's six main markets (and thus 18 stations), 10 affiliates carried DuMont programming at some point in the 1950s. But everything old is new again: KHQA and KTVO are essentially picking up the other's slack for coverage in southeast Iowa. The former is CBS 7.1 and ABC 7.2, while the latter is ABC 3.1 and CBS 3.2. (However, I have no idea how their weather maps act.)

Colors correspond to the outline maps. For purposes of this table and maps, Kirksville/Ottumwa and Keokuk/Hannibal/Quincy colors are combined. Listings are as of December 2008 August 2014, but with the switch to digital television all bets are off. In the words of Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico, "The government can do a lot of things, but you mess up people's televisions, and they're going to be very upset."

County (footnote) ABC CBS NBC
Adair WOI KCCI WHO
Adams (5) KETV, WOI KMTV, KCCI WHO
Allamakee WXOW, KCRG KGAN, WKBT KTTC, KWWL
Appanoose KTVO, WOI KCCI WHO
Audubon (5) KETV, WOI KMTV, KCCI WHO
Benton KCRG KGAN KWWL
Black Hawk KCRG KGAN KWWL
Boone WOI KCCI WHO
Bremer KCRG KGAN, KIMT KWWL
Buchanan KCRG KGAN KWWL
Buena Vista (1) KCAU KMEG, KELO KTIV, KDLT
Butler KCRG KGAN, KIMT KWWL, KTTC
Calhoun (4) KCAU, WOI KCCI KTIV, WHO
Carroll (5) KETV, KCAU, WOI KMTV, KCCI KTIV, WHO
Cass (1) KETV, WOI KMTV, KCCI* WOWT, WHO
Cedar KCRG, WQAD KGAN, WHBF KWWL, KWQC
Cerro Gordo KAAL KIMT KTTC
Cherokee (1) KCAU KMEG, KELO KTIV, KDLT
Chickasaw KCRG KGAN, KIMT KWWL, KTTC
Clarke WOI KCCI WHO
Clay KCAU, KSFY KMEG, KELO, KEYC KTIV, KDLT
Clayton KCRG KGAN KWWL
Clinton (3) (4) WQAD, KCRG WHBF KWQC
Crawford (1) KETV, KCAU KMTV, KMEG WOWT, KTIV
Dallas WOI KCCI WHO
Davis (1) (7) KTVO, WOI, KCRG KCCI* WHO
Decatur WOI KCCI WHO
Delaware KCRG KGAN KWWL
Des Moines WQAD WHBF KWQC
Dickinson KCAU, KSFY KMEG, KELO, KEYC KTIV, KDLT
Dubuque (6) KCRG KGAN KWWL, KWQC
Emmet KCAU, KSFY KMEG, KELO, KEYC KTIV, KTTC
Fayette (4) KCRG KGAN KWWL, KTTC
Floyd KAAL, KCRG KIMT KWWL, KTTC
Franklin WOI, KCRG KIMT, KCCI KWWL, WHO, KTTC
Fremont KETV KMTV WOWT
Greene WOI KCCI WHO
Grundy (1) (2) KCRG KGAN, KCCI* KWWL
Guthrie WOI KCCI WHO
Hamilton WOI KCCI WHO
Hancock KAAL KIMT, KEYC KTTC
Hardin (3) WOI, KCRG KCCI WHO
Harrison KETV, KCAU KMTV, KMEG WOWT, KTIV
Henry (3) WQAD, KCRG, KTVO WHBF KWQC
Howard KAAL, KCRG KIMT KTTC, KWWL
Humboldt (4) WOI KIMT, KCCI WHO
Ida (1) KCAU KMEG KTIV
Iowa KCRG KGAN KWWL
Jackson WQAD, KCRG WHBF KWQC, KWWL
Jasper (3) WOI KCCI WHO
Jefferson (3) (6) (7) KTVOKCRG
Johnson (6) KCRG, WQAD KGAN, WHBF KWWL, KWQC
Jones KCRG, WQAD KGAN KWWL, KWQC
Keokuk KCRG, WOI KGAN KWWL
Kossuth (1) (7) KIMT, KEYC, KCCI KTTC, WHO
Lee (6) WQAD KHQA KWQC, WGEM
Linn KCRG KGAN KWWL
Louisa (3) WQAD, KCRG WHBF KWQC
Lucas WOI KCCI WHO
Lyon KSFY, KCAU KELO, KMEG KDLT, KTIV
Madison WOI KCCI WHO
Mahaska WOI, KCRG KCCI WHO
Marion WOI KCCI WHO
Marshall (3) WOI, KCRG KCCI WHO
Mills KETV KMTV WOWT
Mitchell KAAL KIMT KTTC, KWWL
Monona KETV, KCAU KMTV, KMEG WOWT, KTIV
Monroe KTVO, WOI KCCI WHO
Montgomery (1) KETV KMTV WOWT
Muscatine (3) WQAD, KCRG WHBF KWQC
O'Brien KCAU, KSFY KMEG, KELO KTIV, KDLT
Osceola KCAU, KSFY KMEG, KELO KTIV, KDLT
Page (1) KETV KMTV WOWT
Palo Alto (1) KCAU KMEG, KEYC KTIV
Plymouth KCAU KMEG, KELO KTIV, KDLT
Pocahontas (4) WOI KCCI, KMEG KTIV, WHO
Polk WOI KCCI WHO
Pottawattamie KETV KMTV WOWT
Poweshiek (3) KCRG, WOI KCCI WHO
Ringgold WOI KCCI WHO
Sac KCAU, WOI KMEG KTIV
Scott (4) WQAD, KCRG WHBF KWQC
Shelby (1) KETV, KCAU KMTV WOWT, KTIV
Sioux KCAU, KSFY KMEG, KELO KTIV, KDLT
Story WOI KCCI WHO
Tama (1) (2) KCRG, WOI KGAN, KCCI* KWWL, WHO
Taylor (5) KETV, WOI KMTV, KCCI WHO
Union WOI KCCI WHO
Van Buren KTVO KHQA WGEM
Wapello (1) (2) KTVO, WOI, KCRG KGAN, KCCI* WHO
Warren WOI KCCI WHO
Washington (6) KCRG, WQAD KGAN, WHBF KWWL, KWQC
Wayne WOI KCCI WHO
Webster WOI KCCI WHO
Winnebago (2) KAAL KIMT, KEYC KTTC
Winneshiek KCRG, WXOW KIMT, KGAN, WKBT KTTC, KWWL
Woodbury KCAU KMEG KTIV
Worth (4) KAAL KIMT KTTC
Wright WOI KCCI, KIMT WHO, KTTC

Link to TV map page (same as above)

* Station is currently being inconsistent or otherwise unclear in its inclusion of the county.

(1) KCCI dropped Buena Vista, Ida, Crawford, Shelby, Cass, Montgomery, and Page from the west side of the map, and Butler, Grundy, and Tama from the east side, between 2000 and 2002. Interestingly enough, Cass, Grundy, and Tama had been on the map in 1990; the station added a tier in three directions (above, below, and west) in the next decade and then slightly truncated the map again. For some reason, the station even added Kossuth and Palo Alto counties in 2004, and retains the former to this day. By the end of 2005 KCCI had brought back Buena Vista, Cass, Montgomery, Page, Grundy, and Tama plusWapello and Davis. In the years since, nearly all the counties on the east and west edges have been off and on, not on most of its maps but paid attention to during severe weather. The inset map in the tornado outbreak of late June-early July 2014 omitted Davis, Jefferson, and Wapello, technically leaving those three without a CBS affiliate at all except for the new subchannel at KTVO (which may be precisely why they have been omitted). Amusingly, the inclusion of Kossuth County makes it look like that weather map is giving the viewer the finger.

(2) WHO dropped Mercer County, MO (!) and added Grundy and Tama between 2000 and 2002; in 2004 it added Wapello and Kossuth; in 2005 it added Cass, Davis, Taylor, and even Crawford for some reason, making a total of 41 counties, but has since dropped Crawford, Grundy and Tama. WOI added Buena Vista, Grundy, and Tama between 1999 and 2002. As of 2014 Sac and Tama are in but BV and Grundy are out.

(3) KWWL expunged Marshall, Jasper, Poweshiek, Jefferson, Henry, Louisa, Muscatine, and Clinton simultaneously (!) in October 2004. This had happened once before but those counties were restored shortly thereafter. During Oct. 22-25, they were removed from all the maps, at the same time an oblique sky view of the area replaced the final forecast graphic. All those counties are covered in other areas, so it may signify a desire to not compete there. (At one time, Henry County may have been included on nine stations. Jason Hancock points out that if that were the case, Henry County would be served by TWO affiliates on Channel 7 - KHQA and KWWL. "There'd be a lot of interference in Mount Pleasant if that was the case.") It should be noted that in 1991, residents in Hardin and Franklin counties raised a stink when Heritage Cablevision tried to drop KWWL and KCRG and make them watch Des Moines stations - and/but in the mid-2000s, KWWL eliminated Hardin County from its maps. Those interested in having a choice should live in the town of Hampton, whose cable offerings include eight stations from three markets (channels 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 13). Conversely, it might not be a good site for "change of venue" in a trial to avoid media coverage.

(4) KEYC dropped Humboldt, Pocahontas, and Worth in 2005. KMEG dropped Calhoun and three counties in southern Minnesota in 2005, picked Calhoun up later, and then dropped it again. KCRG dropped Clinton and Scott when it adopted new weather graphics in November 2006, but they have returned. Aside from that, its map has been remarkably consistent and expansive. KIMT dropped Fayette in early 2008 (ruining the nearly symmetrical "county box" it had in Iowa), but KTTC picked it up, along with Butler, Franklin, and Wright (yet didn't add Bremer - weird).

(5) WOWT pulled back on its easternmost Iowa counties (Adams, Audubon, Carroll, and Taylor) between 2007 and 2014. KMTV still has them. A county-specific map for KETV was not available in mid-2014.

(6) WQAD's maps were inconsistent on Dubuque, Lee, and Washington counties in the 2000s, but currently are no-yes-yes on coverage there. A weather bulletin on the website at the end of July 2006 supposedly listed every county under a heat advisory, but did NOT include Johnson and Jones in addition to the three aforementioned counties, nor did it include Jo Daviess IL and Stephenson IL, which are along the Wisconsin line. In 2007, WHBF added Johnson, Washington and Jefferson, possibly a side effect of a dispute between Mediacom and Sinclair Communications, owners of KGAN.

(7) Jefferson County is the odd man out of station coverage. Ironically, KWWL's elimination of Jefferson County, and then WHBF's short-lived pick-up and drop-off of same, has left it without either an official CBS or NBC affiliate, although it has KTVO's CBS subchannel. Cable offerings in Fairfield include WHO and WGEM, though neither put it on weather maps, and also KGAN/WHBF and KCRG/KTVO - meaning at least one station from four different markets. Bloomfield (Davis County) cable includes all three Des Moines stations and KTVO, though it's only been recently that that county has been added to the maps. As for Kossuth County, KAAL's strict adherence to the Rochester market, at least on its website, leaves that county without an official ABC station. (But WHO makes a special effort to include it. Go figure.)

Also, here's what's in southern Minnesota - if they aren't watching stations out of the Twin Cities:

Bottom tier (west-east) ABC CBS NBC
Rock KSFY KELO KDLT
Nobles KSFY KEYC, KELO KDLT
Jackson KSFY KEYC, KELO  
Martin   KEYC KTTC
Faribault   KIMT, KEYC KTTC
Freeborn KAAL KIMT, KEYC KTTC
Mower KAAL KIMT KTTC
Fillmore KAAL, WXOW KIMT, WKBT KTTC
Houston WXOW WKBT KTTC, WEAU

Page last updated 8/23/14

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