It was front-page news in 1992 when WBBM-Channel 2 snatched the nightly Illinois lottery drawings away from WGN-Channel 9 and moved them to the middle of the 10 o'clock news.
Bill Applegate, who was vice president and general manager of Channel 2 at the time, figured that by airing the live drawings during a commercial break, he could increase the ratings for his late news.
As much as staffers hated the idea of jazzing up the news with flashing lights and models in slinky evening gowns pulling the winning lottery numbers, the gamble paid off: Within a few months, the CBS-owned station jumped from third place in the ratings to a tie for first.
Not long after that, Applegate moved on, Channel 2 returned to third place, and Channel 9 won back the broadcast rights to the nightly lottery drawings (where they've remained ever since).
Memories of that episode were recalled last week when Channel 9 nailed Applegate for "stealing" the lottery drawing again.
Applegate, who now runs WOIO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Cleveland, picked up Channel 9's live broadcast of the multistate Mega Millions drawing with a jackpot of $239 million on Feb. 20. WOIO included a "Courtesy WGN" credit on the screen.
When Channel 9 heard about it, lawyers for owner Tribune Co. sprang into action.
"Your station had no right to intercept and broadcast WGN's signal, any more than WGN would have the right to lift material from WOIO without asking and carry it live in Chicago with a 'Courtesy WOIO' credit," lawyer Chuck Sennet wrote to Applegate on March 3.
"This is a matter over which the FCC has jurisdiction, and for which the commission has issued fines in the past. In addition, your company may have to answer to the producer of the multistate lottery that licenses drawing telecasts locally, to stations such as WGN."
Applegate declined to comment, but WOIO news director Steve Doerr told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that his station aired the lottery drawing under fair-use guidelines because it was a news story. "Someone provided a feed and we took it," he said.