LET’S RATE Milwaukee TV Station Logos of the 1990s

All logos courtesy of Logopedia

I grew up in Milwaukee, which is what I tell people who are not from Wisconsin. Because people who are actually from Wisconsin will be able to figure out that in reality, I grew up in an exurb in one of the surrounding counties, inhabited largely by white Republicans who have convinced themselves that Milwaukee is the scariest place in the world (with the exception of nearby Chicago, which is alleged to be a next-level hellscape where every day is Purge Day).

But I did grow up close enough to Milwaukee to watch their broadcast television. And I watched a lot of television as a child. Even today, the old station logos, long since replaced with more contemporary designs, fill me with an intoxicating nostalgia. Because—as I cannot stress enough—WordPress posting privileges for the Avocado allow me to post LITERALLY ANY SELF-INDULGENT THING THAT POPS INTO MY HEAD, let us put the iconography of my youth under the microscope. I am not a professional graphic designer and have had no schooling in the subject, but it is—to coin a phrase—my passion.

WTMJ-4 (NBC)

We start at the top of the dial with a perfect encapsulation of respectable ‘90s graphic design. Nothing could say The Clinton Years more clearly than this, I feel. The almost imperceptible pointed serifs on “TODAY’S”, the navy blue on gray, the slight drop shadow, the beveling on the “sailboat 4,” and the 4 itself, a futuristically sharp line cutting through. (Designers were always putting lines through letters and numbers in the ‘80s and ‘90s, as though it were futuristic.) The “Today’s TMJ 4” branding was meant to project the station’s news department as an oasis of comforting stability,1 and this logo really bears that out. Don’t you feel safe, seeing this logo? One look tells you, “Good news! According to Francis Fukuyama, it is the End of History! There are, of course, still events happening, but we will tell you about them. You can respond with a thin frown of acknowledgement and then go on with being a Baby Boomer Master of the Universe!” Rating: A-

WITI-6 (CBS/FOX)

This logo, from WITI’s days as a CBS affiliate, is so dated as to be endearing. One imagines this being a product of the station owners asking the design firm, “Yes, but can it be shinier?” You truly believe this is a three-dimensional object, molded out of orange plastic and polished obsessively. The shape is quaint and attractive but perhaps outdated by the ‘90s and does not project much in the way of identity. Grade: B-

Then, around ‘94 or so, a whole bunch of business things happened that are no clearer to me now with 25 years’ hindsight and a Wikipedia summary. But as a result, a bunch of the network affiliations in Milwaukee shuffled around and Fox jumped from 24 to 6, heralded by this striking design. With its bold typographical elements (based around the interesting coincidence that FOX and SIX are both three-letter words that end in an X, you see) and flat typography-based design, this looks fairly modern even today, a bit like a British tabloid. Sincerely, I think it does a good job communicating the change to the legions of old timers fumbling with the clicker trying to find their shows. “Where the hell is Fox? I gotta watch my COPS! Wait! Ah yes, I remember now! Fox…is Six.Grade: A

WMVS-10 and WMVT-36 (PBS)

These are simple and to the point, classy without being splashy. If the designs were fussier, the tight-fisted public television supporters of the greater Milwaukee area would sneer about their money evidently gone to waste on a fancy logo; if they were simpler, the same people would harrumph, “For what I pay in donations, you’d think they could spring for something a little nicer…” So behold: the perfect, functional middle ground. Grade: B

WISN-12 (ABC)

Fucking terrifying. Surprisingly not the logo of an evil corporation from a dystopian ‘80s science fiction film, WISN uses this undeniably striking design to this very day. The unique shape of these assembled stylized metallic strips combine to transform a common, unassuming number into a single glyph of ruthless intimidating power. Imagine a 12 stamping on a human face—forever. Grade: A-

WVTV-18 (independent)

Now this is where it’s at. Channel 18 was not just a humble independent station but a “superstation” carried by almost every cable provider in Wisconsin and even a few in other Midwestern states, showing movies and syndicated programs and sports. Consequently, they could not just have some title card logo; they needed opulence. And they got it! This logo is prime late-‘80s-early-‘90s design, with shiny gold letters and numbers, the “Super” at a jaunty little angle and best of all, that red lase-pen scribble at the top. Sure, you can claim this is not so much the “best” graphic design so much as it’s the “most” graphic design. But when you’re a kid, they are often one and the same. Grade: A+

(Super 18 would go on to become an affiliate of the fledgling WB network and get a perfunctory logo with the WB shield and the station’s numbers and letters. It is such a step down it is not even worth it to include.)

WCGV-24 (Fox/UPN/independent)

Like the 4, 6, and 12 logos, this one uses the trick of slicing lines into the number, but this one is almost more military stencil than outmoded futurism. It’s fine, not exciting. 24 was originally an independent station but became a Fox affiliate as soon as the opportunity presented itself. They make the Fox logo prominent in their logo; perhaps they were proud. Grade: C+

Fox flew the coop for channel 6, but 24 would show them! They’d become a UPN affiliate! With exciting programming like Voyager! And Shasta McNasty! Wave of the future, baby! Anyway, this is garbage, obviously. Grade: D-

That whole UPN thing kind of fizzled out, which led to a new logo that does away with the sad little geometric shapes. This has a couple of eye-catching and tasteful design elements yet remained unobtrusive when it was in the corner of the screen. Perhaps this was an apology for sticking their previous hideous logo on Simpsons reruns for so long. Grade: B-

WDJT-58 (CBS)

You might be thinking, “Jeez, couldn’t they find a better-quality screengrab for Logopedia?” And the answer is no, because Channel 58 used to have the absolute worst signal quality. It must have been quite the indignity for the venerable CBS network to get kicked down to the fuzzy-pictured bottom of the dial by disreputable upstart Fox. Anyhoo, this logo looks like it was built off a template in some desktop publishing software from the ’90s where you just type in the number and it renders the whole thing for you. It is not so clumsy and amateurish as the UPN 24 logo, but nothing to get excited about. Grade: C-

Ooh, this is fun! Are we getting the local news or going on an all-inclusive Carnival cruise? Charmingly festive where the Today’s TMJ 4 logo is sober and dignified, this logo warmly invites your parents to check out this new Everybody Loves Raymond show. Who wants a margarita? It’s five o’clock somewhere! Grade: B