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This article is about the NBC owned-and-operated television station in Chicago. For broadcast stations that previously used the WMAQ call sign, see WMAQ (disambiguation).
Chicago, Illinois
United States
Branding NBC 5 Chicago (general)
NBC 5 (secondary)
NBC 5 News (newscasts)
Slogan We Are Chicago
Channels Digital: 29 (UHF)
Virtual: 5 (PSIP)
Subchannels 5.1 NBC
5.2 Cozi TV
Affiliations NBC (O&O)
Owner NBCUniversal
(NBC Telemundo License LLC)
First air date October 8, 1948 (1948-10-08)
Call letters' meaning We Must Answer Questions
(Derived from former sister station WMAQ radio (now WSCR))
Sister station(s) Broadcast television: WSNS-TV
Comcast SportsNet Chicago
Former callsigns WNBQ (1948–1964)
Former channel number(s) Analog:
5 (VHF, 1948–2009)
Former affiliations DT2: NBC Weather Plus (2005–2008)
NBC Plus (2008–2012)
Transmitter power 350 kW
Height 508 m (1,667 ft)
Facility ID 47905
Transmitter coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Licensing authority FCC
Public license information: Profile
Website www.nbcchicago.com

WMAQ-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 29), is an NBC owned-and-operated television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations subsidiary of NBCUniversal, and is part of a duopoly with Telemundo station WSNS-TV (channel 44); it is also co-owned with regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago. WMAQ-TV maintains studio facilities and business offices at the NBC Tower on North Columbus Drive in the city's Streeterville neighborhood, and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop.


For the pre-1948 history of the station, see WMAQ (AM).

The station first signed on the air on October 8, 1948, under the call letters WNBQ. It was the fourth television station to sign on in the Chicago market (after WENR-TV (channel 7, now WLS-TV), which signed on three weeks earlier on September 17; WGN-TV (channel 9), which debuted six months earlier in April; WBKB (channel 4, now WBBM-TV on channel 2), which debuted in September 1946), and was the last of the city's four commercial VHF stations to launch.[1] It was also the third of NBC's five original owned-and-operated television stations to begin operations, after WNBT (now WNBC) in New York City (which signed on as a full-time commercial station in July 1941) and WNBW (now WRC-TV) in Washington, D.C. (which signed on in June 1947); WNBK (now WKYC) in Cleveland and KNBH (now KNBC) in Los Angeles did not sign on until October 31, 1948 and January 16, 1949, respectively. The station initially broadcast a minimum of two hours of programming per day.

Station camera in 1951. Singer-actress Connie Russell from Garroway at Large and her daughter are pictured.

Prior to the station's sign-on, the station originally was going to designate WNBY as its call letters; however at NBC's request, the Federal Communications Commission approved an application filed by the network to change the station's calls to WNBQ, a move that was announced on March 3, 1948. NBC officials cited the need to avoid possible confusion with WMAQ-AM-FM competitor WMBI (1110 AM) and to obtain a callsign that was closer to co-owned NBC Red Network radio station WMAQ (670 AM, frequency now occupied by WSCR; and 101.1 FM, now WKQX) as the reasoning for the change.[2] The station's first mid-week broadcast came the month following its sign-on, when Paul Winchell and Joseph Dunninger were featured on the NBC variety series, the Floor Show. The half-hour program was recorded via kinescope, and rebroadcast on WNBQ at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays.[3]

WMAQ-TV originated several programs for the NBC television network from its original studio facilities – a 170,000-square-foot (3.9-acre) studio on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart on the city's Near North Side – during the 1950s, including Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, featuring Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison; Garroway at Large, starring Dave Garroway; and "Studs' Place," hosted by Studs Terkel. Television critics referred to the broadcasts – often low-budget with few celebrity guests but a good deal of inventiveness – as examples of the "Chicago School of Television."[4][5]

The station installed equipment to produce and transmit its programming in color in late 1953; WNBQ's first notable color telecast occurred in January 1954, when the station broadcast NBC's telecast of the Rose Bowl parade in the format. Channel 5 aired its first local program to be broadcast in color, when John Ott's "How Does Your Garden Grow?" debuted in March 1955, which utilized time-lapse color film. On April 15, 1956, WNBQ became the first television station in the world to broadcast all of its programming in color, an event described by Broadcasting-Telecasting as "a daring breakthrough the black-and-white curtain", completing a project that cost more than $1.25 million to make the upgrades; the first color telecast from the station on that date was Wide, Wide World, which was transmitted to 110 NBC stations across the country.

File:WMAQ NBC 5 1993-1997.PNG
WMAQ-TV logo, used from 1992 to 1995.

Although NBC had long owned the WMAQ radio stations, the television station continued to maintain call letters separate from that used by its co-owned radio outlets; this changed on August 31, 1964, when the network changed the station's calls to WMAQ-TV.[6][7] The calls of its sister radio station were initially assigned by the government, but went on to form the phrase "We Must Ask Questions," which the radio station took on as its motto in the 1920s. Although the station's role as a program provider to NBC diminished in the 1960s, WMAQ-TV gathered and distributed more than 200 feeds of news footage per month from overseas and the central United States to NBC News.[8]

On December 3, 1985, NBC signed a $100 million+ agreement to lease office space in a three-story annex to the north of a planned 34-story, 1,000,000-square-foot (23-acre) skyscraper – a project developed by the Equitable Life Asssurance Society and Tishman-Speyer Properties – that would be constructed as part of the Cityfront Center development on the northwest corner of Columbus Drive and North Water Street, in which WMAQ-TV's operations would occupy 251,000 sq ft (5.8 acres) of the building; under the plans for the project, NBC was given the option of acquiring an approximately 25% interest in the building. On October 1, 1989, the station officially relocated its operations from the Merchandise Mart after 40 years and began broadcasting from the NBC Tower, located on 455 North Columbus Drive (the 19th floor of the Mart, six blocks west of the NBC Tower, has since been converted into office space).[9][10] Ratings for WMAQ-TV's newscasts overtook those of WBBM-TV in the 1980s, but the station could not dethrone market leader WLS-TV during the period.

On September 6, 2003, WMAQ agreed to lease 4,000 square feet (0.092 acres) of space at 401 North Michigan Avenue (one block east of the NBC Tower), with the intent to build a streetside studio for the Chicago market, the first to be used for live broadcasting purposes by a Chicago television station.[11] On February 26, 2004, WMAQ-TV garnered national attention when Katie Couric, Al Roker, and Lester Holt hosted the Today show on Cityfront Plaza to unveil the station's streetside studio (known as "Studio 5"). The station's morning and noon newscasts were broadcast from the Michigan Avenue facility until February 2013, when the studio was closed and the space within the 401 Michigan Avenue building was put up for sale, at which time production of both newscasts was moved back to the NBC Tower.[12][13]

Digital television

Digital channels

The station's digital channel is multiplexed:

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[14]
5.1 1080i 16:9 NBC 5 Main WMAQ-TV programming / NBC
5.2 480i COZI-TV Cozi TV

WMAQ-TV also maintains a Mobile DTV feed of digital subchannel 5.2 (labelled "NBCMobile"), which broadcasts at 1.83 Mbit/s.[15][16]


WMAQ launched digital subchannel 5.2 as a charter affiliate of NBC Weather Plus in January 2005; the network ceased national broadcasts on December 1, 2008, although the subchannel continued to utilize its local weather maps and traffic reports as NBC Plus afterward. "Raw" coverage of various live events, including Barack Obama's victory rally in Grant Park[17] and Governor Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial have also been carried on 5.2.[18] On November 1, 2010, WMAQ launched NBC Chicago Nonstop, a news and lifestyle network featuring local programming and programs produced by corporate sister LXTV;[19][20] NBC Nonstop was relaunched as Cozi TV, which soft-launched on December 20, 2012 (officially launching on January 1, 2013).[21][22]

Analog-to-digital conversion

WMAQ-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 5, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 29.[23] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 5.

From June 13 to July 12, 2009, WMAQ-TV had simulcast most of its newscasts as a contributor to WWME-CA (channel 23)'s analog lifeline service for the Chicago area, in an "unprecedented" four-station partnership. The "lifeline" programming provided on analog UHF channel 23 included WMAQ's weekday and Saturday morning, weeknight 6:00 p.m. and weekend 5:00 p.m. newscasts along with WGN-TV (channel 9)'s 9:00 p.m. newscast. The lifeline continued only as a simulcast of entertainment programming from WWME's sister station WCIU-TV (channel 26) until January 2011, when it switched to a simulcast of WCIU's "The U Too" subchannel.[24][25]


As typical for a network-owned station, WMAQ-TV generally carries the vast majority of the NBC network schedule. However, the station does not clear the entirety of NBC's weekday overnight lineup (pre-empting the network's rebroadcasts of the fourth hour of Today and CNBC's Mad Money), and airs the NBC Kids block on a one-hour delay due to the 9:00 a.m. hour of its Saturday morning newscast (which bookends the Saturday edition of Today), resulting in the third hour of the block being shifted to Sundays whenever network sports telecasts are scheduled on Saturdays during the 12:00 p.m. hour in order to meet FCC educational programming quotas. Syndicated programming broadcast by WMAQ-TV (as of September 2015) include The Meredith Vieira Show, Access Hollywood (all of which are distributed by corporate sister NBCUniversal Television Distribution), Extra and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[26] WMAQ-TV serves as the flagship station for Steve Harvey (see below).

Station oddities

  • For many years, WMAQ carried Days of Our Lives at 1:00 p.m., NBC's default Central Time Zone slot for the program; on September 8, 2014, the soap opera was moved one hour early to noon after the station's midday newscast moved to 11:00 a.m. on that date.
  • WMAQ-TV is one of four NBC owned-and-operated stations (along with sister stations WCAU in Philadelphia, WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. and KNSD in San Diego) that does not carry Access Hollywood Live. The talk show spin-off of Access Hollywood aired from the program's NBC O&O debut in September 2011 until September 2014, when all four stations dropped the program due to low local viewership in those markets.[27]
  • For many years, WMAQ and its sister Telemundo station WSNS-TV (beginning in 2003) aired the Chicago Auto Show preview show every First Week of February until 2015 when the Preview Show moved to ABC-owned station WLS-TV and Univision-owned station WGBO-DT.
  • On September 17, 2015, WMAQ-TV and the City of Chicago announced a partnership to broadcast the city's New Year's Eve celebrations entitled "Chi-Town Rising". Since its Inaugural event in 2015, The station serves as Official English Language carrier while Sister Telemundo station WSNS-TV serves as Official Spanish Language carrier of the event; because of its commitments to air the event, the station has had to reschedule NBC Late Night programs pre-empted or delayed by the telecast of the New Year's Eve event. [28]

Current syndicated programming produced in Chicago

  • Steve Harvey – nationally syndicated talk show produced at WMAQ-TV's NBC Tower studios, and syndicated by NBCUniversal Television Distribution

Former syndicated programming produced in Chicago

Other WMAQ-TV produced programs

  • 24/7 City Secrets (formerly 24/7 Chicago) – local lifestyle program hosted by Catie Keogh and Pete McMurray

Former WMAQ-TV produced programs

  • In the Loop with iVillage – national lifestyle program originally distributed exclusively to NBC owned-and-operated stations (with some NBC affiliates adding the show in its second season); WMAQ-TV assumed production responsibilities for the program from Miami sister station WTVJ in 2007. It aired locally weekdays at 11:00 a.m. until the program's cancellation on March 28, 2008.

Sports programming

In recent years, WMAQ-TV has carried select Chicago Bears preseason and regular season games; until NBC reestablished its relationship with the NFL with the network's acquisition of the Sunday Night Football package from ESPN in 2006, these marked the only NFL telecasts on the station following the loss of NBC's rights to the American Football Conference in 1998. Until the preseason game rights moved to WFLD in 2008, the station has had to reschedule NBC network programs pre-empted by the preseason and any cable-originated Bears telecasts, a situation atypical for a network-owned station outside of breaking news and severe weather coverage necessitating such situations. During the regular season, Bears games are rotated between WBBM-TV (through the NFL on CBS), WLS-TV and WCIU-TV (through Monday Night Football) and especially WFLD (through the NFL on Fox and select Thursday Night Football telecasts not carried by WBBM through CBS' rights to the package it shares with NFL Network).

From 2001 to 2002 and again since 2008, WMAQ has served as an official broadcaster of the Chicago Marathon, which is held annually in October; because of its commitments to air the event, the station has had to reschedule NBC News programs pre-empted or delayed by the telecast of the marathon.

From 2002 to 2008, WMAQ served as the official sponsor of the Chicago Blackhawks; the station displayed its in-rink advertisements during all of the NHL franchise's home games held at the United Center, until NBC reestablished its relationship with the NHL with the acquistion of the league's broadcast package from ESPN in 2005. WMAQ occasionally runs special editions of its newscasts or its highlight program Sports Sunday to cover Blackhawks games (notably the Blackhawks' victory in the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, 2013 and 2015) that are broadcast nationally by NBC or through their sister regional sports network Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

News operation

WMAQ-TV presently broadcasts 33½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours on weekdays, four hours on Saturdays and 4½ hours on Sundays); in addition, the station produces the half-hour sports highlight program Sports Sunday, which airs Sunday evenings after the 10:00 p.m. newscast.

File:WMAQ-NBC5 Sky5 Chopper.png
WMAQ's news helicopter, "Sky5".

WMAQ-TV's news department has helped to launch the national careers of Jane Pauley, Deborah Norville, CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel, HLN morning anchor Robin Meade, Maury Povich, PBS reporter Ray Suarez, and Access Hollywood and The Insider host Pat O'Brien.

The station gained notice in the market during the 1960s for its local newscasts, anchored by Floyd Kalber, John Palmer, Jim Ruddle and Jorie Lueloff, with weatherman Harry Volkman (later of WBBM-TV, WGN-TV and WFLD), sports reporter Johnny Morris, and commentator Len O'Connor. In 1975, Jane Pauley (who would later join the NBC network as co-anchor of Today) briefly served as co-anchor of the station's 10:00 p.m. newscast with Kalber. Carol Marin joined WMAQ-TV in 1978; Ron Magers followed in 1981. Magers and Deborah Norville (later host of Inside Edition) co-anchored the station's hour-long 4:30 p.m. newscast during the 1980s, and Magers and Marin co-anchored WMAQ-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscast until they both resigned within three weeks of each other in May 1997.

In January 1991, WMAQ announced plans to launch the "Suburban News Source", a 24-hour local cable news channel featuring 4½-minute-long inserts featuring news headlines specific to each town placed within live simulcasts of the station's noon, 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. newscasts. Originally scheduled to debut on January 14, 1991, the service was to be distributed to Centel Videopath systems in Chicago's northern, northwestern and southern suburbs; however, the service's launch was postponed three times due to logistical issues and demands by cable providers to gain a share of the service's advertising revenues. Station management scrapped plans for the channel in June 1991[29][30][31][32] (incidentally, WGN-TV eventually launched a similar cable channel, Chicagoland Television (CLTV), in January 1993).

On January 14, 2008, WMAQ-TV became the second television station in the Chicago market (after WLS-TV) to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. Only in-studio footage and some of the remote field footage were presented in HD; most other remote field footage remained in standard definition using a mixture of 16:9 widescreen and 4:3 cameras.[33] On January 12, 2009, WMAQ and Fox owned-and-operated station WFLD entered into a Local News Service agreement, in which the two stations share helicopter footage; this agreement has reportedly paved the way for a larger pooling effort between the two stations.[34]

After years in second place behind WBBM-TV and, later, WLS-TV at 10:00 p.m., at the conclusion of the November 2009 Nielsen Ratings sweeps period, WBBM-TV's 10:00 p.m. newscast overtook WMAQ-TV for second place for the first time in many years, largely due to the low ratings of the latter station's lead-in The Jay Leno Show (WLS-TV continues to dominate the local newscast ratings in the Chicago market).[35] It has since regained second place at 10:00 p.m., although closer to third-place WBBM-TV than to WLS-TV. However, in the November 2010 sweeps period, WMAQ's 10:00 p.m. newscast slipped back to third behind WBBM-TV in that time slot (and fourth among Chicago's late night newscasts, behind WGN-TV's 9:00 p.m. newscast), although WMAQ continues to place second in other time slots.

For five years beginning in 2006 (when WMAQ cancelled its 11:00 a.m. newscast), WMAQ differed from most NBC stations in the Central Time Zone in that it did not carry a newscast in the weekday midday time period, this changed on September 12, 2011, when it debuted a half-hour newscast at noon (the program returned to 11:00 a.m. when it was reformatted as an hour-long newscast on September 8, 2014).[36][37] On December 6, 2011, WMAQ-TV announced a partnership with The Chicago Reporter as part of a larger effort by NBCUniversal to partner with non-profit news organizations following its acquisition by Comcast.[38]

In January 2012, WMAQ-TV announcing a news partnership testing with Merlin Media's WIQI (now WKQX) to use its audio from all of the newscasts including Morning, Noon, 5, 6, and 10 PM newscasts, as well as sharing of assignments and online content between the two stations. The News partnership ended on July 17, 2012, when WIQI switched to adult hits format, branded as "i101".[39]

On February 28, 2012, WMAQ-TV unveiled a new studio for its newscasts at NBC Tower along with a new music and graphics package, the latter being the standardized "Look F" package by NBC Artworks that was rolled out to other NBC-owned stations around this time. Its logo was also updated, placing the new 3D glassed version of the peacock logo (which was introduced by the network in May 2011) to the left of the "5" logo, becoming the first NBC O&O to add the revised peacock to its logo. Months later (using a setup similar to that used by New York City sister station WNBC), five, adjacent 21-foot (6.4 m)-wide Panasonic plasma monitors used as virtual windows were installed in the studio behind the anchor desk, displaying SkyCam views overlooking North Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River fed by a camera mounted on the 401 Michigan Avenue building that formerly housed the streetside studio.

On July 27, 2013, WMAQ expanded its weekend morning newscasts, with the early edition of the program on both days expanding to two hours with the addition of an hour-long broadcast at 5:00 a.m. (from a previous 6:00 a.m. start) and an additional half-hour added at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays.[40] In 2015, WMAQ became the first television station in the Chicago market to upgrade its news helicopter's camera system to shoot footage in ultra-high-definition. On August 24, 2015, WMAQ expanded its weekday morning newscast to three hours, with addition of a half-hour at 4:00 a.m., becoming the second Chicago television station to expand into the timeslot – possibly to compete with WGN-TV (which began expanding its weekday morning newscast into the time period in July 2011).[41]


Len O'Connor

Veteran newsman Len O'Connor worked his way up from a news writer for NBC Radio's Blue Network to his position as commentator at WMAQ-TV.[42] O'Connor, who was well known for his often-acerbic political commentary, ran afoul of the station's management in 1974, when he reported on Governor Dan Walker's appointment of Bruce Sagan as head of the Illinois Arts Council. O'Connor was troubled by the council's funding grant to the Chicago Dance Foundation, which was headed by Sagan's wife. Following O'Connor's original January 1974 commentary on the grant, Sagan was invited to appear on the station and rebut O'Connor's statements, but declined and subsequently filed a complaint with the FCC in May 1974; Sagan claimed that he had been personally attacked and felt that the station was not enforcing the FCC's Fairness Doctrine. He was again offered an opportunity to refute O'Connor's comments but declined once again, after the FCC had dismissed the charges he levied. Sagan appealed the FCC's decision, and O'Connor believed that the company's attorneys had secretly met with Sagan and offered him airtime in exchange for Sagan dismissing his appeal. WMAQ-TV management stated that they had been open with O'Connor on the matter.[43][44]

O'Connor proceeded to deliver three commentaries on the 10:00 p.m. newscast from September 25 to 27, 1974, that were severely critical of the situation's handling by WMAQ-TV station management. In the commentaries, O'Connor claimed he had been deprived of his freedom of speech, that the station compromised his integrity, and that station management had made secret plans to fire him within a short time after his broadcasts. O'Connor left the station and continued his political commentaries on WGN-TV until his retirement from broadcasting in 1980.[43][44]

Jerry Springer

WMAQ achieved notoriety in 1997 when, in an effort to boost ratings for its newscasts, the station hired Jerry Springer as a commentator.[45] At that time, the station also adopted a more tabloid-style news format, after it hired Joel Cheatwood – previously known for establishing fast-paced tabloid newscasts during his tenures as news director at WSVN in Miami and WHDH in Boston (both owned by Sunbeam Television) – as WMAQ's news director.

Though Springer was once a two-term mayor of Cincinnati before becoming a news anchor for that city's NBC affiliate WLWT, his association with his infamous syndicated talk show (which, until 2009, was recorded at WMAQ's NBC Tower studios, and is now distributed by NBCUniversal through its syndication division) led to the belief that the newscast was being dumbed down. There were a handful of Springer supporters; nevertheless, the incident triggered a lot of negative publicity, on both local and national levels. The station's longtime anchor team of Carol Marin and Ron Magers resigned in protest (with Marin resigning on May 1, and Magers following suit on May 16).[46][47] As Marin signed off her last newscast, station personnel stood en masse in the newsroom behind her – WMAQ's newscasts at that time originated from a studio that opened into the station's newsroom – in a symbolic show of support for her decision to resign; ratings also concurrently declined, with the station's newscasts losing 20% of its audience share by the November 1997 sweeps period. Springer only made two commentaries before he resigned on May 8, feeling unhappy with the criticism he received.[48][49][50]

Magers wound up at rival WLS-TV, where he remains today; Marin, meanwhile, joined rival WBBM-TV while contributing reports for CBS News before returning to WMAQ in 2004 as a special correspondent. Lyle Banks, who hired Springer as a commentator, was fired from his position as general manager in January 1998, and was replaced by Larry Wert, who served as WMAQ's president and general manager until 2013, when he left to become president of WGN-TV parent Tribune Broadcasting.[51]

Amy Jacobson

On July 10, 2007, Amy Jacobson, who had been a reporter at WMAQ-TV since 1997, negotiated her exit with the station, after the release of a videotape in which she and her two sons were spotted at the home of Craig Stebic, with Jacobson clad in a bikini. Craig's wife, Lisa Stebic, was missing and had not been found as of that date. The incident raised the issue whether Jacobson crossed a journalistic ethical line in being friendly with a subject of the story.[52] The video of Jacobson at Craig Stebic's home was obtained by rival WBBM-TV, either taken by or given to its news department, which has the entire six-minute video on its website. In 2008, Jacobson filed a libel lawsuit against WBBM for $1 million after the video was posted by the rival station; the suit was thrown out by an Illinois judge in July 2013.[53]


In the May 2015 local Nielsen ratings, WMAQ-TV's newscasts placed second overall among Chicago's television stations. With a 7.4 rating, the 10:00 p.m. newscast was narrowly beaten by its closest late news competitor WLS-TV (which earned an 8.6), but beat WLS for first in the timeslot among adults ages 25–54 on weeknights by an even narrower margin (with a 3.6 rating/9 share, compared to WLS' 3.5 rating, with an audience share tying WMAQ in the slot) and by three-tenths of a point (with a 3.5, compared to WLS-TV's 3.2 rating) with weekend newscasts factored in, likely due to the station's refocusing on investigative journalism and additional upgrades to its news product in recent years, that has helped attract younger viewers.[54] In the February 2015 local ratings, the 10:00 p.m. newscast finished second among the market's late-evening newscasts in that slot with a 6.8 rating, down from a share of 9.1 in February 2014 (when ratings saw a boost from a strong lead-in by NBC's coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics).[55]

On-air staff

Notable current on–air staff

Notable former on-air staff

^[†] Indicates deceased


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