WCNC-TV, virtual channel 36 (UHF digital channel 22), is the NBC-affiliated television station in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. The station is owned by Tegna. WCNC maintains studio facilities located in the Wood Ridge Center office complex off Billy Graham Parkway (Route 4), just east of the Billy Graham Library in South Charlotte, and its transmitter is located in north-central Gaston County. The station's signal is relayed on two low-powered translators: W30CR-D in Biscoe and W24AY-D in Lilesville.
On cable, WCNC is carried on channel 6 in most areas, and on AT&T U-Verse channel 36.
Original Channel 36 allocation
The first station to operate on UHF channel 36 in Charlotte signed on the air on December 31, 1953 as WAYS-TV; that station changed its call letters to WQMC-TV in 1954. However, that station did not make any headway against WBTV (channel 3) because television set manufacturers were not required to include UHF tuning capability at the time; this would not change until Congress passed the All-Channel Receiver Act in 1961. It ceased operations in March 1955. A plan to return it to the air under different ownership in 1957 was unsuccessful. Cy Bahakel bought the station's license in 1964 and returned it to the air as WCCB, which broadcast on channel 36 before moving to UHF channel 18 in November 1966.
The current incarnation of channel 36 signed on the air on July 9, 1967, as WCTU-TV. Dr. Harold W. Twisdale, a dentist from Charlotte, and Washington, D.C.-based engineer David L. Steel were the leaders of the original ownership group, operating as Charlotte Telecasters Inc. Twisdale and Steel were the lead investors in other planned UHF stations, though only WCTU and WATU-TV (now WAGT) in Augusta, Georgia were the only two to make it to the air. WCTU was North Carolina's first independent station, beating Hickory-based WHKY-TV (channel 14) to the air by eight months.
WCTU was a typical UHF independent, airing a lineup of cartoons, sitcoms, older movies and sporting events. It was also the original home of Jim Bakker's television ministry after he broke off from Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network. The station hit hard times financially and was sold to Ted Turner in 1970. Under Turner, it changed its call letters to WRET-TV (after his initials, Robert Edward Turner). He significantly upgraded the station's programming and made it profitable almost immediately, as he did in Atlanta with what became WTCG, and later WTBS (the station is now WPCH-TV, owned by Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System subsidiary and operated by the Meredith Corporation through a local marketing agreement with CBS affiliate WGCL-TV). Briefly, Turner tried putting WRET on cable systems outside of the immediate Charlotte area, as he did with his Atlanta station, via microwave transmission; this effort was not quite as successful as WTCG's was in states adjacent to Georgia.
On July 1, 1978, ABC moved its Charlotte affiliation from WCCB to the higher-rated WSOC-TV (channel 9). Conventional wisdom suggested that the longer-established WCCB should have taken the NBC affiliation from WSOC-TV. However, in a considerable upset, NBC moved its affiliation to WRET-TV, even though channel 36 had been on the verge of shutting down earlier in the decade. NBC chose WRET over WCCB as its new affiliate on the basis of a commitment by Turner to invest $2.5 million in upgrades to the station, increasing its signal strength and launching a news department comparable in size to that of channel 9's, and twice the size of WCCB's existing small-scale operation. WCCB's owner, Cy Bahakel, was not willing to spend the money required to make the upgrades NBC wanted (this was the first news operation ever owned by the future founder of CNN). Within a few months, Action News 36 had become competitive with longer-established WBTV and WSOC-TV. Robert D. Raiford was the station's first news anchor. Upon becoming a network affiliate, Turner sold about half of WRET-TV's programming inventory to WCCB, including older sitcoms, movies and most of its inventory of syndicated cartoons.
Group W era
Turner's ambitious ownership of the station would not last long, however. In 1980, he sold WRET-TV to Westinghouse Broadcasting (also known as Group W), with the proceeds going towards starting CNN. The $20 million purchase price that Westinghouse paid for the station was the highest ever paid for a UHF station at the time. Westinghouse changed the station's call letters to WPCQ-TV (for "People [of the] Carolinas [and the] Queen [City]"; the WRET-TV call letters are now used by a PBS member station in Spartanburg that is part of the South Carolina ETV television network), and added more syndicated game shows and talk shows to its lineup. It was Group W's only station on the UHF band. Additionally, it was not only Group W's only television station not located in a top-25 market, but by far the smallest station that Group W ever owned (however, due to the area's large population growth since then, Nielsen Media Research ranks Charlotte the country's 23rd-largest market as of fall 2010).
Under Westinghouse, channel 36 went into a ratings slump that lasted for almost two decades. Despite the record purchase price, Group W did not have much interest in financing the station. The news department was significantly cut back. Network news also suffered; WPCQ dropped the weekend editions of NBC Nightly News in 1980, followed by the weeknight editions in 1982 (making it the only NBC affiliate not to carry the program). The David Brinkley-anchored NBC Magazine, an early-1980s attempt to compete with 60 Minutes, was bumped from its prime-time network time slot to midnight Sundays on WPCQ. Even Westinghouse's own productions were not guaranteed an audience on the station; Group W's nationally popular PM Magazine (seen on Group W outlets as Evening Magazine) had been seen on WBTV since before Westinghouse's purchase of WPCQ, and was the only Group W station not to carry Evening Magazine, while Hour Magazine moved to WBTV after being canceled due to low ratings on WPCQ.
By the fall of 1982, and for the rest of Group W's ownership, the station's programming lineup and on-air look resembled those of an independent station rather than a major-network affiliate. In addition to airing minimal programming, the station pre-empted significant amounts of NBC's schedule, probably figuring that local ad revenues would be much higher than network payments, which were comparatively small due to low ratings. Its daytime and late afternoon lineup consisted mostly of syndicated cartoons (long after other major-network affiliates in markets of Charlotte's size dropped cartoons from their daytime schedules) and reruns of sitcoms from the 1960s and 1970s. Local pre-emptions of network programs were common practice for Group W's affiliates, even though NBC was historically far less tolerant of this than the other networks at the time. However, in contrast to WPCQ, most of its Group W stablemates (including fellow NBC affiliates KYW-TV in Philadelphia and WBZ-TV in Boston) turned profits, ran full-time newscasts, and aired Group W's syndicated programs but still aired most of their network's programming.
Not long after Group W took over, it reduced channel 36's transmitter power to only 100,000 watts, far lower than expected for a major-network affiliate on the UHF band. It only provided grade B coverage of many inner-ring suburbs (such as Gastonia and Rock Hill) and was virtually unviewable over-the-air in adjacent areas of South Carolina and much of the western portion of the market.
For most of the 1980s, WPCQ was the third station in what was essentially a two-station market, even though this was a very prosperous period for NBC as a whole. Besides having to compete with WBTV and WSOC-TV, it also lost significant audience share to WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, WIS-TV in Columbia, WFBC-TV/WYFF in Greenville and WCYB-TV in Bristol, all of which were much longer-established NBC affiliates on the VHF band and whose grade B signals reached into the outer portions of the Charlotte market. For instance, many viewers on the South Carolina side of the market received a better signal from Columbia's WIS, whose transmitter is 80 miles south of Charlotte, even though WPCQ's transmitter was only 20 miles north of the state line.
Renaissance and Journal
Renaissance Broadcasting acquired the station from Group W in 1984. NBC Nightly News returned to the schedule in the spring of 1985; it also dropped cartoons from the station's weekday schedule, although syndicated reruns continued to make up a significant portion of the station's daytime programming. Renaissance relaunched a full news department for the station, and gave WPCQ a significant technical facelift. For many years, WPCQ had operated from a transmitter and tower located at its studio in the Hickory Grove neighborhood of northeast Charlotte. However, in 1987 it built a more powerful transmitter and tower in Dallas, near the tower operated by WBTV. It boosted the station's signal to 2.1 million watts. Not long afterward came another power increase to 5 million watts, the maximum power allowed for a UHF station by the FCC. This gave it a coverage area comparable to WBTV and WSOC-TV. WPCQ heavily promoted its stronger signal, billing itself as "Coming in Proud and Clear!" For a brief time, it was the most powerful station in Charlotte, until WJZY (channel 46) signed on from a nearby tower later in 1987.
Renaissance sold WPCQ to The Providence Journal Company in 1988. Journal Broadcasting renamed the station WCNC-TV (for Charlotte, North Carolina) on September 3, 1989. On the day of the call letter change, the station moved to channel 6 on Charlotte area cable systems, and began promoting itself as "WCNC-TV 36, Cable 6." In 1991, the station moved to its current studio facilities in south Charlotte.
From 1995 to 2003, the station was branded on-air as "NBC6," in reference to its cable channel location. It continued to call itself "channel 6," using the branding "WCNC 6," until 2007, four years after dropping the "NBC6" moniker. Despite making a more credible effort at news than ever before, WCNC continued to lag along in the ratings until Journal Broadcasting merged with Belo in 1997.
When Belo took over in 1997, it invested large amounts of money in the station. Among the improvements were new sets, a news helicopter, a powerful live Doppler weather radar system and other equipment. Following its sale to Belo, WCNC began poaching talent from the other major stations in the market. The first major hire came when Terri Bennett moved from WSOC-TV. Bennett had been in the running for the chief meteorologist spot upon Ray Boylan's retirement, but channel 9 opted instead to hire Steve Udelson, chief weatherman at WFLA-TV in Tampa. Bennett left the station in the fall of 2007 when her contract was not renewed; Boylan filled in at WCNC until Bennett's non-compete clause lapsed. Sonja Gantt, formerly of WBTV, was lured back to her hometown from Chicago, where she had been working as a morning anchor at WGN-TV.
On October 30, 2009, WCNC broke the record for most Halloween costume changes during a local news program, with 11 costumes worn by the station's anchor team (Jeff Campbell, Colleen Odegaard and Larry Sprinkle, as well as producer Natalie Ridley) were involved in setting the record during its weekday morning newscast that day.
In 2008, after one year of referring to itself simply with its call letters, WCNC changed its branding to "NewsChannel 36." In 2012, the station's branding was changed once again to "NBC Charlotte." WCNC's reasoning for the change was that few people actually watched the station over-the-air on channel 36.
On June 29, 2015, the Gannett Company split in two, with one side specializing in print media and the other side specializing in broadcast and digital media. WCNC was retained by the latter company, named TEGNA.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||PSIP Short Name||Video||Aspect||Programming|
|36.1||WCNC-HD||1080i||16:9||Main WCNC-TV programming / NBC|
WCNC previously carried NBC Weather Plus on digital subchannel 36.2; national network feeds for this service ceased operation in December 2008. In January 2009, it was rebranded as "First Warn Storm Channel", an in-house local weather service. On November 8, 2010, the "First Warn Storm Channel" was replaced with Live Well Network. On January 20, 2015, WCNC-TV replaced LWN with the Justice Network upon its launch. On April 28, 2016, WCNC-TV added digital subchannel 36.3 with Decades.
WCNC-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 36, 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 22. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 36.
WCNC-TV presently broadcasts 38 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with six hours on weekdays, and four hours each on Saturdays and Sundays); in addition, the station produces the hour-long entertainment and lifestyle program Charlotte Today, which airs weekday mornings at 11:00 a.m.
After a promising start under Turner's watch, the news department was severely hamstrung by Group W's bargain-basement approach to running the station. Group W immediately dropped the station's weekend evening newscasts, and moved the 11 p.m. newscast to 12:30 a.m. before canceling it altogether in 1981. The early evening newscast was shifted between the 5:30 and 6 p.m. timeslots until the fall of 1982, when it was canceled as well. For the remainder of Group W's ownership, the station's only remaining local news programming consisted of a half-hour newscast at noon, hourly cut-ins, five-minute local inserts during Today, a weekly magazine program and occasional specials.
After Renaissance Broadcasting bought the station, the noon newscast was discontinued in the spring of 1985. In September 1986, WPCQ relaunched a full-fledged news department. At first, the station scheduled its early-evening newscast for 5:30 p.m., knowing at the time that it could not hope to compete with WBTV and WSOC-TV at 6 p.m. After a few fits and starts, it became the first truly successful attempt at a drive-time newscast in the Charlotte market. In 1987, WPCQ expanded the 5:30 newscast to one hour, and added a 6:00 p.m. newscast on weekends. After becoming WCNC, the station added a distinct 6 p.m. newscast to the weeknight schedule. In 1999, WCNC entered into a news share agreement with then-Fox affiliate WCCB to take over production of that station's 10:00 p.m. newscast, shortly after WSOC-TV ended its agreement to produce the program after WCCB announced it would launch its own news department. After WCCB's in-house news operation launched in 2000, WCNC began producing a 10:00 p.m. newscast for WB affiliate WWWB (channel 55, now WMYT-TV), which ran until the program was canceled due to low ratings in 2002.
In recent years, WCNC has been one of the country's most frequent recipients of Regional Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards. It won a Peabody Award in 2003 for Medicaid Dental Centers Investigation. In 2011, WCNC won an award for its investigative reporting. Critical acclaim has not been rewarded with a ratings win, however; for most of the time since relaunching a full-fledged news department in 1986, the station has been in third place.
For much of the 2000s, WCNC had waged a spirited battle with WBTV for second place behind WSOC-TV, though it has recently returned to a distant third place in most timeslots. However, it almost ties WBTV at 6:00 a.m. WCCB's 10:00 p.m. newscast also draws a larger audience than WCNC's 11:00 p.m. newscast. WCNC receives its highest viewership in Mecklenburg County (home to Charlotte itself), and it actually leads WSOC and WBTV in higher income neighborhoods in Charlotte (as opposed to the outlying suburbs and rural counties).
In late 2005, WCNC debuted the Charlotte market's first 4:30 p.m. newscast, creating a two-hour local news block from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. In 2007, the station phased out its longtime 6News brand and rebranded itself as "WCNC, the Carolinas' News Connection." In August 2008, it rebranded once again to NewsChannel 36, marking the first time in 12 years that WCNC had used its over-the-air channel number in its branding. Beginning in September 2008, WCNC aired news at 4:00 p.m., with Judge Judy at 4:30; in January 2012, the 4:00 news expanded to an hour and the noon news shrank from an hour to 30 minutes.
On May 18, 2009, WCNC began broadcasting its local newscasts in 16:9 widescreen standard definition; this change came alongside the revamping of the station's on-air news graphics. On June 28, 2014, it upgraded to full high definition, with a change to the standard Gannett graphics/music coming a month later, along with a forced framing to widescreen using the AFD #10 code for local cable and satellite providers. On July 16, 2012, during the station's 4 p.m. newscast, WCNC debuted a new state-of-the-art news set that features 21 monitors, interactive areas and an "electronically based" weather center; the set can also change themes for the appropriate time. In 1999, the station's news department was chronicled in the five-part PBS documentary series Local News.
Notable current on-air staff
- Beatrice Thompson - general assignment reporter
Notable former on-air staff
- Heather Childers - weekend anchor (1992–1995; now at Fox News Channel)
- Sharon Crews - reporter/talk show host/community affairs manager (1986–1989; now screenwriter in Los Angeles)
- Allen Denton - anchor (1996–2000; now at KUSI-TV in San Diego)
- Paul Ingles - reporter (1979; now a public radio reporter, NPR contributor and music documentarian living in Albuquerque, NM)
- Doug McKelway - reporter (1980–1982; later at WRC-TV and WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C.)
- Bob Raiford - anchor and talk show host (1978–1986; now on The John Boy and Billy Big Show)
- Hannah Storm - sports anchor (1988–1989; later at NBC Sports and on The Early Show on CBS, now with ESPN)
Out-of-market cable carriage
In recent years, WCNC has been carried on cable in several areas outside of the Charlotte television market, including cable systems within the adjacent Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point market, the Greenville and Myrtle Beach markets in South Carolina, and the Tri-Cities market in Tennessee.