WCVB-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 20), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. It is the flagship television station of Hearst Television, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation. Since nearby Manchester is considered part of the Boston media market, WMUR, that city's ABC affiliate, is considered a sister station to WCVB-TV. WCVB-TV maintains studio and transmitter facilities located in Needham, Massachusetts.
WCVB is also one of six Boston television stations that are carried by satellite provider Bell TV and fiber optic television provider Bell Fibe TV in Canada. Since 2010, some midday and weekend late newscasts, along with World News Now are overlaid with local paid programming on those providers.
Prior history of channel 5 in Boston
The channel 5 allocation in Boston was first occupied by WHDH-TV, which signed on the air on November 26, 1957. The station was owned by the Boston Herald-Traveler Corporation, along with WHDH radio (850 AM, now occupied by WEEI; and 94.5 FM, now WJMN). It was originally an ABC affiliate, but switched to CBS in 1961.
However, almost as soon as it signed on, the Federal Communications Commission began investigating allegations of impropriety in the granting of the television station's construction permit. This touched off a struggle that lasted 15 years. As a result, WHDH-TV never had a license renewal period lasting more than six months at a time (most television licenses at the time lasted for three years). In 1969, a local group, Boston Broadcasters, won a construction permit to build a new station on channel 5 under the callsign of WCVB-TV after promising to air more local programming than any other station in the United States at the time. It was also critical of the combination of the Herald-Traveler and WHDH-AM-FM-TV. Herald-Traveler Corporation fought the decision in court, but lost in 1972 and Boston Broadcasters was awarded a full license.
WCVB station history
WHDH-TV signed off for the last time on March 18, 1972, and was replaced by the new WCVB-TV early the next morning. However, the Herald-Traveler refused to hand over its facilities to the new channel 5, forcing the station to rent tower space for its transmitter from WBZ-TV (channel 4); during the final months of its operation, WHDH-TV was court-ordered to sign off daily at 1:00 a.m. so that WCVB-TV could test its equipment. WCVB used an old International Harvester dealership in Needham to serve as its studio facility, which the station continues to operate from to this day. Although WCVB operates under a different license, it claims the history of the former WHDH-TV as its own. It also inherited all of WHDH-TV's personnel, including anchorman Jack Hynes and sportscaster Don Gillis.
CBS was not pleased with the prospect of being subjected to numerous preemptions of its programs in the nation's fifth-largest market, especially since channel 5 – under the WHDH license – had been its second-largest affiliate and largest on the East Coast. It refused to have anything to do with WCVB, and moved its programming back to WNAC-TV (channel 7, later WNEV-TV and now the current WHDH-TV), which had been Boston's original CBS affiliate from 1948 to 1960. More or less by default, WCVB signed up with ABC.
Making good on its promise, WCVB aired more local programming than any other television station in the nation throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of its local programs, Good Day!, which first premiered in 1973 as Good Morning!, broke ground by taking its entire production on the road and broadcasting from locations outside of the Boston area and around the world. Good Day!, along with The Morning Exchange on Cleveland's WEWS-TV, served as a basis for the format of ABC's Good Morning America.
During the 1970s, WCVB-TV was the first television station in southern New England to run a 24-hour program schedule. The station ran a programming block from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m., branded as 5 All Night, which featured a library of older black-and-white movies and a few recent syndicated programs. During station breaks, announcer George Fennel (who never made an on-camera appearance during the block) would make live announcements and read fan mail from the viewing audience, as various 5 All Night logo backdrops were displayed on-screen. His actual first on-air portrait was displayed as part of a donation pledge drive for the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. The portrait had been covered from view and as the tally had reached a certain amount, a piece of the portrait would be revealed to the viewers until it was completely uncovered, revealing what Fennel looked like.
Another staple of 5 All Night was Simon's Sanctorum, a program similar to Elvira's Movie Macabre that showcased old black-and-white horror movies; it was hosted by a character named Simon (portrayed by Gary Newton), who often referred to his viewing audience as to being "moths lured to a flame" and "Dearly Devoted". Simon's costume consisted of an old top hat, and fluorescent green facial makeup with black circles painted around each eye and gloves that had the fingers cut out of them. To add to an extra eerie effect, a fluorescent black light was used to enhance the makeup effect on Simon's face and eyes. His eyes actually glowed by the use of fluorescent paint on a pair of special contact lenses.
Due to its commitment to local programming, the station was quick to preempt programs, including lower-rated ABC primetime shows. Most of the time, these programs were picked up by independent stations such as WQTV (channel 68, now WBPX-TV) or Worcester-based WHLL (channel 27, now WUNI). Since the mid-1990s, WCVB has carried ABC's entire programming schedule, although it occasionally preempts network programming in favor of locally produced specials and movies. Notable examples are the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon (before the program's 2013 move to ABC) and the 2004 preemption of Saving Private Ryan (one of several ABC stations that preempted the film out of concern over the graphic war battle scenes and profanity that were left intact in the uncut ABC telecast and fear of resulting FCC fines) for another movie, Far and Away.
Boston Broadcasters sold WCVB to Metromedia in 1982 for $220 million, the costliest sale ever made for a local station at the time. In 1986, Metromedia sold its television stations to the News Corporation (then-owners of the 20th Century Fox film studio), which later used Metromedia's group of independent stations to launch the Fox network. Channel 5 was included in the original deal, but was subsequently spun off to the Hearst Corporation, which had purchased fellow ABC affiliate KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Missouri from Metromedia in 1982. That station was sold to allow Metromedia to acquire WCVB (to comply with FCC rules in effect at the time that limited the number of VHF stations owned by a single company to only five), and it is believed that Metromedia gave Hearst a right of first refusal offer if WCVB ever went up for sale again. Fox would get its own station in Boston in 1987, when it bought WXNE-TV (channel 25) from the Christian Broadcasting Network and renamed it WFXT (Fox subsequently sold WFXT to the Boston Celtics in 1990, before repurchasing the station in 1995. They sold it once more, to Cox, in 2014).
On September 8, 1987, WCVB became the Boston home of The Oprah Winfrey Show, having outbid WBZ-TV (which aired the show at 9 a.m. during its first season) for the long-term local syndication rights. For 24 years, Oprah served as the lead-in to WCVB's evening newscasts, first for the 6 p.m. edition of NewsCenter 5 from 1987 to 1994, then moving to 4 p.m. on September 5, 1994, upon the debut of the station's hour-long 5 p.m. newscast. In both time periods, Oprah always held first place among the program's competitors, and consistently kept WCVB's neighboring newscasts at number one. Winfrey's decision to end her daytime talk show in May 2011 resulted in many stations scrambling to replace it with equally strong programming. The Ellen DeGeneres Show – which WCVB had aired at 9 a.m. since 2005 – was chosen to replace Oprah in the 4 p.m. slot, moving there on August 22, 2011; it was replaced in the 9 a.m. timeslot by Live! with Kelly and Michael, which moved to the station after a 23-year run on WHDH. Oprah, meanwhile, moved to weekday mornings at 1:05 for the remaining weeks of its run.
On January 11, 2016, WCVB moved The Meredith Vieira Show from 3:00 p.m. to 1:07 a.m., where it will remain until it goes off the air later this year. On the same day, The Ellen DeGeneres Show moved to 3 p.m., and Inside Edition was moved to the 4 p.m. slot, from the 7 p.m. slot it had held since September 1994. This then freed up 4:30 and 7 p.m. for two new newscasts. The 4:30 newscast is stated to be a fast-paced rundown of the day's news, while the 7:00 newscast covers longer-length stories of special interest.
In the early 1970s, graphic design firm Wyman & Canaan developed a new stylized "5" logo (which features an arrow curving upward, rendered in negative space, within the "5"). Having debuted when WCVB first began operations in 1972, this logo surpassed the WBZ's Group W font logo (which that station used from 1963 to 1996), as the longest-used numeric logo in New England television history in 2003. WCVB's logo was similar to the letter "G" in WGN's 2003 logo.
WCVB currently produces the following programs:
- Chronicle, a nightly local newsmagazine series that started in 1982, continues to air weekdays on WCVB as of 2016. It focuses on topics of special interest throughout New England, though at times the program focuses on subjects outside the region such as Ireland. The Main Streets and Back Roads, one of the program's longest-running series, looks at life in New England, primarily in the rural areas. A New Hampshire version of the program is produced by WCVB's sister station WMUR-TV; two other sister stations, WYFF in Greenville, South Carolina and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, produce news specials based on the flagship program's format. The WCVB edition became the first local television program in New England to broadcast in high definition on March 3, 1999 (though only select editions were produced and broadcast in HD until October 25, 2006).
- CityLine, which airs Sundays at noon, looks at urban issues and interests within the Boston area. Its longtime host is Karen Holmes Ward.
- On the Record (also referred to as OTR), which airs Sundays at 11 a.m., focuses on local political issues and is hosted by Ed Harding and Janet Wu.
While the station is no longer as involved in locally produced programming as it once was, it has had some influential programs:
- Candlepin Bowling, which ran Saturdays at noon for nearly four decades, and was hosted for nearly all of that time by legendary WCVB sports anchor Don Gillis.
- Good Day!, mid-morning talk show, an inspiration for Good Morning America.
- Miller's Court, a dramatized mock-trial program with a live audience. Hosted by Harvard Law Professor Arthur R. Miller.
- Park Street Under, a sitcom set in a fictional Boston bar, regarded as an influence for Cheers.
- The Baxters, a sitcom featuring an American family, with a discussion component. The WCVB-produced series, which ran from 1977 to 1979, employed local actors; Norman Lear became involved in 1979, following which the program aired nationally in first-run syndication for an additional two seasons. Lear departed before the program's second season in syndication, with WCVB resuming production responsibilities for the show; all of the characters were recast with Canadian actors.
- The Great Entertainment, an anthology series – which ran for 18 years, during much of the 1970s and into the '80s – presenting classic movies with commentary by host Frank Avruch.
- Night Shift, a series that aired after midnight on Fridays in the late 1980s, and featured college student films from around New England. Christine Caswell co-hosted two seasons of Night Shift and would later anchor and report at WHDH, FOX25, NECN and Catholic TV. Future executive producer of A&E's Beyond Scared Straight, Paul Coyne, appeared three times showcasing his student works from Fitchburg State College.
- NightTalk with Jane Whitney, a late-night talk show utilizing an issues-based daytime talk show format (a la Donahue and Oprah) hosted by Jane Whitney. After airing locally in Boston and in 11 other select markets from spring 1992 through summer 1993, it ran in national syndication as The Jane Whitney Show during the 1993-94 season, mainly in daytime slots (WCVB, which continued to produce the show, kept it in its 12:35 a.m. time slot).
Until the late 1990s, WCVB broadcast the 1954 film White Christmas annually during the holiday season, preempting ABC network programming.
WCVB was originally in the running to become the Massachusetts State Lottery's host station in late 1986, when WBZ-TV relinquished the rights. In the months leading up to the winning bid, WCVB management had asked Janet Langhart to host the nightly lottery drawings if the station won the contract. Langhart was reportedly angered by the proposition, accusing WCVB of trying to minimize her from the role of respected journalist and talk show host, and also inferring a racial motivation behind the offer (Langhart is African American). Ultimately, WCVB lost its bid for the lottery rights to WNEV-TV, which began broadcasting the drawings and all other related broadcast property in September 1987.
In 1993, when WHDH-TV (the former WNEV-TV) was purchased by Sunbeam Television, the lottery did not renew the station's contract for another cycle. It was announced soon after that WCVB would acquire the rights. From March 7, 1994 to May 19, 1998, WCVB was the official station for Lottery Live, the weeknight broadcasts of the Massachusetts State Lottery drawings. Unlike predecessor host station WHDH, where both Lottery Live weeknight drawings aired between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m., WCVB chose to air the daily Numbers Game at 7:53 (during Chronicle) while the featured game (e.g., Mass Millions) aired earlier at 6:50 (during NewsCenter 5 at 6:00 during the spring and summer of 1994, and during ABC's World News Tonight in the months thereafter). In early 1995, the specialty games moved to 11:10 p.m. (later 11:20) during NewsCenter 5 Tonight. Dawn Hayes, who emceed the drawings on WHDH, was retained as host. Frequent substitute hosts for Hayes on WCVB were Kristen Daly (later a news reporter/anchor for WABU and WLVI) and Nancy O'Neil, wife of former Red Sox pitcher Dennis Eckersley.
The Massachusetts Lottery (in association with Jonathan Goodson) also backed an hour-long Saturday night game show, Bonus Bonanza, which debuted on February 4, 1995. Hayes served as co-host with Brian Tracey. Bonus Bonanza had randomly drawn contestants play elimination games (a la The Price Is Right) to win big cash prizes. At the end of each show, that night's three players would return to play a bonus round. Each would place a cylinder on a numbered space from 1 to 12. A motorized cube would then be let go, in order to knock the cylinders down. After 30 seconds, any player that had a cylinder still standing won the cash amount (ranging from $7,500 to $200,000) associated with their number choice. The $200,000 prize was won several times during the program's three-year run on WCVB. It also served as the runoff program for the various contests associated with the Massachusetts Lottery. One such contest featured contestants playing for a cruise for 20, a Chevrolet Blazer truck, and $25,000 a year for life. Bonus Bonanza was cancelled shortly before WCVB's lottery contract ended, airing its final episode in March 1998. The nightly lottery drawings moved back to WBZ-TV two months later on May 20, 1998.
The drawings returned to WCVB in August 2004 in a revamped format, with only on-screen graphics displaying the already-drawn winning numbers for a minute or so. A rotating group of off-screen voiceovers announced the drawings. In the case of the daily Numbers Game, however, a mid-screen shot of the traditional "number wheels" were featured, with the balls resting on the chosen digits. The Numbers Game drawings continued to air at approximately 7:53, while the specialty games ran at 11:10 on weeknights. In 2008, for the first time in Mass State Lottery's broadcast history, midday Numbers Game drawings were introduced, with the results running at the bottom of the screen, at 12:50 p.m. weekdays, during Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. The weeknight Numbers Game drawings became part of NewsCenter 5 Primetime Update, a five-minute news and weather segment that began airing within the last ten minutes of Chronicle in 2009. On August 15, 2011, the drawings ended their second stint on WCVB, and moved exclusively to the Massachusetts Lottery website.
Until 2009, WCVB's sports department produced New England Patriots preseason games. These telecasts were also seen on sister station WMTW-TV in Portland, Maine and WNAC-TV in Providence, Rhode Island. The Patriots moved their preseason game telecasts to WBZ-TV in 2009. In addition, WCVB formerly pre-empted ABC programming to air some Patriots games that aired as part of ESPN Sunday Night Football. Presently, this occurs during some ESPN Monday Night Football Patriots game telecasts (ESPN is 20% owned by WCVB's corporate parent Hearst Corporation).
From 1982 through 2006, WCVB telecast live wire-to-wire coverage of the Boston Marathon. Though the broadcasts generally rated higher than the competing wire-to-wire coverage on WBZ-TV, the station announced in November 2006 that it would stop carrying the race, as declining viewership and advertising revenue made it difficult for the station to justify providing all-day coverage, despite production costs being shared with WBZ and the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). The BAA then signed a new deal with WBZ.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|5.1||1080i||16:9||WCVB-DT||Main WCVB-TV programming / ABC|
WCVB is one of a handful of ABC-affiliated stations and one of several Hearst-owned ABC affiliates that broadcast their high-definition signals in 1080i rather than the 720p format of most other ABC stations. This includes WCVB's ABC-affiliated sister stations WMUR-TV in nearby Manchester, New Hampshire, WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, KMBC-TV in Kansas City, and KETV in Omaha, as well as stations not owned by Hearst in eight other markets.
On July 24, 2012, Hearst Television renewed its affiliation agreement with MeTV to maintain existing affiliations with eight Hearst-owned stations currently carrying the digital multicast network through 2015. As part of the renewal, Hearst also signed agreements to add the network as digital subchannels of WCVB-TV and four other Hearst stations in Sacramento, Baltimore, Oklahoma City and Greensboro. As WCVB did not operate any additional digital multicast feeds outside of main channel 5.1, MeTV was added on a newly created second digital subchannel of the station on October 1, 2012. This also provides WCVB a backup channel to air ABC programming during breaking or pre-planned local news coverage.
WCVB-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 20. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 5. Its analog signal provided nightlight service (DTV information loops) until July 12, 2009.
Since 1972, WCVB-TV, as a part of its commitment to serving the community through extensive local programming, has run a series of different public service campaigns to help educate people on relevant issues and values of the day. Each campaign has had a different theme, ranging from racial unity to family values and achieving success through continued education. Over the last few decades, these campaigns have consisted of the following:
- The New England Network (1970s)
- A World of Difference (1985–1988)
- Great Expectations (1988–1990)
- Family Works! (1991–1993)
- Success By 6 (1993–1996) – early childhood education.
- The HealthBeat Project (1996–2001)
- Keeping Kids On Track (2001–2003)
- CommonWealth 5 (2001–present) – highlights non-profits to recruit volunteers and donors.
- High 5! (1984–present) – showcases athletic teams across Massachusetts hosted by Mike Lynch.
- A+ (1997–present) – showcases students across Massachusetts
- 5 On (2014–present) – highlights a different community in Massachusetts each week
WCVB presently broadcasts 36½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 5½ hours on weekdays, four hours on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays). The station operates an Aérospatiale AS350B helicopter entitled "Sky 5" that is live broadcast capable. For statewide news coverage throughout Massachusetts, WCVB shares resources with the two other ABC affiliates in the state: WLNE-TV in New Bedford (the network's Providence, Rhode Island station) and WGGB-TV in Springfield. WCAP (980) in Lowell runs audio simulcasts of WCVB's newscasts from 5 to 6 a.m. and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays.
As WCVB's newscasts are titled NewsCenter 5, the station's sports segments are likewise branded as SportsCenter 5 and weather segments are likewise branded as WeatherCenter 5 (sometimes). WCVB is believed to be the only local station permitted to use the SportsCenter name, owned by ESPN, for its sportscasts, owing to its ownership by Hearst (which owns 20% of ESPN) and affiliation with ABC (whose parent, The Walt Disney Company, owns the other 80%). However, there is no overlap in content or appearance between WCVB's sportscasts and the ESPN program beyond the latter's occasional use of WCVB video with credit for press conference and interview segments.
Concurrent with WCVB's sign-on on March 19, 1972, the station began its news operations as News 5. This branding was used until 1973 when its newscasts were retitled under the current NewsCenter 5 brand. Since then, WCVB has been known for exceptional news coverage and has consistently been at the top of the news ratings since the early 1980s. Through the next couple decades, the station boasted the most-watched news team of Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson who married each other while serving as co-anchors. However, by the late 1990s and early 2000s, the station was in a period of transition as it saw major competition from a resurgent WHDH-TV. At the same time, the station, known for the longevity and stability of its on-air staff, saw the end of its longtime anchor team of Curtis and Jacobson (as well as their marriage, which ended in divorce at the same time). Jacobson continued to anchor at channel 5, while Curtis left for regional cable news channel New England Cable News, which was jointly owned by Hearst until NBCUniversal bought out its stake in the channel in 2009. Jacobson retired from WCVB on July 18, 2007.
In mid-October 2002, WCVB launched its weather radar, currently known as "Storm Team 5 HD Doppler", becoming the first station in the market to operate its own radar. It is located west of Boston in Hopkinton. Also in 2002, chief meteorologist Dick Albert was joined by former rival Harvey Leonard who left WHDH to become co-chief meteorologist with Albert. Widely regarded as two of Boston's top meteorologists, Leonard and Albert were honored by the Associated Press in 2005 for "Best Weathercast in New England". In February 2007, meteorologist Mike Wankum, who was chief meteorologist at WLVI until that station's news department shut down two months prior as a result of its purchase by WHDH parent Sunbeam Television, was hired by WCVB as the weekend evening meteorologist.
For the February 2007 sweeps ratings period, WCVB placed first in every local news timeslot it competed in. Channel 5 even displaced WHDH in total viewers and the 25–54 demographic at 11 p.m., marking the first time since 1998 that WCVB swept all of its newscast timeslots. Only WFXT's 10 p.m. news drew more viewers than any of the "big three" affiliates' late evening newscasts. That victory was short-lived, however, as WHDH regained the lead at 11 p.m. during the May 2007 sweeps, after another close battle. WBZ-TV led in the 11 p.m. timeslot from late 2007 to early 2010 with WCVB maintaining second place in that timeslot during that period. WCVB has since regained the lead at 11 p.m.
On May 14, 2007, starting with the 5 p.m. newscast, WCVB began broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition, although the majority of the field reports remained in 4:3 standard definition for a few months. The station was the first in the Boston market, as well as New England, to make the transition (the Sacramento, California duopoly of KCRA-TV and KQCA were the first stations owned by Hearst to make the upgrade). This change resulted in the debut of a new newscast set designed by FX Group and on-air graphics. However, channel 5 kept Hearst Television's standardized music package. On September 7, 2010, WCVB expanded its weekday morning newscast to 2½ hours, with its start time moved to 4:30 a.m. Four days later on September 11, 2010, the weekend morning newscast was expanded to three hours, running from 5–8 a.m.
In the Spring of 2013, well-known and popular meteorologist Cindy Fitzgibbon joined WCVB as a weatherperson. Anchor JC Monahan moved to Chronicle and anchor of the 5 p.m. news. Fitzgibbon was on WFXT's morning newscast for nearly a decade, and now appears on the NewsCenter 5 EyeOpener and noon newscasts. In recent years, the Eyeopener has consistently been the market's most-watched morning newscast, and the 6 a.m. hour often ranks as the most-watched newscast by viewers in the 25–54 demographic.
In September 2015, WCVB announced that they would launch a weekend 5 p.m. newscast starting November 8, 2015. On January 11, 2016, WCVB added two additional weekday newscasts, one at 4:30 p.m. and a second at 7 p.m. WCVB president and general manager Bill Fine stated that the newscast expansion "...addresses an expressed need of Boston’s viewers by providing additional options to receive NewsCenter 5 at new times." In February 2016, WCVB announced that it would also add a nightly primetime newscast at 10 p.m. on its MeTV subchannel, The 10 O'Clock News on MeTV Boston, beginning February 29. The 10 p.m. newscast was cut to a half-hour on March 26; Boston is unusual in having all four local news operations, along with New Hampshire's WBIN-TV all having 10 p.m. newscasts in some form, and ratings issues played into the reduction.
Notable current on-air staff
- Randy Price – anchor
- J.C. Monahan – anchor
- Erika Tarantal – anchor; also in-studio reporter
- Harvey Leonard – chief meteorologist
- Mike Wankum – meteorologist
- Janet Wu – co-host of On the Record; also State House reporter
- Reid Lamberty – anchor, also general assignment reporter
Notable former on-air staff
- Cheryl Fiandaca – later at Boston Police Department as spokesperson; now at WHDH
- Jim Lokay – anchor and reporter; now at WTTG
- David Muir – anchor and reporter (2000-2003), now at ABC News; host of ABC World News Tonight
- Dawn Fratangelo - weekend anchor and weekday reporter (1989-1991), now NBC News correspondent
- Lee Webb - sportscaster (1982-1984), later main anchor at WTLV-TV in Jacksonville
- Keith Olbermann – sportscaster (1984-1985), ESPN host; SportsCenter anchor 1992–1997
- Bill O'Reilly - commentator (1985-1987), now with Fox News Channel
- Chet Curtis – main anchor (1972-2000), deceased
- Natalie Jacobson – main anchor (1972-2007), now retired
- Susan Wornick – news anchor and reporter (1981-2014), now retired