WNAC-TV is the Fox-affiliated television station for the state of Rhode Island and Bristol County, Massachusetts licensed to Providence. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 12 from a transmitter on Homestead Avenue in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. Owned by Super Towers, the station is operated through a local marketing agreement (LMA) by Media General as sister to CBS affiliate WPRI-TV. Although the two share studios on Catamore Boulevard in East Providence, master control and some traffic responsibilities are based in hub facilities at NBC affiliate WWLP in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
Although WNAC's current incarnation dates to September 5, 1981, its analog license was one of the oldest active UHF licenses in New England. It first signed on August 29, 1953 as WNET-TV, the second television station in Rhode Island. At that time, it was located on channel 16 and affiliated with ABC. It also shared DuMont programming with NBC station WJAR-TV.
Conventional wisdom suggested that, as the second station in the area, WNET should have taken the CBS affiliation. However, WPRO-TV (now WPRI) had won a construction permit just before WNET received its permit and had already been promised the CBS affiliation due to its radio sister's long affiliation with CBS Radio. WPRO-TV was originally supposed to sign on in spring 1953 from a transmitter in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. However, town officials forced WPRO-TV to move its transmitter site to Johnston, Rhode Island.
Although this pushed back channel 12's planned sign-on to 1954, CBS refused to let WNET carry its programming in the meantime due to a weak signal, preferring to keep its secondary affiliation with WJAR. This did not change even after Hurricane Carol destroyed WPRO-TV's transmitter just before it was due to sign on. WNET struggled against dominant WJAR because television manufacturers were not required to include UHF tuning capability. Viewers had to buy an expensive converter in order to receive WNET, and even then the picture quality was marginal at best. It did not help matters that Boston's WBZ-TV and the original WNAC-TV, also in Boston, both decently covered the Providence area.
When WPRO-TV finally signed on in 1955 from a transmitter in Rehoboth, ABC allowed it to cherry-pick some of the network's most popular programming despite the fact that WNET was the ABC affiliate of record in the market. This move by ABC proved fatal to WNET. Only months earlier, DuMont had announced it was all but getting out of network television. The station had been badly under-capitalized from the start, and required sustenance from the stronger network shows. It did not have nearly enough resources to buy an additional 16 hours of programming per day. With DuMont in its death throes and few choices for alternative programming available, WNET closed down almost unnoticed in 1956.
The license remained active for 25 years largely because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was wary of deleting silent UHF stations. In the 1960s, the FCC reassigned channels 14 through 20 for two-way radio use and Providence's silent channel 16 license was moved to channel 64. However, it remained under the ownership "Channel 16 of Providence" for many years. The WNET calls were picked up by a PBS member station in Newark, New Jersey in 1970. At some point between then and 1980, the dormant channel 64 changed its calls to WSTG-TV. The CP was sold to another owner known as "Topcor Inc."
Topcor returned channel 64 to the air as WSTG in December 1981. It originally operated from studios adjacent to its transmitter located on Pine Street in Rehoboth. It was the first general-entertainment Independent in Rhode Island. Initially, it was only on the air for four hours a day, the minimum required to cover the license. Its schedule consisted of public domain movies and public domain film shorts. Soon after, it added several religious shows (like The 700 Club and The PTL Club) and expanded to about seven hours a day. In the fall of 1982, WSTG began signing-on at noon with religious shows, adding classic and recent cartoons starting at 3, some low-budget drama shows starting at 6, a prime-time movie at 8, and more religious shows at 10 finally signing-off by 1 in the morning. Topcor sold the station to Providence TV Ltd. in 1983. In January 1984, WSTG began signing on at 6 a.m., expanding its broadcast day to 19 hours.
Under new ownership, the station continued running older cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, and Tom and Jerry among others during early mornings and late afternoons. Religious shows occupied late mornings. Older movies occupied prime time. Older sitcoms like Bewitched, I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, Beverly Hillbillies, and I Dream of Jeannie among others occupied midday hours and evenings. Although WSTG received modest ratings, financial problems led Providence TV to sell the station again in 1986 to Sudbrink Broadcasting, who changed the calls to the current WNAC-TV. The WNAC calls had last been used in Boston on one of the stations that indirectly caused WNET's demise in 1956. That station is now NBC affiliate WHDH-TV. The station was sold including barter programs and some movies but the cash programs, coming mostly from Viacom were excluded.
The station would change hands in October 1986. On the last three days before Sudbrink bought the station, it ran marathons of the shows not remaining on the station after closing. Sudbrink kept the cartoons, some of the movies, and a couple of older barter sitcoms. It also upgraded the schedule with several recent off network sitcoms and drama shows as well as newer movies. It also became one of the charter affiliates of Fox on October 6, 1986.
However, Sudbrink's ambitious ownership wouldn't last long. The ink had barely dried on its purchase of channel 64 when it was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. WNAC was then sold to Price Communications in the spring of 1988. Price sold WNAC along with three of its stations—WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, WSEE-TV in Erie, Pennsylvania and WAPT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi to Northstar Television Group in 1989. In the 1990s, WNAC began to add more talk and reality shows to its lineup. Northstar sold three of its stations (WNAC, WZZM and WAPT) to Argyle Television in 1994.
In 1996, Argyle entered into a LMA with WPRI, then owned by Clear Channel Communications. The partnership with WPRI was ironic, since WPRI's sign-on had sealed WNET's fate forty years earlier. As part of the deal, WNAC's operations were moved to WPRI's studios in East Providence. The popular animated three-dimensional "Fox 64" logo that was used from 1989 to 1995 was changed to a more generic "Fox 64" logo that was used from 1996 to 2002.
In 1998 after Argyle merged with Hearst Corporation's broadcasting unit (creating Hearst-Argyle Television), it swapped WNAC along with WDTN in Dayton, Ohio to Sunrise Television in exchange for WPTZ in Plattsburgh, New York, WNNE in Hartford, Vermont, and KSBW in Salinas, California. This was due to a significant signal overlap with WCVB-TV, Boston's ABC affiliate. That station's city-grade signal covers nearly all of the Providence market, as is the case with most of Boston's major stations. At the time, the FCC normally did not allow common ownership of two stations with overlapping signals and would not even consider granting a waiver for a city-grade overlap. Sunrise bought WPRI from Clear Channel in 2000, then sold WNAC to LIN TV in early 2001 since FCC regulations do not allow common ownership of two of the four highest-rated stations in the same market.
However, LIN TV was forced to put WNAC back on the market almost as soon as it closed on the station's purchase due to the ownership structures of Sunrise and LIN TV. Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst (now HM Capital), a private-equity firm co-founded by Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks, was and still is majority owner of LIN TV. At the same time, HMTF also controlled a large block of Sunrise stock. The FCC ruled that HMTF's stake in Sunrise was large enough that it could not own a station in markets where LIN TV owned a station as well.
It took LIN TV nearly a year to find a suitable buyer for WNAC. In April 2002, LIN TV sold this channel to Super Towers Inc., a broadcasting tower company, owned by Timothy Sheehan, a brother-in-law of former LIN TV Vice President Paul Karpowicz (now president of Meredith Corporation's broadcasting unit). This sale allowed Sunrise and LIN TV to complete their merger the following month. WNAC's LMA with WPRI continues to this day with Super Towers doing business as "WNAC, LLC".
On January 24, 2006, The WB and UPN announced that the networks would cease broadcasting and merge into a new network called The CW. In response, News Corporation announced on February 22 that it would start up another new network called MyNetworkTV in order to give UPN and WB stations not joining The CW another option besides becoming Independent. It was a given that primary UPN and secondary WB affiliate WLWC would become Rhode Island's CW station based on its ownership by CBS. The MyNetworkTV affiliation in Rhode Island then went to WNAC which initially carried the network as a secondary affiliation. The network began broadcasting on September 5 while WLWC joined The CW on September 18. Until October 1, 2009, WNAC delayed MyNetworkTV's prime-time programming until 11:30 on weeknights and 12:30 in the morning on Sundays for Saturday programming.
On that date, the station moved the MyNetworkTV affiliation to its second digital subchannel  WNAC-DT2 originally aired a 24-hour local weather channel known as the "Eyewitness News Pinpoint Weather Station". This became offered exclusively on Cox digital channel 125 in 2007 for unknown reasons. WNAC-DT2 then switched to a live feed of WPRI's weather radar before being changed to MyNetworkTV.
On May 18, 2007, LIN TV announced that it was exploring strategic alternatives that could have resulted in the sale of the company. On October 12, WNAC invoked the FCC’s network non-duplication rule resulting in Comcast, blacking out Fox prime-time and sports programming from Fox owned-and-operated WFXT in Boston on its cable systems in New Bedford and Bristol County, Massachusetts. This change did not affect the airing of that station's syndicated lineup or local newscasts.
During the transition period, WPRI had been operating at half power to allow half of its transmitter to be converted for WNAC's digital operation. On June 29, 2009, the station became the new home of CBS Television Distribution's syndicated shows including: Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition as a result of the distributor and ABC affiliate WLNE-TV's dispute over non-payment and breach of contract. WNAC is also considered an alternate CBS affiliate airing that network's programs when WPRI is unable to because of breaking news or local special.
On March 21, 2014, LIN Media entered into an agreement to merge with Media General in a $1.6 billion deal. Because Media General already owns NBC affiliate WJAR (channel 10), the companies were required to sell either WJAR or WPRI-TV to another station owner in order to comply with FCC ownership rules as well as planned changes to those rules regarding same-market television stations which would prohibit sharing agreements; the LMA involving WNAC will be included in the sale. On August 20, 2014, Media General announced that it would keep WPRI and the LMA with WNAC and sell WJAR to Sinclair Broadcast Group. The merger was completed on December 19.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|64.1||720p||16:9||WNAC-HD||Main WNAC-TV programming / Fox|
|64.2||480i||16:9||MyRITV||WNAC-DT2 / MyNetworkTV|
WNAC-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over UHF channel 64, on February 17, 2009, the original date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal relocated to VHF channel 12, using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 64, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.
In 1996, WPRI began producing the market's first nightly prime-time newscast at 10 on WNAC called FOX News Providence, eventually titled "FOX 64 News at 10:00". This was joined in April 1997 by a WJAR-produced show seen weeknights on WLWC entitled TV 28 News at 10. However, that was dropped in September when the WJAR LMA with WLWC ended. In 2004, an hour-long extension of WPRI's weekday morning newscast was added to WNAC at 7 branded as Eyewitness News This Morning on FOX Providence. It was eventually cancelled, but was brought back early in 2009 to precede The Rhode Show.
On October 1, 2007, WJAR began airing 10 at 10 on its NBC Weather Plus second digital subchannel. This was a live ten-minute update consisting of the top stories of the day along with a current weather forecast. When WJAR-DT2 switched to the Retro Television Network (RTV), the show expanded to a half-hour format and renamed 10 at 10 on RTV. A third prime-time newscast at 10PM aired on WLNE's Cox-exclusive News Channel 5 from October 22, 2008 until March 2011. However, it was only occasionally shown, primarily when Fox Sports programming pre-empted the prime-time broadcast on WNAC. WLNE's contract with Cox channel 5 ended on February 1, 2012 and is now operated by WJAR as Ocean State Networks (OSN).
WNAC and WPRI received an on-air overhaul introducing a new news set and updated graphics on March 17, 2008.
On February 18, 2009, WNAC launched an hour-long lifestyle and entertainment magazine-type program called The Rhode Show that aired weekday mornings at 8AM. A new secondary set for the show was built with a fully functional kitchen. The show was previously hosted by the weekday morning news anchor teams (Vince DeMentri & Elizabeth Hopkins from February 2009 - March 2010, Patrick Little & Elizabeth Hopkins from March 2010 - November 2010, and Patrick Little & Danielle North from November 2010 - December 2011). A third host for a period of one year was found annually through open audition in a contest titled The Rhode Show Search for a Star. In 2008, Boston-area radio deejay Shawn Tempesta won the contest out of over 140 people. In 2009, Cranston comedian Ben Hague beat out over 100 other hopefuls. Bridgewater State University graduate Michaela Johnson of East Providence won the honor in 2010. During the week, The Rhode Show was streamed live on WNAC's website. The main channel re-aired the show weekday afternoons at 1PM with WNAC-DT2 (MyRITV) doing the same at 4PM.
On September 20, 2011, WPRI and WNAC became the last two stations in Rhode Island to begin broadcasting their newscasts in high definition. Set reconfiguration began on July 22, 2011 and lasted nearly two months. Newscasts in the interim aired from The Rhode Show studio. WJAR was the first in Rhode Island to have made the upgrade, on May 16, 2011, followed by WLNE on September 13, 2011. Eyewitness News has won the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Associated Press News Station of the Year award nine years in a row since 2004, its most recent coming in May 2012.
In December 2011, it was announced that on January 9, 2012, The Rhode Show would move to WPRI and would now begin at 9AM. Michaela Johnson and former WPRO-FM (92 PRO-FM) personality Will Gilbert became permanent hosts of the show and Mary Larsen was selected as the third host in the 2011 Search for a Star contest. MyRITV now re-airs the show at 2PM on weekdays. In addition, Eyewitness News This Morning on FOX Providence was extended to fill the hour previously occupied by The Rhode Show. The newscast now airs from 7-9. As a result of the 2012 World Series preempting late evening newscasts normally seen on the main WNAC channel, MyRITV began airing live newscasts featuring continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy. This channel now regularly airs newscasts in the event they are preempted on the main channels. On January 13, 2014, WPRI announced that it would be expanding its early evening news by launching a 6:30 p.m. newscast on WNAC on January 27. Also in 2014, WNAC began simulcasting WPRI's weekday morning newscasts from 4:30 to 7.
Notable current on-air staff
- Michelle Muscatello - weekday mornings (7:00-9:00); also weekday mornings (4:30-7:00 a.m.) and weekdays at noon on WPRI-TV