WTAJ-TV is the CBS-affiliated television station for West-Central Pennsylvania, United States that is licensed to Altoona. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 32 (or virtual channel 10 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Logan Township. Owned by the Nexstar Media Group, the station maintains studios located on 6th Avenue in downtown Altoona.
The station signed on March 1, 1953 as WFBG-TV. The call letters came from the initials of the station's founder, William F. B. Gable, owner of Gable's Department Store in Altoona. Gable also owned WFBG radio (1290 AM and 98.1 FM, now WFGY). In the station's early days, all programs were produced and transmitted live from the studios on Wopsononock Mountain in Altoona; the WFBG stations moved in 1959 to a new studio facility on 6th Avenue, where channel 10 continues to operate from today. Channel 10 was one of the strongest stations in the entire country, utilizing over 300,000 watts to serve its coverage area (most of which is a very rugged dissected plateau). The station could be seen as far west as Pittsburgh and as far east as State College.
At its sign-on, WFBG-TV aired selected programming from all four television networks of the time: ABC, CBS, NBC and the long-defunct DuMont Television Network. In 1955, when DuMont ceased most network operations, WFBG became a primary CBS affiliate although it continued to carry a secondary affiliation with ABC until the early 1970s, usually carrying some of ABC's higher-rated shows. In 1956, WFBG-AM-FM-TV was sold to the Annenberg family's Triangle Publications.
In 1969, then-Governor of Pennsylvania Milton J. Shapp accused Triangle of using its three Pennsylvania television stations—WFBG-TV, WFIL-TV (now WPVI-TV) in Philadelphia and WLYH-TV (now WXBU) in Lebanon—to conduct a smear campaign against him. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found that the charges were true, and forced Triangle to unload all of its broadcasting properties. Following a large divestiture of stations to Capital Cities Communications in early 1971, Triangle sold its remaining outlets, including the WFBG stations, to Gateway Communications in December 1971. The sale was finalized in September 1972, with the radio stations spun off to its general manager in accordance with FCC's cross-ownership policy, and channel 10 being renamed as WTAJ-TV; the new call letters were chosen to acknowledge the station's large viewership in Johnstown. Until 1982, Johnstown and Altoona-State College were separate markets. Although Johnstown had a CBS affiliate of its own, WJNL-TV (channel 19), channel 10 had long claimed Johnstown as part of its primary coverage area; it provided a strong city-grade signal to almost the entire Johnstown market. Until the mid-1980s, it was also available on many cable systems in the Pittsburgh area because Pittsburgh's CBS affiliate, KDKA-TV, preempted a decent amount of CBS shows and most of the preempted shows aired on WTAJ.
When Altoona-State College and Johnstown were collapsed into a single market in 1982, WTAJ became the exclusive CBS affiliate for the newly enlarged market. The "battle" between channels 10 and 19 was not even close, as WJNL's signal had always been marginal at best even in Johnstown and could not be seen at all in most of the eastern portion of the market. Its over-the-air signal barely reached Altoona and just missed State College. WJNL changed its calls to WFAT, and struggled as a low-rated independent station for a decade before going dark in 1991; the frequency was eventually reallocated to the Pittsburgh area, and is now home to that market's CW outlet, WPCW.
Gateway Communications merged with SJL Broadcasting in December 2000. SJL changed its name to Montecito Broadcast Group in 2005. Montecito put WTAJ and two of its other stations in the Northeast—WLYH and Binghamton, New York's WBNG-TV—up for sale shortly after it purchased four television stations (KHON-TV in Honolulu, Hawaii; KOIN in Portland, Oregon; KSNT in Topeka, Kansas and KSNW in Wichita, Kansas) from Emmis Communications. Granite Broadcasting has since purchased WBNG, and on July 26, 2006, Nexstar Broadcasting Group purchased WTAJ and WLYH for $56 million. Nexstar's acquisition was completed on December 29, 2006.
WTAJ-TV is carried on various cable systems in several counties that are located outside of the Johnstown-Altoona market. These counties include Armstrong, Clarion and Indiana, all part of the Pittsburgh DMA. WTAJ is also carried in Mifflin (part of the Harrisburg DMA), Clinton (part of the Scranton-Wilkes Barre DMA), and in portions of McKean (Part of the Buffalo DMA). In Maryland, WTAJ-TV is carried in Cumberland and Hancock, which are both part of the Washington, DC market.
On March 1, 2013 WTAJ kicked off its 60th anniversary with a celebration from the Altoona location of Wolf Furniture. The special included archival clips from WFBG/WTAJ and a look back at their first 60 years. Special segments continued throughout the year.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|10.1||1080i||16:9||WTAJ-HD||Main WTAJ-TV programming / CBS|
On June 15, 2016, Nexstar announced that it has entered into an affiliation agreement with Katz Broadcasting for the Escape, Laff, Grit, and Bounce TV networks (the last one of which is owned by Bounce Media LLC, whose COO Jonathan Katz is president/CEO of Katz Broadcasting), bringing one or more of the four networks to 81 stations owned and/or operated by Nexstar, including WTAJ-TV. (Grit was also available in Johnstown on WJAC-DT4 until June 1, 2017 when it was replaced by TBD. It moved to WTAJ in October 2017).
WTAJ-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 10, 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 32. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 10.
WTAJ's news operation has seen many changes through its more than five and a half decades, both in personnel and technology. Early personalities anchoring news, sports and weather in the 1950s and 1960s included Ted Reinhart, Charlie Ritchey, Big John Riley, Ted Johnson, Charlie Flynn, Bob James, Dick Richards, Jon Schwartz, and Wes Maley. In September 1972, just shortly before the sale of the station to Gateway Communications was finalized, Vice President and General Manager John Stilli stepped down and was succeeded by Ian K. Harrower, who would lead the station into its transition from WFBG to WTAJ. A news director and anchorman named Bob Moore moved to Altoona from Washington, D.C. Also joining TV 10 news was Pam Jenkins, the first female news correspondent from Penn State University. John Riley, Wes Maley, and Ted Johnson stayed on board after the change, but eventually John Riley would be the lone survivor of the on-the-air personalities.
In December 1973, Pam Jenkins left to get married and relocate and in January 1974, Bob Moore left to return to Washington, D.C. as a journalist. This began a new era of Action News when the station over the next few months hired five new young people: news director/anchorman Tim Fritz, reporters and weekend anchors Eric Rabe and Karen Nash, Sports Director George McKenzie and reporter Jon McClintock. Out of these five, Rabe and McClintock became the veterans. They both stayed until October 1979 when Rabe (who succeeded Tim Fritz as news director/anchorman in January 1976) moved on to field reporting in Philadelphia and Jon McClintock simultaneously left to create and head up the Blair County Bureau at WJAC-TV (channel 6) in Johnstown.
Vice President and General Manager Ian K. Harrower said he would hire a news director and an anchorman rather than give both jobs to one man. He hired news director Jim Thompson and anchorman Patrick Van Horn; both subsequently moved on and were succeeded by a number of different people over the next three decades. General Manager Ian Harrower left in February 1980 and was succeeded by J. Thomas Conners. That position has had several men come and go over the past three decades, also. The station suffered a devastating loss in early December 1982 when veteran weatherman John Riley suffered a brain aneurysm from which he never recovered; he remained in a coma for over three years and eventually died in April 1986. In the intervening years, the station has had many anchors and reporters come and go.
In late May 2007, WTAJ launched a redesigned website. On January 28, 2008, the station unveiled a new logo, slogan, and a re-designed set to replace the old set that had been used since 1995. The station also announced plans to enlarge its coverage in Johnstown since WWCP-TV and WATM have shut down their news department. Plans include a new Cambria County newsroom.
On September 12, 2011, WTAJ debuted an hour-long 4 p.m. newscast called Central PA Live. The program is the Johnstown-Altoona-State College market’s first 4 p.m. newscast. The program features topics pertaining to various news stories, along with lifestyle content; it utilizes social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to allow viewer discussions.
On November 9, 2011, WTAJ was in the national spotlight when one of its news trucks was flipped over by Penn State students (along with its windshield getting smashed), as it was covering the riots on the PSU campus following the firing of head football coach Joe Paterno due to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.