WTAP-TV is the NBC-affiliated television station for the Mid–Ohio Valley that is licensed to Parkersburg, West Virginia. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 49 (or virtual channel 15.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Independence Township, Ohio. The station can also be seen on Suddenlink channel 4 and CAS Cable channel 3. There's a high definition feed offered on Suddenlink digital channel 104 and CAS Cable digital channel 384. Owned by Gray Television, WTAP is sister to low-powered Fox affiliate WOVA-LD and low-powered CBS outlet WIYE-LD. The three television stations share studios on Market Street (official address is One Television Plaza) in downtown Parkersburg.
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The station signed-on Veterans Day 1953. WTAP aired an analog signal on UHF channel 15 and, early in its life, aired programming from all four major networks of the time—NBC, ABC, CBS and DuMont—but, then as now, was a primary NBC affiliate. WJPB-TV in Fairmont (channel 35, now WDTV on channel 5) launched four months later and took on exactly the same affiliation. Original plans called for WTAP to join WJPB and turn the Parkersburg and Clarksburg areas into one giant television market. However, the area is a very rugged dissected plateau and neither station's signal was strong enough to carry across the terrain. Additionally, Parkersburg and Fairmont are 70 miles apart, and UHF stations don't carry very well across long distances in any event.
As a result, WTAP currently remains the only commercial station based in Parkersburg. The only other outlets licensed to the city are outlying translators of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Trinity Broadcasting Network. By the mid-1950s, it was obvious that Clarksburg/Weston/Fairmont and Parkersburg/Marietta were going to be separate markets. However, WTAP retained secondary affiliations with ABC and CBS until 1970, when it became a sole NBC affiliate.
As it is the sole commercial station in town, area cable systems have long piped in stations from outlying markets. Suddenlink's system in Washington County, Ohio (home to Marietta) supplements the area with stations from Columbus, as does the Parkersburg/Marietta DirecTV feed. CAS Cable and Suddenlink's systems in Wood and Pleasants Counties in West Virginia supplement coverage with stations from the Huntington/Charleston market.
The station's first studios were on West 7th Street in Downtown Parkersburg near Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital. It had a number of owners in its early days including the Zanesville Publishing Company which bailed WTAP out when it almost went off-the-air in the mid-1950s. It held ownership for about a decade until a group of local businessmen bought the station. The station was acquired by Benedek Broadcasting of Hoffman Estates, Illinois in 1980. The West 7th Street facilities were also home to WTAP-AM 1230 until the radio station was spun off and sold to a separate entity. In Summer 1990, WTAP-TV moved to its present studios in a former industrial research building. A long-time WTAP on-air personality, Glenn Wilson, suggested and got Parkersburg's approval to rename the last block of Market Street "Television Plaza." As a result, the new building was given "One Television Plaza" as the official mailing address.
After Benedek declared bankruptcy and sold most of its stations in 2002, WTAP was bought by Gray Television. In 2004, it was the first NBC affiliate in West Virginia to offer programming from the network in high definition. In late 2005, Gray purchased NBC affiliate WSAZ-TV in Huntington making that station and WTAP sisters. On April 10, 2006, the station launched new second and third digital subchannel to serve as the area's Fox and UPN affiliates, respectively. To make these services possible, WTAP underwent a technical transformation. It carved out two new digital high definition-ready control rooms from space previously used for storage. The station also installed entirely digital production and master control rooms.
After UPN merged with The WB to form The CW in September 2006, WTAP-DT3 transitioned from UPN to Fox's new sister network, MyNetworkTV. WTAP has been digital-only since February 17, 2009. As of May 2011, the station has received approval from Parkersburg to erect a new transmitter tower adjacent to its studios. This will greatly improve its over-the-air signals WTAP sends to and from its main transmitter site across the Ohio River in Independence Township. The new tower is expected to be completed before the end of 2011.
In addition, WTAP has been given permission by the FCC to maximize its over-the-air television signal from its Constitution, OH, main transmitter site. This will raise the Effective Radiated Power (ERP) from the current 47KW to 315KW. While this may result in some increased service area, it is actually designed to improve the overall penetration of WTAP's free signal within the three main service counties of Wood (WV), Pleasants (WV), and Washington (OH). This increased power may go into service in late 2011 or early 2012. WTAP is carried on multiple cable systems (in roughly a fifty-mile radius of Parkersburg) stretching as far east as West Union, West Virginia, as far south as Point Pleasant, West Virginia, as far north as Guernsey County, Ohio, and as far west as Athens, Ohio.
WTAP is one of the strongest NBC affiliates in the United States according to Nielsen ratings. Over the years, its various owners have invested considerable resources in its news operation. It airs 4.5 hours of news every weekday, a considerable amount for what has always been a very small market (it is currently the 193rd market). Although it serves a largely rural area of only 125,000 people, its newscasts have more viewers than many other television stations in medium to large markets sharing audiences with up to three other affiliates.
After Gray Television bought WSAZ, there were rumors WTAP would scrap its news operation and simulcast newscasts from that station. WSAZ has long been available on cable in Parkersburg and its local newscasts, also among the highest-rated in the country, have always covered Parkersburg. However, Gray itself never considered shuttering WTAP's news department. In addition to WTAP's strong ratings performance, many of WTAP and WSAZ's stablemates are fairly close to each other while operating independently.
At some point in time after adding Fox, WTAP-DT2 began offering a 30-minute prime time newscast. Known as Fox Parkersburg News at 10, the weeknight show mirrors local news seen on the main channel, except for slightly different graphics and unique features. The station became the first outlet in West Virginia to upgrade newscasts to high definition on May 29, 2011. The WTAP-DT2 broadcast was included in the change. In addition to its main studios, WTAP operates a bureau in Marietta. Unlike most NBC affiliates in the Eastern Time Zone, the station does not air a full two-hour weekday morning show, half-hour newscast weeknights at 5:30 or local news Sunday nights at 6:00 p.m.