WCNC-TV, virtual channel 36 (UHF digital channel 22), is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company. WCNC's studios are 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-TV is carried in standard definition on Charter Spectrum channel 6, Comporium Communications channel 106 and AT&T U-verse channel 36, and in high definition on Spectrum digital channel 1203 (channel 706 on legacy Charter systems), Comporium channel 1106 and U-verse channel 1036.
Original Channel 36 allocationEdit
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 as WUTV under different ownership in 1957 was unsuccessful, but it aired educational programming from 1962 to 1963. 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 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 initially a low budget independent station on the air about seven hours a day from 5 p.m. until midnight with some very old movies, westerns, some comedy shows from the early 1950s, and public affairs shows. The station had very modern equipment for the time and broadcast some shows and movies in color. It also had decent production facilities. The station hit hard times financially and was put up for sale in 1969 and sold to Ted Turner in 1970. Under Turner, it changed its call letters to WRET-TV (after his initials, Robert Edward Turner). He significantly expanded and upgraded the station's programming and made it profitable almost eventually, as he did in Atlanta with what later became Superstation WTBS (it is now WPCH-TV). 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 as successful as WTCG's was in states adjacent to Georgia. The station expanded to 11 a.m. sign on and 1 a.m. signoffs. WRET became a typical UHF independent, airing a lineup of cartoons, sitcoms, older movies and sporting events. In 1971, the station began signing on at 7 a.m. weekdays with a cartoon block until 9, public affairs shows until 10 a.m. and The 700 Club from 10 a.m. to noon. It was one of several non-CBN stations to begin airing The 700 Club and gradually more stations were added; the show was syndicated nationally in 1974.
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. This was the first news operation ever owned by the future founder of CNN. Action News 36 failed to 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 eraEdit
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 that June. The $20 million purchase price that Westinghouse paid for the station was then the highest ever paid for a UHF station. Westinghouse changed the station's call letters to WPCQ-TV on October 13 (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 network) rebranded itself as Q36, and added more syndicated game shows and talk shows to its lineup. It was Group W's only station on the UHF band, and the only one not (then) located in a "Top 25" market. 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 initially expanded by Turner in 1979 but was significantly cut back by 1982. 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 by the network 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 the other Group W-owned stations as Evening Magazine) had been seen on WBTV since before Westinghouse's purchase of WPCQ, 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 news programming, the station preempted significant amounts of NBC's schedule. 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 preemptions 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, both now CBS owned-and-operated stations) turned profits and ran full-scale newscasts.
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 (129 km) south of Charlotte, even though WPCQ's transmitter was only 20 miles (32 km) north of the state line.
Renaissance and JournalEdit
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 or on satellite on virtual channel 36 (its technical, physical channel is on UHF channel 22).
Sale to Local TV, then TribuneEdit
On October 14, 2008, Belo announced that it would purchase WBTV from Raycom Media in an all-stock transaction. Because FCC ownership rules prohibit duopolies between two of the market's highest-rated stations, it was required to divest WCNC. On January 13, 2009, Belo announced that it would swap WCNC to Local TV in favor of purchasing WNEP-TV in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The sale was approved by the FCC on May 13, 2009, and was consummated on May 31.