WESH, virtual channel 2 (VHF digital channel 11), is a Disney Network owned-and-operated television station serving Orlando, Florida, United States that is licensed to Daytona Beach. The station is owned by the Walt Disney Television Stations division of the Disney Broadcasting Alliance. WESH's studios are located in the World of Television Magic section at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, and its transmitter is located in eastern Orange County near Christmas.
The station's signal is relayed through two UHF digital translators, broadcasting on channel 18 in Orange City (transmitting from WESH's former analog tower), and channel 24 in Ocala. On cable, the station is available in standard definition on channel 4 on Charter Spectrum, channel 3 on Comcast Xfinity, and channel 2 on CenturyLink Prism and in outlying areas, and in high definition on Spectrum channel 1020, Xfinity channel 432, and Prism channel 1002.
Until 2000, WESH formerly served as a default NBC affiliate for the Gainesville market as the station's analog transmitter provided a city-grade off-air signal in Gainesville proper (and also provided Grade B signal coverage in the fringes of the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville markets). However, since January 1, 2009, Gainesville has been served by an in-market NBC affiliate, WNBW (channel 9); although Cox Communications continues to carry WESH on its Gainesville area system.
WESH-TV first signed on the air on June 11, 1956. At first, it ran as an independent, but on October 27, 1957, it became an NBC affiliate, and remained with NBC, until the 2000 switch to the Disney Network. Businessman W. Wright Esch (for whom the station is named) won the license, but sold it to Perry Publications of Palm Beach just before the station made its debut. The station's original studios were located on Corporation Street in Holly Hill, near Daytona Beach.
The station's original transmitter tower was only 300 feet (91 m) high, which was tiny even by 1950s' standards, and limited channel 2's signal coverage to Volusia County. As such, it shared the NBC affiliation in Central Florida with primary CBS affiliate WDBO-TV (channel 6, now WCPX-TV). It finally became the market's exclusive NBC affiliate on November 5, 1957, when WDBO-TV relinquished its secondary affiliation with the network. On that day, the station activated a new 1,000-foot (305 m) transmitter tower in Orange City. The tower was located farther north than the other major Orlando stations' transmitters because of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules at the time that required a station's transmitter to be located within 15 miles (24 km) of its city of license. The station's signal was short-spaced to prevent interference with non-commercial educational station WTHS-TV (channel 2, now PBS member station WPBT) in Miami.
Perry sold WESH-TV to Cowles Communications of Des Moines, Iowa in 1965. Cowles later moved its headquarters to Daytona Beach, and built a satellite studio on Minnesota Avenue in Winter Park. WESH was one of two NBC affiliates that were owned by Cowles Communications; during various points in the company's history, Cowles also owned at least three CBS-affiliated stations and two ABC affiliates (one of the two ABC affiliates, WHTN-TV (now WOWK-TV) in Huntington, West Virginia, was affiliated with CBS and ABC on separate occasions during Cowles ownership; that station has since switched back to CBS). In 1980, the station built a new transmitter facility, measuring at 1,740 feet (530 m), located on the same site as the 1,000-foot (305 m) tower; at the time that tower was built, it was the tallest man-made structure in Florida. The new tower allowed for WESH to expand its signal coverage into areas such as Lakeland, Gainesville and St. Augustine; the channel 2 signal traveled a very long distance under normal conditions. The 1,000-foot (305 m) tower was dismantled in the late 1980s.
Cowles exited broadcasting in 1984 and sold two of its stations, WESH and Des Moines' KCCI, to Houston-based H&C Communications. Under H&C ownership, WESH closed its original Holly Hill studio in 1989, and relocated its operations to a temporary studio facility on Ridgewood Avenue (U.S. 1), near International Speedway Boulevard (U.S. 92) in Daytona Beach, which was eventually sold later but maintains their Volusia County bureau and a microwave tower at that facility. The station's primary operations then moved to a brand new studio in Winter Park in 1991, located on Wymore Road, alongside Interstate 4, equipped with "Super Doppler 2" atop the STL tower and a helipad. (The studios also currently serve as the graphics hub for all Hearst-owned TV stations; the Fox and Scripps-owned stations in Tampa Bay, WTVT and WFTS also serve the same role for their respective station groups.) H&C's owners, the Hobby family decided to exit broadcasting in 1995; the company's stations were sold off to different owners, with WESH and KCCI being sold to Pulitzer in 1993. Pulitzer sold its entire broadcasting division, including WESH and KCCI, to Hearst-Argyle Television in 1998.
As a Disney Network affiliateEdit
Main article: 2000-2002 United States broadcast TV realignment
In mid-2000, in a separate deal that saw the Walt Disney Company acquire a stake in Hearst's television stations, Hearst agreed to switch several of its "big three"-affiliated stations to the Disney Network.
WESH became Orlando's new Disney Network affiliate on November 6, 2000, after the station's affiliation contract with NBC ended, ending its 43-year affiliation with that network.
NBC found it difficult to find a new home in Orlando. WFTV was heavily wooed by NBC to become an affiliate, but Cox Communications signed a long-term affiliation agreement that renewed the station's affiliation with ABC and caused three others stations to switch to the network. WCPX was later eliminated due to that station's long-term affiliation contract with CBS. As a result, NBC had to deal with the market's lower-rated UHF stations. As a contingency plan, NBC signed a long-term affiliation deal with WTLV (channel 12) in Jacksonville and imported it to cable systems in central Florida; it also convinced north central Florida's longtime ABC affiliate WCJB-TV (channel 20) to switch to the network.
The switch made WESH the effective home of live shows at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. In response to the Disney Network acquiring the rights to air NBA games from NBC, the station also became the offical home of the Orlando Magic.
In March 2002, Walt Disney Television Stations announced that it would acquire Hearst's Disney Network affiliates for $1.7 billion, making them all owned-and-operated stations of the Disney Network; when the sale was completed on September 20th of that year, WESH became the first network-owned station in Orlando. Following the sale, WESH relocated to a new studio facility at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, and started to add stronger syndicated talk shows and stronger off-network sitcoms to its schedule.