Channel 56 is the oldest UHF license in Boston. It first went on the air on August 31, 1953 as WTAO-TV; the station was originally owned by Middlesex Broadcasting, along with WTAO radio (740 AM, now WJIB) and WXHR (96.9 FM, now WBQT). The station's studio and transmitter were located atop Zion Hill, in Woburn, Massachusetts. WTAO was nominally affiliated with DuMont and ABC, though it was largely programmed as an independent station, especially after DuMont eliminated entertainment programming in 1955 and ABC opted to revert to secondary clearances on WNAC-TV (channel 7, now WHDH) and, to a lesser extent, WBZ-TV (channel 4)–these moves effectively left WTAO reliant on movies and limited local programming to fill its airtime. WTAO was written off as a failure and signed off for the last time on March 30, 1956 due to low viewership (only a small percentage of Boston area television sets were even capable of receiving UHF as set manufacturers were not required to equip televisions with UHF tuners until 1964, following the 1961 passage of the All-Channel Receiver Act) and therefore, lack of revenue from sponsors. The station went back on the air on May 17, 1962 for a six-month Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study before being taken off the air again on November 17 of the same year.
The channel 56 license, which adopted the WXHR-TV call letters in 1965, was purchased by Kaiser Broadcasting and the Boston Globe in 1966. The new owners returned the station to the air on December 21 of that year as independent station WKBG-TV (standing for "Kaiser Broadcasting/Boston Globe"), operating from a studio in Brookline but using the same Zion Hill transmission tower used by WTAO. Heard over its test patterns in preparing to sign on and in its opening day broadcast, was the Bert Kaempfert hit instrumental "That Happy Feeling."
WKBG intended the Brookline studios to be temporary, and in 1969, it moved to a much larger facility in a former supermarket on Morrissey Boulevard in the Dorchester section of Boston. By that time, the station's transmitter had moved to a site in Needham. The antenna at the Needham site gave channel 56 better coverage of the southern portion of the Boston market than the Woburn site afforded.
As a Kaiser station, channel 56's schedule consisted primarily of cartoons, off-network sitcoms, older movies and occasionally, network shows that were preempted by other local stations. However, the station was willing to experiment with such projects as Universal Television's Operation Prime Time (although Paramount Television would contribute some programs as well) and syndicated reruns of National Geographic specials in primetime. Such common independent station programming as a Saturday Creature Double Feature (following repeats of The Outer Limits) reached youthful and cult audiences. U.S. talk show host Conan O'Brien has credited the station's rotation of classic musicals during its primetime movie offerings with encouraging him to consider a career as a performer.
For most of its tenure as an independent station, channel 56 was well behind WSBK-TV (channel 38)—which had exclusive rights to broadcasting the games of the highly popular Boston Bruins, and was carried on almost every cable provider in New England—in the ratings. Still, it was carried on most cable providers throughout New England, and channel 56 did carry some sports programming of its own, including road games of the Boston Celtics from 1966 to 1969 and road telecasts of the Boston Bruins in 1966-67. It also carried telecasts of the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers (now the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes) from 1972 to 1974 (25 regular-season games during the 1972-73 season and 20 games during the 1973-74 season, some home and some away games broadcast each year). In early 1974, the station agreed to carry away games of the Boston Bulls of the World Football League and carry the TVS package of WFL games, but the franchise folded shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, the station (now WLVI) honored the contract they had signed with TVS to carry the WFL national package.
In 1974, the Boston Globe sold its share in WKBG back to Kaiser. The call letters were then changed to the current WLVI-TV (reflecting the Roman numeral for 56, LVI) that May, and in 1977, Chicago-based Field Communications (which had acquired 22.5% of Kaiser in 1972) purchased WLVI and the other Kaiser stations (both WLVI, and present-day sister station WHDH, dropped the "-TV" suffix from their callsigns on July 8, 2010).
In 1983, WLVI was sold to the Gannett Company as part of a liquidation of Field's television assets. Under Gannett, WLVI continued its general entertainment format, which included children's programming from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m., as well as from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m. under the WLVI Kids' Club banner. For the generation of New England children growing up during this period, "Uncle Dale" Dorman (also a popular Boston radio personality) was the familiar personality associated with the Kids' Club, who hosted the cartoons via off-screen announcements. By 1990, Dorman had left the station and was replaced by Paul Wagner and Elizabeth Dann, who, unlike Dorman, appeared in on-camera segments and whom also doubled as announcers. From 1985 to 1990, WLVI again became the carrier of the Boston Celtics road games.
WLVI continued to use the Field Communications-style station branding and logo for nearly a decade after Gannett acquired the station. In 1992, the numeric logo changed to a design in which the number "56" was encased in a tall, purple/blue box, with the "WLVI" calls appearing in a thin font above it in a purple/blue strip. The "5" was placed in the top left corner of the box, while the "6" appeared below it in the lower right-hand corner. The logo design, and numerals font, was directly replicated from the positions of the "5" and "6" that appeared on the clock face of the Custom House Tower.
WB affiliation and Tribune Company ownership (1995–2006)Edit
In November 1993, Gannett sold the station to the Tribune Company's broadcasting division, which was finalized in early 1994. Tribune then affiliated the station with the fledgling WB Television Network, which launched on January 11, 1995. Soon afterward, after having been branded as "Channel 56" or "TV 56" for most of its history (with the minor exception of its branding as "Living 56" in the late 1980s under Gannett ownership), the station rebranded as "WB 56". A new red and white WB affiliate-style logo debuted in May 1995, which was used on most station branding from the start. The 1992 Custom House Clock Tower logo remained in use only on the 10 p.m. newscast until mid-1996 (along with a top-of-the-hour ID that aired before the start of the newscast, in which the previous logo appeared with The WB's logo and network backlot visuals). The station added WB prime time shows, as well as (by September 1995) children's programs from Kids' WB on weekday afternoons. Cartoons (such as Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon) and recent sitcoms continued to be part of the schedule, but a few talk and reality shows began to be added by 1996. The station also served as the default WB affiliate for Providence, Rhode Island—where WLVI had been available on cable for decades—until WLWC signed on in 1997.
The station temporarily went off the air in August 1998, when a crane that was erecting a nearby studio-to-transmitter link (STL) tower collapsed onto WLVI's studio building. Though no one was injured and the damage was confined to the station's office spaces, the incident resulted in several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage. The station used a satellite truck for a network programming downlink and studio space at WCVB-TV (channel 5)'s facilities in Needham for its 10 p.m. newscast.
In 1999, WLVI began a one-year stint as the flagship station of the Boston Red Sox, with games produced by an independent company, Jankowski Communications, headed by former CBS executive Gene Jankowski. What was to be a long-term partnership between the team, Jankowski and WLVI, ended after a single year when Jankowski Communications ceased operations. The following year, the station shifted its weekday morning children's programming block hours earlier than the network-recommended 7 a.m. timeslot in favor of a short-lived morning newscast. The station also began running even more syndicated talk and reality shows, and dropped most of its off-network sitcoms except during the evening hours. Afternoon children's programming continues to be supplied by Kids' WB and still continues to do so as of January 2020. Channel 56 is one of several commercial stations in the Boston market that continue to broadcast children's programming on weekdays including WSBK (Nick on UPN), WFXT (Fox Kids) & WHDH (The Disney Afternoon). Around 2003, the station began phasing out references to its channel number in its branding, becoming Boston's WB.
On September 14, 2006, Tribune Broadcasting announced that WLVI would be sold to Hearst Television, owner of ABC Affiliates WCVB-TV & WMUR, for $117.3 million. The sale received FCC approval in late November 2006, creating Boston's Second television duopoly (after CBS-owned WHDH-TV and WSBK). Tribune continued to operate WLVI until December 18, 2006, when the Tribune-run station website was closed and replaced with a redirect to the new Hearst-run website, and the final Tribune-produced newscast aired; the sale to Hearst was completed the following day.
WLVI's operations were merged with those of WCVB, all of the station's equipment and sales department was moved to WCVB's studios @ TV Place (off Gould Street near the I-95/MA 128/Highland Avenue interchange) in Needham (just 19 miles from WLVI's old Morrissey Boulevard studio by car.), and the station's news department was closed. The consolidation resulted in about 130 layoffs from WLVI, though some newsroom staffers were retained by WCVB, which took over production of WLVI's daily 10 p.m. newscast. The old set and equipment of WLVI were sold at auction several months later. With the sale, WLVI changed its branding to " Boston’s WB 56", though the station is sometimes called "New England's WB" on-air. It has largely become a "pass-through" for automated programming.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|56.1||1080i||16:9||WLVI-DT||Main WLVI programming / The WB|
WLVI shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 56, 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 continued to broadcasts on its pre-transition UHF channel 41. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 56, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.
On February 15, 2017, Hearst Television owner Jordan Wertlieb told The Boston Globe that he had sold WLVI's broadcast frequency in the FCC's spectrum auction for an undisclosed amount that he described as "a lot of money." This was later revealed by the FCC publicly as a market high of $162.1 million. The station has continued operations on virtual channel 56 through a channel-share arrangement with sister station WCVB, which took effect on January 9, 2018.
At WTAO-TV's inception, the station aired two fifteen-minute evening newscasts, at 6 and 10:30 p.m., branded as United Press News and anchored by Bob Merhmann. These newscasts were canceled within two years.
On December 1, 1969, WKBG-TV debuted a half-hour 10:00 p.m. newscast, called Ten PM News; the first primetime newscast on a commercial television station in the market. The newscast was anchored by Boston news veteran Arch MacDonald, who was lured away from WBZ-TV, where he had been a news anchor for two decades. It is also notable for being the first on-screen job for Natalie Jacobson, who went on to become lead anchor at now sister station WCVB-TV in the 1970s. Despite a loyal audience, WKBG lost a considerable amount of money on the newscast and shut the news department down at the end of 1970. MacDonald remained at the station for another year to host a weekday morning interview program. Several other Kaiser stations that had also launched local newscasts shut those news departments down at about the same time. Another station in the Boston market, WXPO-TV in Lowell, had also briefly produced a 10 p.m. newscast in 1969.
Field Communications started a news department shortly before putting WLVI up for sale. In 1982, it began producing a 10 p.m. weeknight newscast, which initially was a pair of ten-minute locally produced inserts in what otherwise was an hour-long simulcast of CNN Headline News. Under Gannett ownership, WLVI expanded it into a half-hour broadcast on April 23, 1984, originally on weeknights only. Debuting as The News at Ten, it established itself with top-drawer talent early on with Boston news veteran Jack Hynes as lead anchor and Bill O'Connell handling sports. Hynes' co-anchors in the first several years were Julie Emry (1984–1986; later of KATU), Uma Pemmaraju (1986–1988; later of WBZ-TV and Fox News Channel), Darlene McCarthy (1988–1990; later of WHDH-TV) and finally Karen Marinella, who became weeknight co-anchor in November 1990 and remained in that capacity until the in-house news operation was shut down. Also within the first few years, O'Connell left and was replaced by sports anchor Rich Schwartz (who was later replaced by Mike Crispina), and original weeknight meteorologist Jerry Brown was replaced by Ron Harris.
During its first three years on the air, The News at Ten was accompanied at 10:30 p.m. by the continuation of cable news service simulcasts. CNN Headline News aired in the timeslot following the local half-hour news, as it did prior to the latter's debut. In January 1986, Headline News was replaced in favor of the nationally syndicated Independent Network News, which was produced by eventual sister station WPIX in New York City. When WLVI's one-year contract with INN expired, the station expanded the weeknight broadcast of The News at Ten to one hour on January 26, 1987; this was followed by the addition of hour-long 10 p.m. weekend editions at the close of that week. The weekend editions were first anchored by WLVI reporter Joe Shortsleeve (later of WBZ-TV) and Odetta Rogers, who had just been hired from Manchester ABC affiliate WMUR-TV “also owned by Hearst”. Bob Gamere, who had been substitute sportscaster on the weeknight broadcasts, was appointed permanent weekend sports anchor. In May 1989, Rogers left for WFSB-TV in Hartford and Gamere was fired after becoming involved in allegations of sexual abuse. At this time, Karen Marinella, who had started out as a general assignment reporter for the station, replaced Rogers until her promotion to weeknights over a year later.
For well over a decade, WLVI was the ratings leader in the 10 p.m. timeslot, with or without news competition in the arena. Although PBS member station WGBH-TV (channel 2) was the only other local station running a newscast at 10:00 (until it was discontinued in 1991), it was not considered a major competitor since WGBH is a non-commercial station. On February 1, 1993, WLVI rebranded its newscasts as The Ten O'Clock News (always emphasizing "the"), essentially reviving the title that had been used by the WGBH newscast. That fall, however, legitimate competition sprang up for The Ten O'Clock News. Fox affiliate WFXT (channel 25) debuted the (originally) New England Cable News-produced Fox 25 News at Ten on September 7, 1993, while WSBK-TV introduced the WBZ-produced WBZ News 4 on TV 38 on October 25. The latter stations aggressively marketed their fledgling newscasts, but 10 o'clock viewers were loyal to WLVI, which remained number one in the ratings.
By this time, Jack Hynes relegated himself to weekend anchor, and commentator/substitute anchor on weekdays, paving the way for future lead anchors Jon Du Pre (1993–95, later of Fox News Channel), Jeff Barnd (1995–2003), and finally Frank Mallicoat (2003–06). Two of these successors were notable for particular stories and signature traits. Soon after he became lead anchor, Du Pre reported a story about a homeless man in Boston, who, years later in his 2000 memoir, he revealed to be his own father (viewers were given no indication in 1993; Du Pre had feared and only speculated at the time that the story subject was, indeed, his father). Barnd, while having developed a strong following with viewers, became known for his joking in-between stories and tendencies to ad-lib. One such occurrence of this behavior in September 2001 shocked local media outlets, in which Barnd jumped from his anchor chair and started dancing around the set after presenting the top story of that night's newscast. Barnd was subsequently disciplined by station management after the incident, but in 2002, the station's news director stated that Barnd was facing termination and that WLVI was seeking a return to a more serious newscast. In January 2003, Barnd was demoted from his anchor position, being relegated to reporting until leaving the station on his own terms two months later. Replacing him was Frank Mallicoat, who, starting in 1991, had handled sports and general assignment reports before joining Karen Marinella as lead anchor.
Another mainstay of WLVI's newscasts was chief meteorologist Mike Wankum, who first joined the station in 1993. Wankum soon gained a following with his unique approach to forecasting and won numerous New England Emmy Awards. Boston Globe columnist Jon Keller was also a fixture for many years as the station's sharp political analyst. His regular feature, Keller at Large, received much critical acclaim. In 2005, Keller departed WLVI to become the new chief political reporter and analyst for WBZ-TV.
The only time WLVI programmed news outside its established 10:00 slot was in June 2000, when it premiered Boston's WB in the Morning. Formatted as a mix of news, talk and lifestyle features, the show aired from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m., supplanting sitcoms and children's shows that had previously aired that time period. The program lasted two years, but could not hold its own against the other local and national morning news programs. The show was canceled in the spring of 2002.
By 2003, with fierce competition emerging from WFXT's now in-house news department, ratings for WLVI's primetime newscast started to decline. Within a year, the station had fallen to third place behind both WFXT (which was now number one) and WSBK's Nightcast at 10 (produced again by WBZ). The WSBK newscast was canceled in January 2005, and WLVI was left in second place. However, it would not regain its former glory during the rest of its tenure as a Tribune-owned station. Due to the increasing popularity of the WFXT newscast and after Tribune closed news departments at its stations in Philadelphia and San Diego, there were unconfirmed rumors that Tribune would shut down the WLVI news department and have the newscast outsourced to another station or even canceled altogether. WLVI initially denied that its news operation would be closed.
As a result of the sale to Hearst Television, WCVB took over production of WLVI's 10:00 p.m. newscast using its existing staff. As the sale only covered the license, network affiliation and technical equipment, most of WLVI's 150 employees remained employed by Tribune until being let go. Jack Hynes closed the station's final in-house newscast on December 18, 2006 with a commentary, calling the sale and shutdown of the station's independent operations a "sad, and even tragic chapter in Boston television history", and noting "someone [else], somewhere, should have, could have, stepped up to the plate and bought the station". WCVB started producing WLVI's newscast the following day on December 19. On that date, the newscast changed its name to News Center 5 at 10 on Boston’s WB 56. From the start of the WCVB production on WLVI until July 2007, the newscasts featured the music and graphics package used for Sinclair’s News Central program.
On July 29, 2008 WLVI “simulcasted with WCVB-TV” newscast begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition And also unveiled a new studio set and graphics for a more compatible look with WKCF (which would not upgrade to high definition newscasts itself until January 2009); WCVB had indicated that it might eventually produce a weekday morning newscast for WLVI, which would compete with WFXT's own weekday morning program. So in 2012; after joining forces with WBZ NewsRadio 1030, WCVB launched a Weekday morning newscast called WBZ NewsRadio 1030 this morning on WB 56. But after 2015 Rhode Island based toy manufacturer Hasbro decided to Produce the WLVI Weekday Morning newscast and renamed it to the WB 56 wake up News, branded on air as The W(B 56)ake Up News (The W is much bigger but still uses the WB typeface) but in 2019 WCVB replaced it with a Weekday Morning Extension to eyeopener that airs on Boston’s WB 56 called the The Wake Up News on Boston’s WB 56 featuring Connor Sentance.
WLVI's 10 p.m. newscast was once seen in Rhode Island on Cox Sports; this arrangement started in January 2001 after Cox Communications dropped WBZ-TV from its Rhode Island systems, a move that otherwise would have left the state without access to newscasts from Boston. The WLVI newscast was dropped in May 2012, when Cox Sports' programming was consolidated into Ocean State Networks, which airs WJAR newscasts when not carrying sports programming.
WLVI continues to air a simulcast of WCVB's 10:00 p.m. newscast.
Notable former on-air staffEdit
- Michael Barkann - sports (now at Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia)
- Mike Crispino - sports (now at the MSG Network)
- Bob Gamere - sports anchor/reporter
- Natalie Jacobson - anchor (later join to WCVB-TV; retired)
- Uma Pemmaraju - anchor (now at Fox News Channel)
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