WNEP-TV, virtual channel 16 (UHF digital channel 50), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States and also serving Wilkes-Barre. The station is owned by the Dallas-based Belo Corporation. WNEP-TV's studios are located on Montage Mountain Road in Moosic, and it shares transmitter facilities with PBS member WVIA-TV (channel 44) at the Penobscot Knob antenna farm near Mountain Top.
WILK-TV and WARM-TVEdit
There were originally two ABC network affiliates in northeastern Pennsylvania. WILK-TV, operating on channel 34 and owned by WILK radio took to the air from Wilkes-Barre on September 16, 1953. It was followed by Scranton-licensed WARM-TV, broadcasting on channel 16 and owned by future Governor William Scranton along with WARM radio, in February 1954. During the late 1950s, WILK-TV was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
WILK wanted to get a head start on the other local stations when it signed on in 1953, going on the air at 2 p.m. rather than the 3 pm sign on that the other stations did. The engineers got the signal ready by noon and decided to take a break. However, at lunch, they turned on the station to inspect their handiwork, only to find the signal was dead. They rushed back and were able to establish the link by 1:50 p.m., 10 minutes before sign-on.
Getting a signal from ABC headquarters in New York City was a challenge in the early days with no access to satellites. As a result, WILK set up a microwave tower in Effort, about 45 miles (72 km) east of Wilkes-Barre. From there, the network signal was bounced to the Penobscot Knob transmitter site. Often, station engineers had to adjust the Effort transmitter to accept a signal from WFIL-TV (now ABC O&O WPVI-TV) in Philadelphia if they were unable to receive the New York feed.
WILK-TV and WARM-TV were both losing money, in large part because their network, ABC, was not on an equal footing with NBC and CBS (and would not be until the 1970s). However, they stayed on the air because they were owned by well-respected local radio stations.
Merger and transitionEdit
By 1955, however, it was obvious that Scranton and Wilkes-Barre were going to be a single television market. In late 1957, WILK-TV and WARM-TV agreed to merge into a single ABC station for Northeastern Pennsylvania. The merged station, then as now, operated under WILK-TV's license, but used WARM-TV's channel 16 in order to provide wider signal coverage at less cost—no small consideration given the station's vast and mostly mountainous coverage area. Transcontinent Television Corporation, a Buffalo, New York-based media firm, acquired a 60 percent interest in the merged station; the remaining shares were split between the WARM and WILK groups, with William Scranton as chairman. The merged station, WNEP-TV, was licensed to Scranton, and split operations between WILK-TV's former facility in Wilkes-Barre and a new studio in Scranton. In 1962, WNEP-TV consolidated its operations at a new studio near Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in Avoca. WILK-TV's transmitter site at Penobscot Knob was retained by WNEP-TV, and the WARM-TV transmitter was donated a decade later to the area's PBS member station, WVIA-TV (channel 44).
Meanwhile, the WILK-TV facility was repurposed as a satellite repeater of WNEP-TV until late summer 1958. The channel 34 assignment was later reallocated to Binghamton, New York, to be occupied by ABC affiliate WBJA-TV (now WIVT) beginning in 1962.
Despite a power boost to 1.5 million watts, and an increased coverage area—expanded to 15 counties in northeastern Pennsylvania—WNEP-TV bounced back and forth in the ratings for most of the next two decades. It was never able to achieve any consistency because of the bitter rivalry between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Viewers in Wilkes-Barre thought it was a Scranton station, while viewers in Scranton thought it was a Wilkes-Barre station. It was also hobbled by being an affiliate of the smallest and weakest network of the time. Indeed, WNEP's launch made Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the smallest market in Pennsylvania with full service from all three networks.
Transcontinent exited broadcasting in 1964 and sold several of its stations, including WNEP-TV, to Taft Broadcasting. When Taft purchased Philadelphia independent station WIBF-TV (channel 29, now WTXF-TV) in 1969, it sought a waiver to keep both stations. Channel 16's Grade B signal reaches the Lehigh Valley, which is part of the Philadelphia market. WNEP-TV had also operated an outlying translator on channel 7 in Allentown for many years. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) normally did not allow one company to own two stations with overlapping coverage areas. While it initially granted the waiver, it reversed itself four years later and forced Taft to sell channel 16. A group of WNEP-TV station employees and executives formed NEP Communications, which bought the station from Taft in late 1973.
Soon after NEP took over the station, news director Elden Hale decided to take a regional approach. He billed the station as serving "Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania," and stepped up coverage of the remote portions of the market. These areas had largely been ignored by the other stations in town. He also added the area's first news helicopter. This approach quickly paid off. In November 1976, WNEP surged to first place for the first time in a decade. After briefly falling back to second it returned to number one in 1978, around the same time ABC became the nation's number one network. Apart from a brief period in the mid 1990s when WBRE-TV passed it, it has been number one ever since. NEP also established a remote production company, which operated as an adjunct to WNEP-TV.
The New York Times Company bought the station in 1985. WNEP moved to its current studios in Moosic in 1989; the facility is similar to the building the Times Company built for sister station WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Alabama, but on a larger scale. NEP Communications retained the production unit, which became NEP Broadcasting; the company provided remote broadcast facilities for the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and the Academy Awards, as well as a studio production facility in New York City. When ABC affiliate WPVI-TV (channel 6) in Philadelphia became a Fox owned-and-operated outlet in December 2001, WNEP officially became the second longest-tenured ABC affiliate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is currently the longest-serving ABC affiliate in the Commonwealth).
On January 4, 2007, the station, along with the rest of the Times Company's television division, was sold to Oak Hill Capital Partners in a $575 million transaction. Oak Hill formed Local TV as a holding company for its stations. On January 13, 2009, concurrent with the trade of WBRC in Birmingham to Raycom Media in exchange for WTVR-TV in Richmond, Local TV traded WNEP to the Dallas-based Belo Corporation in exchange for acquiring NBC affiliate WCNC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina. The deal was completed on May 31, 2009.