|Cambridge / Boston, Massachusetts|
|Branding||CW 56 (general)
7 News (newscasts)
|Channel||Digital: 41 (UHF)
Virtual: 56 (PSIP)
|Subchannels||56.1 The CW|
|First air date||August 31, 1953
(current incarnation dates to December 21, 1966)
|Callsign meaning||LVI (56 in Roman numerals; former analog channel number & current PSIP number)|
|Former callsigns||WTAO-TV (1953–1956)
56 (UHF, (1953-2009)
|Former affiliations||DuMont (1953–1956)
Silent (1956–1962; 1962–1966)
Independent (1962; 1966–1995)
The WB (1995–2006)
|Effective power||550 kW (digital)|
|Height||346 m (digital)|
WLVI-TV, digital channel 41, is a television station licensed to Cambridge, Massachusetts which serves as the CW affiliate for the Boston, Massachusetts television market. WLVI-TV is owned by Sunbeam Television, and is a sister station to WHDH-TV, Boston's NBC affiliate. The two stations share studios at Bulfinch Place in downtown Boston, and WLVI-TV's transmitter is located in Needham. The station is automated and operated completely by WHDH-TV staffers. WLVI is the largest CW station not owned by either Tribune Company or CBS Corporation, the two main founding ownership groups of the network; however, Tribune did own the station from 1994 until 2006.
WLVI-TV broadcasts digitally on its current pre-transition channel number, 41. However, through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers displays WLVI's virtual channel as 56. WLVI-TV terminated analog over-the-air programming on June 12, 2009.
Channel 56 is the oldest UHF license in Boston. It first went on the air on August 31, 1953 as WTAO-TV, owned by Middlesex Broadcasting along with WTAO radio (740 AM, now WJIB) and WXHR (96.9 FM, now WTKK). It 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 began to move its programming to WBZ-TV and WNAC-TV (now WHDH-TV). The station's studio and transmitter were located atop Zion Hill, in Woburn, Massachusetts. WTAO was written off as a failure and signed off for the last time on March 30, 1956 due to low viewership and lack of revenue from sponsors. The station went back on the air, now owned by Harvey Radio Labs, on May 17, 1962, as WXHR-TV for a six-month FCC study before being taken off the air again on November 17 of the same year.
The channel 56 license was purchased by Kaiser Broadcasting and the Boston Globe in 1966. The new owners returned the station to the air on December 21, 1966 as independent WKBG-TV (Kaiser Broadcasting/Boston Globe), from the same studios and transmission tower atop Zion Hill in Woburn that WTAO/WXHR had utilized. In 1969, the station's studios moved from Woburn to Morrissey Boulevard in the Dorchester section of Boston. By that time, the station's transmitter had moved to its current 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, old 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 prime time. 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 in its prime-time movie offering with encouraging him to consider a career as a performer.
For most of its tenure as an independent, channel 56 was well behind WSBK-TV (channel 38) in the ratings. Still, it was carried on most cable systems 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 from 1966 to 1967. It also carried telecasts of the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers (now the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes) during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons (25 regular-season games during 1972-73 and 20 games the next season, some home and some away games broadcast each year).
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 owned 22.5 percent of Kaiser since 1972) purchased WLVI and the other Kaiser stations.
For the generation of New England children growing up during this period, "Uncle Dale" Dorman was the familiar personality fronting the Kids' Club, hosting the cartoons and appearing in hosted commercial segments. For many years the station had a double run of The Flintstones in the 4 p.m. hour and the Brady Bunch in the 5 p.m. hour.
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. By 1990, Dorman left the station and was replaced by Paul Wagner and Elizabeth Dann, who appeared in new segments of their own and, like Dorman, doubled as announcers.
WLVI continued use of the Field Communications-style station branding and logo for quite a while after Gannett acquired the station. From 1985 to 1990, channel 56 again became the broadcast home of Celtics road games.
In 1994, Gannett sold the station to the Tribune Company, which affiliated the station with the newly-launched WB Television Network in January 1995. The station's newscast later became known as The Ten O'Clock News on WB 56. The station added primetime WB shows, as well as Kids WB on weekday afternoons. Tons of cartoons and recent sitcoms continued to be on the schedule, but a few talk and reality shows began showing up by 1996.
The station was temporarily off the air in August 1998 when a crane that was erecting a nearby studio-to-transmitter link (STL) tower collapsed onto WLVI's 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 network programming downlink and studio space at WCVB-TV 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 went under.
The following year, the station discontinued its morning children's programming block in favor of a short-lived morning newscast. The station also began running even more syndicated talk and reality shows, dropping most off network sitcoms except in the evenings. Afternoon children's programming continued to be provided by Kids' WB until early 2006. Channel 56 was the last commercial station in the Boston market that continued to broadcast weekday children's programming.
On January 24, 2006, the WB and UPN networks announced that they would merge into a new network called The CW Television Network. The new network signed 10-year affiliation agreements with most of Tribune's WB affiliates, including WLVI. It would not have been an upset had WSBK been chosen, however. Network officials had been on record as preferring the "strongest" WB and UPN stations, and Boston was one of the few markets where the WB and UPN affiliates were both relatively strong. The CW began operations on September 18, 2006, and WLVI became known as Boston's CW. To correspond to the affiliation switch, the station's daily 10 PM newscast became known as The Ten O'Clock News on Boston's CW.
On September 14, 2006, four days prior to the launch of the CW, Tribune Broadcasting announced that WLVI would be sold to Sunbeam Television, owner of WHDH-TV, for $117.3 million. The sale received final approval in late November 2006 from the FCC, creating Boston's third television duopoly (the others are CBS-owned WBZ-TV and WSBK, and Hearst-Argyle-owned WCVB-TV and Manchester, New Hampshire-based WMUR-TV).
Even though the sale to Sunbeam had already become official by then, 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 Sunbeam-run website, and the final Tribune-produced newscast aired. WLVI's operations were merged with those of WHDH, and all of the station's equipment was moved to WHDH's studios on Bulfinch Place (just six miles from WLVI's old Morrissey Boulevard studio), and the station's news department was closed. The consolidation resulted in about 130 layoffs from WLVI, though some newsroom staffers were retained by WHDH, which took over production of WLVI's daily 10 p.m. newscast. Also, the station's sales department was transferred to the new location. The old set and equipment of WLVI were sold at auction several months later.
With the sale, WLVI changed its branding to CW 56, though the station is sometimes called New England's CW on-air. It has largely become a "pass-through" for automated programming.
At WTAO-TV's inception, the station aired two fifteen-minute newscasts, at 6 p.m. 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 such 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 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 done a 10 o'clock 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, first on weeknights only, then seven nights a week. This was the third attempt at a primetime newscast in the Boston market. 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 included Julie Emry, Darlene McCarthy (who later went to WHDH-TV), Uma Pemmaraju, and finally Karen Marinella, who arrived in 1990 and remained until the end of WLVI's Tribune-produced newscast in December 2006.
By the early-1990s, the newscast had become THE Ten O'Clock News (always emphasizing "the") and had expanded to a full hour. For well over a decade, WLVI was the ratings leader in the time slot, with or without competition in the arena. Although PBS station WGBH-TV (channel 2) was the only other local station running a newscast at 10:00 (until 1991), it was not considered a major competitor since it is a non-commercial station. In the fall of 1993, Fox affiliate WFXT launched the NECN-originated Fox 25 News at Ten and WSBK-TV introduced the WBZ-produced WBZ News 4 on TV 38, giving WLVI serious competition. By then, 10 o'clock viewers were loyal to WLVI and the station 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 such as Jon Du Pre, Jeff Barnd, and finally Frank Mallicoat. Mallicoat had handled sports and general assignment reports before stepping up to co-anchor the weeknight show with Karen Marinella in 2002. 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.
The only time WLVI programmed news outside their established 10:00 slot was in June 2000, when they premiered Boston's WB in the Morning. A mix of news, talk, and lifestyle features, the show aired from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. The newscast replaced sitcoms and childrens' shows on the schedule. The program lasted two years, but could not hold its own against the other local newscasts and national morning shows. 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 news started to slide. 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 local television newsrooms in Philadelphia and San Diego, there were unconfirmed rumors that Tribune would shut down the WLVI news department and have it outsourced to another channel or even canceled altogether. WLVI had initially denied that its newsroom would be closed.
As a result of the sale to Sunbeam Television, WHDH 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 newscast with a commentary, calling the sale and shutdown a "sad, and even tragic chapter in Boston television history", and noting "someone (else), somewhere, should have stepped up to the plate and bought the station". WHDH started producing WLVI's newscast on December 19, 2006. On that date, the newscast became known as 7 News at 10 on CW 56. WHDH indicated that there might eventually be a new weekday morning newscast (again) on WLVI which would compete with WFXT's highly popular weekday morning show. From the start of the WHDH-production on WLVI until July 2007, the newscasts featured the music and graphics package currently used on Sunbeam's only other television property, WSVN in Miami.
On July 29, 2008, WHDH began doing broadcasts in HD. They are the second station in Boston to broadcast in high definition, with WCVB-TV being the first. They also revealed a new television studio and graphics for a more compatible look with their sister station (WSVN, which curiously remained without high definition newscasts until January 2009). The WLVI broadcast was upgraded as well.
7 News at 10 on CW 56 (10 to 11 P.M.)
WLVI uses additional news personnel from WHDH. See that article for a complete listing.
These news personalities were seen on WLVI up until the station was sold to Sunbeam Television.
These other personalities were also part of WLVI's own in-house news team when the station produced its own newscasts.