|Slogan Seize the Possible|
|Branding 7 ABC (general)
7 Eyewitness News (newscasts)|
Channels Digital: 38 (UHF) Virtual: 7 (PSIP)
Subchannels 7.1 ABC 7.2 Laff 7.3 Escape
Owner E. W. Scripps Company (Scripps Media, Inc)
First air date November 30, 1958; 58 years ago (1958-11-30)
WKBW-TV, virtual channel 7 (UHF digital channel 38), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Buffalo, New York, United States. Owned by the E. W. Scripps Company, the station's studios are located at 7 Broadcast Plaza in downtown Buffalo, and its transmitter is located at 8909 Center Street in Colden.
- 19571986 Clinton ChurchillCapCities ownership
- Queen City BroadcastingGranite Broadcasting Co years 19862014
- The Scripps era 2014present
- Digital channels
- Analog to digital conversion
- Local programming
- Syndicated programming
- Internet initiatives
- Financial difficulties and cutbacks
- News operation
- The Irv Rick and Tom era 19701989
- 7 News 20032008
- Return to Eyewitness News 2008present
- Upgrade to high definition
- 2014 Scripps takes over
- Notable current on air staff
- Notable former staff
WKBW-TV is one of many local Buffalo television stations that are available over-the-air and on cable television in Canada, particularly in Southern Ontario. For many years, it was carried via microwave to cable systems in such areas as Corning and Horseheads; this ended when WENY-TV signed on as the ABC affiliate for the Elmira market.
1957–1986: Clinton Churchill/CapCities ownership
The Channel 7 frequency was hotly contested during the 1950s; the Buffalo Courier-Express and former WBUF-TV owner Sherwin Grossman tried several times to gain rights to the channel allocation (to compete with The Buffalo News's WBEN-TV), but was unable to secure a license. The competition for the channel 7 allocation continued to grow when the city's first UHF station, WBES-TV, failed. Clinton Churchill, original owner of 50,000 watt radio station WKBW (1520 AM) in Buffalo, was granted the license to operate the station in 1957.
WKBW-TV was originally intended to be an independent station. However, when NBC shut down its owned-and-operated station, WBUF-TV (channel 17, now WNED-TV), on September 30, 1958, then-ABC affiliate WGR-TV (channel 2, now WGRZ) went back to NBC. As a result of the network shuffle, WKBW-TV premiered as ABC's new Buffalo affiliate when it went on the air on November 30, 1958. The station's studios were originally located at 1420 Main Street, and remained there until it moved to its current location at 7 Broadcast Plaza in 1978.
Churchill sold the WKBW stations to Capital Cities Broadcasting (which later became Capital Cities Communications) in 1961. CapCities would serve as WKBW-TV's longest-tenured owner, owning it and its radio sister for 25 years, and the station would reach its peak during Capital Cities' ownership. WKBW-TV produced iconic children's programing such as Rocketship 7 and The Commander Tom Show from the 1960s to the 1980s. A staple of its morning programing for many years was Dialing for Dollars, which later became AM Buffalo after the Dialing for Dollars franchise was discontinued; AM Buffalo still airs today.
Queen City Broadcasting/Granite Broadcasting Co. years (1986–2014)
When Capital Cities merged with ABC in 1986, it sold WKBW-TV to Queen City Broadcasting instead of becoming an ABC owned-and-operated station. At that point, WKBW radio was sold to Price Communications and had its call letters changed to WWKB (that station is currently owned by Entercom Communications).
In late 1993, Granite Broadcasting acquired a 45 percent minority stake in WKBW-TV from Queen City Broadcasting. A year-and-a-half later, in June 1995, Granite bought the remaining 55% interest in the station. Until 2000, New York Lottery drawings were shown on WKBW-TV (these have since moved to WGRZ).
WKBW-TV, through at least the early 2000s, operated the Niagara Frontier radio reading service on its second audio program feed, though it was pulled after the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime-show controversy in 2004 due to content concerns and the FCC's stricter enforcement of obscenity laws, which included some RRS titles. WNED-FM's subcarrier then was contracted to carry the service from then on.
From 2006 to April 2009, WKBW-TV operated WNGS, owned at the time by Equity Media Holdings, under a local marketing agreement for most of that time while channel 67 was affiliated with the then-Equity-owned Retro Television Network. Equity went bankrupt in 2009, selling off RTN to company shareholder Henry Luken's Luken Communications by January 2009 (which led to WNGS and other Equity stations dropping the network) and the Equity stations being liquidated, with WNGS sold to the Daystar Television Network in April 2009 (the station has since been resold to a local group run by Philip A. Arno). As a result of the changes, WKBW-TV ended the LMA with WNGS which has since changed its call to WBBZ-TV.
The Scripps era (2014–present)
On February 10, 2014, the E. W. Scripps Company announced that it would acquire WKBW-TV as well as MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYD in Detroit, Michigan from Granite Broadcasting for $110 million. The FCC approved the sale on May 2. The sale was completed on June 16.
With Scripps' acquisition of WKBW-TV, each of Buffalo's "Big Three" network affiliates will have at one point or another been owned by a company with newspaper interests; WIVB-TV, founded in 1948 as WBEN-TV, was owned by the Butler family, then-owners of the Buffalo Evening News, from its inception until the early '70s (and both have shared partial ownership by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway since 2014, via BH's stake in Media General); Gannett Company, publishers of USA Today and various other newspapers around the country, acquired WGRZ-TV in 1996. E.W. Scripps spun-off their papers to Journal Media Group on April 1, 2015, while Gannett's publishing and digital media operations were spun off to the new Tegna on June 29, 2015.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
Between 2009 and 2015, the station had not multiplexed its channels. The two networks carried by WKBW-TV on its digital subchannels prior to 2009 (Retro Television Network, via WNGS, and the now-defunct World Championship Sports Network) were later carried on WGRZ-TV; Retro is now on WBXZ. It was announced that WKBW-TV would air the LAFF network on 7.2 starting on April 15, 2015, however, the launch was delayed due to equipment issues. Both Laff and Escape, which airs in 7.3, debuted on April 28, 2015.
WKBW-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 7, 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 remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 38. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 7. VHF channel 7 was reassigned to WNGS (channel 67, now WBBZ-TV), at the time under the control of WKBW, for its post-transition digital channel.
Until recently, WKBW-TV signed off on Saturday and Sunday mornings for a half-hour from 4 to 4:30 a.m.; there was no station information, but the American and Canadian national anthems were played before and after the test pattern, like Sinclair-owned stations WUTV (channel 29) and WNYO-TV (channel 49), which continue to sign off on Monday mornings.
Live! with Kelly, RightThisMinute, Hot Bench, and Extra are some the station's syndicated offerings. Beginning in the 2015–16 television season, the station also began carrying The List, which along with RightThisMinute, is among Scripps's internally produced programming for their stations (RightThisMinute's presence on WKBW predated Scripps buying the station). The station has begun to carry bartered Entertainment Studios programming in overnights since the purchase by Scripps, replacing hours of paid programming.
During the 1990s and through much of the 2000s, WKBW-TV was proactive in its ventures on the Internet. The station was among the first in Western New York to launch a website in the mid-1990s and was the first to offer RSS feeds and podcasts. WKBW-TV streamed its noon newscasts live online, one of the few major network affiliates to offer a video stream at the time (the feed was removed from the WKBW.com page in April 2007, but remained in operation through at least mid-2008; Scripps reactivated the stream in 2015). On demand video of newscasts is available.
WKBW-TV redesigned its website in April 2007 using the YouNews TV platform for locally contributed viewers photos and videos. In December 2010, the station's webmaster was laid off. The station's website continued to be managed internally by Granite until October 2014, when a Scripps-run modern site designed for compatibility with both traditional PC and mobile tablet and smartphone platforms came online, along with the standard Scripps interface for the station's mobile/tablet apps.
Financial difficulties and cutbacks
WKBW-TV's then-owner Granite Broadcasting filed for bankruptcy in 2006; as a result, the station group as a whole was hit hard by financial difficulties. Longtime anchors have either been dismissed or seen significant pay cuts. The station still produces less news content during the week than its competitors (24½ hours, compared to 36 for WGRZ/WUTV and up to 40 for WIVB-TV/WNLO), is the only one in the market that does not produce a 10 p.m. newscast, nor does it produce a weekend morning newscast, while the other two stations in the market have both. From September to November 2008, no Saturday newscasts were produced, and the station again suspended its Saturday 6:00 p.m. newscast in 2010 and 2011 (though its late newscast now airs after college football). From 2005 to 2012, the station only employed two meteorologists compared to WIVB-TV's four and WGRZ's five (WKBW-TV used general assignment reporters on weekend weather forecasts during this time) and only two sports anchors compared to WGRZ's four (WIVB-TV also currently has just two sports reporters). The station also relied more on photojournalists than its competitors, and as a result, it has fewer general assignment reporters. As the Great Recession set in at the start of 2008, ABC primetime and syndicated early prime programming was often pre-empted with paid programming to make up lost revenue. This has been reduced through the years as the station recovered, though some low-profile timeslots in primetime continue to carry charitable organization programming from Operation Smile, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Billy Graham Crusades.
Since January 31, 2008, union employees at that station who work as producers, engineers, reporters, photographers and assignment desk editors, had been working without a contract. Talks were ongoing between NABET Local 25 and the management at WKBW-TV, though recent contract offers have been rejected. The two sides, after significant acrimony and a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, came to an agreement on March 4, 2011.
Upon WKBW-TV general manager Bill Ransom's retirement, his replacement, Mike Nurse, made a concerted effort to reverse the damage done during Ransom's tenure, boosting the weather staff to four meteorologists (all of which are natives to Western New York), revamping the morning show with new hosts and a new name, and moving to a three-man sports department. Scripps further increased the staff to five meteorologists and again revamped the news department largely with familiar names in Buffalo television.
WKBW-TV presently broadcasts 27 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 5 hours on weekdays, and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays), branded as Eyewitness News. In addition, the station produces a half-hour sports wrap-up program Sunday Sports Final, which airs Sunday evenings after the 11 p.m. newscast. Along with forecasts for WKBW-TV's news programs, WKBW-TV's weather staff also provides forecasts for two local radio stations owned by Townsquare Media, WMSX and WYRK, as well as for Entercom-owned WBEN.
The Irv, Rick and Tom era (1970–1989)
The station had news operations from its beginning, but ceased broadcasting a 6 p.m. newscast in the fall of 1965, due to a mass exodus of viewers to WBEN-TV. In lieu of a 6 p.m. newscast, WKBW-TV's evening newscast aired at 7:20 p.m. in its early years.
From 1970 to 2003, and again since 2008, WKBW-TV has called its news operation Eyewitness News and used a variation of the iconic circle 7 logo until late 2014. However, since the fall of 1972, it borrowed most of the basic elements of the "Action News" format used at longtime sister station WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, combined with the format news director Irv Weinstein developed and called "Rock 'n' Roll Radio News" (modified for television). It even used "Move Closer to Your World," the theme song made famous by WPVI-TV (though it was known by the station as The Eyewitness News Theme). Furthermore, WKBW-TV was a source for much of WPVI-TV's on-air talent.
Weinstein was WKBW-TV's main anchor from 1964 until his retirement in 1998, doubling as news director for most of that time. From 1965 to 1989, he was partnered with sports director Rick Azar and weatherman Tom Jolls (who had been poached from WBEN-TV and did double duty as host of Commander Tom); the three formed the longest continuously running anchor team in television history until Azar's retirement in 1989. The noon newscast, during the mid-1970s, featured the first pairing of the long-running WPVI anchor team of Jim Gardner and Dave Thomas (now known as Dave Roberts), with Danny Neaverth frequently filling in for Thomas.
The station's morning news program, the first in Western New York, debuted in 1989. Good Morning Western New York (the program's title from 1989 to 2000 and from 2009 to 2010) initially started at 6 a.m. ET, before moving up to 5:30 a.m. in 1996; it currently starts at 5 a.m. Between 2000 and 2003 and from 2008 to 2009, the morning show was known as Eyewitness News This Morning, and from 2003 to 2008 was known as 7 News This Morning (WKBW-TV's morning show predated by seven years the next competitor, WIVB-TV, which did not debut its morning newscast, Wake Up!, until 1994. WGRZ-TV followed suit with Daybreak in 1996).
From about 1989 until February 1997, the station identified itself as News Channel 7, but kept the Eyewitness News name for its newscasts out of posterity, resulting in rather long station announcements (for example, "From WKBW-TV News Channel 7, this is Eyewitness News at 5"); a similar situation arose on then-CBS affiliate WJXT in Jacksonville, Florida from 1997 to 2002, that station also continued to call its newscasts Eyewitness News while identifying as WJXT NewsChannel 4 for general purposes. During this era, it also reorchestrated the "Move Closer to Your World" theme with a more futuristic synthesizer-based version. From 1998 to 2002, it used the slogan "Your Hometown Advantage."
Eyewitness News had been the most-watched newscast in the Buffalo market for many years, and was at times even more popular in the Toronto market than the local news programs in that area. Some critics have contended this was due to Canadian viewers' attitudes that local Toronto television newscasts were "staid" and "boring" as contrasted with WKBW-TV's "tabloid" and "sensational" style of production, with American television stations approaching local news coverage as a "product" rather than a "public service," as is Canada's tradition. However, in 2000, the Nielsen ratings system switched the Buffalo market from a diary market to an automatically metered market, and in part because of WKBW-TV's inflated reputation (coupled with Weinstein's and Jolls' retirements), eventually rival WIVB-TV overtook the #1 spot, although it was still very much a three-way battle between the market's local news stations.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, the station began making some questionable moves that arguably began its fall to the bottom. The first was declining to renew The Oprah Winfrey Show, which served as the lead-in for WKBW-TV's 5:00 news; rival WIVB-TV picked up the show, which has been credited with helping hasten WKBW-TV's decline and WIVB-TV's rise in the ratings. In 2000, WKBW-TV displaced longtime 5:00 anchor Kathleen Leighton to mornings in favor of former WIVB-TV weather anchor Maria Genero, who had been host of the talk show Good Day New York. Genero's experience as an evening news anchor was minimal, and within months, Leighton quit the station, with Genero being moved to mornings. Not long afterward, WIVB-TV passed WKBW-TV for first place in nearly all timeslots – the first time in almost 30 years that WKBW-TV had lost the lead. Then, in 2002, WKBW-TV adopted the slogan "Live, Local, Late-breaking," a slogan used on stations across the country, and started its own local talk show (WNY Live!) that originally was used for long-form features but quickly turned into a mainly advertorial program, a type of program mainly prevalent in lower-trafficked morning timeslots, but rarely successful in the afternoons. This move was described as "deadly" to the ratings for its evening newscasts. In September 2003, however, came the most iconic change: dropping their long branding heritage for a more generic news imaging.
7 News (2003–2008)
WKBW-TV decided to adopt a new identity, thus bringing the Eyewitness News era to an end. The station's newscasts were rebranded as 7 News in 2003, and "Move Closer to Your World" was dropped in favor of a more contemporary news music package (Right Here, Right Now by 615 Music).
From 2006 to 2007, WKBW-TV also produced Sportsnite, a nightly sports talk program hosted by members of WKBW-TV's sports department, that aired weeknights at 7:00 p.m. on WNGS. However, in April 2007, due to very poor ratings despite a barrage of heavy advertising, the Buffalo Sabres being in the playoffs and the upcoming 2007 NFL Draft, Sportsnite was cancelled. WNGS was not available on satellite providers during Sportsnite's run, therefore limiting the show's audience. Through 2009, WKBW-TV continued to produce a special version of Sportsnite, Sportsnite Niagara, in cooperation with Niagara University during college hockey and basketball season.
WKBW-TV suspended its Saturday 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts in September 2008, during college football season; the station resumed those newscasts that December, after football season ended (in previous years, each newscast was delayed approximately one hour in the event of football games).
Return to Eyewitness News (2008–present)
The station revived "Move Closer to Your World" for promotions celebrating the station's 50th anniversary, for the intro to breaks during its newscasts. It also reintroduced the theme for the introduction to its 11:00 newscasts on September 19, 2008 (along with the restoration of the "Do you know where your children are?" speech), and began using the Eyewitness News name for its 2 a.m. one-minute news brief. On October 22, 2008, WKBW-TV news anchors launched what has been described as the "Big Tease," an announcement that an ostensibly top-secret "major change" was coming; although only a few of the senior members of the staff knew about the change, it was widely predicted to be a revival of the Eyewitness News name and classic theme.
On October 27, 2008 at 5:00 a.m., the Eyewitness News brand permanently returned to WKBW-TV's newscasts, and "Move Closer to Your World" was fully restored to all of the station's newscasts. Nevertheless, the station retained the 2003 studio set and graphics package for the next two years; and the 7 News branding and "Live, Local, Latebreaking" slogan were relegated the 2 a.m. news brief.
Preliminary results were promising: due to this, and in part due to WIVB-TV's carriage disputes with Time Warner Cable and Atlantic Broadband, WKBW-TV's newscasts climbed back to a strong second place, behind WGRZ. WKBW-TV, although it had retreated back to third when WIVB-TV returned to the two cable providers, has kept many of those viewers gained during the dispute and has made the Buffalo market's television newscasts a much closer three-way ratings race again, with only the station's morning newscast still in distant third. Ratings have waffled since that time.
From September 2009 to September 2010, the title of the morning newscast was changed to Good Morning WNY. After Bridget Blythe's departure in October 2010, the morning show reverted it back to the Eyewitness News This Morning title, with Ginger Geoffery and Pat Taney as anchors. The morning show increased its popularity in key demographics, tying WIVB-TV for second place in the ratings in May 2011; however, ratings for the 11 p.m. newscast dropped to fourth place among the market's late evening news broadcasts, behind the WIVB-TV-produced 10 p.m. newscast on WNLO. WKBW-TV also updated its set and graphics in October 2010. Ratings somewhat rebounded by October 2011; WKBW-TV's 11:00 newscast jumped to second place, behind WIVB-TV but ahead of WGRZ.
Upgrade to high definition
On August 13, 2011, beginning with its 6 p.m. newscast, WKBW-TV became the first television station in the Buffalo market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. The move coincided with WKBW-TV's decision to outsource its master control operations to a company in Atlanta, Georgia; although it resulted in the loss of several Buffalo jobs, the master control outsourcing was far less expensive than attempting to upgrade the existing master control room from standard definition to HD.
Rival WGRZ, which had been using a mix of HD graphics and upconverted SD video, announced its intentions to upgrade to true HD in response to this, which it did on October 29, 2011. Market leader WIVB-TV then announced its intentions to upgrade to true HD in response to its two rivals, which it did on February 1, 2012. WKBW-TV's studio cameras are true HD; however, the bulk of the station's news video is produced in 4:3 standard definition, which is then upconverted to a 16:9 aspect ratio.
The early 2010s were a time of upheaval for the channel 7 newsroom as two of its key leaders, general manager Bill Ransom and news director John Di Sciullo, departed the station (Ransom retired, while Di Sciullo left for WBBZ). Ransom's replacement, Mike Nurse, sought to overhaul the relatively undermanned newsroom by increasing the staff and overhauling the morning show. Brought in to host the newly branded Good Morning were out-of-market newcomers Cole Heath and Tiffany Lundberg, with meteorologist and feature reporter Mike Randall held over from the previous staff. However, WIVB-TV strengthened their morning show staff at the same time, undermining any possible gains from WKBW-TV's re-staffing, and the morning show lost a third of its audience in the fall of 2013, even with promos for the morning show during Bills preseason coverage (which may have actually backfired, as the ad campaign had portrayed the two new anchors as unable to pronounce the names of towns in the station's coverage area).
2014: Scripps takes over
One year after the revamp, Good Morning was canceled, Heath and Lundberg were fired, and Randall was demoted to weekends (at his request, to accommodate his acting career). In its place, a straight Eyewitness News-branded newscast with a particular focus on weather was introduced, featuring anchor Laura Gray and meteorologist Andy Parker (who at the time was meteorologist for competitor Daybreak on market-leading WGRZ), both of whom returned to WKBW-TV after several years elsewhere; already on-staff meteorologist Autumn Lewandowski also contributes. Scripps planned on using WKBW-TV's morning show as a pilot system to test the format; if it was a success, the company would have rolled out the new format on its other stations across the United States. The format was a failure, and the morning show was reformatted to a more standard newscast beginning in September 2015.
On the evening news front, lead anchorman Keith Radford was signed to a contract extension following the Scripps takeover while Sports Reporter, Jeff Russo, was promoted to co-anchor.
On September 28, 2014, WKBW-TV adopted the standardized imaging and graphics used by other Scripps stations, and changed its circle 7 logo—the last remnant of the 7 News era—to the classic version, matching that of new sister station WXYZ-TV in Detroit; by coincidence, like WKBW-TV, WXYZ-TV was another station sold off by ABC to Scripps in the Capital Cities-ABC merger of 1986 to comply with ownership limits. However, it maintains the Eyewitness News brand. Although WKBW-TV also adopted Scripps' standardized "Inergy" theme music from Stephen Arnold Music, "Move Closer to Your World" was initially still incorporated into the station's news introductions until 2016 when it was dropped completely.
In early 2015, WKBW, in partnership with Western New York Chevy Dealers, introduced the "7 First Alert Mobile Weather Lab"; a specialized SUV designed for storm chasing, complete with a dashcam, multiple radar sources, and a built-in weather station. WKBW is the only television station in the Buffalo market that owns and operates their own storm chaser vehicle.
In late-2015, the station's long-time co-anchor, Joanna Pasceri, was let go in favor of having a younger anchor, Ashley Rowe, from Toronto, join anchors, Keith Radford and Jeff Russo. The change was implemented in the hopes of bringing in new viewers and increasing overall viewership for its third-rated newscasts; however, ratings have not improved. The station was expected to add a weekend morning newscast in early-2016, but this has been put on hold indefinitely due to station's ratings struggles. It remains one of ABC's weakest affiliates, and Scripps' lowest rated channel.
In August, 2016, WKBW hired Don Paul, the longtime meteorologist at rival station WIVB. It also promoted Sports Reporter, Joe Buscaglia, to Sports Director and added one half hour to its morning newscasts to begin at 4:30 am.