WATM-TV is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to Altoona, Pennsylvania, United States and serving West-Central Pennsylvania. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 24 (or virtual channel 23 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Lookout Road, in Logan Township, along the Cambria County line. Owned by Palm Television, L.P., WATM is operated by Horseshoe Curve Communications through a local marketing agreement (LMA). This makes it a sister station to Johnstown-licensed Fox affiliate WWCP-TV, channel 8 (itself operated by Cunningham Broadcasting under a time brokerage agreement). Both stations, in turn, are operated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group (owner of Johnstown-licensed NBC affiliate WJAC-TV, channel 6) under a master service agreement. WATM and WWCP share studios on Scalp Avenue (PA 56) in Richland Township (with a Johnstown postal address). WJAC maintains separate facilities on Old Hickory Lane in Upper Yoder Township (also with a Johnstown postal address).
WATM and WWCP also operate advertising sales offices in Altoona (on East Walton Avenue/PA 764) and State College (on West Beaver Avenue/PA 26). Since WATM's signal is barely viewable in Johnstown, it is also carried in high definition on WWCP's second digital subchannel. This can be seen on virtual and VHF digital channel 8.2 from a transmitter along U.S. 30/Lincoln Highway, in Ligonier Township, near the Somerset County line.
On cable, WATM is available on Comcast Xfinity channel 5 and Atlantic Broadband channel 12, with a high-definition feed offered on Atlantic Broadband digital channel 712 and Comcast digital channel 813.
This station originally signed-on November 28, 1974 as WOPC-TV and was an ABC affiliate broadcasting in analog on UHF channel 38 at a power of 21,400 watts visual and 4,270 watts aural. John Powley, who owned WHGM-FM (now WALY), was the station owner and served as its general manager.
At the time, Altoona/State College and Johnstown were separate markets. The station was unable to afford a network feed, so for most of its history, engineers simply switched to and from the signal of WTPA-TV (now WHTM-TV) in Harrisburg. Already hampered by a very weak signal, it did not help matters that Scranton's WNEP-TV had long operated two outlying translators (one presently) in State College, the second-biggest city in the area.
Already struggling for viewership, WOPC moved to Channel 23 in 1981 in an attempt to improve its signal. It was seriously undermined in 1982 when Johnstown and Altoona/State College were collapsed into a single market. The station's signal was all but unviewable in the western portion of the enlarged market. As a result, it wilted away with less than one percent of the market share for the next few years, with the ABC affiliation in this vast market split further between three stations in neighboring markets: WHTM (now owned by Nexstar Media Group) reaching Altoona, WNEP serving State College, and WTAE-TV (owned by Hearst Television) in Pittsburgh covering Johnstown.
In 1986, the owners of the market's newest station, WWCP-TV (channel 8), faced a problem. It had originally been slated to be a Pittsburgh station, but its owners petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move the license to Johnstown. In their petition, WWCP's owners cited lower programming costs in the Johnstown/Altoona/State College market. They also cited possible interference with WJW in Cleveland.
The FCC granted the request on condition that WWCP build its transmitter in a location that would allow Pittsburgh to get a Grade B signal from the station. However, this meant channel 8 would be virtually unviewable in the eastern portion of the area. WWCP's owners solved this problem by buying the former WOPC-TV license from John Powley on February 28, 1986 at a price of $1.03 million. Following aggressive over-the-air signal testing over the summer with WWCP, along with a power increase of 186,000 watts visual and 18,600 watts aural, the former WOPC became WWPC-TV, a satellite of WWCP, on October 13, 1986.
At the time, WHTM and WTAE both preempted moderate amounts of ABC programming and it soon became obvious that Johnstown/Altoona/State College needed its own affiliate. As a result, WWPC split from WWCP and became an ABC affiliate on August 27, 1988 under new calls, WATM-TV. The station was later sold to Palm Television in order to comply with FCC ownership regulations regarding network affiliates. However, WATM is still managed by WWCP under a local marketing agreement as Peak Media, channel 8's former owner, feared that if allowed to operate separately both stations would be put in jeopardy of going dark.
The digital conversion significantly improved WATM's coverage in the market. Previously, it had been plagued for most of its history by its weak 708,000 watt analog signal. The station's signal was marginal at best even in Altoona, five miles (8 km) from the transmitter. It only provided Grade B coverage of Johnstown and State College, and most viewers in this vast market could only watch it on cable. However, with the station's digital transmitter licensed for a full one million watts (the equivalent to five million watts for an analog UHF transmitter) WATM gained a coverage area comparable to the other major stations in the market. Additionally, the station was picked up on WWCP's digital subcarrier, and carries an HD simulcast of WWCP on one of its subchannels.
In November 2010, it was announced that Horseshoe Curve Communications would acquire Peak Media's assets including WWCP and its fourteen-year-old agreement to operate WATM. In February 2011, WATM added a third subchannel to their lineup in the form of a standard definition feed of This TV. On July 22, 2013, Horseshoe Curve Communications agreed to sell WWCP to Cunningham Broadcasting for $12 million. The LMA for WATM was to be included in the deal. Sinclair Broadcast Group, who already owns NBC affiliate WJAC-TV, was to assume operations of both WATM and WWCP through shared services and joint sales agreements. However, on February 20, 2014, Horseshoe Curve informed the FCC that the sale of WWCP had fallen through; two years later, on January 8, 2016, Cunningham agreed to program WWCP under a time brokerage agreement. On February 11, 2015, WATM added a fourth subchannel to their lineup in the form of a standard definition feed of Antenna TV.
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