WGAL, virtual and VHF digital channel 8, is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States and serving the Susquehanna Valley region (Harrisburg–Lancaster–Lebanon–York). The station is owned by the Hearst Television subsidiary of Hearst Communications. WGAL's studios are located on Columbia Avenue (PA 462) in Lancaster Township, and its transmitter is located near U.S. 30 north of Hallam (the site and tower is shared with radio partner, WROZ, 101.3 FM—which once had the WGAL-FM call sign). On cable, the station is available on Comcast Xfinity in standard definition on channel 3 and in high definition on digital channel 808.
The station first signed on the air on March 18, 1949, originally broadcasting on VHF channel 4. It was the fourth television station in Pennsylvania and the first to sign-on outside of Philadelphia, beating WDTV (now KDKA-TV) in Pittsburgh which began operations in November of that year. It was founded by the Steinman family, owners of WGAL radio (1490 AM, now WLPA, and 101.3 FM, now WROZ) and Lancaster's two major newspapers, the Intelligencer Journal and the Lancaster New Era. At the time, Lancaster was the smallest city in the country with a television station. The station's first formal program was shown on March 22 to a group of RCA executives, television dealers, and radio station personnel at the Stevens House Hotel in downtown Lancaster.
WGAL was a major beneficiary of a quirk in the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) plan for allocating stations. In the early days of broadcast television, there were twelve VHF channels available and 69 UHF channels (later reduced to 55 in 1983). The VHF bands were more desirable because they carried longer distances. Since there were only twelve VHF channels available, there were limitations as to how closely the stations could be spaced.
After the FCC's Sixth Report and Order ended the license freeze and opened the UHF band in 1952, it devised a plan for allocating VHF licenses. Under this plan, almost all of the country would be able to receive two commercial VHF channels plus one noncommercial channel. Most of the rest of the country ("1/2") would be able to receive a third VHF channel. Other areas would be designated as "UHF islands" since they were too close to larger cities for VHF service. The "2" networks became CBS and NBC, "+1" represented non-commercial educational stations, and "1/2" became ABC (which was the weakest network usually winding up with the UHF allocation where no VHF was available).
However, what would become the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York market was sandwiched between Philadelphia (channels 3, 6, 10, and 12) to the east, Johnstown/Altoona/State College (channels 6 and 10) to the west, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (a UHF island) to the north, and Baltimore (channels 2, 11, and 13) and Washington, D.C. (channels 4, 5, 7, and 9) to the south. This created a large "doughnut" in South Central Pennsylvania where there could be only one VHF license. Largely due to WGAL's good fortune in gaining that license, it has been the market leader for most of the time since records have been kept. During the analog era, WGAL was the only commercial VHF station in eastern Pennsylvania licensed outside of Philadelphia.
In 1952, WGAL increased its power from 1,000 to 7,200 watts. On December 31, 1952, the station moved to channel 8 as a requirement by the FCC in order to prevent interference with WRC-TV in Washington.
On January 1, 1954, WGAL presented its first color television broadcast of the Tournament of Roses Parade. It has always been an NBC affiliate, but also carried some programs from CBS, DuMont and ABC until 1963 when Nielsen collapsed the Lancaster and Harrisburg/York areas into one large market. The Steinmans also launched WDEL-TV in Wilmington, Delaware around the same time as WGAL's launch but sold that station in 1955. Over the years, the family purchased three more television stations (KOAT in Albuquerque, New Mexico and KVOA in Tucson, Arizona both of which were sold to Pulitzer Publishing in 1969 and WTEV-TV, now WLNE-TV, in New Bedford, Massachusetts) as well as several radio stations and newspapers. The Steinmans sold off the WGAL radio stations in 1976, but kept WGAL-TV until late 1978, when it sold channel 8 and WTEV to Pulitzer—in the process, earning a handsome return on the original investment they made when they signed on WGAL radio in 1922. The Pulitzer purchase reunited WGAL-TV and WTEV with KOAT (that company spun off KVOA in 1972).
Under Pulitzer's ownership, in 1985, WGAL became the first television station in Pennsylvania to broadcast in stereo, beating much larger stations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Although the radio and television stations had gone their separate ways 15 years earlier, channel 8 dropped the "-TV" suffix from its callsign in 1992. Pulitzer sold its entire television division, including WGAL and KOAT, to what was then Hearst-Argyle Television in 1999. The sale closed on March 18, coinciding with the station's 50th anniversary.
The station is known for being a community service leader in the market and holds the Salvation Army Coats For Kids drive and telethon, and airs the Children's Miracle Network telethon, and the Jefferson Awards. Anchors and other on-air personalities are active in the community as well.
WGAL has also been known for installing numerous signs on area highways. Most of these signs consist of the WGAL logo used from 1971 to 1990, the phrase "Drive Carefully" and the borough or township where the sign is located. Although the logo is no longer used, the signs are still commonplace around the market, and are occasionally updated so as to be more visible to motorists.
On February 14, 2014, a portion of the roof at WGAL's Columbia Avenue studio facility collapsed due to heavy accumulations of snow and ice caused by a winter storm that moved through the Eastern United States earlier that week. This caused the newsroom on the second floor of the building to be evacuated, followed by the evacuation of the remainder of the station's 100 employees after Lancaster Township Fire Department officials examined the structural stability of the facility. Fire officials determined that a concrete support beam and slab in an adjacent studio that is no longer used by WGAL had shifted and dropped. As a result, with its master control unstaffed, the station went off the air, scuttling plans to broadcast its 5, 5:30 and 6 p.m. newscasts that evening out of a makeshift studio outside the building (the station was able to produce a live newscast that was streamed on its website). Area Comcast systems soon piped in either WGAL's Baltimore sister station WBAL-TV or NBC's Philadelphia O&O WCAU in order to restore NBC programming, including the 2014 Winter Olympics. WGAL staff members were allowed to re-enter its studios on the afternoon of February 15 after a steel column was installed in the room to prop up a sagging roof beam in the affected area of the building, following which the station resumed regular programming.
In February 2017, WGAL became the market's official broadcaster of preseason games for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL, taking over for WHTM-TV.
|TV stations in Pennsylvania|
|TV stations in the Susquehanna Valley, including Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York|
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