WGBH-TV, virtual channel 2 (VHF digital channel 5), branded on-air as GBH or GBH 2 since 2020, is the primary Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) member television station licensed to Boston, Massachusetts, United States. It is the flagship property of the WGBH Educational Foundation, which also owns Boston's secondary PBS member WGBX-TV (channel 44) and Springfield, Massachusetts PBS member WGBY-TV (channel 57, operated by New England Public Media), Class A Biz TV affiliate WFXZ-CD (channel 24) and public radio stations WGBH (89.7 FM) and WCRB (99.5 FM) in the Boston area, and WCAI radio (and satellites WZAI and WNAN) on Cape Cod. WGBH-TV also effectively, but unofficially serves as one of three flagship stations of PBS, along with WNET in New York City and WETA-TV in Washington, D.C.
WGBH-TV, WGBX-TV, and the WGBH and WCRB radio stations share studios on Guest Street in northwest Boston's Brighton neighborhood; WGBH-TV's transmitter is located on Cabot Street (east of I-95/MA 128) in Needham, Massachusetts, on the former candelabra tower, which is shared with Fox affiliate WFXT and serves as a full power backup facility for sister station WGBX-TV as well as CBS owned-and-operated station WBZ-TV, ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, NBC owned-and-operated station WBTS-CD (which itself shares spectrum with WGBX) and MyNetworkTV affiliate WSBK-TV.
The WGBH Educational Foundation received its first broadcast license for radio in April 1951 under the auspices of the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council, a consortium of local universities and cultural institutions, whose collaboration stems from an 1836 bequest by textile manufacturer John Lowell, Jr. that called for free public lectures for the citizens of Boston. WGBH first signed on the air on October 6, 1951, with a live broadcast of a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) originally awarded a construction permit to Waltham-based electronics company Raytheon to build a television station that would transmit on VHF channel 2 in Boston. Raytheon planned to launch a commercial television station using the call letters WRTB-TV (for "Raytheon Television Broadcasting"). However, after some setbacks and the cancellation of the construction permit license, WRTB never made it on the air, paving the way for the FCC to allocate channel 2 for non-commercial educational use. WGBH subsequently applied for and received a license to operate on that channel. The WGBH Educational Foundation obtained initial start-up funds for WGBH-TV from the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation. It is also thought by legend that Raytheon pushed quietly for the FCC to assign WGBH the channel 2 license after it was unable to utilize it.
WGBH-TV first signed on the air at 5:20 p.m. on May 2, 1955, becoming the first public television station in Boston and the first non-commercial television station to sign on in New England. The first program to air on the station was Come and See, a children's program hosted by Tony Saletan and Mary Lou Adams, which was filmed at Tufts Nursery Training School. Channel 2 originally served as a member station of the National Educational Television and Radio Center (NETRC), which evolved into National Educational Television (NET) in 1963; for its first few years on the air, channel 2 only broadcast on Monday through Fridays between 5:30 and 9:00 p.m. It was originally based out of studio facilities located at 84 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts (since 1965, home to MIT's Stratton Student Center) on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which was originally a roller skating rink. The station's callsign refers to Great Blue Hill (the highest point in the Boston area at an elevation of 635 feet (194 m)), a location in Milton that served as the original location of WGBH-TV's transmitter facility and where the transmitter for WGBH radio continues to operate to this day (the callsign is occasionally jokingly referred as "God Bless Harvard", although the station's connections with the university are at best indirect; Harvard was one of several Boston-area universities which took part in the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council and rented space to WGBH on Western Avenue in Allston for the station's studio operations).
In 1957, Hartford N. Gunn Jr. was appointed general manager of WGBH; he would later earn the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Ralph Lowell Award for his achievements in programming development. Under Gunn, who resigned in February 1970 to become president of PBS, WGBH made significant investments in technology and programming to improve the station's profile and set out to make it a producer of public television programming. That February, WGBH expanded its programming to weekends for the first time, adding a four-hour schedule on Sunday afternoons from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. (its sign-on time on Sundays was later extended to 11:00 a.m. that May). In March 1958, channel 2 began offering academic instructional television programs, with the debut of eight weekly science programs aimed at students in the sixth grade, which were televised “in some 48 separate school systems in and around the Boston area.” In November of that year, the station installed a new full-power transmitter donated by Westinghouse, which increased channel 2's transmitting power to 100,000 watts.
During the early morning hours of October 14, 1961, a large fire caused significant damage to the Cambridge studios of WGBH-TV and WGBH radio. Until the WGBH Educational Foundation was able to build a new studio complex to replace the destroyed former building, the two stations arranged to operate from temporary offices and had to produce their local programming from the studio facilities of various television stations in the Boston area and southern New Hampshire. WGBH-TV maintained a splintered operation, basing its master control operations at Newman Catholic Center at Boston University, production facilities (for which it was reserved to use late nights and on weekends) at the studios of then CBS affiliate WHDH-TV (channel 5, now defunct; allocation now[when?] operated by ABC affiliate WCVB-TV) on Morrissey Boulevard in Boston's Dorchester section, and its film and tape library (including those which were salvaged from the fire) was housed at the studios of fellow NET station WENH-TV (channel 11) in Durham, New Hampshire. WGBH was only off the air for one day after the fire.
Several area universities also chipped in to temporarily house other operations displaced by the fire: WGBH's scenic department was relocated to Northeastern University, its arts department was set up on the Boston University campus, and programming and production offices were based in Cambridge's Kendall Square neighborhood. WHDH, NBC affiliate WBZ-TV (channel 4, now[when?] a CBS owned-and-operated station) and ABC affiliate WNAC-TV (channel 7, now defunct; allocation now occupied by independent station WHDH) also provided technical and production assistance to the WGBH television and radio stations until a permanent facility was built to reintegrate the stations' operations. On August 29, 1963, WGBH-TV and WGBH radio both began operating from a new studio facility for the stations that was built at 125 Western Avenue in Boston's Allston neighborhood (the post office box address that the station adopted at that time – P.O. Box 350, Boston, MA 02134 – would become associated with a jingle used on the WGBH-produced children's program, ZOOM, both in its 1970s and late 1990s adaptations, extolling viewers to send in ideas for use on the show).
On June 18, 1966, WGBH-TV relocated its transmitter to a broadcast tower in Needham, Massachusetts (which is now[when?] operated by the American Tower Corporation), The following year on September 25, 1967, WGBH-TV gained a sister television station in the Boston area, WGBX-TV (channel 44), which has transmitted its signal from the Needham site since the station signed on (WGBX's digital signal on UHF channel 43 shares the master antenna at the very top of the tower with several commercial stations in the market, while WGBH-TV's channel 19 digital transmitter uses a separate antenna at a lower point). The launch of WGBX was one facet of a plan developed by the WGBH Educational Foundation in the late 1960s to operate a network of six non-commercial television stations around Massachusetts. However, these plans never materialized in their intended form; besides WGBX, the only other station that ultimately made it on the air was WGBY (channel 57) in Springfield, which launched in 1971. Three additional WGBH-owned stations were to have launched, all of which were slated to use the "WGB" prefix for their call letters; these included WGBW, which was to broadcast on channel 35 in Adams (the "W" in its callsign was to stand for "West"; the callsign has since been reassigned to a radio station in Two Rivers, Wisconsin), along with two stations in New Bedford and Worcester.
On the night of April 5, 1968, WGBH-TV (at roughly hours' notice) broadcast a James Brown concert from the Boston Garden, the night after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Boston Mayor Kevin White, who was worried that the concert would set off a riot, and certain that cancellation would be worse, contacted WGBH to air the concert on TV, and told the public to stay home and watch, helping prevent boycotts in the region. The concert would later be seen numerous times in the following days, helping the Boston area stay in peace.
In 1970, WGBH-TV became a member station of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which was launched as an independent entity to supersede NET (which itself was integrated into its Newark, New Jersey outlet, WNDT [now WNET], per request by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and assumed many of the functions of its predecessor network. Over time, WGBH became a pioneer in public television, producing many programs that were seen on NET and later, PBS, that either originated at the station's studio facilities or were otherwise produced by channel 2.
On October 31, 2003, WGBH launched Boston Kids & Family TV, a PBS Kids Channel-affiliated local cable service that was developed in partnership with the City of Boston. Available to Comcast and RCN subscribers, the service took over channel space previously occupied by one of the city's cable access channels, which carried a mix of public affairs programs, footage of city-sponsored events, and mayoral press conferences (some of the aforementioned content was moved to the city-managed Educational Channel). Boston Kids & Family carried a mix of children's programs produced by WGBH and other distributors – which were scheduled to avoid simulcasts with WGBH-TV or WGBX-TV – daily from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and a repeating block of telecourse programs aimed at adults from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. The channel intended to affiliate the subchannel with the planned PBS Kids Go! network, which was scheduled to launch in October 2006; however, PBS scuttled plans to launch the Kids Go! network prior to its launch (opting only to launch the brand as an afternoon-only sub-block within PBS's existing children's program lineup). After PBS Kids ceased network operations, Boston Kids & Family was replaced by The Municipal Channel, which carried much of the programming offered by the service prior to the WGBH partnership.
As WGBH's operations grew, the 125 Western Avenue building proved inadequate to facilitate it and its sister stations; some administrative operations were moved across the street to 114 Western Avenue, with an overhead pedestrian bridge connecting the two buildings. By 2005, WGBH had facilities in more than a dozen buildings in the Allston area. The station's need for more studio space dovetailed with Harvard Business School's desire to expand its adjacent campus; Harvard already owned the land on which the WGBH studios were located, which the university had donated to WGBH for use to construct the Western Avenue facility in 1962 at a value of $250,000. WGBH built a new studio complex – designed by James Polshek & Partners – in nearby Brighton, which was inaugurated in June 2007. The building spans the block of Market Street from Guest Street to North Beacon Street (1 Guest Street, where the lobby entrance of the new studio building is located, is the building's postal address), with radio studios facing pedestrian traffic on Market Street. The outside of the building carries a 30 by 45 feet (9.1 m × 13.7 m) "digital mural" LED screen, which displays a different image each day to commuters on the passing Massachusetts Turnpike. Television and radio programs continued to be recorded at the Western Avenue studios until the WGBH stations completed the migration of their operations into the new facility in September 2007. The old Western Avenue studios were renovated by Harvard University in 2011 to house the Harvard Innovation Lab.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|02.1||1080i||16:9||WGBH-HD||Main WGBH programming / PBS|
|44.1||WGBX-HD||Simulcast of WGBX-TV|
In 2010, WGBH-TV became the first television station in the Boston market to provide a mobile DTV signal. It transmits two free-to-air channels using the ATSC-M/H standard, at 2.75 Mbit/s, with its first subchannel labelled as "WGBH CH 2".
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|02.1||1080i||16:9||WGBH-HD||Main WGBH programming / PBS|
Spectrum auction repacking
In a list announcing the winning bids for stations which participated in the 2016 United States wireless spectrum auction released by the FCC on April 13, 2017, WGBH-TV was disclosed to have agreed to sell a portion of the broadcast spectrum allocated to its UHF channel 19 digital signal for a bid of $161,723,929; in a statement, the station said it would "use the proceeds to expand its educational services to children and students, further its in-depth journalism, and strengthen its modest endowment." The station also consigned to move its digital allocation to a low-band VHF channel; the FCC assigned VHF channel 5 (the former analog channel allocation of WCVB-TV) as the post-repack digital allocation to which WGBH was reassigned once the repacking of auction and repack participant stations were occurred on August 2, 2019. WGBH-TV's post repack facility on VHF 5 is located at the nearby American Tower owned facility on Cabot Street, also in Needham.
Because the VHF channel 5 signal was significantly weaker than the prior UHF channel 19 signal, the repack initially left many over-the-air viewers in the Greater Boston area unable to receive the station's primary broadcasts on WGBH 2.1 and WGBX 44.1. A notice posted on the station's website in August 2018 stated that a power upgrade was forthcoming which would boost the signal from 6.9 kW to 34.5 kW, but that the upgrade was "temporarily on hold, pending the mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic". In the spring of 2021, the upgrade to 34.5 kW was finally completed, but a VHF antenna specifically designed to receive low-band signals (channels 2-6) is now required for most viewers.
As a PBS member station, much of WGBH-TV's program schedule consists of educational and entertainment programming distributed by PBS to its member stations, including non-WGBH productions such as the PBS NewsHour, the Nightly Business Report, Sesame Street, Peg + Cat and Nature; it also carries programs distributed by American Public Television and other sources to fill its schedule, alongside programs produced for exclusive local broadcast in the Boston market.
WGBH features a mix of live-action and animated children's programs produced by the station and other distributors between 6:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., as well as on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The remainder of its weekday lineup includes a two-hour block of news and travel programs leading into prime time, with documentary, arts and entertainment programs provided by PBS shown Sunday through Fridays during prime time (encores of WGBH national productions typically air on Saturday evenings). Programming on Saturday afternoons focuses heavily on cooking and home improvement how-to shows (at one point, the station's Saturday afternoon lineup was branded as "How 2 Saturday"), while Sunday afternoons focus mainly on travel shows along with some how-to programs.
- List of television stations in Massachusetts
- List of United States stations available in Canada
|TV stations in New England|
|WEDH, Bridgeport/Hartford/New Haven/Norwich|
|TV Stations in Greater Boston and southern New Hampshire|
|English stations||Spanish stations||New Hampshire|
|WGBH 2 (PBS)||WUTF 27 (UMas)||WMUR 9 (ABC)|
|WHDT-LD 3 (Ind)||WCEA-LD 58 (Ind)||WENH 11 (PBS)|
|WBZ 4 (CBS)||WUNI 66 (UNI)||WYCN-CD 15 (NBC)|
|WCVB 5 (ABC)||WPXG 21 (Court TV)|
|WHDH 7 (Ind)||WLEK-LD 22 (DrTV)|
|WBTS-LD 8 (NBC)||WWJE 50 (Justice)|
|WFXZ-CD 24 (Biz TV)||WEKW 52 (PBS)|
|WFXT 25 (Fox)||WNEU 60 (TLM)|
|WSBK 38 (MNTV)|
|WGBX 44 (PBS)|
|WWDP 46 (Evine Live)|
|WYDN 48 (Daystar)|
|WLVI 56 (CW)|
|WDPX 58 (Bounce TV)|
|WMFP 62 (SBN)|
|WBPX 68 (Ion)|
|WHDH 5 (ABC/CBS)|
|WNAC 7 (CBS/ABC)|
|WJZB 14 (Ind)|
|WNHT 21 (Ind/CBS)|
|WXPO 50 (Ind)|
|WTAO 56 (ABC/DuMont)|