WHDH, channel 7, is an independent television station located in Boston, Massachusetts. WHDH is owned by Sunbeam Television, and operates as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate WLVI (channel 56). The two stations share studio facilities located at Bulfinch Place, near Government Center in downtown Boston, WHDH's transmitter is located in Newton, Massachusetts.
From 1982 to 1995, WHDH was Boston's CBS affiliate, inheriting the affiliation from its predecessor on channel 7, WNAC-TV. On January 2, 1995, WHDH switched to NBC, after CBS moved to WBZ-TV by virtue of a group-wide affiliation deal with its owner, Westinghouse Broadcasting (CBS and Westinghouse merged that November, making WBZ-TV a CBS O&O). On January 1, 2017, WHDH lost NBC's affiliation to a newly formed owned-and-operated station, WBTS-LD, the station now operates as a news-intensive independent station.
WNAC-TV's fight for survival and transition (1948–1982)
The original occupant of the channel 7 allocation in Boston was WNAC-TV, which commenced operations on June 21, 1948, as Boston's first CBS affiliate. The station switched to ABC in 1961, but rejoined CBS in 1972.
By 1965, WNAC-TV's owner, RKO General, faced numerous investigations into its business and financial practices. Though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) renewed WNAC-TV's license in 1969, RKO General lost the license in 1981 after its parent company, General Tire, admitted to a litany of corporate misconduct – which among other things, included the admission that General Tire had committed financial fraud over illegal political contributions and bribes – as part of a settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. However, in the FCC hearings, RKO General had withheld evidence of General Tire's misconduct, and had also failed to disclose evidence of accounting errors on its own part. In light of RKO's dishonesty, the FCC stripped RKO of the Boston license and the licenses for KHJ-TV (now KCAL-TV) in Los Angeles and WOR-TV (now WWOR-TV) in New York City. The FCC had previously conditioned renewal of the latter two stations' licenses on WNAC-TV's renewal. An appeals court partially reversed the ruling, finding that RKO's dishonesty alone merited having the WNAC-TV license removed. However, it held that the FCC had overreached in tying the other two license renewals to WNAC-TV's renewal, and ordered new hearings.
Though RKO continued to appeal the decision, in late February 1982 the FCC granted the New England Television Corporation (NETV, a merger of two of the original rivals to the station's license controlled by Boston grocery magnate David Mugar) a construction permit to build a new station on channel 7. Two months later in April, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear RKO's appeal, leaving the firm with no further recourse but to accept the Commission's decision and surrender WNAC-TV's license. RKO then sold the station's non-license physical assets, including its downtown Boston studio facility and transmitter/tower site in suburban Newton, to NETV. On May 21, 1982, at midnight[ambiguous], RKO signed off WNAC-TV for the final time.
As WNEV-TV (1982–1990)
New England Television took over channel 7 on May 22, 1982 under a new license, signing on the new WNEV-TV at 5:55 a.m. ET that morning; it also dropped WNAC-TV's strip-layered "7" logo in favor of a new SE7EN logo. However, WNEV inherited most of the former WNAC-TV staff and channel 7's CBS affiliation.
New England Television's mission from the start was to allocate programming hours to innovative, in-house productions, in much the same way that Boston Broadcasters did when it launched WCVB-TV on channel 5 ten years earlier. Notable productions that premiered early on were Look (1982–1984), which began as a two-hour (4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.) late afternoon talk and lifestyle show that led into WNEV's 6 p.m. newscast. Despite a powerful effort at an entertaining and informative program, and praise from critics, Look was a ratings failure; for its second year, the show was cut back to an hour and renamed New England Afternoon before being dropped. WNEV continued to produce talk programs, first with Morning/Live (1984–1987), a half-hour weekday morning talk show hosted by Susan Sikora, and later with the similarly structured Talk of the Town (1988), hosted by Matt Lauer. Nancy Merrill, former host of WBZ-TV's People Are Talking, headlined two talk shows on WNEV, the weekend late night entry Merrill at Midnight (1986–87) and the weekday morning program Nancy Merrill (1987–88).
NETV also made it an immediate purpose to further diversify the station's workforce, both on-air and behind the scenes. Within WNEV's first couple of years, there was an increase of news reporters and anchors of color joining the station (notably including anchor Lester Strong and reporter Amalia Barreda). The commitment to diversity extended itself to a series of new public affairs shows that each targeted a specific ethnic group: Urban Update (with an African-American focus and which still continues to air on WHDH), Revista Hispana, Asian Focus and Jewish Perspective. Other public affairs and newsmagazines launched by WNEV included a Sunday morning religious affairs program, Higher Ground, the weekend talk and advice show Boston Common, the Saturday night newsmagazine Our Times, and Studio 7, which focused on the arts.
In 1987, another of WNEV's ambitious efforts premiered, the hour-long live children's variety show Ready to Go. Featuring Broadway actress/singer Liz Callaway and Scott Reese, who not only hosted but also sang and acted, the program featured an equal mix of entertainment and educational content, along with musical acts and celebrity interviews. The series began as a 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. programming alternative against WBZ and WCVB's morning newscasts, before moving to 7:00 a.m. in September 1989. On March 24, 1990, after only six months at its new time slot, the station cut the series back to once-a-week Saturday broadcasts only, before canceling the show outright in 1991.
In mid August 1987, WNEV overhauled its on-air image. The station dropped its "SE7EN" identity in favor of a new logo, which consisted of the number "7" made up of seven white dots inside of a blue circle. The logo was introduced as a part of the new station-wide campaign, "We're All on the Same Team", in which the seven dots represented the heads of team members. The dots also had dual usage, as lottery balls, in promotions for Lottery Live, the Massachusetts State Lottery drawings which were moving to WNEV late that summer. The campaign was primarily launched as a continued attempt to bolster the station's third-place news ratings, and to promote its news-sharing partnership with other TV and radio stations, The New England News Exchange.
WHDH radio (1990–1992)
Throughout the 1980s, WNEV-TV frequently partnered with WHDH radio (850 AM; frequency now occupied by WEEI) for public events such as Project Bread and the Walk For Hunger, as well as for other initiatives. NETV would eventually purchase WHDH on August 7, 1989. In January 1990, Mugar announced that on March 12 of that year, WNEV would change its call letters to WHDH-TV, in order to correspond with its sister radio operation. The WHDH-TV call sign was previously used by the original occupant of channel 5, under the ownership of the Boston Herald-Traveler, from 1957 to 1972. It was Mugar's plan to create, once again, a second major television/radio duopoly, primarily in news, to compete with the long-standing combo of WBZ radio and WBZ-TV. Boston Mayor Ray Flynn declared March 12, 1990, as "WHDH Day" in Boston, celebrating the joining of the radio and television stations. On that day, personalities from WHDH-TV spoke as guests on WHDH radio.
The dual operation, which began with much fanfare and leverage, proved to be too costly for Mugar and company. NETV gradually slid into a deficit, prompting cutbacks on in-house programming as well as in the television station's news department; the most notable effect being the elimination of WHDH-TV's 5:00 p.m. newscast for two years beginning in 1991. With channel 7's news ratings in third place, minimal help from CBS (which had been in a ratings slump since the end of the 1987–88 television season) and declining profits, Mugar was eventually prompted to sell the WHDH stations. The radio station was sold to Atlantic Ventures in 1992.
Sale to Sunbeam
By 1991, the relationship between majority owner David Mugar and minority owner Robert Kraft had become strained. Kraft, who is the current owner of the New England Patriots, exercised an option that forced Mugar to purchase his shares for an estimated $25 million. This, along with the nearly $100 million debt he held from the 1986 buyout and falling advertising revenues left Mugar strapped for cash. On April 22, 1993, David Mugar entered into an agreement to sell WHDH to Miami-based Sunbeam Television, a company led by Worcester native Edmund Ansin. The purchase was completed in late July. Shortly afterward, Ansin brought in news director Joel Cheatwood from his Miami sister station WSVN. Cheatwood had become infamous in Miami for his changes to WSVN's news operation, which focused on visually intensive, fast-paced newscasts with heavy emphasis on tabloid journalism, particularly covering crime (WSVN – which was an NBC affiliate from its 1956 sign-on until it joined Fox in 1989 – adopted the format developed by Cheatwood in order to buoy viewership for its newscasts, which like WHDH, had languished in third place for several years). Cheatwood planned to perform similar changes at WHDH. Cheatwood ultimately adopted a considerably watered-down version of WSVN's format (see below), but still retained many of WSVN's features, including a faster-paced format, increased use of graphics and visuals, and more on-the-scene reporting. It even adopted WSVN's version of the Circle 7 logo. While critics were concerned that WHDH would lose even more viewers if it were to adopt WSVN's format entirely, WHDH quickly rebounded to become the number one newscast in Boston for a period.
As an NBC affiliate (1995–2016)
In 1994, WBZ-TV's owner, Westinghouse Broadcasting entered into a groupwide affiliation deal with CBS, which resulted in three Group W stations that were affiliated with networks other than CBS – NBC affiliates WBZ-TV, and KYW-TV in Philadelphia, and ABC affiliate WJZ-TV in Baltimore – switching to the network and the next year became owned and operated stations. Fox considered an affiliation deal with WHDH; however, on August 2, 1994, WHDH-TV announced that it had agreed to affiliate with NBC, in part citing NBC's stronger news and sports programming. Fox ultimately chose to acquire its existing affiliate, WFXT (channel 25). WHDH became Boston's NBC affiliate on January 2, 1995, replacing WBZ-TV (which had been with the network for 47 years). During its time with NBC, channel 7 cleared the network's entire programming schedule, except for the former early morning newscast, NBC News at Sunrise, which ended on September 6, 1999, and replaced the following day with Early Today, which the station picked up the program until December 30, 2016. WHDH became the primary station for the New England Patriots at this time, as the Patriots played in the American Football Conference of the NFL, which had a deal with NBC for the network to air AFC games (thus Boston was not as important as a market for Fox in regards to getting an VHF affiliate). When the AFC package moved to CBS in 1998, this role was reclaimed by WBZ-TV. From 2006 to 2016, the station aired Patriots games when they were featured on NBC Sunday Night Football (the station aired the Patriots' Super Bowl XLIX victory in 2015). Between 1996 and 1997, WHDH produced a mid-morning weekday newsmagazine for the NBC network called Real Life. After the switch to NBC, WHDH became one of the few stations in the country to have had a primary affiliation with all of the Big Three networks.
On September 14, 2006, Tribune Broadcasting sold CW affiliate WLVI-TV (channel 56) to Sunbeam Television for $117.3 million. The sale was approved by the FCC in late November of that year, creating Boston's second television duopoly (the other one being WBZ-TV and WSBK-TV, channel 38). WLVI moved its operations from its Dorchester studios to WHDH's facilities in downtown Boston.
On April 2, 2009, WHDH announced that it would not air The Jay Leno Show, when it debuted on NBC in September 2009, electing to replace it with a simulcast of the 10:00 p.m. newscast that WHDH began producing for WLVI in order to better compete with Fox-owned WFXT. The network quickly dismissed any move of Leno to any time slot other than 10:00 p.m., stating that WHDH's plan was a "flagrant" violation of the station's contract with the network and that it would consider moving the NBC affiliation to another Boston area station, either by creating an owned-and-operated station through an "existing broadcast license" in the market owned by NBC or by seeking inquiries from other stations in the market to acquire the affiliation. WHDH began removing all references to the proposed 10:00 p.m. newscast from its website the next day, and on April 13 the station announced that it had decided to comply and air The Jay Leno Show instead.
The fears of possible ratings issues with the primetime talk show as the lead-in for its late newscast would become well-realized, as viewership for WHDH's 11:00 p.m. news plunged to third place (a 20% drop from the previous year) during the November 2009 sweeps period. Other 'first-to-third' drops among NBC affiliates' newscasts in the 11:00 p.m. slot forced the network on January 10, 2010 to pull Leno from 10:00 p.m. starting after the 2010 Winter Olympics and move him back to The Tonight Show in a shake-up of its late night schedule. Although the radio station had dropped the WHDH callsign in 1994, channel 7 retained the "-TV" suffix in its call letters until July 8, 2010.
Loss of NBC affiliation
It was reported on August 31, 2015 that NBC Owned Television Stations was considering the possibility of purchasing WHDH; NBCUniversal already had a strong presence in the market through its ownership of New England Cable News (NECN), CSN New England, and Telemundo station WNEU (channel 60), while WHDH's NBC affiliation was set to expire at the end of 2016. Meredith Corporation and Nexstar Broadcasting Group were also reportedly interested in purchasing the station. NBCUniversal and Sunbeam denied these rumors. Sunbeam's Executive Vice President and former WHDH general manager Chris Wayland, stated that the company "fully [expects]" that it would renew WHDH's affiliation. The Boston Globe noted a history of hostility between NBC and Sunbeam, including its objection to NBC's purchase of WTVJ in Miami to displace its own WSVN (which later defected to Fox), and the aforementioned conflicts surrounding The Jay Leno Show. On October 1, 2015, The Boston Globe reported that NBC had considered moving the affiliation to NECN, a cable channel, rather than to an over-the-air channel, although the company declined to comment.
On December 15, 2015, New England One reported, citing internal sources, that NBCUniversal had declined to renew its affiliation with WHDH, and was beginning the process of building an English-language news operation at WNEU for its assumption of the affiliation. It also reported that WHDH meteorologist Pete Bouchard, who had left the station around the same time, had been poached by NBC for WNEU. Following the report, Paul Magnes, WHDH's vice president and general manager, told the Boston Herald that the station still expected the NBC affiliation to be renewed.
Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin subsequently confirmed to The Boston Globe that NBC had informed him in September 2015, that channel 7's affiliation would not be renewed, and offered to buy the station for $200 million, however, he said that he would not consider any offers worth less than $500 million, and that any sale of WHDH would also include WLVI. Ansin said that NBC was "trying to steal our station," and confirmed that the network was threatening to shift its programming to WNEU, but that he still predicted that "we're going to be the NBC affiliate." Ansin believed that NBCUniversal's main motivation for these moves were to create further synergies with WNEU and New England Cable News for the purposes of advertising sales. Initial reports suggested that if WHDH were to lose NBC programming, Sunbeam would move the CW affiliation currently held by WLVI to channel 7. However, Ansin subsequently stated that WHDH would be operated as a news-intensive independent station if the NBC affiliation was lost; additionally, WLVI's own affiliation with The CW (a ten-year agreement made in 2006 with then-owner Tribune Broadcasting) was up for renewal in August 2016, and there was a possibility that CBS (who co-owns The CW with Time Warner) could transfer the CW affiliation to its MyNetworkTV affiliate WSBK-TV if WLVI was unable to renew.
On January 7, 2016, Valari Staab, president of NBC Owned Television Stations, confirmed that NBC would cease its affiliation with WHDH effective January 1, 2017, and that it would launch its owned-and-operated NBC outlet NBC Boston on January 1, 2017. Staab did not outright say whether NBC programming will be carried by WNEU, but that NBCUniversal was evaluating options for over-the-air carriage of the new outlet. Prior to the announcement, Ansin told The Boston Globe that he was considering challenging the planned move of NBC from WHDH; he argued that the proposed move would be in violation of conditions imposed by the FCC upon Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal, as the company agreed to maintain the over-the-air availability of NBC, and not use its cable holdings to influence affiliation deals. His position is supported by Senator Edward Markey; a representative of Markey stated that as a "long-time supporter of universal service and free, over-the-air local broadcasting", he planned to "closely scrutinize the impacts any deal could have on viewers in Massachusetts."
On March 10, 2016, Sunbeam Television sued Comcast in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts, citing violations of antitrust law and the conditions which Comcast agreed to upon its purchase of NBC Universal. Sunbeam argued that because WNEU's over-the-air signal radius covers four million fewer residents than WHDH, over-the-air viewers in these areas would have to purchase pay television service in order to maintain access to NBC programming—which would benefit Comcast's cable business. Sunbeam also asserted that moving NBC to a company-owned station would "[enable] Comcast to increase its monopoly power in the Boston television market, and the resulting decrease in competition will harm consumers, advertisers and other broadcasters." On May 16, 2016, the court granted a request of Comcast to dismiss the lawsuit; Judge Richard Stearn stated the loss of over-the-air coverage "may be a matter of public concern, [but] it is not a concern that WHDH has standing to redress", and that "absent any actionable harm attributable to Comcast, it is simply an indurate consequence of doing business in a competitive and unsentimental marketplace." WHDH intended to appeal the dismissal, and filed a notice of appeal on June 14, 2016; in a statement, Ansin said that the station believed "the judge got it all wrong, so we are reviewing our options for an appeal."
On August 16, 2016, Ansin announced that he would no longer pursue the appeal against NBC, arguing that it was unlikely that the appeal would be resolved in his favor. Consequentially, the station officially announced a planned expansion of its news programming, including an expanded morning newscast and a primetime block of news spanning from 9:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., the 8:00 p.m. hour will be filled by syndicated programming. However, station lawyer Michael Gass told the Boston Business Journal that channel 7 was still pursuing the appeal, saying that "[t]hey have to prepare to be a non-affiliate and have a plan for doing that even though we continue to believe that Comcast did not honor its obligations to us," while conceding that it was unlikely that a court would force NBC to remain on WHDH.
On November 1, 2016, NBCUniversal announced that it planned to simulcast NBC Boston on WBTS-LD (channel 8, formerly WTMU-LP. NBC acquired this low-power station in September 2016), and WNEU's second digital subchannel. A subchannel of WMFP was also leased to help provide full-market coverage (since replaced with the move of Nashua, New Hampshire-licensed WYCN-CD, which NBC purchased in the winter of 2018, to a channel share with full-power PBS member station WGBX-TV from Needham). WHDH's affiliation formally ended at 3:00 a.m. ET on January 1, 2017. Graham Media Group's KPRC-TV in Houston, Texas is now the largest NBC station by market size that is not owned by the network, a status it obtained when Houston leapfrogged Boston in the DMA rankings a few months prior to NBC's defection from WHDH.
|TV stations in New England|
|Boston||Springfield, MA||New Hampshire||Rhode Island||Connecticut||Vermont||Maine|
|WUTF, Worcester||WWDP, Norwell||WYDN, Lowell||WHDT-LD, Boston||WDMR-LD, Springfield||WPXG, Concord||WLWC, New Bedford||WUVN, Hartford||WRNT-LD, Hartford||WYCX-CD, Manchester||WLLB-LD, Portland||WEXZ-LD, Bangor|
|WCEA-LD, Boston||WMFP, Foxborough||WHDH, Boston||WLEK-LD, Concord||WRIW-CD, Providence||WTXX-LD, New Haven||WZME, Bridgeport||WGBI-LP, Farmington||WFYW-LP, Waterville||WBGR-LD, Bangor|
|WUNI, Marlborough||WFXZ-CD, Boston||WNEU, Merrimack||WHCT-LD, Hartford||WCKD-LP, Bangor/Dedham|
|WDPX, Woburn||WYCU-LD, South Charlestown||WRDM-CD, Hartford|
|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)|