WIVB-TV, virtual channel 4 (UHF digital channel 32), is a CBS-affiliated television station licensed to Buffalo, New York, United States. The station is owned by the Nexstar Media Group, as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate WNLO (channel 23). The two stations share studios on Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo and transmitter facilities on the eastern side of Grand Island. Master control and some internal operations for both stations are based at Nexstar's hub facilities at WWLP in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The station first signed on the air on May 14, 1948 as WBEN-TV. It was Buffalo's first television station, and the fifth-oldest station in New York state. The station was originally owned by the Butler family, along with the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN radio (930 AM and 106.5 FM, now WTSS at 102.5); the holding company for the WBEN stations was WBEN, Inc. Its radio sister had been one of CBS Radio's first 16 affiliates when that network premiered in 1928, but by that point had switched networks to NBC Blue. Accordingly, channel 4 originally signed on as an NBC television affiliate, and with it aired The Howdy Doody Show, a show hosted by local native Bob Smith, who had spent the past few years at WBEN radio before departing for national television. WBEN-TV picked up CBS programming in January 1949, and has remained with that network ever since.
As the only station in Buffalo for its first several years, channel 4 also carried secondary affiliations with ABC and DuMont. It lost NBC when WGR-TV (channel 2, now WGRZ) signed on in August 1954, and ABC to WGR-TV when NBC moved its programs to newly purchased WBUF-TV (channel 17, now WNED-TV) in 1956. WBEN-TV continued to share DuMont programming with WGR-TV until 1956 when that network ceased operations. It operated from studios on the 18th floor of the Statler Hotel until 1960, when it moved to its current facilities on Elmwood Avenue. That studio had originally been built for WBUF-TV, which had gone dark in 1958, two months prior to the sign-on of present-day ABC affiliate WKBW-TV (channel 7).
One early show running from the late-1940s until 1970 was Meet the Millers, a weekday afternoon series featuring Bill and Mildred Miller providing cooking and household tips. Two educational local shows aimed toward children were the hour-long Fun to Learn consisting of 15-minute segments which taught various subjects including the language of Spanish at 5 p.m. weekdays and the half-hour Your Museum of Science, which featured the curator of the Buffalo Museum of Science on Saturday mornings. Another staple throughout the 1950s and early-1960s was a short visit to the North Pole with Santa Claus and Forgetful the Elf. This was a daily show that aired only during December and was sponsored by Hengerer's Department Store. On September 23, 1977, the then-newly-renamed WIVB took over production of the public-access cable television program Disco Step by Step.
When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) disallowed same market co-ownership of newspapers and broadcast licenses in the early 1970s, the combination of the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN-AM-FM-TV was grandfathered under the new rule. However, the 1974 death of Katherine Butler (longtime owner and publisher of the Evening News) led to the placement of the Evening News' properties in a blind trust (since Butler left no heirs). This trust company then sold the newspaper to its current owner, Berkshire Hathaway in 1977. This sale brought an end to 101 years of Butler family ownership of the Evening News. With the loss of the WBEN stations' grandfathered protection, Berkshire Hathaway opted to keep the newspaper and sell off the broadcasting properties. WBEN-TV was sold to newspaper publisher Robert Howard of Oceanside, California for $25.5 million. The new owner, whose company was called Howard Publications, Inc., changed channel 4's callsign to WIVB-TV, which stands for "We're IV (4) Buffalo", on November 1, 1977, the day after he purchased the station. The call-letter change was triggered due to an FCC regulation at the time prohibiting TV and radio stations in the same city, but with different owners, from sharing the same call letters. The WBEN callsign remains on 930 AM, which along with its FM sister station had been sold to Larry Levite's Algonquin Broadcasting (both of those stations are currently owned by Entercom Communications). Channel 4 was then sold to King World Productions (at that time a separate entity from both Viacom and CBS) in 1988.
WIVB-TV nearly dropped its CBS affiliation and became an NBC affiliate in 1994, when King World put itself up for sale (NBC parent company General Electric's announced purchase of the company never materialized). After attempts by Westinghouse Broadcasting (whose parent company would later purchase CBS) and New World Communications (to make the station a Fox affiliate) to purchase the station fell through, WIVB-TV was sold to LIN TV Corporation (which would later take the name LIN Media) in 1995; King World is now owned by CBS Corporation and has since been absorbed into CBS Television Distribution. The new owner renewed the station's CBS affiliation through a long-term contract; it was renewed in 2014, along with most of the rest of the contracts for LIN's CBS affiliates, and will expire at an unknown date. At the time of the aborted NBC purchase, WIVB-TV's viewership was in a strong second place in the local ratings, while NBC's existing affiliate WGRZ-TV was in third place, although not as distant as it had been throughout much of the 1980s and early 1990s. Both stations have since passed then-first-place WKBW-TV.
WIVB-TV gained the local rights to the National Football League's Buffalo Bills from WGRZ-TV in 1998, when the American Football Conference package moved to CBS. WGRZ-TV had aired most Bills games since 1965. Van Miller, channel 4's longtime sports director, was the Bills' play-by-play announcer from 1960 to 2003, except for a brief time in the 1970s when WKBW radio was the flagship. However, beginning in 2014 with the introduction of "cross-flex" scheduling, the NFL started arbitrarily moving select Bills games to WUTV, the local Fox affiliate.
In 2000, LIN bought the station then known as WNEQ-TV, the market's secondary PBS member station. On January 23, 2001, WNEQ-TV was relaunched as independent station WNLO; that station became a UPN affiliate in 2002. The previous UPN stations, WNGS/WONS, later switched to the Retro Television Network and were eventually sold to the Daystar Television Network (Daystar has since sold WNGS, which today serves as Buffalo's MeTV and This TV affiliate under new call letters WBBZ-TV). In September 2006, WNLO became Buffalo's CW affiliate. On May 18, 2007, LIN announced that it was exploring strategic alternatives that could have resulted in the sale of the company; such a sale would not materialize until March 21, 2014, when it announced a merger with Media General. The merger was completed on December 19, bringing WIVB-TV and WNLO under common ownership with ABC affiliate WTEN and the same management as Fox affiliate WXXA-TV in Albany; because Media General is part-owned by Warren Buffett, the merger also brings WIVB back under co-ownership with The Buffalo News, as Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns that newspaper, and the newspaper-television cross-ownership ban has since been lifted. The two entities remain operated separately. Media General later merged with Nexstar Broadcasting Group to form Nexstar Media Group.
|TV stations in New York|
| WCBS, New York City|
|TV stations in Western New York, including Buffalo and Niagara Falls|
| WGRZ 2 (NBC) |
WIVB 4 (CBS)
WKBW 7 (ABC)
WNED 17 (PBS)
WNLO 23 (CW)
WVTT 25 (THIS)
WNYB 26 (TCT)
WUTV 29 (Fox)
WDTB-LD 39 (Daystar)
WNYO 49 (MNTV)
WPXJ 51 (Ion)
WBXZ-LP 56 (Cozi)
WBBZ 67 (Ind.)