WLNE-TV, virtual channel 6 (UHF digital channel 49), is an ABC-affiliated television station serving Providence, Rhode Island, United States that is licensed to New Bedford, Massachusetts. The station is owned by Bronxville, New York-based Citadel Communications (unrelated to the former Citadel Broadcasting Corporation, which owned several radio stations in the Providence market before being acquired by Cumulus Media in 2011). WLNE's studios are located in the Orms Building in downtown Providence, and its transmitter is based in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.
Early years (1963–1977)
The station began broadcasting on January 1, 1963 as WTEV from studios on 430 County Street in New Bedford. and transmitter located in Little Compton, Rhode Island, with the antenna mounted on a 500-foot (150 m) tower; a few years later, WTEV moved to a 950-foot (290 m) tower in Tiverton. The Tiverton transmitter was still 20 miles (32 km) away from the transmitter sites in Rehoboth used by the existing stations in the Providence market, WJAR-TV (channel 10) and WPRO-TV (channel 12, now WPRI-TV). However, WTEV could not build a tower in Rehoboth due to the risk of interference with WRGB in Schenectady, New York, WCSH-TV in Portland, Maine, and WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, which all broadcast on channel 6 in the analog era. Before cable arrived in Rhode Island in the early 1970s, viewers experienced reception problems with WTEV. This was because for its first four decades on the air, its transmitter was located in Newport County, resulting in its signal being sent from a different direction than WJAR-TV and WPRO-TV/WPRI-TV. This forced viewers to mount their outdoor antennas on rotators to get a passable signal from the station. The ensuing signal problems would be the bane of channel 6's existence for 45 years.
ABC had a curious history in Rhode Island prior to WTEV's sign-on. In the earliest years of television in Providence, all four networks (including DuMont) were shoehorned on primary NBC affiliate WJAR-TV, at that time the market's only television station (WJAR carried about half of NBC's and CBS' programming, but very few ABC or DuMont shows). WNET launched on channel 16 in 1953 as an ABC affiliate. However, it was forced off the air in 1956 due to the difficulties faced by UHF startups at the time. Since television manufacturers weren't required to include UHF tuning capability on television sets, viewers needed an expensive converter (or an all-channel set, the latter being very rare at the time) to watch WNET, and the picture was marginal at best even with one. For the seven years prior to channel 6's sign-on, WJAR and CBS affiliate WPRO-TV cherry-picked ABC programming, usually airing it in off-hours but occasionally preempting their primary network's schedule. Much of Rhode Island could access the full ABC schedule from Boston stations—WHDH-TV (channel 5, now occupied by WCVB-TV) prior to January 1, 1961, and WNAC-TV (channel 7, presently occupied by the present-day WHDH [not to be confused with the now-defunct WHDH on channel 5]) from 1961 to 1963.
Even though Providence was big enough to support three full network affiliates, it soon became apparent that channel 16 would not be resurrected in the near future (prior to 1964, television sets were not required to have UHF tuning capability, and most did not). The owners of the future WTEV decided to seek a waiver of FCC technical regulations to allow VHF channel 6 to be added to the FCC's Table of Allocations. The channel 6 license had originally been allocated to the island of Nantucket off Cape Cod, in the Boston market. However, at the time FCC rules required that a station have its studios and offices located in its community of license, and numerous FCC filings argued that it was not practical to operate a full-service television station from Nantucket. Since a channel 6 allocation in the Providence area would have been short-spaced to WCSH-TV and WRGB, the FCC allocation was modified to New Bedford—the nearest city on the Massachusetts side of the market where a transmitter could be built that could decently cover Providence while protecting WCSH-TV and WRGB from interference.
New Bedford and Bristol County are part of the Rhode Island market due to Rhode Island's small geographic size, even though the rest of southern Massachusetts is in the Boston market (counties were assigned by Arbitron and Nielsen to a particular television market based upon their viewing patterns). The advent of satellite television made this an irritation to some Massachusetts subscribers of services such as DirecTV and Dish Network who are unable to receive Massachusetts news and sports from Boston stations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows network affiliates to prevent satellite subscribers from receiving network stations from outside the station's designated market. Bristol County is the only part of Massachusetts associated with Rhode Island for television purposes.
WTEV was founded by WTEV Television, Inc., a group that was 55-percent owned by E. Anthony and Sons, publisher of the New Bedford Standard-Times and owner of WNBH radio (1340 AM and 98.1 FM, now WCTK); the remaining 45 percent was held by New England Television, the holder of the license for the old WNET. In 1966, shortly after E. Anthony and Sons sold the Standard-Times and WNBH, WTEV was purchased by Steinman Stations of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Switch to CBS (1977–1995)
On June 27, 1977, WTEV swapped affiliations with WPRI and became a CBS affiliate after Knight Ridder Television, which had just purchased WPRI, cut an affiliation deal that switched two of the three television stations it owned at the time to ABC. At the time, ABC was aggressively pursuing strong NBC and CBS affiliates to switch as their ratings rose during the late 1970s, and succeeded in persuading some longtime NBC and CBS stations to switch (as an example, KSTP-TV in Minneapolis–Saint Paul and WSB-TV in Atlanta, both longtime NBC affiliates, switched to ABC during that period).
In 1979, the Steinmans sold WTEV and their flagship station, WGAL-TV in Lancaster, to Pulitzer Publishing. This sale reunited them with KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which had been sold to Pulitzer in 1969. Pulitzer changed channel 6's call letters to the present-day WLNE-TV on September 8, 1980. The new call letters were used as a promotional acronym: "We Love New England." The WTEV call sign was later used on the CBS affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida from March 1996 until September 2014, when that station changed its call sign to WJAX-TV. Under Pulitzer, the station acquired studio space in the Orms Building in downtown Providence. Within a few years, most of the station's main operations were moved to Providence. The original New Bedford facility was used as a news bureau, secondary studio, and sales office through the late 1980s.
In 1983, Pulitzer sold WLNE to Freedom Communications. This sale was necessary because Pulitzer had acquired WFBC-TV (now WYFF) in Greenville, South Carolina and WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that same year, leaving the company one VHF station over the FCC's ownership limit of the time.
Return to ABC (1995–present)
WPRI was sold to CBS in the spring of 1995, making it a CBS owned-and-operated station (and one of the last such acquisitions prior to the Westinghouse Electric Corporation's purchase of the network, which resulted in the sale of WPRI to Clear Channel Communications due to a significant signal overlap with WBZ-TV, which had joined CBS back in January of that year). As a result, at midnight on September 10, 1995, WPRI reversed the 1977 swap with WLNE and officially rejoined CBS. WLNE then became an ABC affiliate again, and began calling itself ABC6.
Early in the afternoon of May 4, 2005, WLNE's analog transmitter was knocked off the air due to a faulty section of transmission line on the tower. The transmitter had been running at 80% power due to another unrelated technical problem that occurred approximately two weeks earlier. Although Dish Network satellite and some cable systems continued to receive broadcasts through fiber optic connections, over-the-air and DirecTV satellite subscribers were left without a local ABC affiliate (DirecTV gets its signal via antenna). Some cable providers made special temporary arrangements to carry Boston ABC station WCVB during this outage. The WLNE transmitter was operational again late Thursday evening after 32 hours off the air.
Sale to Global Broadcasting
In August 2006, The Providence Journal reported that WLNE was put up for sale. The key reason for the decision was the lack of a second station for Freedom to operate in the market that would improve synergies for the Providence operation. On March 12, 2007, Freedom announced it was selling WLNE to Global Broadcasting, a Delaware corporation headed by Robinson Ewert and Kevin O'Brien. The FCC granted approval of this sale in mid-September and ownership was officially transferred on October 9. Freedom continued to operate WLNE's website until November 30, 2007, when control was shifted to Broadcast Interactive Media, and later WorldNow in April 2010. Global Broadcasting was not related to a Canadian network, the Global Television Network, or its parent, Canwest Global Communications.
Financial struggles, bankruptcy
On June 23, NewsBlues reported that Global Broadcasting co-owner Robinson Ewert had left the company amidst a dispute with CBS over licensing fees for programs originating from its syndication unit. He was replaced by Rob Holtzer, general sales manager at Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, owner of the NHL's Florida Panthers and the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. He is also a former national sales manager at the YES Network in New York City. Holtzer's official title at Global was vice president and director of sales.
Global Broadcasting filed for receivership (Rhode Island's equivalent to bankruptcy) on July 29, 2010 due to declining advertising revenues. Providence attorney Matthew McGowan was appointed receiver. A month later, the station was put up for sale for the second time in four years. According to The Providence Journal, several groups had expressed interest in purchasing the station and a deal was projected to be reached by the end of the year. On December 13, 2010, rumors surfaced that A.H. Belo Corp. would buy WLNE and merge its operations with those of The Providence Journal—despite the fact that the company was formed from the split of non-broadcasting operations from Belo Corporation. Belo itself was considered a likelier candidate due to the strength of its operations in other regions, and its operation of regional news channels much like WLNE's own NewsChannel 5.
On February 10, 2011, Citadel Communications of Bronxville, New York was chosen as the stalking horse bid in the sale of the station with a bid of $4 millon. Five other groups (including one led by former Providence mayor Joseph Paolino, Jr. were also interested in purchasing the station and had until March 18 to submit competing bids prior to auction. On March 17, ABC notified potential buyers that WLNE's affiliation with the network beyond March 31, 2011 was not assured, which Global Broadcasting CEO Kevin O'Brien said could depress the final price WLNE is sold for at auction. Some observers feared that this could prompt one or more of the six companies believed to be bidding for WLNE to withdraw from bidding for the station, which may have even forced it off the air if no sale was made.
Sale to Citadel Communications
On March 22, Citadel Communications was approved as the new owner of WLNE by receiver Matthew McGowan. The company met the approval of ABC, and took over station operation on May 1 under a local marketing agreement (LMA) with McGowan and Global under the name Global Communications LLC. until the sale was approved by the FCC, at which point Citadel would assume full ownership. On April 5, WLNE revealed programming changes made in light of the sale, which included the returns of CBS Television Distribution shows The Insider and Inside Edition. On April 25, veteran sales manager Chris Tzianabos was named vice president and general manager of WLNE, replacing Steve Doerr. Global CEO Kevin O'Brien tried to appeal the sale in court, arguing that attorney McGowan did not try hard enough to achieve a higher sale price for the station. However, he did not succeed in his efforts, and on June 1, it was announced that the FCC had approved the license transfer, therefore finalizing the acquisition.
In September 2011, as had been promised by Citadel upon its acquisition of the station, WLNE-TV began broadcasting newscasts and syndicated programming in full high-definition. The station additionally debuted a new circle logo and website design, matching those of other Citadel stations, but incorporating its previous stylized 6.
After the sale of WOI-DT, WHBF-TV and KCAU-TV to the Nexstar Media Group was completed on March 13, 2014, WLNE and ABC affiliate KLKN in Lincoln, Nebraska are currently the only stations with a major network affiliation still owned by Citadel; the company also owns a news-intensive independent station, WSNN-LD/Suncoast News Network in Sarasota, Florida.
|TV stations in New England|
|WTNH, Hartford/New Haven|
|TV stations in Rhode Island and Bristol County, Massachusetts including Providence and New Bedford|
|WLNE 6 (ABC) |
WJAR 10 (NBC)
WPRI 12 (CBS)
WLWC 28 (Bounce TV)
WSBE 36 (PBS)
WRIW-CD 51 (TLM)
WNAC 64 (Fox)
WPXQ 69 (Ion)