WLVI, virtual channel 56 (UHF digital channel 42), is a CW-affiliated television station serving Boston, Massachusetts, United States that is licensed to Cambridge. The station is owned by Sunbeam Television, as part of a duopoly with independent station WHDH (channel 7). The two stations share studios located at Bulfinch Place in downtown Boston, and also share WHDH's transmitter, located in Needham. The station is automated and operated completely by WHDH staffers.
Channel 56 is the oldest UHF license in Boston. It first went on the air on August 31, 1953 as WTAO-TV; the station was originally owned by Middlesex Broadcasting, along with WTAO radio (740 AM, now WJIB) and WXHR (96.9 FM, now WBQT). The station's studio and transmitter were located atop Zion Hill, in Woburn, Massachusetts. WTAO was nominally affiliated with DuMont and ABC, though it was largely programmed as an independent station, especially after DuMont eliminated entertainment programming in 1955 and ABC opted to revert to secondary clearances on WNAC-TV (channel 7, now WHDH) and, to a lesser extent, WBZ-TV (channel 4) – these moves effectively left WTAO reliant on movies and limited local programming to fill its airtime. WTAO was written off as a failure and signed off for the last time on March 30, 1956 due to low viewership (only a small percentage of Boston area television sets were even capable of receiving UHF as set manufacturers were not required to equip televisions with UHF tuners until 1964, following the 1961 passage of the All-Channel Receiver Act) and therefore, lack of revenue from sponsors. The station went back on the air on May 17, 1962 for a six-month Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study before being taken off the air again on November 17 of the same year.
The channel 56 license, which adopted the WXHR-TV call letters in 1965, was purchased by Kaiser Broadcasting and the Boston Globe in 1966. The new owners returned the station to the air on December 21 of that year as independent station WKBG-TV (standing for "Kaiser Broadcasting/Boston Globe"), operating from a studio in Brookline but using the same Zion Hill transmission tower used by WTAO. Heard over its test patterns in preparing to sign on and in its opening day broadcast, was the Bert Kaempfert hit instrumental "That Happy Feeling."
WKBG intended the Brookline studios to be temporary, and in 1969, it moved to a much larger facility in a former supermarket on Morrissey Boulevard in the Dorchester section of Boston. By that time, the station's transmitter had moved to its current site in Needham. The antenna at the Needham site gave channel 56 better coverage of the southern portion of the Boston market than the Woburn site afforded.
As a Kaiser station, channel 56's schedule consisted primarily of cartoons, off-network sitcoms, older movies and occasionally, network shows that were preempted by other local stations. However, the station was willing to experiment with such projects as Universal Television's Operation Prime Time (although Paramount Television would contribute some programs as well) and syndicated reruns of National Geographic specials in primetime. Such common independent station programming as a Saturday "Creature Double Feature" (following repeats of The Outer Limits) reached youthful and cult audiences. U.S. talk show host Conan O'Brien has credited the station's rotation of classic musicals during its primetime movie offerings with encouraging him to consider a career as a performer.
For most of its tenure as an independent station, channel 56 was well behind WSBK-TV (channel 38) — which had exclusive rights to broadcasting the games of the highly popular Boston Bruins, and was carried on almost every cable provider in New England — in the ratings. Still, it was carried on most cable providers throughout New England, and channel 56 did carry some sports programming of its own, including road games of the Boston Celtics from 1966 to 1969 and road telecasts of the Boston Bruins in 1966-67. It also carried telecasts of the World Hockey Association's New England Whalers (now the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes) from 1972 to 1974 (25 regular-season games during the 1972-73 season and 20 games during the 1973-74 season, some home and some away games broadcast each year). In early 1974, the station agreed to carry away games of the Boston Bulls of the World Football League and carry the TVS package of WFL games, but the franchise folded shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, the station (now WLVI) honored the contract they had signed with TVS to carry the WFL national package.
In 1974, the Boston Globe sold its share in WKBG back to Kaiser. The call letters were then changed to the current WLVI-TV (reflecting the Roman numeral for 56, LVI) that May, and in 1977, Chicago-based Field Communications (which had acquired 22.5% of Kaiser in 1972) purchased WLVI and the other Kaiser stations (both WLVI, and present-day sister station WHDH, dropped the "-TV" suffix from their callsigns on July 8, 2010).
In 1983, WLVI was sold to the Gannett Company as part of a liquidation of Field's television assets. Under Gannett, WLVI continued its general entertainment format, which included children's programming from 6:00 to 11:00 a.m., as well as from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m. under the WLVI Kids' Club banner. For the generation of New England children growing up during this period, "Uncle Dale" Dorman (also a popular Boston radio personality) was the familiar personality associated with the Kids' Club, who hosted the cartoons via off-screen announcements. By 1990, Dorman had left the station and was replaced by Paul Wagner and Elizabeth Dann, who, unlike Dorman, appeared in on-camera segments and whom also doubled as announcers. From 1985 to 1990, WLVI again became the carrier of the Boston Celtics road games.
WLVI continued to use the Field Communications-style station branding and logo for nearly a decade after Gannett acquired the station. In 1992, the numeric logo changed to a design in which the number "56" was encased in a tall, purple/blue box, with the "WLVI" calls appearing in a thin font above it in a purple/blue strip. The "5" was placed in the top left corner of the box, while the "6" appeared below it in the lower right-hand corner. The logo design, and numerals font, was directly replicated from the positions of the "5" and "6" that appeared on the clock face of the Custom House Tower.
WB affiliation and Tribune Company ownership (1995-2006)Edit
In November 1993, Gannett sold the station to the Tribune Company's broadcasting division, which was finalized in early 1994. Tribune then affiliated the station with the fledgling WB Television Network, which launched on January 11, 1995. Soon afterward, after having been branded as "Channel 56" or "TV 56" for most of its history (with the minor exception of its branding as "Living 56" in the late 1980s under Gannett ownership), the station rebranded as "WB 56". A new red and white WB affiliate-style logo debuted in May 1995, which was used on most station branding from the start. The 1992 Custom House Clock Tower logo remained in use only on the 10 p.m. newscast until mid-1996 (along with a top-of-the-hour ID that aired before the start of the newscast, in which the previous logo appeared with The WB's logo and network backlot visuals). The station added WB primetime shows, as well as (by September 1995) children's programs from Kids' WB on weekday afternoons. Cartoons (such as Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon) and recent sitcoms continued to be part of the schedule, but a few talk and reality shows began to be added by 1996. The station also served as the default WB affiliate for Providence, Rhode Island – where WLVI had been available on cable for decades – until WLWC signed on in 1997.
The station temporarily went off the air in August 1998, when a crane that was erecting a nearby studio-to-transmitter link (STL) tower collapsed onto WLVI's studio building. Though no one was injured and the damage was confined to the station's office spaces, the incident resulted in several hundred thousand dollars worth of damage. The station used a satellite truck for a network programming downlink and studio space at WCVB-TV (channel 5)'s facilities in Needham for its 10 p.m. newscast.
In 1999, WLVI began a one-year stint as the flagship station of the Boston Red Sox, with games produced by an independent company, Jankowski Communications, headed by former CBS executive Gene Jankowski. What was to be a long-term partnership between the team, Jankowski and WLVI, ended after a single year when Jankowski Communications ceased operations. The following year, the station discontinued its weekday morning children's programming block in favor of a short-lived morning newscast. The station also began running even more syndicated talk and reality shows, and dropped most of its off-network sitcoms except during the evening hours. Afternoon children's programming continued to be supplied by Kids' WB until that block was relegated to Saturday mornings only in January 2006. Channel 56 was the last commercial station in the Boston market that continued to broadcast children's programming on weekdays. Around this time, the station began phasing out references to its channel number in its branding, becoming Boston's WB.
CW affiliation and Sunbeam purchase (2006-present)Edit
On January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation and Time Warner's Warner Bros. Entertainment (the division that operated The WB) announced that they would dissolve UPN and The WB, and combine UPN and The WB's most popular programs alongside new series on a newly created network, The CW. The network signed 10-year affiliation agreements with 16 of Tribune's 19 WB affiliates, including WLVI. However, it would not have been an upset had then-UPN station WSBK (which had become owned by CBS Corporation through CBS's December 2005 split from Viacom) been chosen as Boston's CW outlet as network officials had been on record as preferring the "strongest" stations among The WB and UPN's affiliate slate, and Boston was one of the few markets where the WB and UPN affiliates were both relatively strong ratings-wise. The CW began operations on September 18, 2006, and WLVI rebranded as Boston's CW to correspond to the affiliation switch.
On September 14, 2006, four days prior to the launch of The CW, Tribune Broadcasting announced that WLVI would be sold to Sunbeam Television, owner of then-NBC affiliate WHDH-TV, for $117.3 million. The sale received FCC approval in late November 2006, creating Boston's third television duopoly (after CBS-owned WBZ-TV and WSBK, and Hearst-owned WCVB-TV and Manchester, New Hampshire-based WMUR-TV). Even though the sale to Sunbeam had already become official by then, Tribune continued to operate WLVI until December 18, 2006, when the Tribune-run station website was closed and replaced with a redirect to the new Sunbeam-run website, and the final Tribune-produced newscast aired.
WLVI's operations were merged with those of WHDH, all of the station's equipment and sales department was moved to WHDH's studios on Bulfinch Place (just six miles from WLVI's old Morrissey Boulevard studio), and the station's news department was closed. The consolidation resulted in about 130 layoffs from WLVI, though some newsroom staffers were retained by WHDH, which took over production of WLVI's daily 10 p.m. newscast. The old set and equipment of WLVI were sold at auction several months later. With the sale, WLVI changed its branding to "CW 56", though the station is sometimes called "New England's CW" on-air. It has largely become a "pass-through" for automated programming.
On November 28, 2019 CW 56LVI becomes LVI56 at 4:00 PM Sunbeam Television is now
Nexstar Media Group WHDH Owned by Sunbeam Television
|TV stations in New England|
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|TV Stations in Greater Boston and southern New Hampshire|
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|WBZ 4 (CBS)||WUNI 66 (UNI)||WYCN-CD 15 (NBC)|
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|WFXZ-CD 24 (Biz TV)||WEKW 52 (PBS)|
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|WSBK 38 (MNTV)|
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|WWDP 46 (Evine Live)|
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|WLVI 56 (CW)|
|WDPX 58 (Ion Life)|
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|WHDH 5 (ABC/CBS)|
|WNAC 7 (CBS/ABC)|
|WJZB 14 (Ind)|
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|WXPO 50 (Ind)|
|WTAO 56 (ABC/DuMont)|