WNBC, virtual channel 4 (digital channel 35 (sharing with WNJU)), is the flagship station of the NBC television network, licensed to New York City and serving the New York metropolitan area. It is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations subsidiary of NBCUniversal and operates as part of a television duopoly with WNJU (channel 47). WNBC's studios are co-located with NBC's corporate headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan and its transmitter is located at One World Trade Center. WNBC holds the distinction as the oldest continuously operating commercial television station in the United States.
In the few areas of the eastern United States where an NBC station is not receivable over-the-air, WNBC is available on satellite via DirecTV. It is also carried on Dish Network and certain cable providers in markets where an NBC affiliate is unavailable. DirecTV also allows subscribers in Greater Los Angeles to receive WNBC for an additional monthly fee.
What is now WNBC traces its history to experimental station W2XBS, founded by the Radio Corporation of America (a co-founder of the National Broadcasting Company), in 1928, just two years after NBC was founded as the first nationwide radio network. Originally a test bed for the experimental RCA Photophone theater television system, W2XBS used the low-definition mechanical television scanning system, and later was used mostly for reception and interference tests. The call letters W2XBS meant W2XB-south, with W2XB being the call letters of the first experimental station, started a few months earlier at General Electric's main factory in Schenectady, New York, which evolved into today's WRGB. GE was the parent company of both RCA and NBC, and technical research was done at the Schenectady plant.
The station originally broadcast on the frequencies of 2.0 to 2.1 megahertz. In 1929, W2XBS upgraded its transmitter and broadcast facilities to handle transmissions of sixty vertical lines at twenty frames per second, on the frequencies of 2.75 to 2.85 megahertz. In 1928, Felix the Cat was one of the first images ever broadcast by television when RCA chose a papier-mâché (later Bakelite) Felix doll for an experimental broadcast on W2XBS. The doll was chosen for its tonal contrast and its ability to withstand the intense lights needed in early television and was placed on a rotating phonograph turntable and televised for about two hours each day. The doll remained on the turntable for nearly a decade as RCA fine-tuned the picture's definition, and converted to electronic television.
The station left the air sometime in 1933 as RCA turned its attention to all-electronic cathode ray tube (CRT) television research at its Camden, New Jersey facility, under the leadership of Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin.
In 1935, the all-electronic CRT system was authorized as a "field test" project and NBC converted a radio studio in the RCA Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center for television use. In mid-1936, small-scale, irregularly scheduled programming began to air to an audience of some 75 receivers in the homes of high-level RCA staff, and a dozen or so sets in a closed circuit viewing room in 52nd-floor offices of the RCA Building. The viewing room often hosted visiting organizations or corporate guests, who saw a live program produced in the studios many floors below.
Viewership of early NBC broadcasts was tightly restricted to those authorized by the company, whose installed set base eventually reached about 200. Technical standards for television broadcasting were in flux as well. Between the time experimental transmissions began in 1935 and the beginning of commercial television service in 1941, picture definition increased from 343 to 441 lines, and finally (in 1941) to the 525-line standard used for analog television from the start of full commercial service until the end of analog broadcasts in mid-2009. The sound signal also was changed from AM to FM, and the spacing of sound and vision carriers was also changed several times. Shortly after NBC began a semi-regular television transmission schedule in 1938, DuMont Laboratories announced TV sets for sale to the public, a move that RCA was saving for the opening of the World's Fair on April 30, 1939, the day that regularly scheduled television programming was to begin in New York on NBC with much fanfare. In response, NBC ceased all TV broadcasting for several weeks until RCA sets went on sale and regular NBC telecasts commenced the day the fair opened.
Firsts for W2XBS
As W2XBS broadcasting on "Channel 1" (44-50 MHz), the station scored numerous "firsts", including the first televised Broadway drama (June 1938), live news event covered by mobile unit (a fire in an abandoned building in November 1938), live telecast of a Presidential speech (Franklin D. Roosevelt opening the 1939 New York World's Fair), the first live telecasts of college and Major League Baseball (both in 1939), the first telecast of a National Football League game (also in 1939), the first telecast of a National Hockey League game (early 1940), the first network (multi-city) telecast of a political convention (the 1940 Republican National Convention, held June 24–28 in the Philadelphia Civic Center) seen also on W3XE Philadelphia (now KYW-TV) and W2XB Schenectady, NY (now WRGB), and the broadcast of the feature film The Crooked Circle on June 18, 1940.
But in August 1940, W2XBS transmissions were temporarily put on hold, as "Channel 1" was reassigned by the FCC to 50-56 MHz and technical adjustments needed to be made for the conversion. The station returned to the air in October, just in time to broadcast Franklin D. Roosevelt's second and final appearance on live television, when his speech at Madison Square Garden on October 28, 1940 was telecast over W2XBS.
First commercial television station
On June 24, 1941, W2XBS received a commercial license under the calls WNBT (for "NBC Television"), thus becoming one of the first two fully licensed commercial television stations in the United States, along with CBS' W2XAB on channel 2, which became WCBW. The NBC and CBS stations were licensed and instructed to sign on simultaneously on July 1 so that neither of the major broadcast companies could claim exclusively to be "first." However, WNBT signed on at 1:30 p.m., one full hour before WCBW. As a result, WNBC (and essentially, NBC) inadvertently holds the distinction as the oldest continuously operating commercial television station (and television network, respectively) in the United States, and also the only one ready to accept sponsors from its beginning. The first program broadcast at 1:00 EST by the sign-on/opening ceremony with the national anthem of the United States of America "The Star-Spangled Banner", followed by an announcement of that day's programs and the commencement of NBC television programming.
WNBT originally broadcast on channel 1. On its first day on the air, WNBT broadcast the world's first official television advertisement before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The announcement for Bulova watches, for which the company paid anywhere from $4.00 to $9.00 (reports vary), displayed a WNBT test pattern modified to look like a clock with the hands showing the time. The Bulova logo, with the phrase "Bulova Watch Time", was shown in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern while the second hand swept around the dial for one minute.
Although full commercial telecasting began on July 1, 1941 with the first paid advertisements on WNBT, there had been experimental, non-paid advertising on television as far back as 1930. NBC's earliest non-paid, television commercials may have been those seen during the first Major League Baseball game ever telecast, a game between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds, on August 26, 1939 over W2XBS. In order to secure the rights to show the game on television, NBC allowed each of the Dodgers' regular radio sponsors at the time to have one commercial during the telecast, and these were done by Dodger announcer Red Barber. For Ivory Soap, he held up a bar of the product, for Mobil gas he put on a filling station attendant's cap while giving his spiel, and for Wheaties he poured a bowl of the product, added milk and bananas, and took a big spoonful.
The pioneering special interest/documentary show The Voice of Firestone Televues, a television offshoot of The Voice of Firestone, a mainstay on NBC radio since 1928, became the first regularly scheduled TV program not featuring news or sports, when it began on WNBT on November 29, 1943 (though a one-time-only, trial episode of Truth or Consequences aired on WNBT's first week of programming two years earlier; it eventually returned to TV in the 1950s).
During World War II, RCA diverted key technical TV staff to the U.S. Navy, who were interested in developing a television-guided bomb. WNBT's studio and program staff were placed at the disposal of the New York City Police Department and used for civil defense training telecasts, with only a limited number of weekly programs for general audiences airing during much of the war. Programming began to grow on a small scale during 1944. On April 10, 1944, WNBT began feeding The Voice of Firestone Televues each week to a small network of stations including General Electric's Schenectady station (now called WRGB) and Philco-owned WPTZ (now KYW-TV) in Philadelphia, both of which are now affiliated with CBS. This series is considered to be the NBC Television Network's first regularly scheduled program.
On May 8, 1945, WNBT broadcast hours of news coverage on the end of World War II in Europe, and remotes from around New York City. This event was pre-promoted by NBC with a direct-mail card sent to television set owners in the New York City area. At one point, a WNBT camera placed atop the marquee of the Astor Hotel in New York City panned the crowd below celebrating the end of the war in Europe. The vivid coverage was a prelude to television's rapid growth after the war ended. In the spring of 1946, the station changed its frequency from VHF channel 1 to channel 4 after channel 1 was removed from use for television broadcasting. From 1946 to 2009, it occupied the 66–72 MHz band of frequencies which had been designated as "channel 3" in the pre-1946 FCC allocation table but was renumbered Channel 4 in the post-war system (DuMont-owned WABD, now WNYW—had been designated as "Channel 4", before that station moved to the current channel 5 but was only required to retune its video and audio carriers downward by 2 MHz under the new system). In October 1948, WNBT's operations were integrated with those of sister station WNBC radio (660 AM).
The station changed its call letters on October 18, 1954, to WRCA-TV (for NBC's then-parent company, Radio Corporation of America or RCA) and on May 22, 1960, channel 4 became WNBC-TV. NBC had previously used the callsign on its television station in New Britain, Connecticut, from 1957 until it was sold earlier in 1960 (that station is now WVIT, and is once again an NBC-owned station). WNBC-TV also earned a place in broadcasting history as the birthplace of The Tonight Show. It began on the station in 1953 as a local late night program, The Steve Allen Show and NBC executive Sylvester "Pat" Weaver brought it to the network in 1954. Studio 6B, the show's home under Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and today Jimmy Fallon, was the news studio for WNBC while Tonight was produced in Los Angeles.
On June 1, 1992, channel 4 dropped the -TV suffix from its call letters (following the sale in 1988 of its sister radio station WNBC, which is now WFAN) and became simply WNBC, with the new branding slogan "4 New York". The accompanying station image campaign was titled We're 4 New York and featured a musical theme composed by Edd Kalehoff. WNBC was rebranded again as "NBC 4" on September 5, 1995, with its newscasts being renamed NewsChannel 4. In March 2008, the "4 New York" branding was revived.
During the September 11, 2001, attacks, the transmitter facilities of WNBC, as well as eight other New York City area television stations and several radio stations, were destroyed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into and destroyed the World Trade Center. WNBC broadcast engineer Bill Steckman died in the tragedy, along with six other engineers from other television stations. In the immediate aftermath, the station temporarily fed its signal to three UHF stations that were still broadcasting (PBS member station WLIW and independent stations WMBC and W26CE). After resuming over-the-air transmissions, the station broadcast from the former transmitter site of Channel 68 in West Orange, New Jersey. Since 2005, WNBC has broadcast its signal from the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, returning to the original transmitter site used from the 1930s to the 1970s. On May 9, 2017, it was announced that WNBC would return broadcasting from the top of the World Trade Center at One World Trade Center by the end of the year.
In 2004, WNBC served as the model station for NBC Weather Plus, a 24-hour digital weather channel that aired on its second digital subchannel (4.2) and on several local cable systems; other NBC-owned stations launched their own Weather Plus channels in 2005, although Weather Plus was phased out at the end of 2008.
In February 2015, WNBC and the other NBC-owned stations offered live, web-based streaming of programming to subscribers of participating cable and satellite television providers, as provided through the TV Everywhere Mobile Apps.
On March 15, 2016, NBCUniversal pulled the signals of WNBC and WNJU along with co-owned cable channels USA Network, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC and CNBC from Dish Network systems in the New York metropolitan area as a result of a dispute between NBC and Dish; despite that, Dish claimed NBCUniversal had demanded that it renew its carriage of ten NBC-owned stations and sixteen Telemundo-owned stations, including those removed due to the dispute. Three days later, Dish announced it would continue to carry WNBC, WNJU and five other cable channels for another ten days while the FCC sought arbitration.
|TV stations in New York|
|WNBC, New York City|
|TV Stations in the New York City Metropolitan Area|
WLIW 21 (PBS)|WVVH-CD50 (YTA)|WLNY 55 (IND)|WFTY 68 (UNM)