WPCW, virtual channel 19 (VHF digital channel 11), is a CW owned-and-operated television station licensed to Jeannette, Pennsylvania, United States and serving the Pittsburgh television market. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of ViacomCBS, as part of a duopoly with Pittsburgh-licensed CBS owned-and-operated station KDKA-TV (channel 2). The two stations share studios at the Gateway Center in downtown Pittsburgh; WPCW's transmitter is located in the Perry North section of Pittsburgh. On cable, WPCW is carried on Comcast Xfinity channel 15 (channel 22 in Bethel Park and channel 2 in Monroeville) in standard definition and channel 808 in high definition, and Verizon FiOS channels 3 (standard definition) and 503 (high definition).
By way of extended cable coverage, WPCW also serves as the default CW affiliate for the Johnstown–Altoona–State College television market, since that area currently lacks a CW affiliate of its own, even though CW-affiliated superstation WPIX in New York is also carried on Xfinity in State College. WPCW was a Johnstown station for most of its history.
As WARD-TV (1953–1970)
WPCW signed on the air on October 15, 1953 as WARD-TV on analog UHF channel 56, with studios on Franklin Street in downtown Johnstown. It operated at a power of 91,000 watts visual, and 45,500 watts aural power, which, as it was later learned in these experimental days of UHF, was rather low for a UHF station. It was co-owned by Central Broadcasting through its Rivoli Realty subsidiary along with WARD radio (1490 AM, now WNTJ, and 92.1 FM, now WJHT). The station was the area's CBS affiliate with a secondary ABC affiliation. During the late-1950s, it was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
As WJNL-TV (1971–1982)
On March 22, 1971, Jonel Construction Company bought WARD-AM-FM-TV and changed their calls to WJNL-AM-FM-TV the following year, doing business as Cover Broadcasting, Inc. Having been issued a construction permit to do so in 1969, the television station then moved to the stronger UHF channel 19 and dropped ABC programming. The channel move also brought a transmitter power increase to 215,000 watts visual, and 21,500 watts aural.
Jonel also left the Franklin Street studio for a new facility located on Benshoff Hill, not too far from the transmitter atop Cover Hill in suburban Johnstown. The radio stations moved to the Benshoff Hill location in 1977, after the Franklin Street studios were destroyed in a massive flood.
Even with the move to the stronger channel 19 and its substantial power increase, WJNL-TV was still plagued by a weak signal. Most of Western Pennsylvania is a very rugged dissected plateau. At the time, UHF stations usually did not get good reception in rugged terrain. This left the station dependent on cable–then as now, all but essential for acceptable television in much of this market. In fact, Johnstown viewers got better signals from WFBG-TV (channel 10) in Altoona and KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. After WFBG-TV was sold in 1973, that station changed its callsign to WTAJ-TV in part to acknowledge its Johnstown viewership (its call letters stand for "We're Television in Altoona and Johnstown"). As a result, WJNL-TV never thrived, and was more or less a non-factor in a market dominated by WJAC-TV (channel 6). It only stayed afloat because of the tremendous success of its FM sister, an adult contemporary powerhouse.
As WFAT and WPTJ (1982–1991)
In 1982, Johnstown and Altoona/State College were collapsed into a single designated market area. CBS gave its affiliation in the newly enlarged market to Altoona's WTAJ-TV, as it already had a large viewership in Johnstown. In contrast, WJNL-TV could not be seen at all in much of the eastern part of the market; while Altoona was just inside channel 19's grade B contour, State College was just outside it. As a result, WJNL-TV became an independent station. Forced to buy an additional 19 hours of programming a day, its ratings plummeted even further.
Channel 19 was sold on February 1, 1983 to WFAT Incorporated, a company headed by Leon Crosby, a former owner of the original KEMO-TV (now KOFY-TV) in San Francisco, and renamed WFAT-TV. Crosby also had an ownership interest in WPGH-TV in neighboring Pittsburgh from 1973 to 1978, in addition to serving as that station's President and General Manager. Under the direction of Crosby, who had gained a favorable reputation from successfully turning around failing stations, the new WFAT-TV underwent a substantial technical overhaul intended to overcome its ongoing stigma of poor signal reception.
The station's transmitter facility was moved from Cover Hill to Pea Vine Hill, a much higher summit atop Laurel Hill Mountain in Ligonier Township, just over the Cambria County border in neighboring Westmoreland County, about 10 miles (16 km) east of the Cover Hill location. With the move came its most powerful transmitter power increase yet to 1.6 million watts visual, and 166,000 watts aural. This enabled the station to provide a grade B signal to Pittsburgh's eastern suburbs; indeed, the new transmitter was located within the Pittsburgh market. The new transmitter finally provided a clear city-grade signal to Johnstown, and also allowed the station to introduce itself to viewers in the Pittsburgh area who had not been aware that the station had been on the air for 30 years at the time. However, it still had a problem attracting Altoona viewers due to the mountainous terrain separating the two cities, resulting in marginal reception at best on the eastern side of the market.
Crosby addressed this by signing on a VHF translator (W12BR) in Altoona. The changes did little to improve the station's fortunes, largely because the major Pittsburgh independents were available on cable.
While WFAT now had a fairly decent signal in most of the market, its on-air look was still very primitive. It was one of the few stations, even in small markets, that still used art cards rather than CGI technology. Its character generator had been in service for over three decades, dating to when the station was WARD-TV. Its microphones were second-class. Crosby's formula of turning weak stations around by producing local shows with young creative talent was no longer viable for WFAT-TV, as such shows were losing ground to syndicators now offering much cheaper alternatives that could be tailor-made for specific markets. The very few locally produced programs WFAT now had left were limited to discussion-based talk shows on simple, undecorated sets with little more than chairs and carpet. David Smith and Lee Mack (the former had been program director of WJNL Radio) served as the station's booth announcers.
Decline and bankruptcy (1986–1991)
WFAT's fortunes suffered a crippling blow in 1986, when the owners of the construction permit for WWCP-TV (channel 8) were allowed to move the license from Pittsburgh to Johnstown. WWCP signed on in 1987 and took most of WFAT's stronger shows due to having the advantage of a stronger VHF signal. The station changed calls to WPTJ in 1988 and moved its studios to Allen Bill Drive in the Johnstown Industrial Park, but saw no change in its fortunes. Frequent transmitter problems often left the station off-the-air for extended periods of time.
Declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, WPTJ went off the air in 1990. The owners intended to resume operations as soon as the station's financial turmoil could be worked out. But it was not to be, as the station was so heavily in debt by this time and its owners were unable to formulate a reorganization plan that would allow the station to return to the air and emerge from bankruptcy protection. Thus, the owners chose to switch from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which mandated the liquidation of all assets, thus removing any hope of returning the station to the air for the foreseeable future.
Return as WTWB-TV (1994–1998)
Meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, WBPA-LP on analog UHF channel 29 signed on in 1994 as a low-powered station owned by Venture Technologies Group, LLC. It ran some ABC and NBC shows that respectively, WTAE-TV (channel 4) and WPXI (channel 11) pre-empted, along with infomercials, religious, and home shopping programming. It added WB programming when that network launched on January 11, 1995 and added a few syndicated shows in the fall of that year. At some point in time, that station moved to UHF channel 30.
Also in 1995, Venture Technologies bought the dormant WPTJ license in Johnstown. That station returned to the air in early 1997 under the callsign WTWB-TV, operating from a new transmitter on Laurel Mountain west of Jennerstown as a full-powered satellite of WBPA-LP. Venture, however, still had trouble getting viewership in Pittsburgh in part because cable providers in the area were not willing to pick it up. Then as now, the FCC's "must-carry" rules did not require cable providers to add low-powered stations. To solve this problem, Venture asked and received permission to move WTWB-TV's license to Jeannette (about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Pittsburgh) and place it in that market. Channel 19 then became The WB affiliate for Pittsburgh, and began to acquire more off-network sitcoms and first-run syndicated shows, alongside cartoons from Kids' WB and primetime programming from The WB.
As WNPA (1998–2006)
When WPTT acquired the WB affiliation and changed its call letters to WCWB in 1998 (it is now MyNetworkTV affiliate WPNT, channel 22), the UPN affiliation in the market became available. As such, channel 19 took the affiliation and changed its call letters to WNPA. Viacom's Paramount Stations Group bought the station in 1998. It became a sister station to KDKA-TV after the company merged with CBS in 2000. Viacom consolidated WNPA's operations into KDKA-AM-TV's studios at One Gateway Center by 2001. WNPA began to identify on air as "UPN Pittsburgh" in late 2003 due to the fact that various cable providers in the area carry the station on different channels.
As WPCW (2006–present)
On January 24, 2006, Time Warner and CBS Corporation announced that The WB and UPN would shut down and be replaced by a new network called The CW, which would initially feature series from both predecessor networks along with newer programs. To coincide with this change, the station changed its call sign to WPCW and rebranded itself as "Pittsburgh's CW" in August. The network launched on September 18, 2006.
WPCW's analog transmitter was 35 miles (56 km) southeast of Jeannette. This provided city-grade coverage to Johnstown and "rimshot" coverage to Pittsburgh. As a result, it was barely viewable over-the-air in many low-lying areas in the northern and western parts of the city and could not be seen at all in the city's western suburbs. When it applied to move its license to Jeannette, Venture sought and received a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule requiring a station's transmitter to be no farther than 15 miles (24 km) from the city of license. It successfully contended that there was no way it could build an analog tower within the 15-mile limit without interfering with WOIO in Cleveland. However, it built its digital transmitter in Pittsburgh's Perry North section, on some of the highest ground in the city. On June 12, 2009, coinciding with the national transition to digital television, WPCW turned off its transmitter near Jennerstown and began broadcasting its digital signal from its new transmitter in Pittsburgh.
For years, CBS has fed a direct fiber signal to both Comcast and Verizon FiOS. The relocation of WPCW's transmitter now provides Pittsburgh with city-grade coverage, in addition to greater coverage west of the city, but has left many viewers east of Westmoreland County (who were able to pick up WPCW's analog signal) without a viewable signal. WPCW is one of three former CBS affiliates that have since become CW stations owned by CBS, along with WTVX in West Palm Beach, Florida and KSTW in Seattle. However, WTVX has since been divested to Cerberus Capital Management's Four Points Media Group (the Four Points Media stations are now owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns Pittsburgh stations WPGH-TV and WPNT).
As CBS has done with most of its other CBS/CW duopolies in other markets, WPCW's web address has been folded within the KDKA website with only basic station and programming information, along with entertainment news and promotional video from The CW.
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