WSBK-TV, virtual channel 38 (UHF digital channel 39), is a MyNetworkTV-affiliated television station licensed to Boston, Massachusetts, United States. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of ViacomCBS, as part of a duopoly with CBS owned-and-operated station WBZ-TV (channel 4). The two stations share studios on Soldiers Field Road in the Brighton section of Boston; WSBK's transmitter is located along the Needham and Wellesley town line (southwest of the MA 9 and I-95/MA 128 interchange).
WSBK is also available via satellite throughout the United States on Dish Network as part of its superstation package (which since September 2013, is available only to existing subscribers of the tier). Otherwise, it enjoys cable coverage throughout much of the New England region, though this has been limited compared to the past when it was more widely distributed. WSBK is one of two CBS Corporation-owned stations carrying the Fox Corporation-owned MyNetworkTV programming service, along with sister station WBFS-TV in Miami (a similar situation existed with Chicago CW affiliate WPWR-TV, as it was the only Fox-owned station that carried The CW from 2016 until 2019, which is half-owned by CBS).
The first construction permit for channel 38 in Boston was granted in October 1955 to Ajax Enterprises, headed by Herbert Mayer, a former New York City attorney who had founded Empire Coil, a New Rochelle, New York manufacturer of RF coils for television stations and receivers. Mayer went on to own stations in Portland, Oregon (KPTV, the country's first licensed UHF station) and Cleveland (WXEL). He sold the cable manufacturer and both television stations to Storer Broadcasting in 1954. Channel 38 was originally slated to have the WHMB call sign; however, after Storer changed the call letters of the Cleveland property to WJW-TV in April 1956, Mayer quickly reclaimed the WXEL call letters for the Boston station. WXEL's proposed transmitter in Melrose was never built, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revoked the construction permit and deleted the call letters in November 1960.
The current station signed on the air on October 12, 1964. It was first licensed to the Boston Catholic Television Center under the call letters WIHS-TV. The station employed a general entertainment format, along with broadcasts of the daily and Sunday Mass. As WIHS, the station initially programmed a "hybrid" schedule—educational (for the Catholic schools in the Boston area) and religious programs during the morning, and syndicated programs and movies (and by 1966, some shows that the Boston area's network affiliates declined to air) in the afternoon and evening. The station also carried two 15-minute local newscasts each weekday, at 5:45 and 10 p.m., which consisted of an announcer reading news headlines into a camera.
The station also made an initial foray into sports, carrying ten regular season away games and all playoff road games from the Boston Celtics that were not carried on network television during the 1964-65 season. However, team management was worried about the lack of penetration of the UHF band, leading to playoff away games being simulcast on WHDH-TV (channel 5) in 1965 (that station had previously aired select Celtics telecasts, including playoff away games starting in 1962); the following season, the team moved back to WHDH outright. Some college sports (mostly hockey and basketball games) were carried during the WIHS era, which were carried over during the early Storer Broadcasting years.
The station was purchased by Storer Broadcasting in 1966. A few months after the purchase, the station's call letters were changed to the present WSBK-TV, named after the company's ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange, SBK. Storer scored its biggest coup in 1967, when it secured broadcast rights to the Boston Bruins from WKBG-TV (channel 56, now WLVI), and eventually owned the team for a three-year period from 1972 to 1975. During the next few years, as the Bruins became a contender for the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup championship, the popularity of these games led to a spike in UHF antenna purchases, and helped make channel 38 one of the leading independent stations in the country. For much of the time between 1970 and 1984, WSBK would televise between 70 and 72 of the Bruins' 80 regular season games, as well as all playoff games not shown on network television.
In 1975, WSBK acquired television rights to the Boston Red Sox; during the team's first year on WSBK, the Red Sox won the American League pennant. The team remained on WSBK until 1995, and returned for another three-year period from 2003 to 2005. WSBK had broadcast between 90 and 110 Red Sox games a year between 1975 and 1983; about 75 games a year from 1984 to 1995; and a limited number of games (usually 28 to 30 a year) between 2003 and 2005. Although WSBK carried Celtics road playoff games in 1969 (the team having abandoned WKBG at the end of the regular season after seeing the number of regular-season games broadcast by WKBG during the 1968-69 season shrink compared to the previous year), the station would not carry the NBA team's games on a regular basis until 1993. During that time, WSBK broadcast road games of the Celtics; it continued to do so through 1998.
In addition to an increasingly stronger lineup of syndicated programs—which during the late 1960s through (to a lesser extent) the 1990s included cartoons (such as Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts and made-for-TV Popeye cartoons) and sitcoms (such as The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers (itself set in Boston and now owned by CBS), M*A*S*H and Frasier), WSBK continued to run some network programs that were preempted by the local NBC (WBZ-TV), ABC (first WNAC-TV, then WCVB-TV), and CBS (first WHDH-TV, then WNAC-TV/WNEV-TV) affiliates until 1981. The station also ran several movies a day (one during the day, prime time, and late night). During the 1970s through the mid-1980s, WSBK's cartoon programs were hosted by Willie Whistle, a clown who used a bird-whistle in his mouth to create a distinctive voice he was recognized for.
Becoming a superstation
WSBK's popularity was such that by the mid-1970s, it was available on nearly every cable provider in New England and as far west as Buffalo, New York. In the late 1980s, WSBK became a national superstation when it entered into an agreement with Eastern Microwave to distribute its signal outside of New England. Eastern Microwave also distributed the signal of existing superstation WOR-TV in New York City. WSBK's main selling point was its coverage of the Red Sox, similar to how WOR-TV, WGN-TV in Chicago, and WTBS in Atlanta respectively used their coverage of the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs. and Atlanta Braves. WSBK's carriage did not reach the same level as the other stations, but covered large portions of New York, New Jersey and a handful of cable providers in Florida (which produced the unusual circumstance of Red Sox games being regularly broadcast into part of the New York Yankees' main market, like WPIX in the Boston area which carried the Yankees). WSBK's coverage of the Boston Bruins also made it a favorite superstation on Canadian cable providers, along with WOR (at the time, WOR was televising away games of all three New York-area NHL teams, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils).
When the FCC's syndication exclusivity rules (or "Syndex") were strengthened in the early 1990s, distribution of all out-of-market station signals were hampered. The rule protected stations in local markets from out-of-market competition by superstations that aired identical syndicated programming. Any station could file with cable providers for "protection" and the provider would have to black out the offending station for periods of time. The management of this "blocking" would prove so cumbersome that many cable providers began dropping distant signals such as WSBK and effectively stopped most superstation distribution. Distributors such as Eastern Microwave attempted to make it easier for cable providers by substituting shows that could not be blocked, but the damage had already been done by then.
WSBK began operating on a 24-hour schedule in the late 1970s, only to revert to late-night signoffs by the early 1980s. Besides its status as a sports powerhouse, WSBK made a name for itself when it created The Movie Loft, one of the first "hosted movie" franchises on television, long before it became a staple on cable. The program aired syndicated movies with interstitial program elements hosted by Dana Hersey. Part of the program's marketing was that it aired only "unedited" movies. The Movie Loft tested that on several occasions airing movies such as The Deer Hunter, The Boys in the Band and 48 Hrs. without editing for inappropriate content or length. In the mid-1980s, WSBK dropped the midday movie to make room for more sitcoms. For a few years, WSBK signed off at 1 or 2 a.m., but began operating 24 hours a day by the end of the decade.
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts bought WSBK and most of Storer's other stations in 1985. At this time, ownership was officially under the KKR subsidiary of New Boston Television, although Storer was still referenced on-air as being the parent company of WSBK. KKR later sold most of its stations to Gillett Communications. When Gillett defaulted on some of the financing agreements in the early 1990s, the ownership was restructured and the company was renamed SCI Television. Eventually, SCI ran into fiscal issues, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1993. As a result, WSBK was sold in a group deal to New World Communications that year.
Sale to Paramount and affiliation with UPN (1995–2006)
In 1994, New World made a landmark deal with Fox to switch most of its CBS-, ABC- and NBC-affiliated stations to Fox. WSBK remained an independent station and was eventually put up for sale again to protect existing affiliate WFXT (channel 25), which Fox would acquire soon afterward (WSBK would not have been beneficial to Fox, as it was a UHF station—the New World stations that switched to Fox had broadcast on VHF channels between 2 and 13—and did not have a news department unlike its sister stations). Channel 38 was then sold to the Paramount Stations Group (which would become a subsidiary of Viacom that same year) and became a charter affiliate of UPN on January 16, 1995; that June, the longtime "TV 38" branding was retired and changed to "UPN 38". In 1996, Viacom acquired a 50% ownership stake in the network, which effectively made WSBK-TV a UPN owned-and-operated station.
Originally, WSBK continued to essentially program under the conventions of an independent station as UPN would not run five nights a week of programming until 1998. While the affiliation did not result in immediate changes to the rest of its lineup outside of primetime, WSBK began incorporating more talk and reality shows by 1997, with older shows being gradually phased out. The Movie Loft was discontinued as a result of host Dana Hersey's retirement, as well as declining ratings for the program as the movie packages that the station acquired were of a lesser quality than in previous years. WSBK later revived the genre with The UPN 38 Movie House, hosted by actor and comedian Brian Frates and Movie Night (co-hosted by Dan and Dave Andelman); in the early 2000s, it also attempted a revival of The Movie Loft hosted by Skip Kelly. The station also began to decrease its telecasts of local professional sports events. For some time after affiliating with UPN, WSBK continued to air primarily cartoons and classic sitcoms. In late 1999, WSBK was lowered to only a morning cartoon block, a major amount of talk and reality shows during the midday and afternoon hours, and more recent sitcoms in the evening along with UPN shows. The station stopped carrying cartoons in 2003, around the same time that UPN discontinued the Disney's One Too block. By 2002, the station was running a blend of talk shows, court shows, and reality shows from 9 a.m. through the late afternoon, with recent off-network sitcoms continuing in the evenings. Movies were also cut back, and were generally relegated to weekends only. However, one tradition that remained on WSBK was the Sunday morning run of The Three Stooges.
In 2001, after Viacom merged with the previous CBS Corporation—which created a duopoly with WBZ-TV, WSBK integrated its operations into WBZ's facility in Brighton. The former WSBK studio facility is now occupied by four Boston radio stations that, until 2017, were owned by former corporate sibling CBS Radio. Under CBS, WSBK began sharing some first-run syndicated programs with WBZ-TV. In 2001, WSBK became the Boston home for the game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!—unusual for a UPN or independent station (Wheel and Jeopardy! had previously run on WHDH-TV). In 2009, both shows moved to WBZ-TV, swapping stations with The Insider and Entertainment Tonight, with management citing their older-skewing demographics as more closely fitting WBZ, and the younger audiences for the entertainment news programs more closely fitting WSBK.
Return to independent status (2006–2011)
On January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation (which spun off from Viacom two months earlier) and the Warner Bros. unit of Time Warner announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN and combine the networks' respective programming to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. Even though WSBK is owned by The CW's part-owner CBS, then-WB affiliate WLVI—owned at the time by Tribune Broadcasting (which sold that station to WHDH owner Sunbeam Television that September)—was announced as The CW's Boston outlet through an affiliation agreement that signed 16 of Tribune's 19 WB stations as charter affiliates. It would not have been an upset if WSBK had been chosen as Boston's CW affiliate, as representatives for The CW had been on record as preferring the "strongest" WB and UPN affiliates, and Boston was one of the few markets where the WB and UPN affiliates both had relatively strong viewership.
On February 22, 2006, News Corporation announced the launch of MyNetworkTV, another new broadcast television network to be operated by its Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television divisions. WSBK was considered the favorite to become the network's Boston affiliate, but CBS Television Stations announced that May, that channel 38, along with WBFS-TV in Miami, would instead become independent stations. Although WBFS ultimately signed with MyNetworkTV, the MyNetworkTV affiliation in the Boston market eventually went to Derry, New Hampshire-based independent station WZMY-TV (channel 50, now WWJE-DT).
WSBK-TV officially reverted to the "TV 38" branding on September 6, 2006, and also revived its former Entertaining Boston slogan; the station continued to carry UPN programming until the network shut down on September 15. After the station reverted to independent status, WSBK's primetime lineup was filled by first-run syndicated programs (initially a second run of Dr. Phil at 8 p.m. and a second run of Jeopardy! at 9 p.m.), and a WBZ-produced 9:30 p.m. newscast. The station adopted a new ad campaign entitled Hello in September 2009, where the majority of station promotion is centered around the word "hello"; this new campaign also brought forth a mascot called the TV 38 Blockhead.
Switch to MyNetworkTV (2011–present)
On June 15, 2011, WBIN-TV (the former WZMY-TV) announced that it would disaffiliate from MyNetworkTV that September to become an independent station. CBS Television Stations subsequently signed an affiliation agreement with the programming service five days later on June 20 to move its Boston area affiliation to WSBK. It is believed that CBS's initial decision to deny its larger UPN stations affiliation agreements with MyNetworkTV was in retaliation against Fox for refusing to affiliate any of its UPN affiliates in markets where CBS Corporation or Tribune did not already sign deals to carry The CW with that network. WSBK affiliated with MyNetworkTV on September 19, 2011 (joining Miami sister station WBFS-TV as one of two CBS-owned stations to maintain an affiliation with the service). The station's branding was amended to "myTV38", in accordance to the new affiliation.
|TV stations in New England|
|WCTX, New Haven|
|TV Stations in Greater Boston and southern New Hampshire|
|English stations||Spanish stations||New Hampshire|
|WGBH 2 (PBS)||WUTF 27 (UMas)||WMUR 9 (ABC)|
|WHDT-LD 3 (Ind)||WCEA-LD 58 (Ind)||WENH 11 (PBS)|
|WBZ 4 (CBS)||WUNI 66 (UNI)||WYCN-CD 15 (NBC)|
|WCVB 5 (ABC)||WPXG 21 (Court TV)|
|WHDH 7 (Ind)||WLEK-LD 22 (DrTV)|
|WBTS-LD 8 (NBC)||WWJE 50 (Justice)|
|WFXZ-CD 24 (Biz TV)||WEKW 52 (PBS)|
|WFXT 25 (Fox)||WNEU 60 (TLM)|
|WSBK 38 (MNTV)|
|WGBX 44 (PBS)|
|WWDP 46 (Evine Live)|
|WYDN 48 (Daystar)|
|WLVI 56 (CW)|
|WDPX 58 (Bounce TV)|
|WMFP 62 (SBN)|
|WBPX 68 (Ion)|
|WHDH 5 (ABC/CBS)|
|WNAC 7 (CBS/ABC)|
|WJZB 14 (Ind)|
|WNHT 21 (Ind/CBS)|
|WXPO 50 (Ind)|
|WTAO 56 (ABC/DuMont)|