WVAH-TV, virtual channel 11 (UHF digital channel 19), is a Decades-affiliated television station licensed to Charleston, West Virginia, United States and serving the Charleston–Huntington television market. The station is owned by Cunningham Broadcasting; the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns ABC affiliate WCHS-TV (channel 8, also licensed to Charleston), operates WVAH-TV under a local marketing agreement (LMA). However, Sinclair effectively owns WVAH as the majority of Cunningham's stock is owned by the family of deceased group founder Julian Smith. The two stations share studios on Piedmont Road in Charleston and transmitter facilities atop Coal Mountain, south of Scott Depot, West Virginia.
The station began airing an analog signal on UHF channel 23 on September 19, 1982. It was owned by the newly created Meridian Communications based out of Pittsburgh, which won the license after the West Virginia Legislature forced West Virginia Public Broadcasting to withdraw its own application for the channel. It was the first independent station in West Virginia, as well as the first new commercial station in the market since what is now WOWK-TV (channel 13) signed-on in 1955, and the first commercial UHF station in the state since WKNA-TV in Charleston went off-the-air in 1955. Studios were located on Mount Vernon Road in Teays Valley, an unincorporated area halfway between Huntington and Charleston, though its mailing address said Hurricane (the two areas share a zip code). It became a charter Fox affiliate on October 6, 1986. Act III Broadcasting bought the station in 1987.
Soon after buying control, Act III applied to move the station to the VHF band. Despite broadcasting from a 1,500-foot (457 m) tower with the maximum five million watts of power, WVAH had considerable difficulty penetrating the market. The Charleston–Huntington market covers 61 counties in Central West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Southern Ohio. Most of this area is a very rugged dissected plateau, and as a result, UHF stations usually do not get good reception in this kind of terrain. Some areas of the market were among the few where cable television still wasn't available. As a result, WVAH was permitted to switch to VHF channel 11 in 1989, three years after Fox's launch. However, the station was short-spaced to WPXI in Pittsburgh and WJHL-TV in Johnson City, Tennessee. It then had to conform its signal to protect WJHL. As a result, it did not provide a clear over-the-air signal to the southwestern part of the market.
Act III merged with Abry Communications in 1994. That company, in turn, was acquired by Sinclair Broadcast Group later in 1994. In 1997, Sinclair purchased the broadcasting properties of Heritage Media, which included WCHS (the remainder of Heritage Media went to News Corporation). It could not keep both WCHS and WVAH due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules in effect at the time forbidding duopolies. Sinclair opted to keep the longer-established WCHS and sold WVAH to Glencairn, Ltd. which was headed by former Sinclair executive Edwin Edwards. However, nearly all of Glencairn's stock was held by the Smith family, owners and founders of Sinclair. In effect, Sinclair still owned WVAH. Sinclair further circumvented the rules by signing a local marketing agreement with Glencairn that allowed it to continue operating WVAH. While WVAH retained its own studios in Teays Valley, most of its operations were merged into WCHS' studios in Charleston.
On January 16, 1995, WVAH began airing UPN programming during overnight hours. However, the station could not clear the entire schedule and dropped the network in early 2000. In 2001, Sinclair tried to acquire Glencairn outright, but the FCC did not allow Sinclair to re-acquire WVAH because it does not allow common ownership of two of the four highest-rated stations in a single market. As a result, Glencairn kept WVAH and changed its name to Cunningham Broadcasting. However, nearly all of Cunningham's stock is controlled by trusts in the name of the Smith family. There is virtually irrefutable evidence that Cunningham is a shell corporation that Sinclair operates to circumvent FCC ownership limits.
Following a tower collapse in 2002, WVAH moved its transmitter and almost all of its facilities to WCHS' studios in Charleston. However, its main studios remained in Teays Valley until late 2009.
On May 15, 2012, Sinclair and Fox agreed to a five-year extension to the network's affiliation agreement with Sinclair's 19 Fox stations, including WVAH-TV, allowing them to continue carrying the network's programming until 2017.
In summer 2006, Charter Communications streamlined its operations which included selling off portions of its cable system which were "geographically non-strategic". Charter accounts in WCHS' market area were purchased by Suddenlink Communications (formerly known as Cebridge). Sinclair requested a $40 million one time fee and a $1 per sub per month fee from Suddenlink for retransmission rights of WVAH and WCHS on the Suddenlink cable system. This led to a protracted media battle and smear campaign between the two companies, and Sinclair pulled the two stations off-the-air in the Beckley market. After several weeks of negotiations, the two companies reached an agreement allowing WVAH and WCHS to continue transmission over the Suddenlink cable system. The terms of the agreement were not released to the public.
|TV stations in Southeast Ohio, Western West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, including Huntington and Charleston|
|WSAZ 3 (NBC) |
WCHS 8 (ABC)
WVAH 11 (Decades)
WOWK 13 (CBS)
WKPI 22 (PBS)
WKAS 25 (PBS)
WHJC-LP 27 (RTV)
WLPX 29 (Ion)
W30DG-D 30 (HSN)
WQCW 30 (CW)
WVPB 33 (PBS)
WTSF 44 (Daystar)
WJOS-LD 45 (Walk)
WTZP-LP 50 (Cozi)