The Boston TV Dial: WBZ-TV

Who, What, Where

Community: Boston
Digital channel: 30
PSIP: 4-1: main program
Ownership: CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS)/Sumner Redstone
Studio: 1170 Soldiers Field Road
Boston, MA 02134-1092
Transmitter: 350 Cedar Street
Needham, MA 02192-1818
Phones:
Receptionist +1 617 787 7000
News Hotline 783 4444
Viewer Services 787 7316
Network: CBS

Technical Parameters

WBZ-TV transmits on digital channel 30 from a top-mounted Harris TAD-24UDA-5/60 antenna on an 395-meter (1296-foot) Dresser tower (the second-tallest in Massachusetts) on Cedar Street in Needham, with 825 kW average ERP. The antenna is 390 meters (1280 feet) above average terrain, 434 m (1424 ft) above mean sea level, and is shared with WCVB-TV (20 Boston), WSBK-TV (39 Boston), and WGBX-TV (43 Boston). The antenna has 0.7 degrees of electrical beam tilt and 14.44 dB of gain. The tower was built in 1957 for WBZ-TV's former analog service on channel 4, and has been the home of WGBX-TV and WCVB-TV since they signed on in 1967 and 1972, respectively. WBZ-TV holds a construction permit to increase average ERP to 915 kW from the same antenna.

WBZ-TV uses a Harris Sigma CD transmitter with two amplifier cabinets, for a transmitter power output of 41.88 kW.

Station History

WBZ-TV (channel 4) signed on for the first time on June 9, 1948, as New England's first commercial television station, beating WNHC-TV (now WTNH) in New Haven, Conn., to the air by a week. As part of the Westinghouse family of stations, WBZ-TV joined the NBC television network. The station's studios and transmitter were housed in a state-of-the-art facility at 1170 Soldiers Field Road in Boston's Brighton neighborhood, along with sister station WBZ 1030.

WBZ was a New England television pioneer, presenting live broadcasts of Boston institutions such as the Red Sox, as well as daily local newscasts. The “Boom Town” kids' show, starring Rex Trailer, was an early favorite.

On August 31, 1954, channel 4 went dark suddenly as Hurricane Carol sent WBZ-TV's 680-foot self-supporting tower toppling over the studios and across Soldiers Field Road. A temporary transmitter was soon erected on a standby tower, and a short time later, WBZ-TV moved its transmitter to the WNAC-TV site above Malden Hospital. In the mean time, construction was started on the new 1200-foot tower in Needham, which went on the air in 1957.

In subsequent years, WBZ-TV continued its tradition of local programming, including “Evening Magazine” in the 1970s and 1980s, and “People Are Talking” in the 1980s and early 1990s, along with an ever-increasing diet of local news.

A partnership between Westinghouse and CBS caused the company to switch all its stations to CBS affiliation in 1995. Early in the morning of January 2, “NBC Nightside” came to an end, followed by local news and then “CBS This Morning”, ending the longest network-station affiliation in Boston TV history. The NBC affiliation went to WHDH-TV 7. The WBZ-TV/CBS partnership was further solidified when Westinghouse bought CBS late in 1995, making WBZ-TV a CBS owned-and-operated outlet.

In the ten years since the affiliation switch, although CBS's ratings for entertainment programs improved significantly, WBZ-TV's local news ratings declined precipitously, from a healthy second place in 1994 to finishing third and occasionally fourth (behind syndicated programs on WFXT) a decade later. A quick succession of brand identities for the newscasts hardly helped matters: after starting off the '90s with the long-standing “Eyewitness News”, the station adopted, and then dropped, “WBZ 4 News”, “News 4 New England”, and “WBZ News 4” (the logo of which was ridiculed by sports anchor Bob Lobel as the “Circle 4 Ranch”) before adopting the CBS national standard “CBS 4 News”. WBZ-TV's on-again, off-again local newscast on WSBK-TV also failed to hit the mark against established market leaders WFXT and WLVI.

A rebranding in late 2007, combined with the ratings leadership of CBS's prime-time schedule, has helped to pull WBZ-TV's local ratings up to some degree, but competition, particularly at 11 PM, has become even stronger with the addition of a second hour to WFXT's 10 PM newscast. WBZ is again producing a half-hour evening newscast to air on sister station WSBK, but the new 9 PM time slot defies comparison to other evening newscasts in the market.

WBZ-TV ceased regular programming on analog channel 4 at 12:30 PM on June 12, 2009. A repeating loop of “nightlight” programming—instructions on how to install a digital TV converter box—ran until the analog transmitter was shut down for good on July 12.

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This station profile was written by the editors of The Archives @ BostonRadio.org. We have no relationship with the station; please send any comments or questions about their programming directly to the station. Network connectivity courtesy of MIT CSAIL.

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