WABC-TV is best known in broadcasting circles for its version of the Eyewitness News format and for its morning show, syndicated nationally by corporate cousin Disney-ABC Domestic Television.
In the few areas of the eastern United States where an ABC station isn't receivable over-the-air, WABC is available on satellite via DirecTV (which also provides coverage of the station to Latin American countries and through major U.S. air carriers on LiveTV inflight entertainment system) and Dish Network (which carries the station as part of All American Direct's distant network package).
The station signed on August 10, 1948, as WJZ-TV, the first of three television stations signed on by ABC during that same year, along with WENR-TV (now WLS-TV) in Chicago and WXYZ-TV in Detroit being the other two. Channel 7's call letters came from its then-sister radio station, WJZ (770 AM, now WABC). In its early years, WJZ-TV was programmed much like an independent station, as the ABC television network was still, for the most part, in its very early stages of development; the ABC-owned stations did air some common programming during this period, especially after the 1949 fall season when the network's prime time schedule began to expand. The station's original transmitter site was atop The Pierre Hotel at 2 East 61st Street, before moving to the Empire State Building a few years later. The station's original studios were located at 77 West 66th Street, with studios at 7 West 66th Street. An underground tunnel linked ABC studios at 7 West 66th Street to the lobby of the Hotel des Artistes, a block north on West 67th Street. Another studio inside the Hotel des Artistes was used for Eyewitness News Conference.
The station's call letters were changed to WABC-TV on March 1, 1953 after ABC merged its operations with United Paramount Theaters, a firm which was broken off from former parent company Paramount Pictures by decree of the U.S. government. The WJZ-TV callsign was later reassigned to Westinghouse Broadcasting (the original owners of WJZ radio in New York) in 1957 for their newly acquired television station in Baltimore - a station that was, by coincidence, an ABC affiliate until 1995.
As part of ABC's expansion program, initiated in 1977, ABC built 7 Lincoln Square on the southeast corner of West 67th Street and Columbus Avenue, on a site of an abandoned moving and storage warehouse. At about the same time, construction was started at 30 West 67th Street on the site of a former parking lot. Both buildings were completed in June 1979 and WABC-TV moved its offices from 77 West 66th Street to 7 Lincoln Square.
On September 11, 2001, the transmitter facilities of WABC-TV, as well as eight other local television stations and several radio stations, were destroyed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into and destroyed the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. Transmitter maintenance engineer Donald DiFranco died in the attack. In the immediate aftermath, the station fed its signal to several UHF stations that were still broadcasting (notably WNYE-TV), before establishing temporary facilities at the Armstrong Tower in Alpine, New Jersey. The station eventually established transmission facilities at the Empire State Building.
On May 27, 2007, WABC-TV's studios suffered major damage as the result of a fire that knocked the station off the air shortly before the start of the 11:00 PM Newscast. According to preliminary reports, the fire may have been ignited by a spotlight coming into contact with a curtain inside the news studio; the station's website later reported the cause as an "electrical malfunction". The station's building was evacuated and the fire was brought under control, though the studio was said to be "badly damaged", having suffered smoke and water damage. WABC-TV resumed broadcasting at around 1:00 AM on May 28, 2007 (initially carrying the network's 10:00 PM West Coast feed of Brothers & Sisters, followed by the full broadcast of World News Now). Due to the fire, the station broadcast Eyewitness News from a temporary set in the newsroom, while Live with Regis and Kelly, whose set was also affected to moved to the set of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Starting with the 5:00 PM Newscast on June 20, 2007, the station resumed the Eyewitness News and Live... broadcasts from its main studios at Columbus Avenue and 66th Street.
In May 2013, WABC-TV and Philadelphia sister station WPVI-TV became the first two ABC-owned stations to offer live, web-based streaming of programming to authenticated subscribers of participating cable and satellite television providers as provided through the relaunched Watch ABC mobile apps.
Cable and satellite carriage
Disputes with Cablevision and Time Warner Cable
On March 7, 2010 at 12:02 AM, WABC-TV's signal was removed from Cablevision's New York area systems (including iO Digital Cable) after failing to reach terms on a new retransmission consent agreement; the station was replaced by either a blank screen or a looping video containing a message from Cablevision about the removal. To avoid interruption of programming, the station urged Cablevision subscribers in the station's viewing area (totaling up to three million subscribers) to switch to other services, such as Verizon FiOS and DirecTV or simply view the station over the air through an over-the-air digital antenna and if necessary, a digital converter box, for older television sets. WABC's sister station, WPVI-TV in Philadelphia was also pulled from Cablevision's New Jersey systems in Mercer, Ocean and Monmouth Counties.
Later that same day at approximately 8:50 PM, 20 Minutes into ABC's broadcast of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Cablevision and ABC reached a deal, restoring WABC and WPVI's signals for Cablevision subscribers after a nearly 21-hour blackout.
Time Warner Cable
In July 2010, ABC's parent company Disney announced that it was involved in a carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable, its first with that provider in 10 Years. This dispute involved 4 ABC owned-and-operated stations (WABC-TV and sister stations KABC-TV in Los Angeles, WTVD in Durham, North Carolina and WTVG in Toledo, Ohio), Disney Channel and the ESPN networks. If a deal wasn't in place, the affected stations and cable channels would've been removed from Time Warner and Bright House Networks systems across the country. On September 2, 2010, Disney and Time Warner Cable reached a long-term agreement to keep the channels on Time Warner Cable systems.
WABC-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 7 at 12:30 PM on June 12, 2009 as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 45 to VHF channel 7.
WABC's digital signal was initially difficult to receive over-the-air in New York City. The station was requested by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to broadcast at a lower power; WABC was among many stations which have found it necessary to increase power to restore coverage to the same level as its former analog signal. On June 29, 2009, WABC filed an application with the FCC to increase power from 11.69 kW to 27 kW. On January 31, 2010, the FCC granted a special temporary authority (STA) for the station to increase power to 26.9 kW.
WABC-TV presently broadcasts 41 and half hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 6 and half hours on weekdays and 4 and half hours each on Saturdays and Sundays). The station cooperates with Philadelphia sister station WPVI-TV - which popularized the Action News format - in the production and broadcast of statewide New Jersey political debates. When the 2 stations broadcast a statewide office debate, such as for governor or U.S. Senate, they'll pool resources and have anchors or reporters from both stations participate in the debate. Additionally, the two stations cooperate in coverage of news from New Jersey where their markets overlap, sharing reporters, live trucks and helicopters.
Beginning to 1999
Current Channel 7 Eyewitness News at 11 p.m. open, used since November 8, 2013 Compared to the other 2 New York City network flagship stations, WABC was late to the local news game, entering the field in 1962 with an hour-long 6:00 PM Newscast called The Big News with Bill Beutel and Jim Barnes as anchors, Howard Cosell doing sports and Rosemary Haley as "weather girl". However, this effort failed to draw viewers from ratings leader WCBS-TV and second-place WNBC-TV.
In early 1968, Beutel left the station to become the London bureau chief for ABC News and was replaced by Roger Grimsby, who was hired away from San Francisco's KGO-TV after seven years. In a complete revamp, Grimsby was joined by Tex Antoine doing weather, celebrity gossip columnist Rona Barrett, New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin with political commentary and reviews by Martin Bookspan and Allan Jeffries, while Howard Cosell continued doing sports. Known as Roger Grimsby and the Newsmakers, this format didn't help the ratings, which plunged to an all-time low.
Later that year, newly hired news director Al Primo brought the Eyewitness News format to WABC-TV, in which reporters present their stories directly to the viewers. Having experienced great success introducing the format during his time at KYW-TV in Philadelphia, Primo this time added a twist - a degree of conversational chatter among the anchors, known as "happy talk." The "Tar Sequence" cue from the musical score of the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, composed by Lalo Schifrin was introduced as the theme music. The score included a telegraphic-style melody appropriate for a newscast. The Eyewitness News format and theme music were quickly adopted by ABC's other four owned-and-operated stations at the time - WLS-TV in Chicago, WXYZ-TV in Detroit, KABC-TV in Los Angeles and KGO-TV in San Francisco (though KGO-TV and WXYZ-TV didn't use the Eyewitness News title for their programs). The format quickly rejuvenated a station that had long been an also-ran to WCBS-TV and WNBC-TV. Within a year, Channel 7 had shot to first place in the ratings for the first time in its history, displacing longtime leader WCBS-TV. It spent most of the decade going back and forth with WCBS-TV for first place. For a time in the 1980s, it fell into last place, but still fought with WNBC-TV for second place.
Retaining only Grimsby, Cosell and Antoine from the earlier Newsmakers format, Primo also hired Tom Dunn away from WCBS-TV to serve as Grimsby's co-anchor. After Dunn departed for WOR-TV in 1970, Bill Beutel returned to the station as his replacement and for the next 16 years, Grimsby and Beutel were the faces of Eyewitness News. The duo were split up for the 1st 10 Months of 1975 as ABC had reassigned Beutel to its new morning show AM America. The station brought in WXYZ-TV's Bill Bonds and veteran Boston anchor Tom Ellis to help replace Beutel; both Bonds and Ellis co-anchored at 11:00 PM for a time. When AM America was cancelled and replaced with Good Morning America, Beutel was re-teamed with Grimsby at 6:00 PM and Bonds returned to Detroit. Ellis remained up to 1977 and was replaced by Larry Kane, who lasted only one year as the sole 11:00 PM Anchor. Kane's successor, Ernie Anastos, began his New York career at the station; he co-anchored at 11:00 PM For his entire 12-year tenure there.
In the wake of declining ratings, Grimsby was fired on April 16, 1986, a move for which Applegate drew considerable ire, and Grimsby was quickly hired by rival WNBC-TV. Beutel stepped down from the anchor desk in 2001, 2 Years before his retirement, which concluded the longest tenure for a main anchor in New York City television history, at that time. His record has since been surpassed by WNBC's Chuck Scarborough and WXTV's Rafael Pineda. Scarborough's uninterrupted run behind the desk is second in New York television to Pineda, who started with WXTV in 1972.
In 1985, the station lured WLS-TV's news director, Bill Applegate from Chicago to New York City. Applegate claimed credit for taking WLS-TV from last to first in only two years and ABC hoped he could work the same magic at the flagship station. Their hopes were rewarded in 1987 when Channel 7 surged back into first place. It has been the ratings leader in New York City since then and has grown to become the most watched broadcast television station in the United States.
WABC-TV's news department is respected for its straightforward presentation (especially during breaking news). For the last decade, it has waged a spirited battle for first place, but for most of the time has held onto the lead, helped in part by lead-ins from highly rated talk and entertainment shows. For over 24 years (December 1986 to May 2011), the lead-in for the 5:00 PM Eyewitness News broadcast had been The Oprah Winfrey Show at 4:00 pm and its strong ratings brought viewers along to the 5:00 PM Newscast.
The newscasts were replayed on one of channel 7's digital subchannels, another which also carried a local weather and news channel. WABC-TV's website had a link for live streaming video of "Eyewitness News Now", which offered live local and national weather updated from AccuWeather. Local news headlines and updates were also provided. The format of "Eyewitness News Now" is similar to the defunct NBC Weather Plus. In February 2011, ABC pulled ENN as well as similar news channels on its Los Angeles and Chicago sister stations, replacing them in all three cities with a standard definition, letterboxed simulcast of the Live Well Network.
On December 2, 2006, WABC-TV became the second station in the New York City market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. On September 7, 2010, WABC-TV expanded its weekday morning newscast, moving its start time to 4:30 AM. 3 Days earlier on September 4, 2010, WABC added an hour-long extension of its Saturday morning newscast from 9:00 to 10:00 AM. On May 26, 2011, WABC-TV added another hour of local news at 4:00 PM to replacing Oprah, which aired its last original episode the previous day.
On September 24, 2011, the station began broadcasting its newscasts and public affairs programs from a new street-level window studio at a former Disney Store location in the ABC building on 66th Street and Columbus Avenue. The space previously used for news broadcasts was used to expand the Live with Kelly studio. In January 2012, the station also expanded its weekend 11:00 pm newscasts to an hour. On September 8, 2014, the station expanded its Noon newscast to one full hour from the previous half hour.