WNBC's studios are co-located with NBC's corporate headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in midtown Manhattan, and its transmitter is based at the Empire State Building. The station is the oldest fully licensed television station in continuous operation in the United States.
In the few areas of the eastern United States where an NBC station is not receivable over-the-air, WNBC is available on satellite via DirecTV and Dish Network (the latter carries the station as part of All American Direct's distant network package), which also provides coverage of the station to Latin American and Caribbean countries. It is also carried on certain cable providers in markets where an NBC affiliate is not available, on LiveTV and Dish Network. DirecTV also allows subscribers in the Los Angeles market to receive WNBC for an additional monthly fee.
Schedule for the first day of commercial broadcasting for WNBT (now WNBC) July 1, 1941.
The Felix the Cat doll used by NBC in early television experiments. What is now WNBC traces its history to experimental station W2XBS, founded by the Radio Corporation of America (a co-founder of the National Broadcasting Company), in 1928, just two years after NBC was founded as the first nationwide radio network. Originally a test bed for the experimental RCA Photophone theater television system, W2XBS used the low-definition mechanical television scanning system, and later was used mostly for reception and interference tests. The call letters W2XBS meant W2XB-south, with W2XB being the call letters of the first experimental station, started a few months earlier at General Electric's main factory in Schenectady, New York. GE was the parent company of both RCA and NBC, and technical research was done at the Schenectady plant.
The station originally broadcast on the frequencies of 2.0 to 2.1 megahertz. In 1929, W2XBS upgraded its transmitter and broadcast facilities to handle transmissions of sixty vertical lines at twenty frames per second, on the frequencies of 2.75 to 2.85 megahertz. In 1928, Felix the Cat was one of the first images ever broadcast by television when RCA chose a papier-mâché (later Bakelite) Felix doll for an experimental broadcast on W2XBS. The doll was chosen for its tonal contrast and its ability to withstand the intense lights needed in early television and was placed on a rotating phonograph turntable and televised for about two hours each day. The doll remained on the turntable for nearly a decade as RCA fine-tuned the picture's definition, and converted to electronic television.
Eddie Albert and Grace Brandt apply makeup for the first television broadcast of a play (November 1936) The station left the air sometime in 1933 as RCA turned its attention to all-electronic cathode ray tube (CRT) television research at its Camden, New Jersey facility, under the leadership of Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin.
In 1935, the all-electronic CRT system was authorized as a "field test" project and NBC converted a radio studio in the RCA Building (now the Comcast Building) in New York City's Rockefeller Center for television use. In mid-1936, small-scale, irregularly scheduled programming began to air to an audience of some 75 receivers in the homes of high-level RCA staff, and a dozen or so sets in a closed circuit viewing room in 52nd-floor offices of the RCA Building. The viewing room often hosted visiting organizations or corporate guests, who saw a live program produced in the studios many floors below.
Viewership of early NBC broadcasts was tightly restricted to those authorized by the company, whose installed set base eventually reached about 200. Technical standards for television broadcasting were in flux as well. Between the time experimental transmissions began in 1935 and the beginning of commercial television service in 1941, picture definition increased from 343 to 441 lines, and finally (in 1941) to the 525 line standard used for analog television from the start of full commercial service until the end of analog broadcasts in mid-2009. The sound signal also was changed from AM to FM, and the spacing of sound and vision carriers was also changed several times. Shortly after NBC began a semi-regular television transmission schedule in 1938, DuMont Laboratories announced TV sets for sale to the public, a move that RCA was saving for the opening of the World's Fair on April 30, 1939, the day that regularly scheduled television programming was to begin in New York on NBC with much fanfare. In response, NBC ceased all TV broadcasting for several weeks until RCA sets went on sale and regular NBC telecasts commenced the day the fair opened.
Firsts for W2XBS
As W2XBS, the station scored numerous "firsts", including the first televised Broadway drama (June 1938), live news event covered by mobile unit (a fire in an abandoned building in November 1938), live telecast of a Presidential speech (Franklin D. Roosevelt opening the 1939 New York World's Fair), the first live telecasts of college and Major League Baseball (both in 1939), the first telecast of a National Football League game (also in 1939), the first telecast of a National Hockey League game (early 1940), and the first network telecast of a political convention (the 1940 Republican National Convention, held June 24–28 in the Philadelphia Civic Center), and the broadcast of the feature film The Crooked Circle on June 18, 1940.
But in the fall of 1940, W2XBS transmissions were temporarily put on hold, as the television industry's leaders continued deliberations on technical standards through the National Committee on Television Standards before reaching consensus on several major issues, including 525-line picture definition, FM audio, a 6-MHz wide channel, asymmetrical-sideband AM video, and 4.5-MHz spacing between the video carrier (nominally 1.25 MHz from the bottom of each channel) and audio carrier (at 5.75 MHz above the lower limit of the channel). Those parameters became standard for television from the spring of 1941 to June 2009 and the adoption of today's all-digital system, and it was that system that W2XBS used when it resumed regularly scheduled programming in the spring of 1941 in preparation for the start of full, commercial operation on July 1, 1941.
First commercial television station
On June 24, 1941, W2XBS received a commercial license under the calls WNBT (for "NBC Television"), thus becoming one of the first two fully licensed commercial television stations in the United States, along with CBS' W2XAB on channel 2, which became WCBW (today's WCBS-TV). The NBC and CBS stations were licensed and instructed to sign on simultaneously on July 1 so that neither of the major broadcast companies could claim exclusively to be "first." However, WCBW did not manage to sign on the air until 2:30 p.m., one full hour after WNBT. As a result, WNBC inadvertently holds the distinction as the oldest continuously operating commercial television station in the United States, and also the only one ready to accept sponsors from its beginning. The first program broadcast at 13:00 EST by the sign-on/opening ceremony with the national anthem of the United States of America "The Star Spangled Banner", followed by an announcement of that day's programs and the commencement of NBC television programming.
WNBT originally broadcast on channel 1. On its first day on the air, WNBT broadcast the world's first official television advertisement before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The announcement for Bulova watches, for which the company paid anywhere from $4.00 to $9.00 (reports vary), displayed a WNBT test pattern modified to look like a clock with the hands showing the time. The Bulova logo, with the phrase "Bulova Watch Time", was shown in the lower right-hand quadrant of the test pattern while the second hand swept around the dial for one minute.
Although full commercial telecasting began on July 1, 1941 with the first paid advertisements on WNBT, there had been experimental, non-paid advertising on television as far back as 1930. NBC's earliest non-paid, television commercials may have been those seen during the first Major League Baseball game ever telecast, a game between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds, on August 26, 1939 over W2XBS. In order to secure the rights to show the game on television, NBC allowed each of the Dodgers' regular radio sponsors at the time to have one commercial during the telecast, and these were done by Dodger announcer Red Barber. For Ivory Soap, he held up a bar of the product, for Mobil gas he put on a filling station attendant's cap while giving his spiel, and for Wheaties he poured a bowl of the product, added milk and bananas, and took a big spoonful.
The pioneering special interest/documentary show The Voice of Firestone Televues, a television offshoot of The Voice of Firestone, a mainstay on NBC radio since 1928, became the first regularly scheduled TV program not featuring news or sports, when it began on WNBT on November 29, 1943 (though a one-time-only, trial episode of Truth or Consequences aired on WNBT's first week of programming two years earlier; it eventually returned to TV in the 1950s).
During World War II, RCA diverted key technical TV staff to the U.S. Navy, who were interested in developing a television-guided bomb. WNBT's studio and program staff were placed at the disposal of the New York City Police Department and used for civil defense training telecasts, with only a limited number of weekly programs for general audiences airing during much of the war. Programming began to grow on a small scale during 1944. On April 10, 1944, WNBT began feeding The Voice of Firestone Televues each week to a small network of stations including General Electric's Schenectady station (now called WRGB) and Philco-owned WPTZ (now KYW-TV) in Philadelphia, both of which are now affiliated with CBS. This series is considered to be the NBC Television Network's first regularly scheduled program.
On May 8, 1945, WNBT broadcast hours of news coverage on the end of World War II in Europe, and remotes from around New York City. This event was pre-promoted by NBC with a direct-mail card sent to television set owners in the New York City area. At one point, a WNBT camera placed atop the marquee of the Astor Hotel in New York City panned the crowd below celebrating the end of the war in Europe. The vivid coverage was a prelude to television's rapid growth after the war ended. In the spring of 1946, the station changed its frequency from VHF channel 1 to channel 4 after channel 1 was removed from use for television broadcasting. From 1946 to 2009, it occupied the 66–72 MHz band of frequencies which had been designated as "channel 3" in the pre-1946 FCC allocation table but was renumbered Channel 4 in the post-war system (DuMont-owned WABD, today's WNYW - had been designated as "Channel 4", before that station moved to the current channel 5 but was only required to retune its video and audio carriers downward by 2 MHz under the new system). In October 1948, WNBT's operations were integrated with those of sister station WNBC radio (660 AM).
The station changed its call letters on October 18, 1954, to WRCA-TV (for NBC's then-parent company, Radio Corporation of America or RCA) and on May 22, 1960, channel 4 became WNBC-TV. NBC had previously used the callsign on its television station in New Britain, Connecticut, from 1957 until it was sold earlier in 1960 (that station is now WVIT, and is once again an NBC-owned station). WNBC-TV also earned a place in broadcasting history as the birthplace of The Tonight Show. It began on the station in 1953 as a local late night program, The Steve Allen Show and NBC executive Sylvester "Pat" Weaver brought it to the network in 1954. Studio 6B, the show's home under Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and today Jimmy Fallon, was the news studio for WNBC while Tonight was produced in Los Angeles.
On June 1, 1992, channel 4 dropped the -TV suffix from its call letters (following the sale in 1988 of its sister radio station WNBC, whose frequency is now occupied by WFAN) and became simply WNBC, with the new branding slogan "4 New York". The accompanying station image campaign was titled We're 4 New York and featured a musical theme composed by Edd Kalehoff. WNBC was rebranded again as "NBC 4" on September 5, 1995, with its newscasts being renamed NewsChannel 4. In March 2008, the "4 New York" branding was revived.
During the September 11, 2001, attacks, the transmitter facilities of WNBC, as well as eight other New York City area television stations and several radio stations, were destroyed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into and destroyed the World Trade Center. WNBC broadcast engineer Bill Steckman died in the tragedy, along with six other engineers from other television stations. After resuming over-the-air transmissions, the station broadcast from the former transmitter site of Channel 68 in West Orange, New Jersey. Since 2005, WNBC has broadcast its signal from the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, returning to the original transmitter site used from the 1930s to the 1970s.
In 2004, WNBC served as the model station for NBC Weather Plus, a 24-hour digital weather channel that aired on its second digital subchannel (4.2) and on several local cable systems; other NBC-owned stations launched their own Weather Plus channels in 2005, although Weather Plus was phased out at the end of 2008.
In February 2015, WNBC and the other NBC-owned stations offered live, web-based streaming of programming to subscribers of participating cable and satellite television providers, as provided through the TV Everywhere Mobile Apps.
WNBC discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 4, at 12:30 p.m. on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 28, using PSIP to display WNBC's virtual channel as 4 on digital television receivers. Since the station qualified for the nightlight clause in the DTV Delay Act, it was required to keep its analog signal on for two weeks to inform viewers of the digital television transition. From June 12 to June 26, 2009, the analog signal consisted of a loop of digital transition public service announcements while the digital channel was used for normal programming. WNBC's analog feed signed off at 11:00 a.m. on June 26, with a montage of historic test patterns and NBC logos, set to the NBC Nightly News theme from the early 1980s, culminating with the word "GOODBYE." Then, the screen cut to static.
WNBC has long presented events such as the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, The National Puerto Rican Day Parade (until 2006, when coverage moved to WNYW), the Columbus Day Parade (Until 2010, when coverage moved to WABC-TV), and the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting. They have sponsored an annual two-day Health & Fitness Expo Fair at Metlife Stadium every summer, between 1995 and 2011, They were the exclusive local English-language carrier of the annual New York City Marathon until 2013 when WABC-TV took over. From 2010 to 2014, the station was an Official local broadcast partner of Discovery Times Square. From 2012 to 2014, the station along with the New York Daily News has having partnerships with Mount Sinai Health System (Live Well New York) and Popular Community Bank (Popular Tips). During the Holiday Season, the station has an annual Holiday Sing-Along. The station also produces Visiones, a weekly segment about Hispanic culture, that also airs in Spanish on sister Telemundo station WNJU, and Positively Black, a weekly segment about Black American culture.
Syndicated programming seen on WNBC including The Meredith Vieira Show, Steve Harvey, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Extra, and Access Hollywood (plus it's live counterpart) among others. All of the programs mentioned are distributed by NBC Universal. Because of its ownership by the network, WNBC generally carries the entire NBC network schedule, the station does not clear the entirety of NBC's weekday overnight lineup – it does not clear the rebroadcast of the fourth hour of Today and the network's broadcast of CNBC's Mad Money, opting to air syndicated programming instead, and though Weekend Today is broadcast an hour later (at 9 a.m.) on Sunday than most NBC stations in the Eastern United States, due to an hour-long Sunday morning newscast. Occasionally on Christmas Day each year until 2013, the station airs Music and the Spoken Word, which is also aired on other NBC-owned stations. As of August 2010, WNBC is one of three NBC-owned stations that distributes programming either nationally and/or regionally (along with KNTV and KNBC).
WNBC currently served as the official flagship carrier of New York Giants football games (co-produced by MSG Network); with rival WWOR-TV served as the alternate carrier during the Summer Olympic Games and formerly served as the official flagship carrier of New York Jets football games (with games produced by co-owned regional sports network SportsNet New York) until rights to Jets games moved to WCBS-TV).
News 4 New York's current nighttime news open, used since April 21, 2012. WNBC presently broadcasts 32 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours on weekdays, 3½ hours each on Saturdays and Sundays); it also produces a 60-minute newscast at 7 p.m. weeknights for its Cozi TV subchannel on digital channel 4.2.
From the late 1960s through the 1980s, WNBC was involved in a fierce three-way battle with WCBS-TV and WABC-TV for the top spot in the New York television ratings. This continued during a lean period for NBC as a whole. WNBC's hallmark over the years has been strong coverage of breaking stories and straight news products that also feature light-hearted and/or entertainment elements (such as Live at Five and Today in New York). Many of WNBC's personalities have been at the station for over 20 years. Chuck Scarborough has been the station's main anchor since 1974. From 1980 to 2012, he was teamed with Sue Simmons at 11 p.m., and the two were the longest-serving anchor team in New York City television history. Senior correspondent Gabe Pressman has been at the station since 1956, except for a seven-year stint (from 1972 to 1979) at WNEW-TV (now WNYW).
WNBC-TV was the first major-market station in the country to have success with a 5 p.m. newscast, adding that program to its Sixth Hour show at 6 p.m. in 1974 and renaming all of its local newscasts NewsCenter 4 (three other NBC owned-and-operated stations in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, also adopted the NewsCenter name). The moniker remained until September 1, 1980, when the newscasts were renamed News 4 New York. Shortly before then the 5 p.m. program was renamed Live at Five, and the hour was reformatted from a straight news program into a mix of news and celebrity interviews. Live at Five eventually became the most-successful local program in New York City, a feat that resulted in landing the show's hosts on the cover of New York magazine.
For most of the time from 1980 to 1990, WNBC-TV used various themes written by Scott Schreer. His theme for News 4 New York was based on a synthesized version of the NBC chimes, with a graphics package featuring a lightning bolt striking its logo from 1980 to 1990, a fancy die-cut "4". In 1992, the station began calling itself 4 New York and the campaign song, written by Edd Kalehoff, was quickly adopted as the theme for the newscast. The theme was briefly brought back after the September 11 attacks in 2001. In 1995, after the station rebranded itself as "NBC 4" and its newscasts as Newschannel 4, Kalehoff wrote a new theme called "NBC Stations" featuring the NBC chimes, the chime sequence is the musical notes G-E-C. It remained in use for eight years, along with a graphics package using a simple red line for the lower thirds.
The 2003 graphics package was created by Emmy Award-winner Randy Pyburn of Pyburn Films. Pyburn has produced several promotions for the station and the now-defunct Jane's New York specials hosted by former WNBC reporter Jane Hanson. The graphics package was also used on other NBC stations. The music was written by Rampage Music and featured a brassy version of the NBC chimes, and lower thirds featured a shimmering peacock (fellow NBC O&O KNTV adopted the theme in 2007 and currently uses the same variant of LA Groove used by WNBC). In March 2008, concurrent with the restoration of the 4 New York branding, the newscasts began to be called News 4 New York once more.
Many WNBC personalities have appeared, and have also moved up to the NBC network, including: Marv Albert, Len Berman, Contessa Brewer, Chris Cimino, Fran Charles, Darlene Rodriguez, Maurice DuBois, Joelle Garguilo, Tony Guida, Jim Hartz, Janice Huff, Matt Lauer, Tom Llamas, Al Roker, Scarborough and Tom Snyder. In the past, Albert, Berman, Brewer, Charles, DuBois, Guida, Hartz, Roker, Lauer, Llamas, Scarborough and Snyder have worked at Channel 4 and at NBC at the same time. Rodriguez, Cimino, Huff and Garguilo currently do them. One popular monthly feature is Berman's "Spanning the World", a reel of odd and interesting sports highlights from the past month, including a recorded introduction and closing by legendary NBC staff announcer Don Pardo. This segment airs on Today on a monthly basis.
When Simmons joined the station in early 1980, she was paired with Scarborough on both the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. However, for most of the time until 2005, WNBC's weeknight anchor rotation had Simmons and another male anchor (including Jack Cafferty, Guida, Lauer, and briefly Scarborough) at 5 p.m.; Scarborough and various anchors (John Hambrick, Pat Harper, and Michele Marsh among them) at 6 p.m.; and Scarborough and Simmons together at 11 p.m. That changed in 2005 as Live at Five anchor Jim Rosenfield jumped back to WCBS-TV, where he had once been the noon and 5 p.m. anchor and took on the role as lead anchor for their 5 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
Former reporter Perri Peltz returned to WNBC to co-anchor Live at Five with Simmons, making New York City one of the few large markets with two female anchors on an evening newscast. The move harkened back to three decades earlier, when the station paired Pia Lindström with Melba Tolliver on its 5 p.m. news hour, creating one of the first all-female anchor teams on a major-market American television station. It was short-lived as Simmons and Peltz were both displaced from Live at Five because of changes in the station's early evening news lineup that went into effect on March 12, 2007: David Ushery and Lynda Baquero became co-anchors of a truncated, 30-minute-long Live at Five broadcast, followed by Peltz with a 30-minute, soft-news program, News 4 You. Simmons was moved to co-anchor at 6 p.m. with Scarborough. On September 13, 2006, WNBC became the first New York City television station to broadcast its newscasts in high definition. On May 5, 2007, WNBC brought back its popular campaign song "We're 4 New York", composed by Kalehoff, after nearly six years off air (after the September 11, 2001, attacks).
In early Autumn 2007, additional changes were brought to WNBC's early-evening lineup. On September 10, the station moved the newsmagazine series Extra to 5 p.m., and cancelled Live at Five. News 4 You remained at 5:30 p.m., but was replaced on October 15, 2007 with a traditional newscast, anchored by Simmons and Michael Gargiulo. The 6 p.m. newscast became anchored by Ushery and Baquero, and New York Nightly News, a new half-hour newscast with Scarborough as sole anchor, debuted at 7 p.m.
Unfortunately, these changes did not result to an increase in WNBC's ratings in the November 2007 sweeps period, partially because of the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike. The most shocking of WNBC's ratings decreases was its 11 p.m. newscast, which fell to third place, behind WCBS and WABC. WNBC altered its 5:00-6:00 p.m. hour on January 2, 2008, swapping the half-hour news at 5:30 with Extra. On March 9, 2009, with the launch of New York Nonstop on digital subchannel 4.2, New York Nightly News was moved to the subchannel and expanded to one hour, while Extra was moved back to 7 p.m. and a full hour of news returned to the 5 p.m. hour. Still, WNBC's ratings struggled: during the March 2009 sweeps period, its newscasts were a distant third in all time slots, except during the weekday mornings, where it remained in second.
On May 7, 2008, NBC Universal announced plans for a major restructuring of WNBC's news department. The centerpiece of the restructuring was the creation of a 24-hour all-news channel on WNBC's second digital subchannel (4.2). Channel 4's news operations were revamped and melded into the all-news channel, which serve as a "content center" for the station's various local distribution platforms. The digital news channel was launched on March 9, 2009. In the fall of 2008, WNBC started beta-testing a new website which was apparently poised to be one of the major platforms for the content center. On November 17, 2008, WNBC moved its news studio from Studio 6B to 7E and rolled out a new set design, graphics package and theme song written by veteran TV composer Frank Gari. This move came after months of planning of the new content newsroom with its 24-hour news digital subchannel. It was also their debut of the updated "4 New York" logo, using letters in Media Gothic Bold font.
On June 16, 2009, WNBC announced that its 5 p.m. newscast would be replaced in September by a one-hour daily lifestyle and entertainment show by LXTV entitled LX New York. After this change, WNBC, with only three hours per day of local news, had the shortest airtime devoted to local news of any "big three" network-owned station. In the fall of 2009, WNBC began sharing its news helicopter with Fox owned-and-operated WNYW (channel 5) as part of a Local News Service agreement. The SkyFox HD helicopter operated by WNYW when used by WNBC was called "Chopper 4" on-air. This agreement ended in 2012, with WNBC returning to use its own helicopter upon the expiration of the contract. In the summer of 2010, The Debrief with David Ushery began to air on Sunday at noon on WNBC after launching on New York Nonstop; it now airs Sunday mornings at 5:30 a.m.
LX New York was renamed to New York Live on May 26, 2011. The program was set to move to 3 p.m. on September 12, 2011; at that time, WNBC would resume airing a 5 p.m. newscast. However, due to Hurricane Irene, the 5 p.m. newscast's start date was moved up to August 29, 2011, with New York Live moving to its new 3 p.m. slot then. On November 18, 2011, WNBC launched a noon newscast that replaced The Rundown with Russell and Llamas as the anchors.
In December 2011, WNBC struck a news partnership with nonprofit news-reporting organization ProPublica. The organization, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010, has already had partnerships with several media outlets including USA Today, Reader's Digest, HuffPost and Businessweek. However, ProPublica's reports are incorporated across all NBC O&O stations, not just WNBC. This is part of larger efforts for NBCUniversal's television stations to partner with nonprofit news organizations following its acquisition by Comcast.
WNBC relocated from Studio 7E to Studio 3C (the studio previously used by NBC Nightly News, which now originates from Studio 3B) on April 21, 2012. Channel 4 also updated its graphics and switched to the "L.A. Groove" theme that has been in use by sister station KNBC. On June 15, 2012, Sue Simmons left WNBC as her contract with the station had not been renewed. In January 2013, the station expanded its Sunday 11 p.m. newscasts to one hour, possibly to compete with WABC who expanded its late news in January 2012.
Chopper 4 Helicopter Crashes
In December 1998, WNBC's previous Chopper4 news helicopter crashed into the Passaic River near Harrison, New Jersey and Newark, New Jersey. There were no serious injuries. It should be noted that this crash was with a new Chopper 4 that WNBC had purchased earlier that year, which was an upgrade over the previous one (which returned to action after the crash).
On May 4, 2004, the station's helicopter Chopper 4 crashed while covering a shooting in Brooklyn. Reporter Andrew Torres, pilot Russ Cowry and pilot trainee Hassan Taan survived the crash and were taken to area hospitals. The crash occurred at about 6:30 p.m. as the crew was preparing for a live report from the scene of a shooting in East Flatbush. Before the cut-in, Chopper 4 appeared to begin a steep nosedive.