The Big 3 TV Stations of Central New York
Like myself, most of us who grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s and then there are those of you who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and remember there being only three major channels, NBC, ABC, and CBS. These three were pretty much all of television with a few independent stations thrown here and there. This was the way it was until the 80’s when more people had cable and a forth network was formed, FOX. Before all that, there were the big three and each of these three networks had affiliate stations in a number of cities in each state. I remember the three affiliates that represented the three major networks when I was growing up. Those three affiliates were NBC affiliate WKTV Channel 2, ABC affiliate WUTR TV 20, and CBS affiliate WTVH 5.
Before I get into discussing these three affiliates, I want to explain, for those of you that do not know, what a television affiliate is. An affiliate is a local broadcaster, which carries some or all of the program line-up of a television network. Almost all major cities in a state have an affiliate for a network channel. The affiliate broadcast programming during times when the network is not broadcasting their nation-wide programming. Most all affiliates have their own local news broadcasts three or four times a day and they would show a variety of syndicated programs and also local programming. Now I will give you a brief history and discuss some of the programs I use to watch on these three affiliates.
WKTV Channel 2 (NBC)
WKTV is the oldest affiliate in the Utica, New York market. It began in December 1949 making Utica the smallest city in the nation to have a television station. It was first affiliated with NBC and the DuMont Network then shortly after that the channel picked up CBS and ABC, making WKTV a TV monopoly in the Utica market. In the mid-50’s the DuMont affiliation ended when that network closed all together and soon after that CBS cut ties with WKTV making WHEN-TV (now WTVH) in Syracuse the default CBS station in the Utica area. Also during this time a young local radio announcer by the name of Dick Clark joined the newscast of WKTV. In the early 70’s WKTV lost ABC when a second station opened up in Utica (and right across the street from WKTV’s building) WUTR and that station became an ABC affiliate. WKTV remains an NBC affiliate to this day and has always been the top channel in the Utica market. In the last decade it picked up a CW affiliation making WKTV the carrier of two networks once again.
I have many fond memories of WKTV watching it since I was baby up until I was a young adult. I watched a lot of shows on NBC when I was growing up and it was probably the channel I watched the most as far as their prime-time programming. As for the programs that WKTV broadcasted, I watched mostly sit-com reruns that were in syndication. The ones that I remember watching throughout the years were Different Strokes, Three’s Company, Happy Days, and later on Cheers and The Cosby Show. WKTV was popular for its reruns of sitcoms along with the popular syndicated game shows, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
WKTV’s newscast was the most watched in all of Utica and in the small towns that surrounded the city. WUTR’s news was not as good and did not have as many viewers that WKTV’s news did. One of WKTV’s standard-bearers in newscasters is Bill Worden, who has anchored the evening news on Channel 2 since I could remember and is still doing the news there to this very day. Also, another fond memory is a Christmas video that the station does every year which features clips of on-air talent and people who work behind the scenes waving to the camera while The Oak Ridge Boy’s Christmas is Paintin’ The Town is played. This spot would play during commercial breaks during the Christmas season.
Another memory I have is the video they played during sign off. This is back when channels were not 24-7 and showing infomercials or reruns until the wee hours in the morning. At a certain time at night, maybe 1 or 2am, stations would sign off and just throw up a test pattern or bars and tone until 6 or 7am the next morning. The sign off that WKTV showed was a clip of the space shuttle launching into space and it had this James Earl Jones like narration throughout it. I also would like to mention that I had the privilege to work at WKTV for a summer as a production assistant. It was the summer of 1997 and I was attending college in Tampa, but going back to Utica during the summers. I got an internship there for four months and this was my first job in television.
WUTR TV 20 (ABC)
WUTR was the second television station in the Utica area, which launched in February 1970. Until then, WKTV was the only station in the area for over twenty years. WUTR first wanted to be a CBS affiliate, but WTVH (then known as WHEN-TV) put a stop to that because the Syracuse based station had claimed the Utica market as well. So, WUTR became an ABC affiliate, which before that WKTV were the ABC affiliate as well as an NBC one. Throughout the years WKTV dominated WUTR when it came to news and other programming. In 2001 Clear Channel bought WUTR and two years later cut funds to the station, which resulted in the station closing up their news department. Now the station just broadcasts network and syndicated programming along with broadcasting news from their sister station, WSYR in Syracuse.
WUTR was the channel I watched the least out of the three when it came to what the affiliate broadcasted. I did watch ABC prime-time shows, but nothing WUTR syndicated. Shows that I remember them syndicating were some game shows and entertainment magazine shows like Entertainment Tonight. In the early and mid 80’s it would broadcast the music program, Solid Gold that featured musical guests, hit songs from the day, and the Solid Gold dancers. WUTR also would have the same syndicated programs that WKTV or WTVH would air, but only a few. Although, the three stations would mainly have different syndicated programs.
Towards the late 80’s I would watch the channel more than I did when I was a kid due to the fact that the station started to broadcast some better programming. The shows that they started running were Star Trek: The Next Generation, Friday the 13th: The Series, and Freddy’s Nightmares. Being a huge Nightmare on Elm Street fan I could not wait until Freddy’s Nightmares debuted. This was the show that I watched the most out of the three. Also, Star Trek and Friday the 13th also were syndicated on WPIX Channel 11, an independent New York City based station that we got. The only place where you could see Freddy was WUTR TV 20.
WTVH 5 (CBS)
WTVH, which started off as WHEN-TV was based out of Syracuse and first broadcasted in December 1948. It was Syracuse’s first television station and like WKTV it started off carrying CBS, NBC, ABC, and the DuMont Network. In the 1950’s the DuMont Network ended and the station dropped NBC and ABC, but kept CBS, which became their primary affiliation. Also in the 50’s, the channel moved into the Utica market, which meant that WKTV dropped CBS and the Syracuse based station would become the one and only CBS channel in Utica. In 1976 another company bought WHEN and one of the first things they did was change the call letters to WTVH, which it remains to this day. Their newscast has always been successful and award winning, but in the late 2000’s the channel started to get low ratings and was losing money. To stay afloat they had to join up with rival stations WSTM and WSTQ, but were able to keep the affiliate on air with its call letters intact.
Like, WUTR, I did not watch much of the programs that WTVH 5 broadcast when I was a kid, but did watch the prime-time CBS programming. From what I remember they did not have that many sitcom reruns back in the day, but showed a lot of syndicated game shows. It was not until I was a teenager in the late 80’s I started watching what WTVH was showing when I discovered the Friday and Saturday Midnight Movie. This was during the time I would watch programs on the USA Network on saturday nights like, Saturday Nightmares and Night Flight. If there was a film I all ready seen or did not want to see on Night Flight, I would catch the film on The Midnight Movie.
Just like on USA, I caught many horror films for the first time on that channel. The Midnight Night movie would mostly show horror or sci-fi films, but also would have a few comedies like The Blues Brothers and The Jerk. The Midnight Movie would also show more mainstream films that were horror and other genres, unlike USA’s programs, which showed mostly B-movies or exploitation films. Some of the films that I can remember catching on WTVH were Friday the 13th, The Howling, My Bloody Valentine, Escape from New York, Road Games, The Car, The Terror, and Krull. I also remember seeing a few Vincent Price movies on there, but can’t remember which ones. The program had a cool intro, which showed clips from different films they often showed. Films in the intro that I can recall were The Blues Brothers and a scene from Escape from New York where Adrienne Barbeau was firing a gun. I tried finding the intro on YouTube, but had no luck. There really is nothing online about WTVH 5’s Midnight Movie, so I hope this article will help some people like me looking for some information about the program.
So, there you have it. Some of my fond memories of the three affiliates in the Utica area. WKTV Channel 2, WUTR TV 20, and WTVH 5 were great stations to watch growing up and provided excellent programming. Today, these channels still show a lot of sitcom reruns and syndicated game shows, talk shows, and entertainment magazines shows. Unfortunately WTVH 5’s Midnight Movie is no longer on, but I hope one of these days one of the three affiliates will bring back The Midnight Movie. Again, many great and wonderful memories from the big three and I am very glad I got to share them with all of you.