WCHS Licensee, LLC

1301 Piedmont Road
Charleston, West Virginia 25301-1426
U.S.A.
Telephone: (304) 346-5358
Fax: (304) 346-4765
Web site: https://wchstv.com/

Subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.
Incorporated:
1954 as WCHS-TV, Inc.
NAICS: 515120 Television Broadcasting

WCHS Licensee, LLC, operates the WCHS Channel 8 television station, which is based in Charleston, West Virginia. An ABC network affiliate, WCHS primarily serves the Charleston-Huntington, West Virginia, television market but also covers Parkersburg, West Virginia; neighboring Marietta, Ohio; and parts of Kentucky. The station offers local news under the Eyewitness News banner. Besides carrying the ABC network and local programming on its primary digital channel, WCHS operates three digital sub-channels, which are affiliates of the Antenna TV, Charge!, and TBD multichannel networks. WCHS shares studio and transmitter facilities with WVAH Channel 11 in Charleston and also produces newscasts for WVAH. WCHS is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., which also operates WVAH under a local marketing agreement.

LICENSING FREEZE LEADS TO DELAY OF LAUNCH

The first commercial television station in the United States reached the air in the summer of 1941, but expansion of the new medium was halted by the United States' entry into World War II later that year. Following the war, there was pent-up demand for television and a number of stations went on the air, mostly in large cities, but a problem with overlapping signals and other unresolved issues caused the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to impose a freeze on the issuance of new television licenses in September 1948. What was meant to last only a few months stretched until April 1952. In Charleston, parties with applications for area television stations, as a result, were forced to wait until the freeze was lifted.

Two groups vied for the channel 8 license in Charleston, Capital Television, Inc., headed by the former West Virginia governor Clarence W. Meadows, and the Tierney Company, controlled by coal magnate Lewis C. Tierney. In 1950 Tierney had acquired WCHS-AM, which had debuted in September 1927 as West Virginia's third radio station to reach the air. (The “CHS” call letters were an abbreviation for “Charleston.”) Meadows and Tierney were scheduled for an application hearing with the FCC in March 1954, and it was expected that a final decision might not be rendered for another year or longer.

SIGNING ON

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES

WCHS is a WV based station and a ABC Television affiliate owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

After Tierney died in 1956, he was succeeded as president of WCHS by the station's general counsel, Charleston attorney Hawthorne D. Battle. Two years later, WCHS traded network affiliations with WHTNTV, leaving CBS to join ABC. It was also in 1958 that WCHS made television history by broadcasting a live caesarean section birth of a baby. The operation was performed by local obstetricians with a gynecologist providing running commentary.

During the campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1960, WCHS again participated in television history. A Catholic, Senator John F. Kennedy selected West Virginia as an ideal place to determine if Protestants would vote for someone of his faith, an act that was far from certain at the time. His campaign arranged to hold a debate with his chief rival for the nomination, Senator Hubert Humphrey, one week before the May West Virginia primary. The debate was televised live from the WCHS studios and transmitted by microwave to other state television stations as well as to stations in major markets across the United States. WCHS news director Bill Ames moderated the events, which laid the groundwork for future political debates. The event also helped Kennedy to burnish his public image as a viable candidate. After winning the West Virginia primary, the grateful candidate returned to the WCHS studios to deliver his victory remarks.

ACQUISITION BY C-B-T: 1960

A few weeks after the Kennedy-Humphrey debate, ownership of WCHS changed hands. In July 1960 WCHS-TV and WCHS-AM were sold to C-B-T, Inc., a subsidiary of Rollins Broadcasting Co., based in Wilmington, Delaware, for a reported $3 million. Rollins Broadcasting was owned by brothers O. Wayne and John Rollins, the latter a former lieutenant governor of Delaware. Wayne Rollins, on the other hand, held a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Chattanooga and had worked in the textile industry before becoming involved in broadcasting in 1950, when he and his brother acquired a Radford, Virginia, radio station.

Over the next decade, they cobbled together a portfolio that included radio stations covering Chicago, Indianapolis, Wilmington, New York City, and Norfolk, Virginia. They also owned WPTZ-TV in upstate New York and WEAR-TV, serving Pensacola, Florida, and Mobile, Alabama. They did not target Charleston and WCHS at random. Wayne Rollins told the Charlotte Gazette in a July 13, 1960, article, “after careful study of numerous areas, we selected Charleston because we concluded that this section has as promising a future as any place in the United States.” Following the transfer of station ownership, Gelder continued as general manager. Battle remained a consultant but soon joined a local law firm to resume his legal career.

Under Rollins's ownership, WCHS renewed its affiliation with CBS, returning to the network in 1962. It remained a CBS station until June 1986, when it once again traded affiliations and returned to ABC. In the meantime, another change in ownership was beginning to take shape. In May 1986 Heritage Communications, Inc., based in Des Moines, Iowa, acquired an option to purchase 43.5 percent of Rollins Communications from the Rollins family, the first step in a merger process.

KEY DATES
1954:
WCHS begins broadcasting.
1960:
WCHS is sold to C-B-T.
1986:
WCHS rejoins the ABC network.
1997:
Sinclair Broadcast Group acquires WCHS.
2017:
The company's digital sub-channel lineup is updated.

Heritage completed the acquisition of Rollins Communications and WCHS in November 1986, the deal valued at $600 million. Heritage was now one of the United States' 10 largest cable television operators, with more than 900,000 subscribers, and also owned WCHS and five other television stations, as well as other media interests. As such, it became an attractive property, especially in a rapidly consolidating cable television industry.

SALE OF HERITAGE TO TELE-COMMUNICATIONS

Because Heritage was a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and they did not retain majority control, Hoak and Cownie rightly feared they were susceptible to a hostile takeover bid. To forestall that possibility, they sought out a merger with another company that would allow them to keep their management team together. Thus, in 1987, Heritage was sold to the Denver-based Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), then the country's largest cable company, for about $900 million in cash and stock and a five-year window of independence. Also in 1987, WCHS moved into its present-day studios in December.

Under the terms of the TCI agreement, Hoak and Cownie held a buyout option that could be exercised before the end of the five-year term. Moreover, because of cross-ownership rules, TCI could not directly own Heritage's television and radio stations. Thus, in the early 1990s, prior to the expiration of the TCI agreement, Hoak and Cownie formed the Dallas-based Heritage Media Corporation to take ownership of the broadcast properties that TCI would be unable to retain.

Hoak and Cownie operated their broadcast group until 1997, when WCHS and the other Heritage properties were sold to News Corp, the media empire controlled by Rupert Murdoch, as part of a $1.35 billion transaction. Because News Corp already owned the maximum number of television stations allowed by FCC regulations, News Corp was just an interim owner of WCHS and the other Heritage television and radio stations. News Corp was more interested in Heritage's in-store and direct-marketing companies, Actmedia and Dimac, which together accounted for more than 80 percent of Heritage's annual revenues.

ACQUISITION BY SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP

In the summer of 1997 an agreement was reached to sell the Heritage television and radio properties to Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., based in Baltimore, Maryland, the United States' 18th-largest TV group, with 29 stations covering 14.2 percent of the country. Sinclair already owned WVAH in Charleston, and because FCC rules at the time did not permit duopolies, the company sold WVAH to Glencairn Ltd., which was controlled by the family that owned Sinclair. FCC rules were skirted further by a marketing agreement that created a de facto duopoly. An arrangement was reached in which WCHS managed WVAH. Eventually, the two stations would share the same studios.

Much of the early years of the new century for WCHS was devoted to the conversion to digital transmission and high-definition (HD) broadcasting. As mandated by law, the station completed the transition to digital in June 2009 and its analog signal was turned off. In June 2012 WCHS installed a HD master control room and in September of the year began broadcasting its newscasts in HD.

With digital technology came the opportunity to launch additional digital sub-channels. Whereas channel 8.1 was reserved for WCHS's main programming, channel 8.2 became an affiliate of The CoolTV music video channel in 2010. All Sinclair stations dropped the service in August 2012. In 2014 a WCHS digital subchannel became an affiliate of GetTV, which offered old movies. The following year, another sub-channel began carrying vintage television programming from Antenna TV. Another sub-channel became a Grit affiliate, featuring Westerns and old action television shows. In 2017 WCHS made a pair of changes to its digital sub-channel lineup. Charge!, a new Sinclair-owned network devoted to action movies and television shows, replaced Grit on channel 8.3. GetTV was also replaced on channel 8.4 with a new network, TBD, another Sinclair-owned digital broadcast network, targeting a millennial audience with internet-based series and other digital content.

The focus of WCHS, however, remained on its affiliation with the ABC network, which was likely to continue well into the future.

Ed Dinger

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

Gray Television, Inc.; Nexstar Media Group Inc.; West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority.

FURTHER READING

“Delaware Firm Buying WCHS.” Charleston Gazette, July 13, 1960, 1.

Hutchison, Ron. “Channel 8 Up for Sale as Part of Package Deal.” Charleston Daily Mail, March 18, 1997.

McClellan, Steve. “Sinclair to Buy Heritage Stations.” Broadcasting & Cable, July 7, 1997, 9.

“Mixing Business with Pleasure.” Broadcasting, March 31, 1986, 103.

“Rollins Family Selling Control to Heritage for $260 Million.” Broadcasting, May 19, 1986.

“Second Video Outlet in City Seen Speeded.” Charleston Daily Mail, January 8, 1954.