|Slogan||We Are Boston|
|Channels||Digital: 46 (UHF)
Virtual: 8 (PSIP)
(Station Venture Operations, LP)
|First air date||April 1995|
|Call letters' meaning||Boston
|Sister station(s)||WNEU, NECN, Comcast SportsNet New England|
|Former channel number(s)||
|Transmitter power||11.2 kW|
|Public license information:||Profile
WBTS-LD, virtual channel 8 (UHF digital channel 46), is an NBC owned-and-operated low-powered television station located in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. The station is owned by the NBC Owned Television Stations (NBC-OTVS) subsidiary of the NBCUniversal division of Comcast, and operates as part of a duopoly with Merrimack, New Hampshire-licensed Telemundo owned-and-operated station WNEU (channel 60). The two stations share studio facilities with sister regional cable news channel New England Cable News (NECN) on Wells Avenue in Newton, and its transmitter is located in Needham.
The station, originally known as W32AY and later WTMU-LP, initially served as an affiliate of the Spanish-language television network Telemundo; at first it was the main station, but it later acted as a translator of WNEU (whose signal does not reach the entire city of Boston). On January 7, 2016, NBC-OTVS President Valari Staab confirmed that NBC had declined to renew its affiliation with WHDH, and that it planned to launch an owned-and-operated outlet for the network known as NBC Boston on January 1, 2017. At the time, NBC did not provide specific details on which stations would be used to carry the new service over-the-air, although WHDH's owner Sunbeam Television sued NBCUniversal under the presumption that it planned to only use WNEU—as it would have considerably reduced the ability to receive the network over the air in Boston (thus bolstering the cable services provided by NBC's parent company Comcast in the city).
On August 31, 2016, NBCUniversal quietly filed to acquire the low-power station from its previous owner, ZGS Communications. The following month, ZGS filed a request to the FCC to upgrade the station to a digital signal. NBC later announced that the station, renamed WBTS-LD, would serve as the main station of the NBC Boston service as part of a simulcast with WNEU-DT2 (virtual 60.2). NBC also leased a subchannel of WMFP (virtual channel 60.5) in Lawrence, Massachusetts to provide an alternate full-power signal for viewers in the Boston area. On cable and satellite, WBTS-LD is primarily carried on channel 10.
The station first signed on the air in April 1995 as W32AY, operating on UHF channel 32 from the Prudential Tower in Boston as a Telemundo owned-and-operated station. In September 2000, the station began to simulcast its programming on WWDP (channel 46), giving it a chance to better compete with Univision affiliate WUNI (channel 27), the established Spanish-language station in the area. Telemundo sold W32AY to ZGS Communications in 2001. In February 2002, W32AY changed its call letters to WTMU-LP, and on July 1, WWDP discontinued its relay of the station's programming.
WTMU went off-the-air in 2004, as the channel 32 allocation had been assigned to WBPX for its digital signal, and the station's attempt to move to channel 67 was hindered by interference from WBPX's analog signal on channel 68. WTMU resumed broadcasting operations in December 2006; it reduced its effective radiated power and relocated its transmitter to a tower in Medford to alleviate the interference.
Although low-power stations were exempt from the 2009 analog shutdown that full-service stations were subject to, WTMU initiated plans for a digital signal on October 27, 2006 by applying for a construction permit for a digital companion channel on VHF channel 3. On August 28, 2008, WTMU changed its plans and applied to flash-cut to channel 42, which was to have become available after WHDH-TV moved its digital signal to VHF channel 7; the original application was dismissed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on March 27, 2009, but a new application was filed on May 21. A move was necessary, as the spectrum that channel 67 is located within had been auctioned off and was being removed from the television bandplan as a result of the transition.
Before WTMU's application could be approved, WHDH requested to return its digital signal to channel 42, leading WTMU to withdraw its application for the channel on August 24 and filing instead to move to channel 46; the FCC dismissed the channel 42 application on August 26, 2009, at the same time also canceling the construction permit for the previously-proposed digital companion channel. In the meantime, WTMU was unable to get a digital signal on the air before being forced to terminate the analog signal on April 9, 2010, resulting in the station suspending operations. To avoid losing its license due to not broadcasting for a year, WTMU resumed broadcasting on April 4, 2011, using its existing analog facilities but operating on channel 46 under special temporary authority. It again suspended operations on April 9, but returned to the air on March 14, 2012.
Sale and switch to NBC
In August 2015, Broadcasting & Cable reported that NBCUniversal was considering the possibility of purchasing former NBC affiliate WHDH (channel 7), whose affiliation was set to expire at the end of 2016. In October 2015, The Boston Globe reported that NBC had considered moving the affiliation to its cable channel New England Cable News (NECN) rather than to an over-the-air channel, although the company declined to comment. On December 15, 2015, New England One reported, citing internal sources, that NBCUniversal had declined to renew its affiliation with WHDH, and was in the process of preparing WTMU-LP's parent station, WNEU, to become an NBC O&O by hiring staff for an English-language news operation, including former WHDH meteorologist Pete Bouchard. The Boston Herald reported two days later that the station would prospectively be branded as "NBC Boston", and that WNEU's existing Telemundo programming could be moved to a different subchannel. Following the reports, Paul Magnes, WHDH's vice president and general manager, told the Herald that the station still expected its NBC affiliation to be renewed, while NBCUniversal again declined to comment.
Sunbeam argued that WNEU's signal served 4 million fewer viewers than WHDH because it is located in Merrimack, New Hampshire, which is northwest of Boston, rather than in Boston proper. WNEU's signal only has overlap with the northwest portion of WHDH's signal. Sunbeam's owner, Ed Ansin, told the Globe that "No network has elected to give up such a strong station and go to a startup station," after having disclosed that he had rejected a $200 million offer to sell WHDH to NBC in September 2015, leading the network to threaten to shift its programming to WNEU; however, he still predicted that NBC would remain on channel 7.
On January 7, 2016, Valari Staab, president of NBC Owned Television Stations, confirmed that NBC had declined to renew its affiliation with WHDH beyond the end of 2016, and would launch NBC Boston on January 1, 2017; Staab explained that with NBC's recent investments into the studio facilities of NECN and WNEU, "we have built a very strong news organization in the Boston market—both from a personnel and facilities perspective—which puts us in a great position to launch an NBC-owned station locally." The station is led by NECN and Telemundo Boston's general manager Mike St. Peter. Staab did not outright confirm whether WNEU would carry NBC programming, but iterated that the network would remain available over-the-air following the transition, and that NBCUniversal was "committed to expanding our over-the-air coverage of the market and are currently looking at a variety of options to accomplish that".
On March 10, 2016, Sunbeam Television sued Comcast in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts, arguing that moving NBC to WNEU would violate antitrust law by strengthening its near-monopoly position in the market, and FCC conditions on Comcast's acquisition of NBC, as the company had agreed not to reduce over-the-air coverage of NBC, nor use its cable holdings to influence affiliation negotiations. On May 16, 2016, the lawsuit was thrown out, with the judge arguing that the possible loss of OTA coverage was "not a concern that WHDH has standing to redress", and that "absent any actionable harm attributable to Comcast, it is simply an indurate consequence of doing business in an competitive and unsentimental marketplace."
On May 18, 2016, the Boston Herald reported that NBCUniversal was considering acquiring Ion Television station WBPX-TV (channel 68). The Ion Media Networks-owned station covers a similar coverage area to WHDH, lessening the impact of a potential switch. On June 13, 2016, the Herald also suggested that NBC could purchase or trade for Fox station WFXT (channel 25) to use as its O&O instead (which would cause WHDH to theoretically switch from NBC to Fox, the same affiliation as its Miami sister station), believing that Cox Media Group (which had received the station in a trade with Fox Television Stations for its San Francisco station KTVU) would be interested in divesting the station due to declines it has faced since the sale. WFXT's general manager, WHDH's general manager, and NBC denied that any of these ideas were being considered.
On August 31, 2016, ZGS Communications agreed to sell WTMU-LP to NBCUniversal's Station Venture Operations subsidiary for $100,000. Concurrently, ZGS entered into a local programming and marketing agreement with another NBCUniversal subsidiary, WBTS Television, LLC, to operate WTMU-LP. The sale was approved by the FCC on October 28 and completed on November 4. On September 14, 2016, ZGS filed for a license to cover WTMU's digital construction permit: that is, to upgrade the station to a digital signal; the license was granted on September 21, 2016. On September 19, 2016 (four days after the sale of WTMU was filed with the FCC), NBCUniversal announced that it was in the process of acquiring a Boston station to supplement WNEU's coverage, which it said would "factor into our plan" to create the NBC owned-and-operated station that would replace WHDH; the company did not confirm that the station was WTMU. The station's call letters were changed to WBTS-LD on October 6, 2016; on October 25, the station received FCC approval to switch its PSIP virtual channel number from 46 to channel 8, allowing it over-the-air parity within Boston proper with other low-numbered stations.
On November 1, 2016, NBCUniversal officially announced that it would broadcast its new NBC Boston service across WBTS-LD and WNEU-DT2, and unveiled details surrounding the station's launch programming and news department. Mike St. Peter pointed out that although the two stations combined would not have the same over-the-air coverage as WHDH, 97% of viewers in the Boston market were pay television subscribers, and NBC would "continue to look for how we can improve over-the-air service".
On November 10, 2016, WBTS-LD and WNEU-DT2 began to carry a transitional programming service branded as Countdown NBC Boston. The service was designed to promote the switch and assist viewers in locating NBC Boston's over-the-air channels; it featured NBC Boston's future syndicated programming, programs from Cozi TV, and newscasts simulcast from NECN. The NBC Boston website and social media outlets were also launched at this time. On December 12, 2016, NBC announced that it would lease a digital subchannel on WMFP in Lawrence to further expand WBTS-LD's coverage in Greater Boston. The WMFP subchannel uses virtual channel 60.5.
The change in affiliation officially took effect at 3:00 a.m. ET on January 1, 2017. WBTS is the third station in Boston to carry NBC after WBZ-TV (channel 4) and WHDH. As a final pre-launch promotion for the switch, WBTS broadcast coverage of Boston's First Night New Year's Eve festivities hosted by the station's lead news anchors Phil Lipof and Shannon Mulaire, which was also simulcast across NECN, WNEU, and CSN New England. Meanwhile, WHDH carried its final night of NBC primetime programming on December 31, 2016, including the network's national New Year's coverage.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|8.1||1080i||16:9||WBTS-LD||Main WBTS-LD programming (NBC)|
|8.2||WNEU-HD||Simulcast of WNEU (Telemundo)|
|8.4||TeleXitos||Simulcast of WNEU-DT3 (TeleXitos)|
While WBTS-LD is technically considered the main station and official NBC affiliate for the Boston-Manchester market, the signal of the low-powered WBTS-LD is simulcast on the digital subchannels of the two full-powered stations within the market to ensure reception across eastern Massachusetts, southern and central New Hampshire and some adjacent areas.
|Station||City of license||Channels
TV / (RF)
|Subchannel||Video||Aspect||First air date||ERP||HAAT||Transmitter Coordinates||Facility ID||Public license
|WNEU 1||Merrimack, New Hampshire||60 (PSIP)
60.4 Cozi TV
|16:9||August 14, 1987||80 kW||293 m||51864||Profile
|WMFP 2||Lawrence, Massachusetts||60 (PSIP)3
|60.53 NBC||720p||16:9||October 16, 1987||1000 kW||289.2 m||41436||Profile
- 1 WNEU is considered by the Federal Communications Commission as the parent license of WBTS-LD.
- 2 WMFP's DT5 signal is leased by NBC. The license is owned by NRJ TV, LLC.
- 3 WMFP's signal is licensed to use virtual channel 62, however its DT5 signal is mapped to WNEU's virtual channel.
Cable and satellite distribution
WBTS-LD presently broadcasts 40½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 6½ hours on weekdays, 3½ hours on Saturdays and 4½ hours on Sundays); in addition, the station produces the half-hour lifestyle program The Hub Today, which airs weekday afternoons at 12:30 p.m., and the weekly half-hour public affairs program This is New England, which airs Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. It also utilizes a news helicopter (SkyRanger), a storm chaser satellite truck (Weather Warrior), mobile weather radar vehicles (StormRanger), a consumer affairs unit (NBC Boston Responds) and an investigative reporting unit (The Investigators).
Notable current on-air staff
Canadian and out-of-market coverage
WBTS is one of several Boston television stations uplinked to provide U.S. network programming to television providers in Canada, particularly in Atlantic Canada. On November 11, 2016, Canadian telecommunications company Bell Canada, which distributes Boston's broadcast network affiliates on its satellite, IPTV, and cable TV services in much of eastern Canada and via satellite uplink to other providers, filed a request with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to add WBTS's main feed to the CRTC's list of foreign television channels authorized for distribution in Canada, which was additionally supported by Rogers Cable for their systems in Atlantic Canada. The request was approved by the CRTC on December 20, 2016; television providers who carried WHDH, including Bell, Eastlink, SaskTel, Telus Optik TV and Rogers among others, replaced the station with WBTS on January 1, 2017.
- Channel 8 virtual TV stations in the United States
- Channel 46 digital TV stations in the United States
- Channel 46 low-power TV stations in the United States
- WBMA-LD, which uses a similar setup in the Birmingham market to provide a full-market ABC affiliate to viewers
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On September 18, 2000, WWDP began broadcasting the Spanish network Telemundo during most of their broadcast day. On July 1, 2002, the Telemundo affiliation came to an end and moved on to ZGS Broadcasting's WTMU-LP, Channel 32 in Boston…
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- "Application Search Details (2)". CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
- "APPLICATION FOR AUTHORITY TO CONSTRUCT OR MAKE CHANGES IN A LOW POWER TV, TV TRANSLATOR OR TV BOOSTER STATION (2)". CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. May 21, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
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- "Is Fox the fix for local TV turmoil?". Boston Herald. Retrieved June 15, 2016.
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- "Consummation Notice". CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
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- "LOW POWER TELEVISION BROADCAST STATION LICENSE" (PDF). CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. September 21, 2016. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
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- "Call Sign History (WBTS-LD)". CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved October 6, 2016.
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- Official website
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WBTS-LD
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WBTS-LD
- FAQ on NBC Boston, Government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts