WATM-TV is the ABC-affiliated television station for the West-Central Pennsylvania that is licensed to Altoona. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 24 (or virtual channel 23.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Lookout Avenue, in Logan Township, along the Cambria County line. The station can also be seen on Comcast channel 5 and Atlantic Broadband channel 12 with HD on Atlantic Broadband digital channel 712 and Comcast digital channel 813. Owned by Palm Television, WATM is operated by Horseshoe Curve Communications through a local marketing agreement (LMA). This makes it sister to Fox affiliate WWCP-TV and the two outlets share studios on Scalp Avenue (PA 56) in Richland Township (with a Johnstown postal address).

WATM and WWCP also operate advertising sales bureaus in Altoona (on East Walton Avenue/PA 764) and State College (on West Beaver Avenue/PA 26). WATM can also be seen in standard definition on WWCP's second digital subchannel. This can be seen on VHF channel 8.2 from a transmitter along U.S. 30/Lincoln Highway, in Ligonier Township, near the Somerset County line.



This station originally signed-on November 28, 1974 as WOPC-TV and was an ABC affiliate broadcasting in analog on UHF channel 38 at a power of 21,400 watts visual and 4,270 watts aural. John Powley, who owned WHGM-FM (now WALY), was the station owner and served as its general manager.

At the time, Altoona/State College and Johnstown were separate markets. The station was unable to afford a network feed, so for most of its history, engineers simply switched to and from the signal of WTPA-TV (now WHTM-TV) in Harrisburg. Already hampered by a very weak signal, it did not help matters that Scranton's WNEP-TV had long operated two outlying translators (one presently) in State College, the second-biggest city in the area.

Already struggling for viewership, WOPC moved to Channel 23 in 1981 in an attempt to improve its signal. It was seriously undermined in 1982 when Johnstown and Altoona/State College were collapsed into a single market. The station's signal was all but unviewable in the western portion of the enlarged market. As a result, it went dark shortly afterward. For the next few years, the ABC affiliation in this vast market was split between three stations in neighboring markets. WHTM was the de facto ABC affiliate for Altoona, WNEP served State College, and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh served Johnstown.


In 1986, the owners of the market's newest station, WWCP-TV (channel 8), faced a problem. It had originally been slated to be a Pittsburgh station, but its owners petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move the license to Johnstown. In their petition, WWCP's owners cited lower programming costs in the Johnstown/Altoona/State College market. They also cited possible interference with WJW in Cleveland.

The FCC granted the request on condition that WWCP build its transmitter in a location that would allow Pittsburgh to get a Grade B signal from the station. However, this meant channel 8 would be virtually unviewable in the eastern portion of the area. WWCP's owners solved this problem by buying the former WOPC-TV license from John Powley on February 28, 1986 at a price of $1.03 million. Following aggressive over-the-air signal testing over the summer with WWCP, along with a power increase of 186,000 watts visual and 18,600 watts aural, the former WOPC returned to the air on October 13, 1986 as WWPC-TV, a satellite of WWCP.


At the time, WHTM and WTAE both preempted moderate amounts of ABC programming and it soon became obvious that Johnstown/Altoona/State College needed its own affiliate. As a result, WWPC split from WWCP and became an ABC affiliate on August 27, 1988 under new calls, WATM-TV. The station was later sold to Palm Television in order to comply with FCC ownership regulations regarding network affiliates. However, WATM is still managed by WWCP under a local marketing agreement as Peak Media, channel 8's former owner, feared that if allowed to operate separately both stations would be put in jeopardy of going dark.

Digital Conversion

The digital conversion significantly improved WATM's coverage in the market. Previously, it had been plagued for most of its history by its weak 708,000 watt analog signal. The station's signal was marginal at best even in Altoona, five miles from the transmitter. It only provided Grade B coverage of Johnstown and State College, and most viewers in this vast market could only watch it on cable. However, with the station's digital transmitter licensed for a full one million watts (the equivalent to five million watts for an analog UHF transmitter) WATM gained a coverage area comparable to the other major stations in the market. Additionally, the station was picked up on WWCP's digital subcarrier, and carries an HD simulcast of WWCP on one of its subchannels.

In November 2010, it was announced that Horseshoe Curve Communications would acquire Peak Media's assets including WWCP and its fourteen-year-old agreement to operate WATM. In February 2011, WATM added a third subchannel to their lineup in the form of a standard definition feed of This TV. On July 22, 2013, Horseshoe Curve Communications agreed to sell WWCP to Cunningham Broadcasting for $12 million. The LMA for WATM was to be included in the deal. Sinclair Broadcast Group, who already owns NBC affiliate WJAC-TV, was to assume operations of both WATM and WWCP through shared services and joint sales agreements. [2] However, on February 20, 2014, Horseshoe Curve informed the FCC that the sale of WWCP had fallen through.[3] On February 11, 2015 WATM added a fourth subchannel to their lineup in the form of a standard definition feed of Antenna TV.

Digital television

Digital channels

The station's digital signal is multiplexed:

ChannelVideoAspectPSIP Short NameProgramming[4]
23.1720p16:9WATM-HDMain WATM-TV programming / ABC
23.2WWCP-HDSimulcast of WWCP-TV
23.3480i4:3THIS TVThis TV
23.4Antenna TVAntenna TV

Analog-to-digital conversion

WATM-TV shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 23, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 24.[5][6] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 23.


On January 6, 1992, WATM and WWCP established their own separate news departments in an attempt to cover their respective areas. WATM aired local news every night at 11 pm from its headquarters in State College. Meanwhile, WWCP offered a nightly prime time newscast at 10 pm (sixty minutes on weeknights; half-hour on weekends) from its studios in Johnstown. Despite a valid attempt to gain enough market share, these broadcasts barely registered as a blip in the Nielsen ratings against longer-established WJAC and WTAJ-TV that offered market-wide coverage.

Due in part to continual ratings struggles and low viewership, WATM's separate news department was shut down in December 2002 and merged with WWCP. On November 28, 2007, The Tribune Democrat reported the shared news operation of the two television stations would shut down entirely. According to a written statement, WATM and WWCP had been operating at a loss for several years and the move was desperately needed. The closure resulted in the termination of around fifteen personnel in the news and production departments. [7]

As a result, WJAC entered into a news share agreement with WWCP and WATM. The NBC affiliate then began to produce WWCP's nightly prime time show and reduced the program to 35 minutes on weeknights while remaining a half-hour on weekends. The newscast, still known as Fox 8 News at 10, now originates from a secondary set at WJAC's facility on Old Hickory Lane in Upper Yoder Township (with a Johnstown postal address). It features a separate news anchor on weeknights, who does not appear on WJAC, in addition to a different music and graphics package from broadcasts seen on the NBC station. Since WJAC has prior commitments with local news and weather cut-ins during Today, WATM offers taped news updates that are seen Tuesday through Saturday mornings (at :25 and :55 past the hour) during Good Morning America. From January 2008 until March 2011, WJAC simulcasted its nightly newscast at 11 pm on WATM under the ABC 23 News branding.