WCTI-TV is the ABC-affiliated television station for Eastern North Carolina's Inner Banks that is licensed to New Bern. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 12 from a transmitter, north of Trenton, along NC 41. Owned by the Bonten Media Group, the station operates Fox affiliates WFXI/WYDO (owned by Esteem Broadcasting, LLC) through a shared services agreement (SSA). The two stations share studios on Glenburnie Drive in New Bern.
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Until September 18, 2006, WCTI-DT3 was a UPN affiliate known on-air as "UPN 48" (taken from WCTI's physical digital channel number). When UPN and The WB merged into The CW on that date, CBS affiliate WNCT-TV chose to carry the network on a new second digital subchannel. This caused the market's cable-only WB 100+ outlet "WGWB" to cease operations. After losing UPN, WCTI-DT3 became an Independent station known as "ENC-TV". This initially aired syndicated programming such as Trivial Pursuit: America Plays, Family Feud, Entertainment Studios, and Extra. Weeknights at 8, there was a prime time movie. At one point, "ENC-TV" even maintained a website at "enc.tv" but this was eventually abandoned.
In late-Summer 2009, WCTI-DT3 began to add programming from This TV eventually becoming a full-time affiliate. On November 1, 2013, This TV was dropped in favor of Movies!. On August 23, 2011, Disney-ABC Television Group announced WCTI would carry Live Well Network as part of an affiliation agreement with Bonten Media Group; the network is seen on subchannel 12.2. In February 2015, LWN was replaced with Decades.
Nathan Frank, a businessman from Henderson, had filed an application for channel 13 in New Bern in 1954. However, final approval was delayed for almost seven years due to numerous challenges. The Army, Navy and Air Force were concerned that the proposed 1,000-foot (300 m) tower on Glenburnie Drive would interfere with the operations of the numerous military installations located in Eastern North Carolina. Several airlines and pilot associations also expressed concerns about the tower.
A new problem arose in 1958, when the Federal Communications Commission dropped in a channel 13 allocation in Hampton, Virginia to give the Hampton Roads area a third VHF station; WVEC-TV moved there from channel 15 shortly afterward. To alleviate concerns about short-spacing, the channel 13 allocation for New Bern was moved to channel 12. Almost immediately, WRVA-TV in Richmond, Virginia (now WWBT) raised concerns of its own about short-spacing. All objections were eventually overcome by 1961, and the station took to-the-air on September 7, 1963 as WNBE-TV (for "New B Ern"). The call letters were changed to the current WCTI-TV in 1970. The station has been an ABC affiliate since its inception. When it signed-on, the Greenville/Washington/New Bern market became one of the smallest DMAs in the country with three commercial network affiliates. Continental Television sold the station to Malrite Communications in 1976.
In 1980, WCTI erected a 2,000-foot (610 m) tower north of Trenton. The new tower expanded the station's secondary coverage as far east as the Outer Banks, as far south as Wilmington and as far west as the Triangle (including Rocky Mount and much of eastern Raleigh). The station's original tower at its New Bern studios is still used as a backup. Malrite sold the station to Heritage Broadcasting in 1983. The 1,000-foot tower south of Trenton the station had used prior to their move to the new site on NC 41 now holds the antenna for WSFL-FM 106.5. Heritage Broadcasting sold WCTI to Diversified Communications in 1986. In 1993, Lamco Communications bought the station. It was sold to Bluestone Television in 2001. In 2007, Bluestone merged with Bonten Media Group.
On November 6 of that year, it was announced that the FCC approved the sale of certain WFXI/WYDO assets by Piedmont Television to the Bonten Media Group. As part of the deal, WFXI moved from its longtime home on Arendell Street (U.S. 70) in Morehead City to WCTI's facilities in New Bern. In 2000, WCTI launched the first over-the-air digital station in the market on UHF channel 48. A high definition feed was launched on DirecTV on January 30, 2009. It is also available on satellite through Dish Network. WCTI's broadcasts became digital-only, effective June 12, 2009.
In terms of Nielsen ratings, Eastern North Carolina is usually not very competitive during sweeps periods. Historically, WITN-TV has generally traded the highest viewership crown with WCTI and WNCT. In July 2008, WNCT became the most watched television station in the market after taking first place weeknights at 6 and 11. However, since then, that station has fallen to 3rd place weeknights at 6. As of May 2010, WITN has won the sign-on to sign-off honors for two consecutive ratings periods. More specifically, it won all time periods except for the weekday noon news.
In January 2008 after WCTI became a sister station to WFXI/WYDO, it began repeating its nightly 6 o'clock show later in the evening at 10 on the Fox stations. It would not be until the month's end when a new live, nightly prime time newscast (produced by WCTI) debuted on WFXI/WYDO. Known as Fox Eastern Carolina News at 10, the show can be seen for an hour on weeknights and a half-hour on weekends. WNCT offers another newscast at 10 on its CW-affiliated subchannel. Unlike the WFXI/WYDO weeknight program, WNCT's prime time broadcast only airs for thirty minutes each night. As part of debuting the WCTI produced-newscast, WFXI/WYDO introduced an updated graphics package and news music theme licensed for use from News Corporation Digital Media and modified from Fox owned-and-operated stations.
On June 27, 2010, WCTI became the area's first television outlet to upgrade its local news production to high definition level (the nightly news on WFXI/WYDO was included in the change at that point). On August 15, 2011, WCTI launched a new 5:30 p.m. newscast. With this newest addition, WCTI and sister stations WFXI/WYDO now offer over thirty hours of local news per week. The station does not currently operate a sports department. In addition to its main studios, WCTI operates bureaus in Jacksonville (on South Marine Boulevard/U.S. Route 17 Business) and Winterville (on Old Tar Road covering Greenville).