WETM-TV is the NBC-affiliated television station for the Central and Western Twin Tiers of Southern Upstate New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Licensed to Elmira, it broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 18 from a transmitter on Hawley Hill in Big Flats. The station can also be seen on Time Warner Cable channel 3 and in high definition on digital channel 1203. Owned by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, WETM has studios on East Water Street in downtown Elmira.
The station signed-on September 10, 1956 as WSYE-TV. It was owned by Newhouse Communications as a semi-satellite of NBC affiliate WSYR-TV (now WSTM-TV) in Syracuse. It is Elmira's oldest surviving station, signing on two years after WTVE which went dark after Hurricane Hazel blew through the Elmira area in 1954 and took out its tower. Originating early on from WSYE's original studios on Hawley Hill was a ladies informational program called The Dana Near Show.
In 1980, Newhouse sold its entire television division, including WSYE and WSYR, to the Times Mirror Company. The new owners changed the call letters to WSTM-TV and WETM-TV respectively. Times Mirror gradually cut the last ties between the two stations while establishing WETM as a full-fledged station in its own right. It sold WETM to Smith Broadcasting in 1986. Under Smith's ownership, a reversal of the station's origins took place with the April 1996 launch of a cable-only Binghamton version of WETM through a local marketing agreement with Time Warner Cable. Set up in the wake of established NBC affiliate WICZ-TV defecting to Fox, the arrangement saw Time Warner Cable sell Binghamton-market advertising and replace syndicated programs that aired on other Binghamton stations with programming acquired by WETM for the Binghamton market, while WETM sold regional advertising seen in both markets. In 1997, Smith bought Binghamton low-power station WBGH-LP and made it an over-the-air semi-satellite of WETM; WBGH eventually split off except for simulcasting WETM's newscasts. WETM became the first outlet in the Elmira market with an internet presence starting in 1998.
In 2000, Smith Broadcasting entered into a management agreement with The Ackerley Group to operate WETM. Clear Channel Communications inherited the management agreement when it purchased Ackerley in late 2001. In 2004, Smith Broadcasting sold WETM outright to Clear Channel after the death of Smith Broadcasting founder Robert Smith. On April 20, 2007, Clear Channel entered into an agreement to sell its entire television stations group to Providence Equity Partners. Newport announced on July 19, 2012 that it would sell twelve of its television stations (including WETM) to the Nexstar Broadcasting Group. The sale was finalized on December 3, 2012. On July 26, the station was knocked off-the-air by widespread power outages caused by a confirmed tornado that struck downtown Elmira during the afternoon. By the next day around mid-morning, WETM had a feed restored to Time Warner Cable.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|18.1||1080i||16:9||WETM-DT||Main WETM-TV programming / NBC|
|18.2||480i||4:3||WETM-2||WETM-DT2 programming / Independent|
WETM-DT2 has its roots in W30AA, a translator of PBS affiliate WSKG-TV in Binghamton. That station closed down the translator in 2003 after concluding the expenses required to operate W30AA were not justified by its limited viewership base. WSKG subsequently sold the W30AA license to Clear Channel Communications (then-owned of WETM) which brought it back on-the-air in September 2004 as low-powered UPN affiliate WTTX-LP (identified on-air as "UPN 30"). At this point, it was began to be seen through a simulcast on WETM's second digital subchannel since its analog broadcasting radius was very limited.
With the September 2006 merger of UPN and The WB to form The CW, WTTX competed to become the area's affiliate. Ultimately, this went to cable-only WB 100+ station "WBE" which was operated by rival ABC affiliate WENY-TV. WTTX was dealt another blow when WSKG launched full-time satellite WSKA on the channel 30 allotment forcing Clear Channel to shut down the low-powered station. WTTX's programming was moved to WETM-DT2 which became an Independent outlet after The CW launched on September 18, 2006. WETM-DT2 won a New York State Broadcasters Association Award for its coverage of high school sports in 2006, 2008, and 2010. The station had shown local sports such as Elmira Jackals hockey as well as New York Yankees baseball.
WETM-TV became the first station in Elmira to broadcast a high definition feed in 2005 with the launch of a digital signal on VHF channel 2. The station shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 18, at 12:01 a.m. on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition VHF channel 2 to UHF channel 18.
WETM has traditionally been a ratings stronghold in the Central Twin Tiers area. This is because the news department at rival WENY is quite small compared with WETM. In addition, WENY does not provide any newscasts in several traditional timeslots (such as a midday broadcast during the week, weeknights at 5, and weekends news) despite operating three major programming services (ABC, CBS, and The CW). There is however, the market's only local news offering weeknights at 5:30 seen on WENY-DT2. WETM does not produce a newscast then unlike most NBC affiliates in the Eastern Time Zone.
While serving as a semi-satellite of WSTM, WETM produced separate local newscasts that were seen weeknights at 6 and 11 from its original Hawley Hill studios. There were also weekday morning news and weather cut-ins (airing at :25 and :55 past the hour) during Today (airing from 7 until 9). The 2004 launch of WETM-DT2/WTTX-LP introduced the area's first prime time newscast at 10 which is still seen for thirty minutes on weeknights. WETM 18 News at 10 currently competes with a ten-minute news and weather update airing on Fox affiliate WYDC (which is taped in advance). WETM-DT2 also simulcasts the entire weekday morning show, weekday news at noon, in addition to the weeknight newscasts at 5 and 6 from the main channel.
On June 5, 2009, WIVT and WBGH in Binghamton announced there would be a consolidation of news operations with WETM after Newport Television made across the board cuts. However, those two stations would continue to be locally operated and maintain engineer staff at their own studios in Binghamton. WIVT and WBGH began simulcasting WETM's newscasts with only regional weather coverage of the Eastern Twin Tiers and not much of a news focus. A separate newscast, specifically focusing on the Binghamton area, was brought back to those two stations on June 28, 2009 through a simulcast on both outlets. This effort originally consisted of a 6 p.m. weeknight newscast entirely produced from WETM's studios.
Eventually, production of the news and sports portions of the broadcast was shifted back to Binghamton. These segments are recorded earlier in the day (usually by 5 o'clock) and feature locally based photojournalists. A repeat of the 6 o'clock newscast at 11 was subsequently added to the schedules of WIVT and WBGH. Soon after adding the hyper-local Bighamton news, WIVT ceased simulcasting WETM's newscasts making the taped weeknight program the only local news shown on the station. However, WBGH continued to air WETM's weekend 11 p.m. newscast until at some point in late 2013. WETM upgraded its local newscast production to high definition level on July 15, 2014. It is the second television station in the market to perform the change as rival WENY switched on April 23, 2012.