WHYY-TV, VHF digital channel 12, is the primary PBS member television station serving Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States that is licensed to Wilmington, Delaware. The station is owned by WHYY, Inc., and is a sister station to NPR member radio station WHYY-FM (90.9). The two stations maintain studio and office facilities on Independence Mall in Center City Philadelphia; WHYY-TV also operates a secondary studio in Wilmington; both stations share a transmitter located in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.
WHYY-TV also operates a satellite station, WDPB (channel 64) in Seaford, Delaware, which serves the Delmarva Peninsula region. It is one of three PBS member stations serving the Philadelphia market, alongside WLVT-TV (channel 39) and NJTV (channels 23 and 52) as well as the other PBS member station serving the Salisbury market, alongside MPT (Channel 28).
The station signed on the air on September 2, 1957, originally broadcasting on UHF channel 35. It was the 23rd non-commercial educational television station in the United States, and the second to operate in Pennsylvania (WQED-TV in Pittsburgh had signed on three years earlier). It was owned by the Metropolitan Philadelphia Educational Radio and Television Corporation. It broadcast from a studio on Chestnut Street in Center City, which had previously been occupied by WCAU-TV (channel 10).
The station found the going difficult at first, in part because television sets were not required to have UHF tuning capability. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission had collapsed most of Delaware, the Lehigh Valley and the Jersey Shore into the Philadelphia market, and the channel 35 transmitter was not nearly strong enough to serve this large area.
Then, in 1958, WVUE, a station on VHF channel 12 in Wilmington which had lost its NBC affiliation and then struggled as an independent station, went off the air. WHYY's owners applied to move to the vacant channel 12, which was the nearest available VHF allocation to Philadelphia. A few years earlier, the FCC had changed its rules to allow a station to have its main studio in a city outside its official city of license. The FCC granted WHYY's request to move the station to channel 12 in 1963, and WHYY began broadcasting on that allocation for the first time on September 12. It operated from WVUE's old tower in Glassboro, New Jersey. WVUE is now the call sign that belongs to the Fox affiliated station in New Orleans. However, for all intents and purposes, WHYY has always been a Philadelphia station; to this day it identifies its service area on-air as "Wilmington/Philadelphia". A similar situation exists in New York City; its flagship PBS station, WNET is licensed to Newark, New Jersey. As part of an agreement with Delaware officials and the FCC, WHYY-TV also opened a satellite studio in Wilmington, and began producing a newscast focused on Delaware issues, Delaware Tonight.
Later in 1963, WHYY moved its main studio in Philadelphia to the former facility operated by WFIL-TV (channel 6, now WPVI-TV) on 46th and Market streets. In 1971, WHYY-TV moved its transmitter to the Roxborough tower farm, home to most of Philadelphia's television stations. The new tower provides at least grade B coverage as far west as Lancaster; as far south as Dover, Delaware and as far north as New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1979, channel 12 moved to its current facilities on Independence Mall, first in the old Living History Center museum and theatre (which was also used for Nickelodeon game shows such as Double Dare, Finders Keepers and the Bill Cosby revival of You Bet Your Life) before it was transformed into their current building in 1999 as part of the redevelopment of the Independence Mall area.
In 1984, WHYY bought Seaford-based WDPB, which had signed on three years earlier in 1981, and turned it into a full-time satellite of channel 12. Controversy erupted in the summer of 2007, when station CEO Bill Marrazzo was cited by the watchdog group Charity Navigator as the highest paid CEO in all of public broadcasting. Frustrated by a perceived lack of local coverage, in December 2009 the city of Wilmington filed a challenge to WHYY's license with the FCC.
Programs produced by WHYY
WHYY-TV has long been a major producer of PBS programming. It currently produces four regular series that are distributed to PBS member stations:
- Christina Cooks
- Flavors of America with Chef Jim Coleman
- Flicks – A weekly three-minute program hosted by film critic Patrick Stoner featuring reviews of the latest films released in theaters, plus interviews with celebrities.
- Daring to Resist (2000) PBS
- Scenes from Modern Life (2002) PBS
- Creative Campus – Art and culture program focusing on Greater Philadelphia's colleges and universities
- Experience – Art and culture program
- First – Weekly 30-minute news magazine focused on the state of Delaware; replaced Delaware Tonight, which aired nightly from the WHYY Delaware Broadcast Center in Wilmington.
- Friday Arts – Monthly Art and culture program
- On Tour – Program that spotlights Philadelphia's cultural and ethnic heritage
- Articulate with Jim Cotter – Weekly arts and culture magazine show
WHYY receives grants from the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania. Government grants are not underwriting grants and are not used to produce individual programs, and are used mainly to help ensure service to constituents. Some people believe WHYY programs are produced with funding from the state of Delaware, raising conflict of interest issues about the program's ability to report independently on state government and current officeholders. The historical review of the programs confirms that this concern is invalid.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|12.1||1080i||16:9||WHYY||Main WHYY-TV programming / PBS|
The station's digital signal initially operated at so low a power that even those who lived in some areas of the city of Philadelphia could not receive it reliably. WHYY-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 12, 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 UHF channel 50 to VHF channel 12 for post-transition operations.
After the problems with VHF digital signals emerged, WHYY was permitted to increase its transmitting power upon the transition. However, the problems with digital broadcasts in the VHF spectrum remain the same at the increased power level and still prevent many people in the Philadelphia area from being able to view the high-band VHF signal of WHYY – especially when also attempting to view ABC owned-and-operated station WPVI on channel 6, which operates in the low-band VHF spectrum, and requires a different VHF antenna configuration.