WTVH is the CBS-affiliated television station for Central Upstate New York that is licensed to Syracuse. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 47 (or virtual channel 5.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Onondaga. Owned by Granite Broadcasting, the station is operated through joint sales and shared services agreements by the Sinclair Broadcast Group (owner of NBC affiliate WSTM-TV and low-powered CW outlet WSTQ-LP). All three outlets share studios together on James Street/NY 290 in the Near Northeast section of Syracuse.
The station debuted on December 1, 1948 as WHEN-TV airing an analog signal on VHF channel 8. It went on-the-air as Syracuse's first television station. The channel was the first station owned-and-operated by the Meredith Corporation and was the 47th station to launch in the United States. Meredith simultaneously entered the television field in several Midwestern cities including Omaha and Kansas City. In 1954, it purchased WAGE radio (620 AM) and changed that station's call letters to WHEN (AM); it also switched the station's network affiliation to CBS Radio in 1956 matching it with other Meredith-owned outlets.
The station became a primary CBS affiliate on January 1, 1949, and also carried secondary affiliations with NBC, ABC, and DuMont. When the original WSYR-TV (now WSTM-TV) signed-on in 1950 and took the NBC affiliation, WHEN-TV shared ABC with that channel until WNYS-TV (channel 9, later WIXT-TV and now the present WSYR-TV) signed-on in 1962 and took the ABC affiliation. The affiliation with DuMont ended in 1956 when that network ceased operations.
In July 1961. WHEN-TV moved to channel 5 swapping channel locations with WROC-TV in Rochester as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised its Upstate New York allocation table to provide more VHF service in the two cities. In 1963, the WHEN stations moved from their original Court Street studios into a new state-of-the-art facility on James Street near WSYR (AM)-FM-TV's studios. Popular national radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey originated his late-morning CBS network radio show from the new WHEN studios on the day the facility opened to help Meredith celebrate.
In 1976, the company sold WHEN radio to Park Communications but retained WHEN-TV. Since the radio station kept the WHEN call letters, Meredith had to change channel 5's call sign. It originally wanted the new call letters WTVF (TeleVision Five referring the station's on-air identity) but those had already been claimed by a station in Nashville, Tennessee. At this point, Meredith chose WTVH as the new calls with "H" being a link to its WHEN-TV heritage. In June 1993, Meredith announced the sale of WTVH and sister station KSEE-TV in Fresno, California to Granite Broadcasting with the sale closing on December 23 of that year.
Granite soon increased its Northeastern holdings with the purchase of WKBW-TV in Buffalo in 1995 and WBNG-TV in Binghamton in July 2006. As part of the WBNG-TV purchase, Les Vann (formerly President and General Manager of WTVH) was promoted to Executive Vice President of Central and Southern New York operations with regional responsibilities at both WBNG-TV and WTVH. At the same time, Matthew Rosenfeld was promoted to Vice President and Station Manager of this channel after holding the General Sales Manager position since 2004.
WTVH was featured in the film Bruce Almighty in 2003. It is portrayed as the rival station ("WIEW" channel 5) of WKBW-TV in Buffalo mainly because the common ownership of both stations made gaining rights to use them in the movie easier. It is also said that WKBW-TV's real-life rival, WIVB-TV, refused to allow its branding to be used in the film resulting in WTVH being substituted.
In April 2008, Matthew Rosenfeld was appointed to the position of President and General Manager of WTVH and its Binghamton sister stations (WBNG and "WBXI"). On April 6, 2008, Jean Daugherty died at age 84. She was known to many baby boomer children as "The Play Lady" on this station's locally produced children program, The Magic Toy Shop, from 1955 until 1982. Jean wrote more than 6,000 episodes of the program, which after ending its run, was the longest running local kid show in the country.
On March 2, 2009 as a result of continual low ratings, slow advertising sales, and the loss of the Ithaca area to WENY-DT2, it was announced that WTVH would enter into joint sales and shared services agreements with rivals WSTM-TV and WSTQ-LP.  Initially, WTVH continued to operate out of its own facilities on James Street but eventually moved into WSTM-TV's studios a block away. The original holders of the WTVH calls from 1953 to 1965, WHOI in Peoria, Illinois, had an equivalent deal announced the very same day between the same two companies. That Barrington Broadcasting-owned station is now managed by WTVH's Granite sister station, WEEK-TV. WTVH's studios were put up for lease in Summer 2009, but so far, no takers have come forward.
On September 6, 2009, its transmitter was damaged after a power failure. While Granite Broadcasting worked to fix the signal, WSTM-TV's third digital subchannel (normally a 24-hour local weather channel) carried WTVH. As of September 12, its signal was restored even though, as late as November 12, over-the-air viewers continued to experience breakup of the signal.
On February 28, 2013, Barrington Broadcasting announced the sale of its entire group, including WSTM-TV and WSTQ-LP, to Sinclair Broadcast Group. The existing LMA for WTVH was included in the deal; however, Granite retained ownership of WTVH's license assets. WSTM-TV planned to continue to operate the station until March 2016 (the agreement was earlier expected to last until March 2017 but the FCC later voted to outlaw all existing joint sales agreements by 2016). However, Sinclair continues to operate WTVH as of April 2016 pending legal action on the JSA regulations. The group deal also resulted in Sinclair selling its existing Syracuse market station (Fox outlet WSYT) and the LMA and purchase option for MyNetworkTV affiliate WNYS-TV to its sidecar company, Cunningham Broadcasting.
However, in an updated filing that August, Sinclair would instead sell WSYT and the LMA for WNYS-TV to Bristlecone Broadcasting, a company owned by Stainless Broadcasting Company owner Brian Brady. Sinclair continued to operate WSYT and WNYS-TV through a transitional services agreement for six months after the sale was consummated (until May 2014). With the sale of KSEE to the Nexstar Broadcasting Group in February 2013 and the announced sales of most of Granite's remaining stations to the E. W. Scripps Company and Quincy Newspapers in February 2014, WTVH is one of the two Granite stations (along with KOFY-TV in San Francisco, California) that remain unsold. WTVH's future, after the operational agreement with WSTM-TV expires, remains uncertain and is speculative.
From 1956, when CBS ended a secondary affiliation with WKTV after a dispute, to November 22, 2015, when WKTV affiliated its second digital subchannel with the network, WTVH served as the de facto affiliate for the majority of the Utica market, namely Herkimer County and that area's portion of Oneida County (Otsego County had former sister station WBNG as its default). WTVH was extremely protective of this status, barring current ABC affiliate WUTR from affiliating with CBS on at least one occasion. CBS also blocked a 1983 attempt by new station WTUV (now WFXV) to affiliate with the network, as it felt that its existing coverage in Utica (including carriage of WTVH on area cable systems) was sufficient (WTUV would sign on in 1986 as a Fox affiliate). Under Granite's ownership, WTVH did not take advantage of this status in terms of targeted advertising and news coverage focusing on the Utica area. Portions of that market lost access to WTVH's over-the-air broadcasts as a result of the 2009 digital television transition.
In 1997, CBS gained the rights to the American Football Conference of the National Football League. The league determined that portions of Yates County, a fairly narrow location only a few miles wide at certain points, was within 75 miles (121 km) of Ralph Wilson Stadium home of the Buffalo Bills. That area is on the far western fringe of the Syracuse market and it has bounced between the Syracuse and Rochester markets a couple of times. Therefore, WTVH is forced to blackout Buffalo Bills games if they do not sell out. With this station's control over the Utica market, unless the Bills are hosting a National Football Conference team or the game is on Sunday or Monday nights, it would be blacked out there as well. (This will not apply for the 2015 NFL season, as the NFL has voted to suspend the league's blackout policy for at least 2015; thus, WTVH will be able to show Bills home games regardless of whether they sell out this coming season.)
This was not the case when NBC held the rights to AFC games. WSTM-TV was allowed to broadcast Bills games even when they did not sell out. However, the NFL and Bills apparently had not checked the regional television market boundaries for a number of years before the switch from NBC to CBS.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|5.1||1080i||16:9||WTVH-DT||Main WTVH programming / CBS|
WTVH shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 5, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 47. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 5. In January 2015, WTVH's second digital subchannel began carrying the Grit network.
For most of its first forty years on-air, the station was the dominant station in Central New York. However, it fell into gradual decline beginning in the 1980s which accelerated under subsequent owners. Ever since the mid-1990s, WTVH's newscasts have struggled in the Nielsen ratings running a distant third behind rivals WSYR-TV and WSTM-TV. This precipitous decline in its local news viewership contributed to Meredith's decision to sell the station in 1993 (WTVH was battling WSTM-TV for second place behind WSYR-TV at the time of the sale). Ratings plummeted even further after popular longtime anchor Ron Curtis retired in December 2000. Even the strength of CBS's prime time network programming failed to lift it out of the ratings basement.
In 2000, WSTM-TV declined to renew its news share agreement with WSYT that featured a nightly, half-hour prime time newscast on the latter. As a result, WSYT partnered with WTVH to continue the broadcasts. Now known as Fox 68 Eyewitness News at 10, this effort was eventually joined by an hour-long weekday morning show called Fox 68 Eyewitness News at 7. Both of the programs featured the same branding as WTVH's newscasts did at the time. Meanwhile, in 2003, WSTM-TV brought back a nightly prime time show at 10 for its newly acquired sister station WSTQ-LP.
In April 2006, WTVH ceased producing all local news programming for WSYT in order to focus on its own newscasts that were cemented in third place by this point. Ironically, the nightly 10 o'clock broadcasts were WTVH's most successful having soundly beat WSTM-TV's effort on WSTQ-LP. Since dropping news programming from this CBS outlet, WSYT remains one of a handful of big four network-affiliated stations throughout the United States that do not produce or air local newscasts.
On December 22, 2006, one of the area's most popular long-time journalists Nancy Duffy died. Duffy began her television career at channel 5. Throughout her career, Duffy led the way for women in journalism. She became the first woman police reporter in Central New York after joining the Syracuse Herald-Journal in 1966. She was Syracuse’s first female television reporter when she moved to channel 5 in 1967. She became the first woman to join the Syracuse Press Club and later served as its President. In 1970, Duffy served as press secretary at Syracuse City Hall for then-mayor Lee Alexander. She returned to the station after a year and moved to WSYR-TV as a reporter and weekday morning news anchor in 1977. In 2007, the station fired Ron Curtis' longtime anchor desk partner, Maureen Green, a 22-year veteran of the station.
After becoming operated by WSTM-TV, WTVH shut down its separate news department and merged it with the NBC outlet. This resulted in the elimination of forty jobs at this station. Only Michael Benny was retained to solo-anchor the weeknight newscasts on WTVH from its separate studios (less than a block away on James Street from WSTM-TV's facility) using other personalities from WSTM-TV for all other content. The system set up by this CBS affiliate to use all videotaped footage (including interviews) shot by WSTM-TV was filled with problems with staffers from WSTM-TV actually walking to WTVH's old studios to deliver raw video to be edited for its weeknight news programs. Neither station attempted to offer newscasts outside traditional time slots to compete with WSYR-TV (such as weekdays at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., or weeknights at 4 and 7) despite a plan originally announced.  WSYR-TV eventually expanded WSTQ-LP's weeknight prime time newscast to an hour on August 30, 2010.
In October 2009, Barrington Broadcasting began to produce separate weeknight newscasts on WTVH from a new secondary set at WSTM-TV's facility. Otherwise, at that time, the CBS and NBC stations would simulcast each other on weekday mornings (except the first hour at 4 a.m. on WSTM-TV), weekdays at noon, and weekend evenings. Although WTVH retained unique branding, music, and graphic aspects of the separately-produced news broadcasts on weeknights, coverage was essentially the same with re-purposed and packaged stories from the NBC affiliate airing on this CBS station. WSTM-TV usually featured more live reports from the field during a breaking news event.
In mid-December 2010, WSTM-TV became the first in the market to upgrade local news production to 16:9 enhanced definition widescreen and the shows on WTVH were included in the change. Although not truly high definition, the broadcasts match the aspect ratio of HD television screens. Rival WSYR-TV would switch to full high definition newscasts on January 29, 2011.
On April 13, 2015, WTVH reintroduced separately-produced local newscasts airing weekday mornings (from 5 to 7 a.m.) and weekdays at noon (seen for a half-hour) with a dedicated anchor and meteorologist that do not appear on WSTM-TV. At the same time, this station also began to feature its own meteorologist for the weeknight newscasts rather than sharing an on-air personality with WSTM-TV. WTVH already has a separate news anchor seen weeknights exclusively on the station. WTVH continues to simulcast local news with WSTM-TV on weekend evenings. These broadcasts use the two station's shared branding, CNY Central. There can be a pre-emption or delay on one channel due to network obligations (most notably sports programming).
Notable former on-air staff
- Lee Goldberg – meteorologist (1993-1996, now chief meteorologist at WABC-TV)
- Don Morrow – program host and voice over announcer/pioneering newscaster (1948–1949)
- David Muir – news anchor (mid-late 1990s, now at ABC News)
- Al Roker – weekend meteorologist (1974–1976, now weather and feature reporter for Today)
- Mike Tirico – Sports Director (late 1980s-early 1990s, later ESPN's Monday Night Football play-by-play announcer, now at NBC Sports effective July 2016.)