WWCP-TV is the Fox-affiliated television station for West-Central Pennsylvania that is licensed to Johnstown. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 8 from a transmitter along U.S. 30/Lincoln Highway, in Ligonier Township, near the Somerset County line. The station can also be seen on Atlantic Broadband and Comcast channel 8 with HD on Atlantic Broadband digital channel 708 and Comcast digital channel 808. Owned by Horseshoe Curve Communications, WWCP operates ABC affiliate WATM-TV (owned by Palm Television, L.P.) through a local marketing agreement (LMA). The two outlets share studios on Scalp Avenue (PA 56) in Richland Township (with a Johnstown postal address).
WWCP and WATM also operate advertising sales bureaus in Altoona (on East Walton Avenue/PA 764) and State College (on West Beaver Avenue/PA 26). Since WWCP's signal is not viewable in State College, it is also carried in high definition on WATM's second digital subchannel. This can be seen on UHF channel 24.2 (or virtual channel 23.2 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Lookout Avenue, in Logan Township, along the Cambria County line.
Initially, the analog VHF channel 8 facility was to be licensed to Pittsburgh on two occasions. The first occasion was in the 1940s where it was to be one of four VHF channels in Pittsburgh along with 3, 6, and 10. Only channel 3 made it to the air before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a "freeze" on television licenses. Although KQV was essentially a shoo-in for the channel 8 allocation and later won the channel 4 license after the Pittsburgh market was reallocated channels 2, 4, 11, and 13, it eventually had to split ownership of what became WTAE-TV with the Hearst Corporation.
While the four original channels in Pittsburgh would coincidentally be reallocated to what eventually became the Johnstown/Altoona market, channel 8 remained in Pittsburgh the longest. The FCC later granted the Pittsburgh market the channel 8 allocation again, feeling it wouldn't interfere with WJW in Cleveland. Despite their close proximity, Cleveland and Pittsburgh did share at least one other channel in the analog era: channel 19 by WOIO and WPCW, respectively. (WPCW was assigned to Johnstown until 1997 and to this day retains Johnstown as part of its station identification.) But before channel 8 signed-on, the owners petitioned the FCC to move the license to Johnstown. Programming prices were lower in this area and more shows would be available to the station here as opposed to Pittsburgh. Another likely consideration was the need to protect WJW (now a fellow Fox affiliate). The FCC approved the move under the condition that Pittsburgh would need to receive a Grade B signal; in fact, prior to the digital television switch, viewers in some Pittsburgh suburbs such as New Kensington and Greensburg actually got a better signal from WWCP than from Pittsburgh's own WPGH-TV.
With this condition, the most logical place to build the transmitter would be atop Laurel Hill Mountain, or more specifically, Laurel Ridge State Park; also the transmitter location for competitors WJAC-TV and WFAT-TV (now WPCW, which has since moved to Pittsburgh). However, this posed a problem for the new station, as this stipulation meant that its signal would be all but un-viewable in the eastern portion of the market (including Altoona and State College) although this was also done to protect WGAL-TV in Lancaster. WWCP's owners solved this problem by buying the dormant license of Altoona's former ABC affiliate, WOPC-TV. It moved the WOPC license from UHF channel 38 to 23 and changed the calls to WWPC-TV. As a result, WWCP signed-on October 13, 1986 as an Independent with WWPC as a full-time satellite.
Originally, both stations aired a general entertainment format running cartoons, classic sitcoms, old movies, recent sitcoms, and drama shows. Finding itself in the unusual position of being an Independent on the VHF band, WWCP immediately took most of the stronger shows from the only other independent in the market, WFAT (channel 19). That coup effectively spelled the end for the latter station (it went dark in 1991, returned in 1996, and is now Pittsburgh's CW affiliate WPCW). Within ten months of going on-the-air, WWCP and WWPC obtained a Fox affiliation; prior to that, Johnstown/Altoona viewers who wanted to watch Fox would have to view it on cable via WPGH-TV. Since WOPC had gone dark in the early-1980s, the eastern portion of the market had received ABC programming from WHTM-TV in Harrisburg while the western portion was served by WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. At the time, both stations preempted a moderate amount of network shows. It soon became obvious that Johnstown needed its own ABC affiliate.
In 1988, WWCP converted WWPC to a separate station (with new calls WATM-TV) which then took the ABC affiliation. That station was soon sold-off to a separate licensee in order to comply with FCC regulations on station ownership but the commission allowed WWCP to continue to control that channel under a local marketing agreement. WWCP successfully contended that if operated separately, both stations may have been in danger of going dark. For a time, a repeater was set up that allowed WWCP to be received on UHF channel 57 in the Altoona area. This was not effective, however, because the transmitter was twenty miles away near Martinsburg. Altoona viewers who did not possess a high-powered antenna could not receive this signal. Throughout most of the city, viewers only saw a picture with no sound.
WWCP was the first Fox affiliate in the nation to refuse to air O.J. Simpson's two-night interview special with Judith Regan on November 27 and 29, 2006. The controversial program, called If I Did It, Here's How It Happened, resulted in the station owner saying it was inappropriate for Simpson to profit from his infamy. A special on St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee would have aired on the 27th with a locally produced program about domestic abuse, When Violence Hits Home, produced by WWCP/WATM Executive Producer, Josh Bandish, and anchored by Jim Penna, airing on the 29th had Fox not pulled the special from air on November 21. WWCP also airs the locally produced Catholic news show Proclaim! on Sundays.
Horseshoe Curve Communications bought out Peak Media's assets on December 31, 2010. However, the Peak Media name remains on WWCP's license. On July 22, 2013, Horseshoe Curve agreed to sell WWCP to Cunningham Broadcasting for $12 million. Sinclair Broadcast Group was to operate the station through shared services and joint sales agreements. However, the majority of Cunningham's stock is held by the Smith family (owners and founders of Sinclair). As a result, Sinclair would have effectively owned WWCP as well. As the LMA for WATM was part of the deal, it would have resulted in the major commercial television stations in the market being controlled by just two companies. It would have essentially made WWCP, WATM, and WJAC all sister stations and expanded on their existing news share arrangement (see below). However, on February 20, 2014, Horseshoe Curve informed the FCC that the sale of WWCP had fallen through; as a result, the sale application was dismissed on February 24.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|8.1||720p||16:9||WWCP-HD||Main WWCP-TV programming / Fox|
|8.2||480i||4:3||WATM-DT||Simulcast of WATM-TV|
WWCP-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 8, 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 29 to VHF channel 8.
On January 6, 1992, WWCP and WATM established their own separate news departments in an attempt to cover their respective areas. WWCP offered a nightly prime time newscast at 10 (sixty minutes on weeknights; half-hour on weekends) from its studios in Johnstown. Meanwhile, WATM aired local news every night at 11 from its headquarters in State College. Despite a valid attempt to gain enough market share, these broadcasts barely registered as a blip in the Nielsen ratings against longer-established WJAC-TV 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, WWCP and WATM 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.
As a result, WJAC entered into a news share agreement with WWCP. The big three 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 outlet. In addition to its main studios, the big three station also operates bureaus in State College (on West College Avenue/PA 26) and DuBois (on East DuBois Avenue/PA 255; building is shared with WOWQ-FM 102.1).