WWTI is the ABC-affiliated television station for Upstate New York's North Country. Licensed to Watertown, it broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 21 (or virtual channel 50.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Hayes Road in Copenhagen (a village of Denmark). The station can also be seen on Time Warner Cable channel 5 and in high definition on digital channel 889. Owned by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, it has studios at Stateway Plaza (with an Arsenal Street/NY 3 postal address) in Watertown. Syndicated programming on WWTI includes The Big Bang Theory, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, and The Doctors among others.
Although technically operating as a separate station in its own right, WWTI is actually considered a semi-satellite of WSYR-TV in Syracuse. As such, this station clears all ABC programming and most local newscasts (see below) as provided by its parent but airs separate commercials and legal identifications. It simulcasts Who Wants to Be a Millionaire from WSYR weekday afternoons at 12:30 and airs The Dr. Oz Show weekday mornings at 9 (as opposed to the later airing at 4 on its parent outlet). Master control and some internal operations of WWTI are based at centralcasting facilities within WSYR's studios on Bridge Street in East Syracuse (a village of DeWitt).
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|50.1||720p||16:9||WWTI-DT||Main WWTI programming / ABC|
|50.2||WWTI-2||North Country CW|
The station signed-on February 1, 1985 with the calls WJCK. Airing an analog signal on UHF channel 50, it replaced a low-powered translator of Utica's ABC affiliate WUTR previously on the allotment. The station was the third outlet established in Watertown after WWNY-TV and WPBS. Prior to WJCK's launch, WWNY was a secondary ABC affiliate and also served Massena and Malone along with WIXT-TV (now WSYR) from Syracuse.
At its sign-on, WJCK took over operation of repeater W25AB channel 25 in Massena to better serve the St. Lawrence River Valley. However, WVNY in Burlington, Vermont eventually launched a translator (W60AF channel 60) of its own in Malone. WJCK also operated a second repeater (W25AB channel 25) in order to expand its reach in and around Watertown. The station became WFYF on August 8, 1986.
In addition to being an ABC affiliate from the start, it shared a secondary NBC affiliation with WWNY until 1995, and also shared a secondary Fox affiliation with WWNY beginning October 9, 1986. While the latter cleared more of NBC and/or Fox's programming offerings, WFYF aired NBC Sports' coverage of National Football League (NFL) games on Sunday afternoons, which lasted until 1995 when it began airing Fox Sports' NFL games (in addition to carrying Monday Night Football through ABC). Its original ownership team consisted of several investors including General Manager David James Alteri, Steven Fox, and Richard Kimball. After the station went bankrupt under the initial partnership, it was sold to Robert Smith of Smith Broadcasting in 1990 and the current call sign WWTI was adopted September 14. A new General Manager, Shelly Markoff, took control of operations.
In September 1998, an agreement between this station and Time Warner Cable allowed WWTI to launch cable-exclusive WB affiliate "WBWT". The arrangement was established during a period when The WB deployed various network stations outside the top 100 markets as cable-only channels. WWTI provided sales and promotional opportunities to "WBWT" which was originally seen on Time Warner Cable channel 31. Since it was a cable-exclusive outlet, the call sign was not officially recognized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At some point in time, "WBWT" moved to the more appropriate channel 14 slot allowing it to be known on-air as "Watertown's WB 14".
In 2000, the United Communications Corporation (owner of WWNY) entered into an agreement with Smith Broadcasting to make WWTI's repeaters (W28BC and W25AB) separate full-time Fox affiliates known together as WNYF. After a year of joint operation, United Communications took complete ownership of the two stations. The Ackerley Group purchased WWTI in 2000 at which point David Males, then General Sales Manager, was promoted to General Manager. It joined Ackerley's cluster of New York stations with master control and other internal operations based out of centralcasting facilities at flagship WIXT in Syracuse. Clear Channel Communications would take control of the station with its purchase of Ackerley in 2001. On July 30, 2003, WWTI began broadcasting a digital signal on UHF channel 21.
On January 24, 2006, The WB and UPN announced the two networks would end broadcasting and merge. The new combined service would be called The CW. The letters would represent the first initial of corporate parents "C"BS (the parent company of UPN) and the "W"arner Bros. unit of Time Warner. Some of UPN's programming was seen in Watertown on WNYF in a secondary nature through a tape-delayed arrangement. On May 18, it was confirmed "WBWT" would be joining The CW via The CW Plus (a similar operation to The WB 100+). When the new network launched on September 18, WWTI created a second digital subchannel to offer non-cable viewers access to CW programming. "WBWT" dropped the faux call sign in favor of WWTI-DT2 which began to be used in an official manner.
On April 20, 2007, Clear Channel entered into an agreement to sell its entire television station unit to Newport Television (a subsidiary of private equity group Providence Equity Partners). WWTI's broadcasts, which were originally scheduled to become digital-exclusive on February 17, 2009, were forced to continue in both analog and digital until June 12 due to FCC objections at an estimated $50,000 in additional cost. At 11:59 p.m. on the revised DTV transition date, the station finally turned off its analog transmitter and became digital-exclusive. Newport announced on July 19, 2012 that it would sell twelve of its stations, including WWTI, to the Nexstar Broadcasting Group. WFXV, WPNY-LP, and WUTR in nearby Utica are already owned/operated by Nexstar. The transaction was completed in December 3.
For its entire existence, WWNY has held the number one spot in Nielsen ratings by a wide margin. It has been the dominant station in the North Country because the station had the market to itself until WWTI signed-on. Even after this station began maintaining a minimal local news presence for many years, WWNY remained the most watched outlet. WWTI's original news team was quite small compared with other big three stations operating news departments. Its first attempt at airing newscasts and competing with WWNY ceased in early-1991. Four years later, a second attempt was established and the station maintained a small news team similar to the previous effort.
After the Ackerley Group acquired WWTI, it became more reliant on content originating from its sister stations in Upstate New York particularly flagship WIXT in Syracuse. In July 2002, a two-hour weekday morning show known as Daybreak debuted on this station. The broadcast, airing from 5 until 7, was simulcasted on sister stations WIVT in Binghamton and WUTR in Utica. The newscast was produced by WIXT from a secondary set at its studios and included brief localized updates (focusing on Watertown) twice an hour. Most coverage, however, presented was regional in nature with area-wide weather forecasts.
Having never successfully competed with WWNY, WWTI's nightly NewsWatch 50 newscasts were canceled in 2004. For a short time afterward, the station featured a 24 Hour News Source-style series of short hourly news updates seen throughout the day. After this, it continued to air several daily news and weather updates under the NewsWatch 50 branding. In December 2006, WWTI added a news and weather update on weeknights known as 5 at 5. On June 5, 2009, the station's news department was shut down completely after Newport Television implemented across the board cuts. At the same time, WIVT and WBGH-CA announced their Binghamton news operation would be consolidated with sister station WETM-TV in Elmira. This affected WWTI because it only maintained one locally based meteorologist and WIVT/WBGH provided all other weather forecasts seen on-air. On September 14, the station switched its branding to "ABC 50" and website from "newswatch50.com" to "myabc50.com" de-emphasizing local news.
Even though WWTI lost a Watertown-based news department, it began simulcasting WSYR's NewsChannel 9 Eleven at 11 every night through a news share agreement. During the 2009-2010 NFL season, the station featured half-hour reports from the Buffalo Bills training camp produced by sister station WHAM-TV in Rochester. On September 8, 2009, WWTI began simulcasting WSYR's weekday morning and nightly 6 o'clock newscasts. Although that station eventually expanded its weekday morning show to 4:30, the first half hour is not seen on WWTI. Occasionally, a reporter based at WWTI will contribute content to WSYR but most local coverage is seen on WWTI's website consisting of short headlines and features. However, WSYR does provide separate weather forecasts for the North Country region that are taped in advance.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, the station simulcasts WSYR's local news and weather cut-ins during Good Morning America. On January 29, 2011, WSYR upgraded its newscasts to high definition and the simulcasts on this station were included. WWNY remains the only station operating a news department based in the North Country; Time Warner Cable News covers Watertown and Massena as well from a Syracuse-based newsroom with regional content.
Notable current on-air staff
- Staci-Lyn Honda - weekend morning cut-ins; also reporter