Boston TV Change Reminiscent of NBC Switch in San Francisco

By Chris Ariens 

The biggest affiliation switch in more than 20 years is about to hit the Boston market.

NBC has decided to launch its own station, removing its affiliation from Sunbeam-owned WHDH Channel 7, which has been Boston’s NBC station since Jan. 2, 1995. A likely scenario is that NBC will use the signal of current Telemundo affiliate WNEU Channel 60 (or a sub-channel) for a Jan. 1, 2017 launch. (That station had been a PAX-TV, now ION, affiliate until 2002.) NBC Boston will be housed at NECN, the NBC-owned regional cable network in the Boston suburb of Newton, MA.

“The new NBC-owned station will be a broadcast channel available to over-the-air viewers like our other NBC and Telemundo stations,” said NBC Owned Stations president Valeri Staab in an email obtained by TVSpy. It will not be “a cable-only channel,” Staab was quick to point out. Boston (including Manchester, NH), with its 2.4 million TV homes is the nation’s 7th largest market.

Pulling NBC from WHDH is reminiscent of NBC’s move in the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose market in 2001, when KRON lost its 52-year affiliation with NBC. As in Boston, NBC’s relationship with KRON owners the deYoung family, publishers the San Francisco Chronicle, was becoming contentious. In 1999, despite NBC being an interested buyer, the deYoung family sold KRON to Young Broadcasting. (The massive debt Young took on to buy KRON was one of the factors that led it to declare bankruptcy in 2009; most former Young stations are now part of Media General).

In December 2001, NBC acquired San Jose WB affiliate KNTV (which had been an ABC affiliate until 1999) from Granite Broadcasting for $230 million, moving NBC south to San Jose. But the station’s signal did not reach the entire San Francisco Bay area; a challenge NBC will also encounter with its switch in Boston. NBC is “committed to expanding our over-the-air coverage of the market and are currently looking at a variety of options to accomplish that,” Staab writes in her email.

In the the last 15 years, KRON has increased the amount of local news it produces, while weathering ratings drops, a soft advertising market, a bankrupt owner, and a relocation (moving in with a competitor, no less). All, some argue, because it lost the cache of being a network affiliate. Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin will be looking West, as he plans the path forward for WHDH.