First air date
|March 11, 1973|
Former channel number(s)
Call sign meaning
|HAAT||367.9 m (1,207 ft)|
|Translator(s)||WVIR-CD 35 (UHF) Charlottesville; 30 (UHF) Madison|
Public license information
WVIR-TV (channel 29) is a television station in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, affiliated with NBC and The CW Plus. Owned by Gray Television, the station has studios on East Market Street (US 250 Business) in downtown Charlottesville, and its primary transmitter is located on Carters Mountain south of the city.
WVIR-TV began broadcasting as the first television station in Charlottesville on March 11, 1973. It took Charlottesville considerable time to develop a local TV station in part because half the city sits in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, which constricted acceptable broadcast facilities in the region. In part as a result, it remained the only full-service commercial television station in Charlottesville for 31 years after being built and came to dominate the market. Waterman Broadcasting acquired the station in 1986 and would later lead the station through digitalization, the addition of the CW subchannel, and the introduction of high-definition local news in 2008, early for a market of Charlottesville's size.
In 2019, Waterman sold WVIR-TV to Gray Television, which then sold the station's direct competition—WCAV and WVAW-LD—to make the purchase. WVIR-TV switched to the VHF band in 2020, causing technical issues. WVIR-CD operates in the Charlottesville area as a rebroadcaster on the UHF band.
It took Charlottesville until 1973 to have a television station of its own in part because of the assignment of exclusively ultra high frequency (UHF) television channels and the location of part of Charlottesville and the surrounding area in the United States National Radio Quiet Zone. The Quiet Zone boundary runs through the grounds of the University of Virginia.
In 1961, the Charlottesville Broadcasting Corporation, owner of radio station WINA, applied to have very high frequency (VHF) channel 11 assigned to the Waynesboro–Staunton area. However, even as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took applications for channel 11, the plan faced stiff opposition from the United States Navy, which planned to build a radio telescope at Sugar Grove, West Virginia. In the meantime, Virginia Broadcasting Corporation, a company owned by stockbroker and bluegrass music artist William Marburg—better known as Bill Clifton—filed for Charlottesville's channel 64 allocation. The channel 64 station received a construction permit in June 1964; six months later, the WINA proposal for channel 11 was denied after the Navy insisted on continued protection for the Sugar Grove site. The channel 64 permit was never built, though it was transferred to another group in 1966.
Two parties then filed for new UHF stations, both originally specifying channel 25, in January 1965. Shenandoah Valley Broadcasting proposed a semi-satellite of WSVA-TV in Harrisonburg with local news and public affairs programming, while WINA soon filed a competing proposal, believing Charlottesville needed a station of its own. WINA won the construction permit, amended to specify channel 29, but failed to convince the national networks that they needed an affiliate in Charlottesville. In 1969, WINA radio was sold, but neither the buyer nor the seller wanted to retain the channel 29 construction permit, which was returned to the FCC.
Another company known as the Virginia Broadcasting Corporation, a consortium of more than 30 local stockholders, filed with the FCC on October 19, 1971, for permission to build channel 29. The FCC granted the construction permit on March 1, 1972, and the company announced it would be operating within a year from a transmitter on Carters Mountain and studios on Main Street. In June, the station secured affiliation with NBC and announced plans for daily 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts; The company bought the equipment of WUBC, a bankrupt TV station in Greensboro, North Carolina, which was dismantled, loaded into three rental trucks, and reassembled on Carters Mountain.
WVIR-TV began broadcasting on March 11, 1973. The station was three and a half hours late to its own sign-on due to a technical mishap. It took four years for channel 29 to turn a profit.
WVIR-TV was the first television station in Charlottesville and the only full-service outlet for more than 30 years; WHSV-TV opened a translator in Charlottesville in 1980, and Richmond public television station WCVE-TV built full-power repeater WHTJ in 1989. It also expanded its coverage area to include Staunton and the Harrisonburg–Rockingham County areas by way of two translators of its own.
The station originally operated from studios on Main Street, in a former shoe store, and later added more offices on East Market Street. In 1983, it bought a building on Market Street which was being used as a parking garage to renovate for its studios and offices.
In 1986, Waterman Broadcasting Corporation, led by Winchester native Bernie Waterman, presented an offer to the Virginia Broadcasting Corporation to buy WVIR-TV. The 41 stockholders unanimously agreed to sell the station for $8.694 million. The station continued to dominate its local market with no competition. In one 1998 ad, the station touted its news programs as the highest-rated in Virginia; the 6 p.m. news attracted 71 percent of the audience at that hour.
In 2003, WVIR was the object of a major libel case in Virginia stemming from a 2001 news report that incorrectly stated a man's property had been searched and cocaine had been seized. The station had refused to retract the incorrect report. Jurors returned a $10 million verdict against the station, but a judge reduced the amount, calling it "undue".
Channel 29 gained its first full-power commercial competition when WCAV (channel 19) launched as a CBS affiliate on August 13, 2004. The station was built by Gray Television, owner of WHSV-TV, and was followed by the conversion of the former WHSV translator into WVAW-LP, a separately programmed ABC affiliate for the Charlottesville area, as well as the 2005 launch of WAHU-CA "Fox 27".
WVIR-TV started a subchannel to air The CW when the network began in September 2006. This included a 10 p.m. local newscast. The station began producing high-definition newscasts in April 2008, making Charlottesville the second-smallest market at the time with HD local news. By this time, WVIR continued to hold a commanding lead over its competition.
WVIR-TV ceased regular programming on its analog signal at 12:30 p.m. on February 17, 2009, the original date for the digital television transition under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 32, using virtual channel 29; the decision to continue the February switchover saved the station $40,000. As part of the analog nightlight service, the station was required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to leave its analog signal on-air for two months after the end of digital transition at an estimated cost to the station of $20,000 to broadcast an endless loop of instructional video on digital converter box installation. This was interrupted daily to carry local newscasts.
The station entered the 2016–17 spectrum reallocation auction, electing to take $46,399,285 for its channel 32 allocation and move to the low-VHF band (channels 2 through 6). Chief engineer Bob Jenkins noted that the station was not particularly happy with moving to channel 2 but chose it over entering a channel-sharing agreement with another station.
Waterman announced a deal to sell WVIR-TV to Gray Television on March 4, 2019. To acquire WVIR-TV, Gray concurrently announced it would sell WCAV and WVAW-LD, as well as WAHU-CD's programming, to Lockwood Broadcast Group. Gray, however, retained the WAHU-CD license. The sale was approved on April 15. The transaction was completed on October 1. On December 1, Gray split off the NBC and CW services for the Harrisonburg and Staunton area as a separate station run from WHSV-TV, WSVW-LD "NBC 3 in the Valley".
Gray implemented the station's repack. The station was to move its signal from channel 32 to channel 2 by January 17, 2020. Equipment shipping and construction delays forced WVIR-TV to use WCAV's channel 19 facility temporarily before it completed the relocation to channel 2 on March 18. Despite the UHF relay, WVIR-TV received hundreds of reception complaints in the following month and applied to increase its effective radiated power on channel 2 from 10 kW to 34 kW. In addition to WVIR-CD, the former WAHU-CD which now broadcasts the same subchannels on the UHF band in the Charlottesville area, the station received a construction permit in 2022 to build a digital replacement translator on channel 30 at Madison, Virginia. This facility began operating in July 2023.
The station's signal is multiplexed:
|29.1||1080i||16:9||NBC||Main WVIR-TV programming / NBC|
|29.3||720p||CW||The CW Plus|
|29.4||480i||Crime||True Crime Network|