WPBN-TV is the NBC-affiliated television station for the Northern Lower and Eastern Upper Peninsulas of Michigan that is licensed to Traverse City. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 47 (virtual channel 7) from a transmitter east of Kalkaska. There is also a low-powered digital fill-in translator on UHF channel 50 from a transmitter south of Harrietta in the Manistee National Forest. Owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the station operates ABC affiliate WGTU and its full-time satellite WGTQ (owned by Tucker Broadcasting of Traverse City) through a shared services agreement (SSA). The two share studios on M-72 just west of Traverse City.
|WPBN: Traverse City / Cadillac, MichiganWTOM: Cheboygan / Petoskey, Michigan|
|Branding||TV 7&4 (general)
7&4 News (newscasts) ABC 29&8 (on DT2)
|Slogan||Fair. Accurate. Honest.|
|Channels||Digital:WPBN: 47 (UHF)
WGTU-DT2: 31.2 (UHF) WTOM: 35 (UHF) WGTQ-DT2: 8.2 (VHF)
|Subchannels||7.1 / 4.1 NBC7.2 / 4.2 ABC|
|Translators||50 (UHF) Harrietta|
|Owner||Sinclair Broadcast Group|
|First air date||WPBN: September 13, 1954WTOM: May 16, 1959|
|Call letters' meaning||WPBN: Paul Bunyan NetworkWTOM: Top Of Michigan|
|Sister station(s)||WGTU / WGTQ|
|Former channel number(s)||WPBN:
7 (VHF analog, 1954-2009) 7 (VHF digital, 2009) WTOM: 4 (VHF analog, 1959-2009) 35 (UHF digital)
|Former affiliations||ABC (secondary, 1954-1971)|
500 kW WGTU-DT2: 68.4 kW WTOM: 78 kW WGTQ-DT2: 15 kW
393 m WTOM: 168 m WGTQ-DT2: 288 m
|Facility ID||WPBN: 21253WGTU-DT2: 59280
WTOM: 21254 WGTQ-DT2: 59279
|Transmitter coordinates||WPBN & WGTU-DT2:
44°44′53.0″N 85°4′8.0″W / 44.74806°N 85.06889°W / 44.74806; -85.06889 WTOM: 45°39′0.6″N 84°20′36.9″W / 45.650167°N 84.343583°W / 45.650167; -84.343583 (WTOM-TV) WGTQ-DT2: 46°3′8.2″N 84°6′38.8″W
Like other network affiliates in this vast and rural area, it operates a full-time satellite, WTOM-TV. Licensed to Cheboygan, this station broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 35 (virtual channel 4) from a transmitter on U.S. 23 east of the city. It reaches as far as Petoskey, Cedarville, Indian River, and Brevort. Unlike the previous analog signal, it does not cover Sault Sainte Marie and the Eastern Upper Peninsula. To make up for this shortfall in coverage, the station is carried on the digital subcarriers of WGTU and Sault Sainte Marie satellite WGTQ.
Together, the two stations are known on-air as TV 7&4 and serve the largest television market east of the Mississippi River: 23 counties in the Northern Lower Peninsula, three counties in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, and portions of Northern Ontario including Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. However, WTOM has not been available in Canada on cable since the early-2000s when Shaw Communications replaced it with Detroit's WDIV. WTOM also serves as the default NBC affiliate for Alpena as that area does not have an affiliate of its own.
WPBN-TV began broadcasting on February 13, 1954 airing an analog signal on VHF channel 7. It was owned by the Biederman family and their company, Midwest Broadcasting, along with WTCM-AM 1400 (now 580). Company president Les Biederman had signed on WTCM, Northern Michigan's oldest radio station, in 1940. Over the next decade, he bought or signed-on several other AM stations throughout the area. These were known as the Paul Bunyan Network with WTCM as the flagship station. Since channel 7 covered much of the territory covered by the radio stations, Biederman decided not to call his new station WTCM-TV (for Traverse City, Michigan) but rather WPBN-TV (for Paul Bunyan Network).
In the 1950s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula was part of the Traverse City/Cadillac market. At the time, the only television station in that area had been private CBC Television affiliate CJIC-TV. Since WPBN was already operating at the maximum power allowed, Biederman signed-on WTOM-TV in Cheboygan on May 16, 1959 bringing American television to the Eastern Upper Peninsula for the first time. Since then, the two stations have been known collectively as 7&4.
Until 1971, it shared ABC programming with CBS affiliates WWTV/WWUP. WPBN aired ABC's sports programming on the weekends while WWTV aired some of the network's game shows and soap operas. In 1971, WGTU signed-on and took the ABC affiliation. In 1980, Midwest Broadcasting wanted to expand its broadcast operations in Northern Michigan. However, the FCC told the family that they could do so only if they sold some stations to stay under ownership limits. One of the stations sold off was WPBN/WTOM (which count as one station for ratings and regulatory purposes) to U.S. Tobacco.
From 1999 to 2005, it was owned by Raycom Media. In late-2005, following that company's purchase of The Liberty Corporation, Raycom announced that WPBN would be sold along with another NBC affiliate in the Upper Peninsula, WLUC-TV in Marquette. The sale was necessary to help meet FCC restrictions on station ownership. On March 27, 2006, Raycom announced that Barrington Broadcasting would acquire twelve Raycom stations including this channel. The FCC approved the deal in June 2006 and the finalization took place on August 12. At that point, the station joined WLUC, Saginaw's NBC affiliate WEYI-TV and (to a degree) Toledo, Ohio's NBC affiliate WNWO-TV as part of Barrington's family of stations in and around Michigan.
On September 19, 2007 an application was filed to the FCC by Max Media to sell WGTU, its full-time satellite WGTQ, and CW cable station to Tucker Broadcasting for $10 million. After approval, that company entered into a shared services agreement with Barrington . According to the FCC filing, WPBN would sell advertising time and provides other programming for Tucker's stations. After this station renovated its studios over the summer, the two stations consolidated operations into the expanded facilities. WPBN and WGTU began to share a website as well. For the digital transition on June 12, 2009, WPBN filed a petition with the FCC move its Traverse City digital signal on UHF channel 50 to the analog tower in Harrietta to maintain coverage in that area. It then signed-on a new digital signal on UHF channel 47 from WGTU's tower in Kalkaska.
Unlike WPBN, WTOM-DT on UHF channel 35 did not initially offer NBC programming in full high definition. Instead, the signal was transmitted in an unconverted format. A true high definition signal for that station was included once WTOM shut down its analog signal on the transition date. Its new digital signal covers a fraction of the area once served by the VHF analog signal due to the rather low-powered 78 kW digital signal on UHF. To make up for this shortfall in coverage, standard definition feeds of WPBN and WTOM were added to the digital subcarriers of WGTU and WGTQ respectively.
When WTOM first began broadcasting, it had a separate news department based at its studios on U.S. 23 east of Cheboygan. However, this operation was closed down and the channel eventually became a full-time satellite of WPBN. For most of the last half-century, it has been second in the news ratings in the market behind WWTV according to Nielsen Media Research. Early on, the Biedermans devoted significant resources to WPBN's news operation utilizing the resources of the co-owned radio stations.
This has continued long after the television and radio stations went separate ways resulting in a higher-quality product than conventional wisdom would suggest for a station in the 116th market. In terms of coverage, WPBN has traditionally had more of a Traverse City focus compared with WWTV who has facilities southeast of Cadillac.
Station alumni include Christa Quinn and the immortal "Deputy" Don Melvoin who first hosted the Deputy Don kids show in the 1950s. After a stint in Hollywood that included roles on The Twilight Zone and a movie filmed on Mackinac Island called Somewhere in Time, Melvoin came back to WPBN to host Deputy Don Rides Again and the horror flick Count Zappula. Don Melvoin died in 2002. In addition to its main studios, there is a bureau in Gaylord on West Main Street. In the past, the station had also maintained newsrooms in Petoskey and Cadillac. The latter was closed in November 2008 after a reporter based there was laid-off.
On September 10, 2007, it began airing a midday broadcast weekdays at 11 after Today expanded to four hours. After WGTU consolidated its operations with WPBN, it became possible there would be full newscasts on that station. Since 1984, there had been virtually no local broadcasts except for weekday morning news, weather, and sports cut-ins at :25 and :55 past the hour during Good Morning America as well as a pre-recorded ten minute news and weather update seen weeknights at 11 known as ABC 29&8 News Break. The morning cut-ins were eventually dropped. Lori Puckett, WGTU's original only on-air personality who continues anchoring the weeknight update, appeared on WPBN in the local segments of the 2008 Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
This station currently airs its newscasts in 4x3 standard definition with pillarboxes (although some local commercials are in 16x9 widescreen). In January 2009, the station laid-off nine employees and canceled the weekday midday show. On September 13, 2010, WPBN finally took advantage of WGTU being housed in the same facility and launched a weeknight newscast at 6:30 on that channel. As a result, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer moved to 7. Known as UpNorthLive Tonight, the show features local news and weather but also goes into detail covering community events and various businesses. There is no sports report given in this broadcast. It originates from a secondary set.
- "7&4, Our Pride is Showing!" (1981-1982, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "We're 7&4, Just Watch Us Now!" (1982-1983, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "7&4 There, Be There!" (1983-1984, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "7&4, Let's All Be There!" (1984-1986, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "Come Home to 7&4" (1986-1987, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "Come on Home to 7&4" (1987-1988, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "Come Home to the Best, Only on 7&4" (1988-1990, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "TV 7&4, The Place to Be!" (1990-1992, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "Your Only 24-Hour Local News and Weather Source" (1990-1999)
- "It's A Whole New TV 7&4" (1992-1993, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "The Stars Are Back on TV 7&4" (1993-1994, localized version of NBC ad campaign)
- "Coverage You Can Count On" (1999-2008)
- "Fair. Accurate. Honest." (2008-)
- "On Air. On the Go. Get Connected."
- Melissa Smith - weekday mornings and "Matters of the Heart" segment producer
- Marc Schollett - weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6, and 11
- Diana Fairbanks - weeknights at 5, 5:30, 6, and 11
- "Buddy Check" segments producer
- Erika Erickson - weeknights at 6:30 (on WGTU)
- Brody O'Connell - weekends
7&4 News Storm Team Meteorologists
- Mark Watkins (AMS Seal of Approval) - Chief seen weeknights
- Joe Charlevoix - weekday mornings
- Alana Nehring - weekends and news reporter
Sports (both seen on Hometown Highlights)
- Giacomo Accardo - weeknights at 6 and 11
- sports reporter
- Harrison Beeby - sports reporter and news producer
- Doug Luciani - "Chamber Connection" segment producer
- Doug Stanton - "Writer's Minute" segment producer
- Jamie Kramer - weeknights at 6:30 (on WGTU)
- Bob Rhodes - Chief Photojournalist
- Kate Fox - multimedia journalist
- Andrew Keller - Gaylord Bureau
- Brody O'Connell
- Lauren Amstutz
Former on-air staff
- Alysha Palumbo - reporter (now at NECN)
- Dee Morrison - weekday mornings (now at WOOD-TV)
- Adam Bartelmay - weekday mornings and reporter (now at KTRV-TV)
- Stacey Skrysak - weekday mornings and 11 a.m. (now at KTRV)
- "Peninsula Kitchen" segment producer
- Kristin Maciorowski - weeknights at 5 and 5:30
- education reporter and "Buddy Check" segment producer
- Scott Michael Trager - now at WWTV/WWUP
- Matt Soltysiak - weekend sports anchor and sports reporter
- Bill Froehlich - weekends and reporter
- Greg MacMaster - chief, seen weeknights
- Rob Williams - chief, seen weeknights (now at WJHL-TV)
- Dave Fraser - weekday mornings (now at KRIS-TV)
- Matt Kirkwood - now at WOOD-TV
- Dave Barrons - retired from WWTV/WWUP on January 1, 2009
- Jeni DiPrizio - Petroskey Bureau (now at WPTY-TV)
- Rob Preston - Cadillac Bureau
- Judi Lykowski - Cadillac Bureau
- Courtney Rehmer - fill-in news anchor (now at WJZQ-FM 92.9)
- Jessica Leffler - now at WOOD-TV
- Michele McClintick - now at WIVB
- Sheena Elzie
- Dave Walker - deceased in November 2008
- Dave Fortin - retired in December 2006 after 42 years
- Doug DeYoung- Former News Director- currently at Traverse City Chamber
- Jennifer Borrasso - currently at WNEP-TV
- Halley Vogel - currently at WZZM-TV
- Anne Dill - now at WCIA
- Katie O'Mara - now at WNEM-TV