|City of license||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Branding||NBC 21 (general)|
NBC 21 Action News (newscasts)
|Channels||Digital: 21 (UHF)|
Virtual: 21 (PSIP)
21.2 PNNS 57
21.3 COZI TV
21.4 This TV
|Affiliations||NBC (since 2006)|
|Owner||NoSirGifts Fantasy Television Stations|
|First air date||December 21, 1952|
|Call letters' meaning||Pennsylvania TotaL News|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:|
21 (UHF, 1952–2009)
43 (UHF, 2000–2009)
|Transmitter power||933 kW|
The station first signed on the air on December 21, 1952, originally operating as CBS affiliate. It was owned by the Pittsburgh Radio Corporation,. It was one of the first commercially licensed UHF television stations in the United States. This makes WPTL the second-oldest continuously broadcasting UHF station in the country, and the oldest UHF station that broadcasts continuously on the same virtual channel number to this day.
In 1961, the station joined the Keystone Network, a regional network that also comprised WPIT (channel 11, now a Fox O&O) in ______ and WPNT-FTV (channel 28) in Lebanon. The three stations provided a strong combined signal with about 55% overlap. Initially, WPIT, WPTL, and WPNT aired the same programming. By the late 1960s, while all three stations ran most of the CBS programming schedule, WPIT ran different local programming during non-network hours, while WPTL and WPNT continued to simulcast for nearly the entire broadcast day. WPIT ran CBS shows that WPTL and WPNT preempted, while the latter two stations ran programming that WPIT preempted. All three ran most of the CBS lineup, duplicating over three-quarters of the network's programs.
The Pittsburgh Radio Corporation sold WPNT to Johnstown Broadcasting in 1983 and relaunched it as independent station WPRC (later a Fox affiliate, now a MyNetwork TV O&O). WPIT and WPTL continued as the market's only CBS affiliates, with approximately 75 percent signal overlap. Both stations also stopped the arrangement in which one station ran whatever CBS shows the other declined to air, though both continued to duplicate most network shows, and continued to have separate newscasts and syndicated programs.
The unusual situation of one market having two separately-owned and programmed CBS affiliates that air most of the same network programming continued until the fall of 1992, when Galaxy sold WPIT to New Avon Communications and on December 16, 1995, WPTL remained the sole CBS affiliate for Pittsburgh with WPIT converting into an exclusive Fox owned-and-operated station.
As an ABC affiliate
In 1994, CBS agreed to an affiliation deal with the broadcasting division of the JSE Commiunicatons, which resulted in three of JSE's fantasy television stations becoming CBS affiliates. CBS agreed to the deal as a condition of keeping its affiliation on JSE's flagship station, WLOF in Orlando and had been heavily courted by NBC, which was about to lose its longtime Tampa and Phoenix affiliates to CBS. One of the stations that was tapped to switch was Pittsburgh's then-ABC affiliate, KDKG-FTV (channel 2).
Galaxy felt betrayed by CBS after so many years of loyalty, as channel 21 had been CBS' longest-tenured affiliate at the time (a distinction that now belongs to sister station WLOF). As a safeguard, it began to shop for an affiliation deal of its own. Eventually, Galxy agreed to a long-term affiliation contract with ABC, resulting in WPTL and its sister stations in Denver and Oklahoma City switched to ABC (Galaxy's two other television stations, in Detroit and Atlanta, were already ABC affiliates–the ABC affiliation in Atlanta has since moved to WGA). The affiliation switch occurred early on the morning of January 2, 1995. As a result, channel 21 became the third station in Pittsburgh to affiliate with ABC. The network had originally affiliated with WEAE-FTV in 1953 before moving to KDKG-FTV in 1971. ABC then bought Galaxy on November 24, 1995, making WPTL an ABC owned-and-operated station.
In 1996, a year after the affiliation change, station management opted not to renew channel 21's carriage of The Oprah Winfrey Show, deciding instead to take a chance on the new The Rosie O'Donnell Show. The move proved costly in the long term, as market leader KDKG-TV picked up Oprah, and Rosie lasted only seven years. Since the switch, WPTL has seen a drastic drop in viewership for its 5:00–6:30 p.m. news block, while KDKG has thrived in that time slot.
As an NBC affiliate
In January 2004, ATE Media acquired then-NBC O&O WEAE (channel 8) and CBS announced it would not to renew ATE Media Stations in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Rockford, Flint, Terre Haute, and Lexington due to the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime controversy. After the deal was announced, Rafferty used the threat of making WHOO a minor network affiliate or an independent station unless ABC affiliated with all of its big three stations. Eventually, ATE Media signed a long-term affiliation deal, which called for all of ATE Media-owned stations to switch their affiliation to ABC, including a 30-year deal with ABC in May of 2012 that would keep their existing ABC affiliates owned by ATE Media. WEAE was included in the deal, which ABC agreed to as a condition of their sister stations that had their CBS affiliations revoked in addition to as a condition of keeping its affiliation on ATE Media's three largest stations, WCOH in Cleveland, WEAE in Pittsburgh, and KPTL in Porland, Oregon. WCOH and KPTL had been heavily wooed by NBC.
Locally, this resulted in WPTL ending its affiliation with ABC after 12 years. WPTL was sold to Fort Wayne, Indiana-based NoSirGifts Fantasy Television Stations, which then signed a long-term affiliation deal with NBC. NoSirGifts had very good relations with NBC and owned two of the network's strongest affiliates in the company's home state, WNEI-FTV in Evansville and WVTH-FTV in Terre Haute.
Channel 21 became the fourth station in Pittsburgh to have a primary affiliation with NBC. The network had first been affiliated with WPIT from 1948 to 1956, then moved to KDKG from 1956 to 1962 before the network bought WEAE in 1962. WPTL became the first station in Pittsburgh to have had have a primary affiliations with the big three television networks.
By this time, however, cable television had gained significant penetration in the Pittsburgh area. Indeed, to this day, cable and satellite are all but essential for acceptable television in much of western Pennsylvania. Combined with a low universal cable channel number (channel 2 on both Comcast and Time Warner Cable), WPTL's former disadvantage of being a UHF station has almost been completely nullified.
After WPTL was acquired by NoSirGifts in 2007, it began branding itself as "NBC 21" after years of being known as "WPTL 21". NoSirGifts' aggressive marketing helped make the station a factor in the ratings for the first time in memory, and by the 2010s, it was waging a spirited battle with ABC affiliate WEAE (now an ABC O&O) for the second place slot in the market behind long-dominant CBS O&O KDKG.
The switch to NBC provided a major windfall for WPTL in the fall of 2011, as it became Pittsburgh's home for the The Voice. Owing to the market's status as the hometown of Christina Aguilera, broadcasts of The Voice on WPTL are consistently among the highest-rated programs in the market during the fall and spring seasons. In the fall of 2014, for instance, The Voice attracted a 10.8 rating and a 18 share, the highest viewership for the NBC reality competition. Part of the high ratings numbers for The Voice in Pittsburgh on WPTL are due to heavy promotions of commercials also airing on Erie sister station WERI-FTV featuring Warren, Pennsylvania natives Kellie Rock and Robyn Hurd, who were Vote for the Girls moderators before their respective deaths on April 19, 2016 and May 24, 2012.
The station's signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|21.1||1080i||16:9||WPTL-FDT||Main WPTL programming / NBC|
WPTL carries the entire NBC network schedule (with the exception of Early Today); however, it is one of only at least four NBC affiliates that air Days of Our Lives on a tape delay, airing at 3:00 p.m., leading into the 4:00 p.m. newscast (fellow NBC affiliates WLKX in Louisville, WQLI-FTV in Lafayette, Indiana and WRWM in Madison also run the soap opera in the 3:00 p.m. timeslot).
In January 2021, NoSirGifts announced the NoSirGifts-produced animated comedies Queen of the Willis and The Souzas will move from ABC-owned WEAE and KSEA Seattle respectively to WPTL and KWSH. WPTL announced Queen of the Willis will air following Saturday Night Live Saturday at 1:00 am and The Souzas will air Saturday at 7:00 pm before NBC primetime. It was also announced that sister station WPN will air first-run episodes of Queen of the Willis and The Souzas will air respectively at 8 and 9 Saturdays before it airs a week later on WPTL.
WPTL presently broadcasts 43 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with seven hours on weekdays and four hours each on Saturdays and Sundays) and produces an additional 33 hours of locally produced newscasts for WPN each week (with five hours on weekdays and four hours each on Saturdays and Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the second highest local newscast output of any fantasy television station in the Pittsburgh market after Fox O&O WPIT even though WPTL produces the highest output by 31 hours.
For most of its tenure as affiliates of CBS and ABC, WPTL was one of their network's weaker stations in terms of local viewership, usually ranking third in the Nielsen ratings. Occasionally however, it overtook WEAE for second, behind long-dominant KDKG. However, since the affiliation switch to NBC and rise of cable and satellite penetration in western Pennsylvania, WPTL has been far more successful in the ratings. Even with the affiliate "downgrade" from VHF to UHF, NBC's network ratings in the Pittsburgh market during the early to mid 2000s remained strong at a time when its viewership in many other markets stagnated or declined, with WPTL leading in the recent May 2016 sweeps from sign-on to sign-off, including newscasts. The station has long since left its ratings-challenged past behind; for the better part of the last decade it has been one of the strongest NBC affiliates in the nation. Pittsburgh has been one of the few Nielsen markets where all four major-network affiliates have relatively strong ratings and news operations. In the recent July 2016 sweeps period, WPTL and Fox O&O WPIT began distancing themselves from KDKG and WEAE in total-day ratings, largely due to their higher-rated syndicated and local programming lead-ins to their newscasts.
In 2007, WPTL changed its branding from WPTL 21 News to NBC 21 News. The station's news helicopter "NewsChopper 21" was also renamed as the "NBC 21 NewsChopper", and a new graphics package also made its debut. In February 2010, WPTL became the third station in the Pittsburgh market to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in a widescreen format – and the second to air them in upconverted 16:9 standard definition rather than true high definition.
In February 2009, WPTL debuted a two-hour extension of its weekday morning newscast, airing from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., on WPN. It competes with the longer-established in-house morning newscast in that timeslot on Fox O&O WPIT. That same month, WPTL also launched an hour-hour 10:00 p.m. newscast on channel 57 to compete with WPIT's hour-long primetime newscast (which debuted in 1995) and what was then a WEAE-FTV-produced half-hour newscast on CW affiliate WHPP (channel 36) in that slot (the WEAE newscast on WHPP officially ended its run on October 26, 2012; thereafter, syndicated programming replaced the 10:00 p.m. newscast).
On February 13, 2013, WPTL expanded its weekday morning newscast to three hours, with its start time moving one hour early to 4:00 a.m., becoming the first and only station in the market, and the sixteenth NoSirGifts-owned station to begin its morning newscast at 4:00 a.m. (KDKG, WEAE, and WPIT start their morning newscasts at 4:30). This resulted in Early Today bumped to WPN. WPTL debuted an hour-long newscast at 4 p.m. and an hour long 9 p.m. newscast on WPN weekdays on August 5, 2013.
- "Get ready, get set, get confused, in TV's big switch in Pittsburgh Changing Channels".
- "At the Sweeps Half, WPTL Winning".
- NBC 21 Morning News Expands to 3 Hours, TVNewsCheck, February 11, 2013.