DuMont origins (1949–1954)
The station went on the air on January 11, 1949, as WDTV ("W DuMont TeleVision") on channel 3; it was owned and operated by the DuMont Television Network. It was the 51st television station in the U.S., the third and last DuMont-owned station to sign on the air, behind WABD (now WNYW) in New York City and WTTG in Washington, D.C., and the first owned-and-operated station in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. To mark the occasion, a live television special aired that day from 8:30 to 11 p.m. ET on WDTV, which began with a one-hour local program broadcast from Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. The remainder of the show featured live segments from DuMont, CBS, NBC, and ABC with Arthur Godfrey, Milton Berle, DuMont host Ted Steele, and many other celebrities.
The station also represented a milestone in the television industry, providing the link between the Midwestern and East Coast stations which included 13 other cities able to receive live telecasts from Boston to St. Louis for the first time.. WDTV was one of the last stations to receive a construction permit before the Federal Communications Commission-imposed four-year freeze on new television station licenses.
When the release of the FCC's Sixth Report and Order ended the license freeze in 1952, DuMont was forced to give up its channel 3 allocation to alleviate interference with nearby stations broadcasting on the frequency, notably NBC-owned WNBK (now WKYC) in Cleveland, who itself moved to the frequency to avoid interference with stations in Columbus and Detroit. WDTV moved its facilities to channel 2 on November 23, 1952; WPSU-TV would later sign on with the channel 3 frequency for the Johnstown/Altoona market. Shortly after moving, it was the first station in the country to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, advertising that its 1:00-7:00 a.m. Swing Shift Theatre served the "200,000 workers [in their viewing area] who finish shift work at midnight." DuMont's network of stations on coaxial cable stretched from Boston to St. Louis. These stations were linked together via AT&T's coaxial cable feed with the sign-on of WDTV allowing the network to broadcast live programming to all the stations at the same time. Stations not yet connected to the coaxial cable received kinescope recordings via physical delivery.
The DuMont Television Network in 1949.
Dealing with competition
Until the end of the freeze, WDTV's only competition came in the form of distant signals from stations in Johnstown, Altoona, Wheeling and Youngstown. However, Pittsburgh saw two UHF stations launch during 1953—ABC affiliate WENS-TV (channel 16, later to become WINP-TV), and WKJF-TV (channel 53, later to become WPGH-TV), an independent station. At the time, UHF stations could not be viewed without the aid of an expensive, set-top converter, and the picture quality was marginal at best with one. UHF stations in the area faced an additional problem because Pittsburgh is located in a somewhat rugged dissected plateau, and the reception of UHF stations is usually poor in such terrain. These factors played a role in the short-lived existences of both WKJF and WENS.
Although Pittsburgh was the sixth largest market in the country (behind New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington/Baltimore), the other VHF stations in town were slow to develop. This was because the major cities in the Upper Ohio Valley are so close together that they must share the VHF band. After the FCC lifted the license freeze in 1952, it refused to grant any new commercial VHF construction permits to Pittsburgh in order to give the smaller cities in the area a chance to get on the air. WDTV had a de facto monopoly on Pittsburgh television. Like its sister stations WABD and WTTG, it was far stronger than the DuMont network as a whole. According to network general manager Ted Bergmann, WDTV brought in $4 million a year, which was more than enough to keep the network afloat. Owning the only readily viewable station in such a large market gave DuMont considerable leverage in getting its programs cleared in large markets where it did not have an affiliate. As CBS, NBC and ABC had secondary affiliations with WDTV, this was a strong incentive to stations in large markets to clear DuMont's programs or risk losing valuable advertising in the sixth-largest market. Also, NBC affiliates from Johnstown (WJAC-TV) and Wheeling (WTRF-TV, itself now affiliated with CBS) were able to be received in Pittsburgh and a CBS affiliate from Steubenville, Ohio (WSTV-TV, now NBC affiliate WTOV-TV) was also able to be received there as well. CBS, in fact, actually attempted to purchase WSTV-TV's license before it went on the air and move its license to Pittsburgh due to the close proximity between Pittsburgh and Steubenville (At the time less than an hour apart by car; the completion of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway in 1964 reduced that time to about a half-hour driving time today), but the FCC turned CBS down. The Wheeling/Steubenville TV market, despite its very close proximity to Pittsburgh and overlapping signals, remains a separate market by FCC standards today.
WDTV aired all DuMont network shows live and "cherry-picked" the best shows from the other networks, airing them on kinescope on an every-other-week basis. WDTV's sign-on was also significant because it was now possible to feed live programs from the East to the Midwest and vice versa. In fact, its second broadcast was the activation of the coaxial cable linking New York City and Chicago. It would be another two years before the West Coast received live programming, but this was the beginning of the modern era of network television.
As KDKA-TV (1954–present)
KDKA-TV's studio building at One Gateway Center
in Pittsburgh. The station has been housed in this facility since 1956.
By 1954, DuMont was in serious financial trouble. Paramount Pictures, which owned a stake in DuMont, vetoed a merger with ABC, who had merged with Paramount's former theater division United Paramount Theaters a year before. A few years earlier, the FCC had ruled that Paramount controlled DuMont and there were still lingering questions about whether UPT had actually broken off from Paramount. Paramount did not want to risk the FCC's wrath.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Corporation had been competing with local politicians to acquire the non-commercial channel 13 license from the FCC, as no other Pittsburgh-allocated VHF station would be signing on for the foreseeable future. After launching WBZ-TV in Boston in 1948 and purchasing two other television stations, Westinghouse was growing impatient with not having a station in its own home market. Before the freeze, Westinghouse was a shoo-in for the channel 6 license that would later be given to WJAC-TV in Johnstown after that station gave up the channel 13 allocation to Pittsburgh as part of the FCC's reallocation plan. Westinghouse later offered a compromise plan to the FCC, in which the Commission would grant Westinghouse the channel 13 license; Westinghouse would then "share" the facility with the educational licensee. Finding the terms unacceptable, Pittsburgh attorney Leland Hazard called Westinghouse CEO Gwilym Price to ask him if he should give up on his fight for public television. Price said that Hazard should keep fighting for it, giving Westinghouse backing for the station that would eventually become WQED.
Westinghouse then turned its attention to WDTV, offering DuMont a then-record $9.75 million for the station in late 1954. Desperate for cash, DuMont promptly accepted Westinghouse's offer. While the sale gave DuMont a short-term cash infusion, it eliminated DuMont's leverage in getting clearances in other major markets. Within two years, the DuMont network was no more. After the sale closed in January 1955, Westinghouse changed WDTV's call letters to KDKA-TV, after Westinghouse's pioneering radio station KDKA (1020 AM). As such, it became one of the few stations east of the Mississippi River with a "K" call sign. The WDTV calls now reside on a CBS affiliate located 130 miles (209 km) south of Pittsburgh in Weston, West Virginia, which is unrelated to the current KDKA-TV. That station, which signed on after KDKA-TV adopted its current callsign, adopted those calls "in honor" of KDKA-TV.
As KDKA radio had long been an affiliate of the NBC Blue Network (Westinghouse was a co-founder of RCA, NBC's then-parent company), it was expected that KDKA-TV would eventually become a primary affiliate of the NBC television network. But the network was seeking to purchase Westinghouse's Philadelphia stations, KYW radio and WPTZ (now KYW-TV). When Westinghouse balked, NBC threatened to pull its programming from WPTZ and Boston's WBZ-TV unless Westinghouse agreed to trade its Philadelphia properties for NBC's radio and television properties in Cleveland. (Related to the trade, Westinghouse received a cross-station waiver from the FCC to own the Cleveland properties due to overlapping signals with KDKA radio and channel 2.) The decision would lead to an acrimonious relationship between Westinghouse and NBC in later years. Two years after the ownership change, channel 2 became a primary affiliate of the higher-rated CBS network instead. KDKA-TV retained secondary affiliations with NBC until WIIC-TV (channel 11, now WPXI) signed on in 1957, and ABC until WTAE-TV (channel 4) signed on in 1958. Despite the ending of its commercial VHF monopoly, KDKA-TV did welcome competitor WIIC-TV on the air. KDKA-TV became the flagship station of Westinghouse's broadcasting arm, Group W. During the late 1950s, KDKA-TV was briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network, sharing the affiliation with WTAE-TV, WIIC-TV, and WQED. On November 22, 1963, newscaster Bill Burns provided almost three hours of live coverage after the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.
KDKA-TV's Current News Open
In 1994, Westinghouse was looking to make a group-wide affiliation deal for its stations as part of a larger plan to transform itself into a major media conglomerate. Westinghouse negotiated with NBC and CBS for a deal. Had Westinghouse signed with NBC, KDKA-TV would affiliate itself with NBC 40 years after passing up the network, with the CBS affiliation going to WPXI, who had originally intended to affiliate itself with CBS until the NBC-Westinghouse feud started as well as channel 11's own sign-on problems in the 1950s. While NBC (the highest-rated network during much of the 1980s and 1990s) offered more money, CBS was interested in the programming opportunities Westinghouse offered, due to its own stagnation in programming at the time. CBS also offered a potential merger of their respective radio networks down the road (which ultimately happened), while NBC had abandoned radio in 1987. Ultimately, Westinghouse signed a long-term deal with CBS to convert the entire five-station Group W television unit to a group-wide CBS affiliation, making the Pittsburgh market one of the few major markets not to be affected by the 1994 United States broadcast TV realignment.
In 1995, Westinghouse acquired CBS, making KDKA-TV a CBS owned-and-operated station, after four decades as being simply a CBS affiliate. In 1997, Westinghouse became CBS Corporation, which would then merge with Viacom (which, ironically, has been Paramount's parent since 1994) in 2000, making KDKA-TV a sister station with Pittsburgh UPN affiliate WNPA-TV (channel 19, now CW station WPCW). Five years later, Viacom became the new CBS Corporation and spun off a new Viacom.
In August 2007, KDKA-TV unveiled a new image campaign, entitled "Your Home," with music and lyrics performed by singer-songwriter Bill Deasy. The promo features scenes of Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas, as well as three of the station's personalites. In September 2007, the station unveiled another promo featuring the Joe Grushecky song "Coming Home." Later, a third spot, "Long Way Home," was introduced, featuring the voice of Kelsey Friday.
On February 2, 2017, CBS agreed to sell CBS Radio to Entercom, currently the fourth-largest radio broadcasting company in the United States. The sale was completed on November 17, 2017, and was conducted using a Reverse Morris Trust so that it was tax-free. While CBS shareholders retain a 72% ownership stake in the combined company, Entercom is the surviving entity, with KDKA radio and its sister stations now separated from KDKA-TV, though the three stations maintain a strong news and content sharing agreement.