WPRI-TV, channel 12, is the CBS-affiliated television station for the state of Rhode Island and Bristol County, Massachusetts, licensed to Providence, Rhode Island. Its transmitter is located on Homestead Avenue in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. WPRI is the flagship of LIN TV and sister station to primary Fox and secondary MyNetworkTV affiliate WNAC-TV. The two stations share studios on Catamore Boulevard in East Providence. Even though WPRI is the flagship of LIN TV, its master control is located at a hub facility at NBC affiliate WWLP in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
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Originally, WPRO-TV's studios were on the top floor of 24 Mason Street in downtown Providence, but in the early-1970s, the station moved to its current home in East Providence. Although it was a CBS affiliate, it also carried several ABC shows as well. ABC had an affiliate in Rhode Island, WNET-TV (which had signed on two years before WPRO), but ABC allowed WPRO to air some of its higher-rated programs. Within a year, WNET went dark. Legendary Providence radio personality Salty Brine had a daily children's show on WPRO-TV. News personalities included Mort Blender and Walter Cryan while the beloved Hank Bouchard did a multitude of on-air duties. That included announcing, hosting programs, and giving the weather report.
Cherry & Webb sold WPRO-AM-FM-TV to Albany, New York-based Captial Cities Television Corporation, predecessor of Capital Cities Communications, in 1959. WPRO-TV was then sold to Poole Broadcasting (owners of WJRT-TV in Flint, Michigan) on June 16, 1967. This sale was necessary because CapCities had bought KTRK-TV in Houston, Texas, which left it one VHF station over the FCC's ownership limit of the time. Poole Broadcasting then changed WPRO-TV's call letters to the present WPRI-TV. It wanted to trade on the well-known WPRO calls and also realized that "PRI" could stand for Providence, Rhode Island.
Poole retained ownership until 1977 when it sold its three television stations (WPRI, WJRT, and WTEN in Albany, New York) to Knight-Ridder Broadcasting. WPRI swapped affiliations with WTEV (channel 6, now WLNE-TV) and became an ABC affiliate after this sale as a result of a corporate affiliation deal between ABC and Knight-Ridder. In 1989, Knight-Ridder left the broadcasting business, selling WPRI and WTKR in Norfolk, Virginia to Narragansett Television LP, a locally based firm.
Narragansett Television sold WPRI to CBS in 1995, making it a CBS owned and operated station. At midnight on September 10, 1995, WPRI reversed the 1977 swap with WLNE and officially rejoined CBS. WPRI aired a vigorous promotion called "Survive the Switch" so television viewers in Providence would be prepared for this changeover.
In November 1995, Westinghouse Electric Corporation bought CBS for approximately $ 6 billion dollars. The merger was finalized in early 1996. Westinghouse already owned WBZ-TV in Boston. WPRI's city-grade signal, like most of the other major Rhode Island stations, decently covers most of the Boston area. Meanwhile, WBZ-TV's city-grade signal decently covers nearly all of Rhode Island. At the time, the FCC normally did not allow common ownership of stations with overlapping signals and would not even consider a waiver for stations with overlapping city-grade coverage. CBS opted to keep WBZ-TV and sell WPRI to Clear Channel Communications on July 1, 1996 after less than 10 months of ownership.
In 2000, Clear Channel was forced to sell WPRI as a condition of being allowed to buy additional radio stations in the Providence market. Sunrise Television bought WPRI in early-2001 for $50 million. Sunrise merged with LIN TV in May 2002, and as a result, WPRI became the flagship station of LIN TV. In November 2006, WPRI renewed its broadcasting license with the FCC. On May 18, 2007, LIN TV announced that it was exploring strategic alternatives that could result in the sale of the company.
In late-1997, Argyle merged with Hearst Broadcasting, owner of ABC affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston. Hearst was forced to trade WNAC together with WDTN in Dayton, Ohio to Sunrise Television in return for WPTZ in Plattsburgh, New York, WNNE in Hartford, Vermont and KSBW in Salinas, California because of FCC rules forbidding common ownership of two stations with overlapping city-grade signals--the same rules that forced CBS to sell WPRI two years earlier. When Sunrise bought WPRI from Clear Channel in early-2001, WNAC was sold to LIN TV due to FCC regulations forbidding common ownership of two of the four highest-rated stations in the same market. In this case, WNAC cannot be co-owned directly with WPRI.
However, LIN TV was forced to put WNAC back on the market almost as soon as it closed on the station's purchase due to the ownership structures of Sunrise and LIN TV. Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst (now HM Capital Partners), a private-equity firm co-founded by Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks, was (and still is) majority owner of LIN TV. At the same time, HMTF also controlled a large block of Sunrise stock. The FCC ruled that Hicks, Muse controlled enough Sunrise stock that Sunrise could not own any stations in markets where LIN TV owned a station as well.
Finally, in April 2002, LIN TV sold WNAC to Super Towers Inc. (d/b/a WNAC, LLC), a company owned by Timothy Sheehan, brother-in-law of former LIN TV vice president Paul Karpowicz. This sale allowed the merger between Sunrise and LIN TV to be completed the following month. LIN TV continues to operate WNAC today under the same LMA that it inherited from Sunrise.
In February 2008, WPRI agreed to pay of $30 million dollars to settle a lawsuit against against the station, parent company LIN TV and Butler. Several families and survivors of the nightclub fire claimed that Butler stood in a doorway and continued to record footage rather than help people escape. The lawsuit alleged that Butler's actions caused more people to die. WPRI was there filming a story on nightclub safety a week after the tragic events at the E-2 Nightclub in Chicago.
Since at least the 1980s, WPRI has used the Eyewitness News branding for its newscasts. For the most part, the station has been runner-up in the ratings to WJAR. More recently however, the station has mounted a spirited challenge to WJAR's longtime dominance. For a period in late-2007, WPRI ranked higher in the weeknight 5 and 11 o'clock timeslots. Currently, the weeknight 11 o'clock news is gaining popularity. When WNAC moved into WPRI's studios, it resulted in a WPRI-produced 10 P.M. newscast on that station. It was the market's second 10 o'clock news after the WJAR-produced WLWC effort which had started nearly a year prior. At some point in time, an hour-long extension of WPRI's weekday morning news at 7 was added to WNAC.
Although the morning news was eventually canceled, the 10 o'clock newscast remains to this day. In 2004, WPRI launched weekend morning news. There is a 24-hour weather channel, called Eyewitness News Pinpoint Weather Station, on WNAC's second digital subchannel and Cox digital cable channel 125. When the weather channel was first established, it also aired on WPRI's second digital subchannel. In 2007, new FCC regulations for educational programing forced the two stations to make the weather channel digital cable-only. It was eventually brought back to WNAC-DT2. Overnight on the weekends, when the main channels of WPRI and WNAC sign off, they simulcast the 24-hour weather channel.
The station shares its resources with Boston's CBS affiliate, WBZ-TV, for news coverage of southeastern Massachusetts. The weekday Noon news can be viewed live on WPRI's website. The station operates a Bell 206L3 Long Ranger helicopter known as "News Chopper 12". It is shared with sister stations WTNH and WCTX in New Haven, Connecticut. Although not owned by the same company, WPRI has a news partnership with The Providence Journal (a Belo-owned newspaper). WPRI operates its own weather radar, known as "Live Pinpoint Doppler 12", in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The station also uses live, NOAA National Weather Service radar data from several regional sites. WPRI operates a weather vehicle that is known as the "Pinpoint Weather Mobile". The station introduced a new news set that included updated graphics on March 17, 2008.
Eyewitness News Pinpoint Weather Team