In the few areas of the eastern United States where ABC programming is not available over-the-air, WABC-TV is seen via satellite through Dish Network and DirecTV, which also distributes the station's signal to Latin America.
On September 11, 2001, the transmitter facilities of WABC-TV, as well as eight other local television stations and several radio stations, were destroyed when two hijacked airplanes crashed into and destroyed the World Trade Center towers. In the immediate aftermath, WABC-TV fed its signal to several UHF stations that were still broadcasting (notably WNYE-TV), before establishing temporary facilities in Alpine, New Jersey. The station eventually established transmission facilities at the Empire State Building.
Due to the fire, channel 7 broadcasted Eyewitness News from the newsroom's update desk, while Live with Regis and Kelly, whose set was also affected, shared a studio with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Starting with the 5:00 p.m. newscast on June 20, 2007, the station resumed Eyewitness News and Live... broadcasts from their main studios.
|7.1 / 45.1||WABC-DT|
|7.2 / 45.2||WABC Plus|
|7.3 / 45.3||Eyewitness News Now|
WABC-TV is best known for popularizing the Eyewitness News format, in which reporters present their stories directly to the viewers. News director Al Primo brought the format to WABC-TV in 1968 from KYW-TV in Philadelphia, but added a twist -- a degree of conversational chatter among the anchors, known as "happy talk." Primo used the "Tar Sequence" cue from the musical score from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, composed by Lalo Schifrin, as the theme music. The score included a telegraphic-like melody appropriate for a newscast. Both the Eyewitness News format and theme music were quickly adopted by three of ABC's other large market owned-and-operated stations -- WLS-TV in Chicago, KABC-TV in Los Angeles, and KGO-TV in San Francisco.
The format quickly rejuvenated a station that had long been an also-ran to WCBS-TV and WNBC-TV. Within a year, channel 7 had shot to first place in the ratings for the first time in its history, displacing longtime leader WCBS-TV. It spent most of the decade going back and forth with WCBS-TV for first place. For a time in the 1980s, it fell into last place, but still fought with WNBC-TV for second place. In 1985, the station lured WLS-TV's news director, Bill Applegate, from Chicago to New York. Applegate had taken WLS-TV from last to first in just two years, and ABC hoped he could work the same magic at the flagship station. Their hopes were rewarded in 1987, when channel 7 surged back into first place. It has been the ratings leader in New York since then, and has grown to become the most watched broadcast television station in the United States.
For eighteen years, Roger Grimsby was the face of Eyewitness News. He was known for his opening tagline, "Good Evening, I'm Roger Grimsby, here now the news" and his closing line, "Hoping your news is good news, I'm Roger Grimsby." His April 16, 1986 firing by Applegate drew considerable fire, and he was quickly hired by rival WNBC-TV. His most famous partner at the anchor desk was Bill Beutel, who had previously anchored at channel 7 from 1962 to 1968, before spending two years as the network's London bureau chief. Beutel stepped down from the anchor desk in 2001, two years before his retirement, which concluded the longest tenure for a main anchor in New York television history.
While banter between anchors is still part of the 5:00 a.m. and Noon weekday broadcasts, the modern-day Eyewitness News has abandoned much of the chattiness of their predecessors. WABC's news department is respected for its straight-forward presentation (especially during breaking news). For the last decade, it has waged a spirited battle for first place with WNBC, but for most of the time has held onto the lead, helped in part by lead-ins from highly-rated talk and entertainment shows -- since December 1986 it has been The Oprah Winfrey Show at 4:00 p.m., and its strong ratings at helps the 5:00 p.m. newscast.
WABC-TV cooperates with sister station WPVI-TV in Philadelphia -- popularizer of the Action News format -- in the production and broadcast of statewide New Jersey political debates. When the two stations broadcast a statewide office debate, such as for Governor or U.S. Senate, they will pool resources and have anchors or reporters from both stations participate in the debate. Additionally, the two stations cooperate in coverage of news from New Jersey where their markets overlap, sharing reporters, live trucks, and helicopters.
Eyewitness News airs four and half hours daily, three hours on Saturdays and four hours on Sunday. The newscasts are replayed on one of channel 7's digital subchannels, which also carries a local weather and news channel. WABC-TV's website has a link for live streaming video of "Eyewitness News Now", which offers live local and national weather updated from AccuWeather. Local news headlines and updates are also provided. The format of "Eyewitness News Now" is similar to NBC Weather Plus.
As part of ABC's expansion program, initiated in 1977, ABC built 7 Lincoln Square on the southeast corner of West 67th Street and Columbus Avenue, on a site of an abandoned moving and storage warehouse. At about the same time, construction was started at 30 West 67th Street, on the site of a former parking lot. Both buildings were completed in June 1979 and WABC-TV moved their offices from 77 West 66th Street to 7 Lincoln Square.
The show began as a local morning show in 1983, aptly titled The Morning Show (using the "Circle 7" logo in the actual text for one of the "o"s) and was originally hosted by Regis Philbin and Cyndy Garvey. In 1985, Kathie Lee Johnson (who would marry Frank Gifford a year later) became Philbin's co-host. Buena Vista Television (now Disney-ABC Domestic Television) began syndicating the show in 1988 as Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. Kathie Lee left the show in 2000 and was eventually replaced by current host Kelly Ripa. The franchise will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2008.