WIVB's transmitter (see WIVB-TV Tower) is located at 8242 Center Street in Colden, New York. It is one of several local Buffalo TV stations seen in Southern Ontario, including Toronto, which happens to be the channel's biggest target audience. It is also, due to the absence of a CBS affiliate in the Elmira market, the CBS affiliate for portions of Steuben County.
The station went on the air in May 13, 1948 as WBEN-TV, almost three years after its owner, the Buffalo Evening News applied for a license. It is the oldest television station in the market and one of the oldest in the nation. As the only television station in Buffalo for its first several years, it carried programming from all four networks of the time: CBS, NBC, ABC and the DuMont Television Network; however, it was a primary CBS affiliate due to then-sister station WBEN Radio's longtime affiliation with the CBS radio network. It lost NBC when WGR-TV (Channel 2, now WGRZ-TV) signed on in 1954, and ABC to WGR-TV when NBC purchased WBUF-TV (Channel 17) in 1956. WBEN-TV continued to share DuMont programming with WGR-TV until 1956, when DuMont ceased network operations.
The station operated out of studios on the eighteenth floor of Hotel Statler until 1960, when it moved to studios at 2077 Elmwood Avenue originally built for WBUF-TV, which had gone dark in 1958 two months prior to the sign-on of the present-day ABC affiliate, WKBW-TV (Channel 7). One early show, running from the late 1940s until 1970, was Meet the Millers featuring Bill and Mildred Miller and their cooking and household tips each weekday afternoon.
Another staple throughout the 1950s and early 60s was a short visit to the North Pole with Santa Claus and Forgetful the Elf. This was a daily show aired only during December and sponsored by Hengerer's Department Store.
When the Federal Communications Commission disallowed same market co-ownership of newspapers and broadcast licenses in the early 1970s, the combination of the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN-AM-TV was grandfathered under the new rule. However, the death in 1977 of Katherine Butler, the longtime owner and publisher of the Evening News, led to the sale of the newspaper to its current owner, Berkshire Hathaway. This sale brought an end to 104 years of Butler family ownership of the Evening News. As a result, the Buffalo media combination lost its grandfathered protection, and Berkshire Hathaway opted to keep the newspaper and sell off the broadcasting properties. The television station was sold to newspaper publisher Robert Howard of Oceanside, California for $25.5 million. The new owner changed Channel 4's callsign to WIVB, which stands for "We're 4 Buffalo". (The WBEN callsign remains on News Talk 930 AM radio, which had been sold to Larry Levite's Algonquin Broadcasting. That station is currently owned by Entercom Communications.) WIVB was then sold to King World Productions (at that time a separate entity from both Viacom and CBS) in 1988. LIN acquired the station in 1995.
In 2000, WIVB's parent company LIN bought the station then known as WNEQ (channel 23), the region's secondary PBS affiliate. In January 23, 2001, WNEQ was relaunched as WNLO, an independent station, and soon WIVB began airing a 10 p.m. newscast on WNLO. WNLO began serving as the region's UPN affiliate in 2002. (The previous UPN station WNGS is now a Retro Television Network affiliate, owned by Equity Broadcasting but operated by WKBW's owner Granite Broadcasting under an LMA.) In September 2006 the station became the CW Television Network affiliate in Buffalo, NY.
On May 18, 2007, LIN TV announced that it was exploring strategic alternatives that could result in the sale of the company.
WIVB has had significant contract disputes with both of the major cable television providers in the station's coverage area, Time Warner Cable (which covers most of Western New York) and Atlantic Broadband (which covers much of its Northern Pennsylvania area as well as the rest of the western New York region). In both cases, WIVB is demanding a rights fee of 25 cents per month per subscriber (in addition to another 25 cents for sister station WNLO) and is refusing to allow the carriers the right to carry the signal. The current agreement with Time Warner expired October 2, 2008 and negotiations are still underway.
WIVB-TV, along with sister station WNLO-TV, was taken off Time Warner Cable at 12:30 AM the morning of October 3, 2008 (replaced with CBS College Sports and HBO Family respectively in the channel lineup), when an agreement between LIN Television and Time Warner Cable could not be reached. According to WIVB-TV News, LIN Television and Time Warner Cable are still trying to work on a deal; Time Warner Cable says negotiations broke off at the time of the shutoff. Since the change, WIVB has openly advocated for Time Warner customers to switch to DISH Network. Time Warner, in turn, has been giving away free antennas and struck a deal with the Buffalo Bills Radio Network to simulcast the audio of the games on channel 4.
There is no agreement or negotiation with Atlantic Broadband, but that company continues to retransmit WIVB without permission.
As of late, rival WGRZ-TV, which has also had strong ratings in the market, has begun to challenge WIVB's dominance, specifically in the 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. newscasts Nielsen's May 2007 sweeps data. By July 2007, WGRZ's morning show was soundly beating WIVB's Wake Up! in the ratings, likely because WGRZ picked up former WIVB reporter Kevin O'Neill, AKA "The Why Guy." WIVB has since reclaimed the top position in the November 2007 sweeps, although still in a statistical tie with WGRZ. Both WGRZ and WIVB are among the highest rated stations in the country and the two stations are fiercely competitive.
The station and its staff have won several Emmy awards including one in 1999.
WIVB chief meteorologist Don Paul has recently been voted Buffalo's favorite television personality, according to advertisements run on the station.
WIVB is the only WNY news station to have 4 full time meteorologists on duty.