The Market

NECN muscled its way into a crowded market. In 1992, the three traditional network affiliates plus three commercial UHF channels—25, 38, and 56—all competed for viewers in the country’s seventh largest TV market.[13] For years, Channel 4 (WBZ-TV) had been number one, but beginning in 1978 Channel 5 topped the ratings. Channel 5 was created in 1972 by business and educational leaders who had acquired the license for the station in part by vowing to deliver high-quality programming with an emphasis on local news. Channel 5’s newscasts were, at least by the standards of TV journalism, sober and substantive. “Channel 5 was clearly driving the market,” said the Globe.[14] “Responding to WCVB’s success, the Channel 4 newscast got increasingly competitive and serious,” while the third network affiliate, Channel 7 (WHDH), “tried any number of formats to compete with the other two, but it was always a matter of one step forward and one step back for that station.”

But the Sunbeam Corporation took over Channel 7 in 1993 and brought with it a fast-paced, glitzy, graphic-heavy style that had helped to turn around the fortunes of news stations in other cities. Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, fresh off a teaching stint in Florida, had seen the Sunbeam station in Miami and expressed concern about its foray into Boston even before the new station had launched. Partly in response to Dukakis, the president of Sunbeam promised a toned-down version of its standard newscast, but as it turned out, there was a marked difference between the new Channel 7 and the other two channels. The Globe described the revamped Channel 7 as a “station that thinks you’re a no-brainer or a voyeur, with little interest in the New England area except the body count, and a good deal of interest in People magazine celebrity reportage.”[15]

Over the next couple of years, as Channel 7 moved from a distant third to a close third, it seemed to influence the coverage of its competitors. Stories on the other two stations, observers agreed, became shorter and more sensationalistic. Critics of this trend included Kravetz, NECN’s news director, who told the Globe: “I believe that the coming of Channel 7 has reintroduced the idea of live coverage when the material doesn’t dictate it.”[16] Commenting on coverage of a winter storm that he thought was overwrought, Kravetz said, “There is such a breathless nature to the local news.”

In February 1995, just a year and a half after the new Channel 7 had launched, a long piece in the Globe argued that the newscasts of the three network affiliates had become disturbingly similar. “What the city could really use is a strong alternative to the way all three stations ply their journalistic trade. The closest is New England Cable News,” it said.[17]

Footnotes

[13] In 1992, the three UHF channels were WFXT-TV (Channel 25, the Fox Broadcasting Company affiliate); WSBK-TV (Channel 38, then a UPN affiliate); and independent station WLVI-TV (Channel 56). At the time, WBZ Channel 4 was the NBC affiliate; WCVB Channel 5 was the ABC affiliate; and WHDH Channel 7 was the CBS affiliate.

[14] Ed Siegel, “TV Wars,” Boston Globe Magazine, February 12, 1995, p. 18.

[15] Ed Siegel, “Six O’Clock Highs and Lows: Ch. 7 Takes Tabloid Path in Race to Win Local News Game.”

[16] Ed Siegel, “TV Wars.”

[17] Ed Siegel, “TV Wars.”