SATURDAY SPECIAL: "Great Affiliation Switch" captivated Tri-State viewers in '95

Tales from from the
 Tri-State's rich  TV and radio
history ... and other things
Looking back today, it seems strange, but 1995 was a long year for Tri-State TV watchers.

January was ushered in with rumors that WTVW, which was then our ABC affiliate, was being courted by Petracom, a Florida-based company.  The station was, at the time, owned by Bank of America's Banam Broadcasting division, which had picked up WTVW when its previous owner, Woods Communications, found itself in financial trouble.

Several previous sale attempts had been scuttled at the last minute, so nobody really gave much thought to the possibility of Petracom actually following through on the deal.

Indeed, we didn't hear much more about it until mid-May, when it was actually finalized.

The Petracom purchase ended up not only changing WTVW's ownership, but it kicked off months of deal-making, program swaps and confusion the likes of no one has seen either before or since.

I should note here that not even last year's DTV transition captivated Tri-State viewers the way the "Great Affiliation Switch of '95" did.

It all started when Petracom decided to switch Channel 7's affiliation from ABC to Fox.

Almost immediately, word got around that WEHT (ch. 25) might be interested in switching from CBS to ABC, and sure enough, a deal was struck to do just that.

That left WEVV (ch. 44), which had been one of the first Fox affiliates in the country, without a network affiliation.

It seems obvious 15 years later that WEVV had a golden opportunity to pick up the CBS affiliation, but at that time, CBS wasn't exactly doing well, either in news or entertainment.

Then-WEVV general manager Skip Simms and his team had amassed a full slate of syndicated programming that drew a good many viewers.  Some thought was given to going "independent," the status Channel 44 had before Fox came along in the late '80s.

But viewers howled.

"We want our CBS shows," seemed to be the general consensus.

And the outcry worked:  The Courier announced on July 1 that WEVV had struck a deal for the CBS affiliation, and though the three stations involved in the "Great Affiliation Switch" had no formal agreement to make their moves at the same time, December 4 was eventually settled upon as the date when they'd all go through with it.

It seemed simple enough, but then in September, the program lineups started getting tricky:  WTVW decided to drop "Nightline" and "Mike and Maty" (ABC's then-daytime talk show) early.

As the new ABC affiliate, WEHT picked those shows up and began airing them immediately, but they had to drop "The Price is Right" to fit "Mike and Maty" into the lineup.

At that point, WEVV wasn't yet ready to start picking up CBS' shows, but some gentle "persuasion" on the part of viewers convinced Simms to relent.

On Friday, Sept. 15, the last "TPIR" aired on WEHT; on Monday the 18th, WEVV aired its first "TPIR."  Some of Channel 44's syndicated shows started moving to WTSN.

Then WTVW dropped "Good Morning America," and WEHT promptly picked it up.  "CBS This Morning" moved to WEVV.
And so it went ... to make a long story short, for nearly three months, you needed a scorecard to keep up with what shows were on which channel!

Then came the "big day," Monday, December 4.  Officially, all three stations joined their new networks at 3:00 AM that morning.  The actual switch was somewhat anti-climactic, after all the months of talk ... and talk ... and talk.  Yes, I got up early to see it happen, and I remember thinking, "It'll be nice to have this all over with."

And it was.  Once the full schedules of each network found their way to their new stations, people figured out where to turn for their favorite shows fairly quickly.

Life returned to normal ... albeit a new normal.

Some 15 years later, the switch has faded into a distant memory for most Tri-Staters.  Indeed, some of you reading this may be too young to remember it at all.  But it was certainly an interesting time.

It was a year I'll certainly never forget, but that doesn't mean I want to see it happen again!

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