WBZ-TV, once known to all as Eyewitness News, dominated the ratings in the 1970s and battled it out with WCVB’s NewsCenter5 for most of the 1980s. However, a 1993 decision to drop the longstanding moniker began a path of over a decade of decline for channel 4. However, the real decline is rooted in a 1995 affiliation change.
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Fox network, realized that the only way that his network would grow would be through acquiring the rights to broadcasting sports. After being rebuffed by the NFL in 1987, he was successful in acquiring the rights to broadcast games from the NFL’s NFC division in 1994. As a result, New World Communications, the owner of several large-market stations (including Boston’s own TV38), orchestrated a deal to switch the affiliations of its stations (mostly CBS-affiliates) to Fox. This sent shockwaves throughout the industry, prompting shakeups in over thirty media markets.
This large shakeup was a defining moment for WBZ. Hit the jump to read about how these changes hit home and how channel 4 responded.
Gallery: WBZ News 4
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In Detroit, CBS was faced with a difficult decision. Their longtime affiliate on channel 2 (now home to former-25er Anqunette Jamison) jumped ship to Fox, leaving them without an affiliate. While talks with the ABC-affiliate were progressing, the owner of the station decided to use this as leverage to secure an affiliation deal with their other stations. A deal with ABC was reached, leaving CBS to affiliate with a station on channel 62.
This was an issue in Baltimore, where Westinghouse (owner of WBZ) and Scripps-Howard (owner of the Detroit ABC affiliate) both owned stations. Group W’s outlet, WJZ-TV, had been broadcasting with ABC for years. With the loss of affiliation came another company-wide affiliation deal, this time with CBS. This resulted in all of Group W’s stations switching to CBS, including WBZ.
WBZ, an NBC affiliate since its sign on in 1948, began running a heavy ad campaign based on the slogan “The Tradition Continues.” The changes finally culminated in early 1995 when WBZ and WHDH switched affiliations. Saddled with a lower rated network, WBZ began to slowly sink in the ratings game. However, WBZ News 4 was still the number two station at this time.
This iteration of WBZ News 4 began airing in late 1994, only a few weeks before the switch to CBS. It was definitely the most vibrant of appearances for the station, using many quintessential mid-1990s cues, such as the talent openings, “WBZ News 4 Continues…” bumpers, et cetera. It was definitely Westinghouse’s answer to the faster-paced newscasts on channel 7.
When viewed today, WBZ News 4 is definitely a throwback to the days of personality-driven local news. Jack Williams, Liz Walker, Bruce Schwoegler, Bob Lobel, and Joyce Kulhawik were the main attraction at channel 4, bolstered by a full slate of dedicated and experienced staff such as Ted Wayman, Randy Price, Uma Pemmaraju, Virginia Cha, and others.
The age of tabloid journalism was beginning in Boston, however, as 7 News began to pick up steam. As a result, the throwback style of WBZ did not fare to well, and the branding was scrapped in 1996. With the next transition, the iconic Group W 4 was retired in favor of a generic number 4.