The station went on-the-air January 11, 1953 as the first UHF station in Ohio and the sixth in the nation, beating WFMJ-TV to the air by 56 days. It was owned by the Williamson family along with WKBN radio (AM 570 and FM 98.9, now WMXY). The radio station was a CBS Radio affiliate, and out of loyalty, the television station has been a primary CBS affiliate from the beginning. It also had secondary affiliations with ABC and DuMont. Shortly afterward, WKST-TV in nearby New Castle, Pennsylvania signed-on and took the ABC affiliation. With DuMont off-the-air three years later, WKBN was solely affiliated with CBS by the end of 1956.
In 1997, the Williamsons sold the station to Gocom which later became Piedmont Television and the station changed its logo and graphics package shortly after. Although WKBN is still a competitive number two to longtime rival WFMJ, it lost the "locally owned-and-operated" edge that WFMJ still maintains to this day with the Maag family. Although most of the Williamsons have moved away from Youngstown, the family still makes major donations to the area. Most notably, Youngstown State University's Williamson College of Business Administration, which is housed in Williamson Hall, is named in their honor. The Williamsons held onto WKBN-AM-FM until 1999. However, WKBN-TV does retain a news and weather sharing partnership with Clear Channel Communications, the current owners of its former radio sisters.
The station gained some national attention when embarrassing photos of then-anchorwoman Catherine Bosley were leaked onto the Internet. On April 19, 2006, WKBN began airing its digital signal on UHF channel 41. The digital broadcast features CBS programming in high definition (when available) and also carries a simulcast of low-powered sister station WYFX-LP. On November 15, Piedmont Television announced the sale of WKBN and WYFX to New Vision Television based in Atlanta. The sale closed in early March 2007. Shortly afterward, WKBN began operating longtime rival WYTV in a shared services agreement.
On February 8, 2009, the station did a "dual HD" test airing both college basketball on its main digital signal and the Gatorade Duel (the qualifying race for the Daytona 500) on 27.2 (which simulcasts WYFX) in a possible attempt to broadcast both signals in high definition full-time. WKBN had to compress both signals to the 720p format in order to make it possible. It began broadcasting both channels in high definition full-time the next day making WKBN the eighth station nationally to broadcast two subchannels on the same signal in high definition, and currently the only one in the Youngstown market.
The downside to this process is that it reduces the HD picture quality WKBN and WYFX can achieve. This quality difference is noticeable when compared to other stations not compressing their signals. Some refer to this as "HD-Lite". On the other hand, WKBN's powerful signal provides viewers in the eastern half of the Cleveland DMA an alternative to WJW (FOX) and WOIO (CBS) which broadcast on channels 8 and 10, respectively. VHF has proven to be a problem with digital television and frustrated viewers have had better luck picking up WKBN's UHF signal than with WJW and WOIO's VHF signals.
On May 7, 2012, LIN TV Corporation announced that it will acquire the New Vision Television station group for $330.4 million and the assumption of $12 million in debt. Along with the outright ownership of WKBN-TV and WYFX-LD, the agreement includes the acquisition of New Vision's shared services agreement with Parkin Broadcasting, giving LIN operational control of WYTV. On October 2, the FCC approved the proposed sale to LIN TV. The transaction is expected to close in late 2012.
On November 15, 2012, the master control operators at WKBN were notified that the day-to-day master control operations at Sunset Boulevard will be hubbed out to one of LIN Media's Centralcasting Hubs.
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