>WBUF-TV, Channel 17, Buffalo, NY

WBUF-TV, Channel 17 (NBC)

Buffalo, New York (1953-1958)
Owned by National Broadcasting Company, Inc.

Early WBUF-TV Store Display (1953)
Photo courtesy of The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers

  • WBUF-TV, Channel 17 was actually an experiment by the NBC Television Network to see if a UHF station could compete with one or more VHF stations. Back then, networks could not own more than five VHF stations, but could add a couple of UHFs to their portfolio of O&O stations, and this one was chosen to see if NBC could make it work using the best available equipment for its day. WBUF-TV Channel 17 went on the air in 1953 and was sold to NBC in 1955. The station operated from a studio and transmitter complex at 2077 Elmwood Avenue on Buffalo's north side, using a state-of-the-art studio building and a 700 foot tall transmitter tower in back. The tall tower, combined with over a half-million watt signal, theoretically gave WBUF the second-best signal coverage in the market, better than WGR-TV (then the ABC affiliate) on Channel 2, which had a lower antenna.

  • Nevertheless, WBUF always ran a distant third in the market, severely under performing the network's average share. Poor UHF converters and tuners limited the station's actual reach (viewers in the eastern portion of the mar- ket who wanted to see NBC shows got a better picture from Rochester's WROC-TV, then on Channel 5). Two VHF competit- ors in the Buffalo market itself also far outdid their counterparts; both WGR-TV, the ABC affiliate, and WBEN-TV, the CBS affiliate, were literally the strongest perform- ers for their networks of any three-station market in the country. The coup-de-grace came late in 1957, when the FCC licensed a third VHF channel, WKBW-TV, on Channel 7. It had planned to operate as an independent, but before it could sign on in November of 1958, NBC decided it could not justify the continued losses being racked up by WBUF on Channel 17. So NBC put Channel 17 up for sale, and finding no takers, took it dark just as WKBW-TV was about to sign on. The resulting shuffle, plus a major transmitter upgrade for Channel 2 to match the tall towers and high power of Channels 4 and 7, saw NBC programs moving to Channel 2, CBS staying on Channel 4 and ABC linking with Channel a network lineup that contin- ues to this day.

  • And what happened to Channel 17's showplace facility? The tower was used, first by Channel 2 as an auxiliary, later as a transmitter site for the city's public TV station (on which we'll say more in a moment) and now by the city's most popular FM station, "97 Rock" (WGRF-FM).

  • The studio building and its equipment was taken over by WBEN-TV, later known as WIVB, the CBS affiliate on Channel 4 which continues to occupy it today along with WBEN radio. It had never been used to its full capacity by NBC during the WBUF days, but Channel 4 has used it to the maximum on an ambitious schedule of local news and how- to shows continuously since moving into the building in 1960.

  • There is a Channel 17 on the air today in is the main PBS affiliate, WNED-TV. NBC donated the license and some equipment (though not studio or transmitter space) to help it get started on the air in 1959. It has since boosted power and built a showplace studio/office facility for itself, through locally-raised funds.

    Editor: Many thanks go out to Bob Smith for providing his fine historical profile of WBUF-TV in Buffalo, New York. Bob is a talk show host and engineer at Public Stations WXXI-AM and FM, and WXXI-TV (Channel 21) in Rochester, New York. He is also a regular contributor to "The Boston Radio Interest Group" and has been a frequent writer to the "Airwaves Journal". Oh, by-the-way ....... today, WNED-TV (formerly WBUF-TV) also has a (100,000+ watt) non-commercial FM station, WNED-FM (94.5) in Buffalo. -Pete-