RadioDXer.com-->WBUF-TV, Channel 17, Buffalo, NY
WBUF-TV, Channel 17 (NBC)
Buffalo, New York (1953-1958)
Owned by National Broadcasting Company, Inc.
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 7...in 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
There is a Channel 17 on the air today in Buffalo...it
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
watt) non-commercial FM station, WNED-FM (94.5) in Buffalo. -Pete-