WGAL-TV, sister station to WGAL (1490) and WGAL-FM (101.3), first hit the airwaves in March 1949, making Lancaster the smallest city in the nation to have a licensed television operation. Eight weeks later, the station aired its first newscast, launching a tradition of news coverage that has continued into the 21st century. The licensee, Steinman Stations, was one of the numerous businesses controlled by Lancaster's Steinman family, who still own the city's two daily newspapers and other business interests downtown.
A 1952 power increase, from 1000 to 7200 watts, forced WGAL to move from Channel 4 to its new Channel 8 allocation. In the coming years, WGAL would cement its affiliation with NBC, a relationship that was in existence when "Today" debuted in the early 1950s.
In 1956, Channel 8 moved to its current studios on the city's outskirts off Columbia Avenue. The Steinmans continued to grow the station, launching a noon newscast and erecting a new tower in western Lancaster County, before selling the station to Pulitzer in 1979.
Under Pulitzer, WGAL expanded its news-gathering capabilities by opening bureaus up the road in the State Capitol of Harrisburg and 20 miles west in York. In 1990, WGAL launched 24-hour-a-day operation.
On the 50th anniversary of WGAL's sign-on (March 18, 1999), Hearst-Argyle finalized its purchase of the station from Pulitzer. Numerous Hearst stations, such as WCVB-TV Boston, have strong reputations as top-notch news operations. Hearst-Argyle also owns fellow NBC affiliate WBAL Baltimore, and the stations' signals overlap in northeastern Maryland and south central Pennsylvania. Each station uses Hearst's standard news graphics and imaging, making it difficult for a newcomer to sometimes discern which newscast is which!
In addition to benefitting from a strong NBC prime-time lineup, Channel 8 has also developed strong local programming and local talent, including news anchor Ron Martin, weatherman Doug Allen and weekday sportscaster Mike Hostetter. News 8 regularly cleans up in the Associated Press' annual Central Pennsylvania TV awards competirion and frequently slays the area's other network affiliates, WHTM Harrisburg (ABC) and WHP-TV Harrisburg (CBS), in the news ratings. The WGAL sports department's flagship show is its Friday night high school football recap following the 11 p.m. news, with live reports (complete with marching bands!) from multiple area stadiums. In addition, the station occasionally broadcasts local sports, as it did when Harrisburg and Lancaster McCaskey met in the 2002 boys' basketball state semifinals.
Information gleaned from station history on WGAL's website.
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