2009 Annual Meeting
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ARNC History

by Philip Balboni, NECN

Before 1986 local television news in America was almost exclusively the preserve of local broadcast stations, primarily the affiliates of the then Big Three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. But in December of that year, Cablevision Systems Corporation unveiled a bold initiative, News 12 Long Island, the first 24-hour cable news channel in the country. Today, there are nearly 40 local and regional news channels across the nation, including a majority of the top 20 television markets.

Four years passed until Cablevision’s pioneering effort with News 12 was replicated by another company and this time it was not a cable operator who provided the impetus, it was a newspaper company, Freedom Communications of Orange County, California, whose Orange County Newschannel or OCN launched in October 1990.

As 24-hour cable news began to expand, those few pioneers saw the need for an association to represent the interests of local cable news channels and to facilitate the sharing of ideas among their disparate owners. Discussions for an association began in 1991 but reached a more serious stage during a tour and meeting at New York 1 in the fall of 1992. Present were the managers of NewsChannel 8 of Washington, D.C., New England Cable News (NECN), New York 1, Orange County Newschannel (OCN), and Chicagoland Television News (CLTV) whose launch was scheduled for early 1993.

Informal meetings continued during 1993 at other industry events, including the National Cable Television Association convention in San Francisco and the Radio Television News Directors Association annual meeting in Miami in September of that year. John Hillis, then the President of NewsChannel 8, agreed to develop a Charter and By-Laws for an Association of Regional News Channels.

The founding members of ARNC were NewsChannel 8, NECN, OCN, NY1 and CLTV.

The Association’s Certificate of Incorporation was granted under the District of Columbia Non-Profit Corporation Act on Dec. 2, 1993. The original organizers were Hillis, Philip Balboni, then Chairman of the Board of New England Cable News and currently its President and Founder, Paul Sagan, Vice President and General Manager of New York 1, and Robert Gremillion, President of Chicagoland TV.

Hillis, who was elected the Association’s first Chairman, is a true veteran of cable news, having been at CNN as a producer at the network’s birth in 1980. He went on to become news director and general manager of News 12 Long Island, guiding the nation’s very first 24-hour local news channel from initial concept to successful launch in December 1986 and subsequently went on to launch and run Newschannel 8, the first local news channel to offer three distinct programming feeds -- one to the District of Columbia, another to Maryland and a third to Virginia.

By the 1995 annual meeting in New Orleans ARNC membership had grown from 5 news channels to 11. In Los Angeles in 1996, membership was up to 13. It increased significantly in 1997, to 18 news channels, and the following year in San Antonio, the annual meeting included 29 news channels reaching 22 million households. For the early pioneers it was amazing to look around the table and see so many colleagues.

1998 was also the year that NECN won the George Foster Peabody Award, generally regarded as the Pulitzer Prize of television, for a documentary on a young woman dying of breast cancer. NECN was the first local cable network ever to be recognized with a Peabody.

The News 12 Networks also recorded a milestone in 1998 with the launch of their 5th separate channel, News 12 the Bronx.

The amazing growth of local 24-hour news generated significant, positive attention in the national press, so it came as both a shock and a great disappointment when economic circumstances forced one of the pioneers to cease operations.

OCN had become the first news channel to be sold when in 1996 Freedom Communications transferred ownership to Century Communications, one of the larger cable operators in the country and a major distributor in Orange County. Freedom cited a poor local economy and operating losses that it could no longer tolerate.

Alan Bell, then President of Freedom’s Broadcast Division, said at the time of the sale, “Freedom was a pioneer in creating what is, in effect, a local version of CNN. We’re proud of OCN’s men and woman who have done a terrific job over the past 5 years in creating this unique form of TV journalism… Freedom’s owners have given OCN a generous infusion of cash and attention over the years, but even proud parents have their limits on their resources, and so do we.”

Several years and one owner later, Adelphia Communications, which had purchased Century’s cable systems in 1999 and acquired OCN as part of the assets of the sale, announced its intention to shut down OCN as of September 2001, citing losses for the past 2 years that could not be supported. OCN has been available in approximately 600,000 homes.

Since then, several other news channels have ceased operations. Bay TV, the San Francisco local news and programming channel started by Chronicle Publishing Co. and then sold to Young Broadcasting, ended service in July 2001. AT&T Broadband, which owned 49% of Bay TV, made the decision to cease carriage of the channel citing low ratings and operating losses. Bay TV was serving 1.4 million homes in and around San Francisco. There is still no successor news channel in the Bay Area.

Additionally, the joint ventures between Time Warner Cable and Belo Co., which launched first-class news channels in Houston, San Antonio and Charlotte in 2002 and 2003, were abrubtly desolved in 2004 resulting in the shuttering of the News 24 Houston and News 9 San Antonio. News 14 Carolina in Charlotte was partially merged into News 14 Carolina in Raleigh, and both of the News 14s continue to provide unique programming to their respective markets as wholly-owned Time Warner Cable news channels.

Time Warner Cable Local News Group also continues to operate full-scale news channels in several of its major cable clusters including New York City, Austin, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse. Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13, which were launched by Time Warner (with the Tribune in the case of CFN13), continue to thrive under the current management of Advance/Newhouse’s Bright House Networks as part of the restructuring of the TWEAN partnership.

Television news is intensely competitive on both the local and national fronts, whether provided by cable or broadcast. ARNC is proud of its many member news channels for providing an outstanding and valuable service to their respective communities and for being dedicated to the highest standards of journalism.

Significant Launch Dates in Early ARNC History

  • News 12 Long Island, December 1986
  • Orange County Newschannel, September 1990
  • NewsChannel 8, Washington, October 1991
  • New England Cable News, March 1992
  • New York One News, September 1992
  • Chicagoland Televison News, January 1993
  • Northwest Cable News, December 1995
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