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WLTZ First News (newscasts)
The CW Ga-Bama
|Slogan||Putting You First|
|Channels||Digital: 35 (UHF)
Virtual: 38 (PSIP)
(SagamoreHill of Columbus GA, LLC)
|First air date||October 29, 1970|
|Call letters' meaning||Lewis Television|
|Former callsigns||WYEA (-TV) (1970–1981)|
|Former channel number(s)||38 (UHF analog, 1970–2009)|
|Transmitter power||50 kW|
|Public license information:||Profile
WLTZ is the NBC-affiliated television station for the Chattahoochee Valley of West-Central Georgia and East-Central Alabama. Licensed to Columbus, Georgia, it broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 35 (or virtual channel 38.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter at its studios on NBC 38 Drive in the Vista Terrance section of East Columbus (postal address is actually Buena Vista Road in Columbus). The station is owned by SagamoreHill Broadcasting.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|38.1||720p||16:9||WLTZ-DT||Main WLTZ programming / NBC|
|38.2||WLTZ-D2||The CW Ga-Bama|
|38.3||480i||4:3||Antenna||Antenna TV / My Network TV|
The station began broadcasting on October 29, 1970 as WYEA and aired an analog signal on UHF channel 38. It was branded on-air as "YAY-TV" and featured promotions showing a cheerleader with pompoms. WYEA was originally owned by Huntsville, Alabama broadcaster Charles Grisham and his company, Gala Broadcasting. It brought a full NBC affiliate to Columbus after a full decade in which NBC was mostly limited to off-hours clearances on CBS outlet WRBL and ABC affiliate WTVM.
Like most UHF start-ups during this time, WYEA began with several handicaps. First, like almost all other television markets with one or two dominant VHF stations, the Columbus area had strong-established preferences for either WRBL or WTVM. It also had to deal with established NBC outlets WSB-TV in Atlanta (later WXIA-TV after an affiliation change in that market), WALB in Albany, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama's WSFA, all of which provided at least Grade B coverage of the outlying areas of the viewing area. In fact, Grisham attempted unsuccessfully to legally block WSFA's plans to build a new tower, fearing it would cut into WYEA's market share. A fire tore through the studios in 1975, requiring the top floor of the facility to be rebuilt.
Later in the 1970s, WYEA became the flagship station of the broadcast division of locally based insurer Aflac. The outlet added the -TV suffix to its call sign on January 23, 1979. The station continued to be hamstrung as the third station in the market; Leroy Paul, who presided over Aflac's broadcast division, quipped, "We learned we could never become the city's news leader on a UHF station." In 1981, Aflac sold the station to J. Curtis Lewis, owner of WJCL-TV-FM in Savannah, Georgia, WLTX and WNOK-FM in Columbia, South Carolina, and WSTZ-FM-AM in Jackson, Mississippi; on August 31 of that year, the station changed its calls to the current WLTZ and adopted the branding "Z 38". Aflac would not re-enter Columbus television until they bought WTVM in 1989.
A 1995 attempt to sell WLTZ to Piney Creek Broadcasting, headed by Ruth Allen Ollison, fell through when a tax certificate program that allowed minorities to buy broadcast stations was ended by Congress; under this deal, WXTX owner Jack Pezold would have run WLTZ under a local marketing agreement. Lewis kept WLTZ until 2007—long after selling off his other stations—to SagamoreHill Broadcasting.
WLTZ has been digital-only since February 17, 2009. On April 2, 2009, it was announced The CW would discontinue its relationship with Pappas Telecasting-owned WLGA and, as a result, WLTZ joined the network on April 27 adding it to a new second digital subchannel. WLGA then became an independent outlet and began airing syndicated shows. It eventually ceased operations in June 2010.
The station's first attempt at a news department lasted from its inception in 1970 until 1993. Despite a credible effort, WLTZ's newscasts were never competitive enough against WTVM and WRBL to gain enough viewership and consistent ratings. Columbus broadcast veteran and former nightclub owner Al Fleming was once news anchor of these newscasts as was Richard Elliot (later of WRBL and WSB-TV). After shutting down its news operation, WLTZ offered syndicated shows with brief news updates taped in advance that ran for three minutes in length.
In November 2007, the station brought back weeknight newscasts (seen at 6, 7, and 11; or 5, 6, and 10 Central) in partnership with the Independent News Network (INN) of Davenport, Iowa. Originally, the early evening shows aired in traditional half-hour formats while the late newscast was shown in an update version. The news anchor, meteorologist, and sports personality were based at INN's studios on Tremont Avenue in Davenport (where production of the broadcasts took place) and other personnel would fill-in when needed. WLTZ maintained two reporters locally in Columbus that contributed local content to the shows which were taped in advance and then transmitted back to the station to air.
On May 29, 2008, WLTZ became the first station in Columbus and third in Georgia to upgrade local news to high definition. The change came after INN added HD capabilities to its centralized production studios. In a report in the Macon, Georgia Telegraph, it was announced the centralized news service filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on December 31, 2008 and would end all productions (including those for WLTZ) by January 9, 2009.  However, a later report in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on January 6 indicated this station's newscasts would not be affected by the bankruptcy filing. 
In April 2010, WLTZ replaced the 7 O'Clock Report with Alabama First News. Unlike the other two weeknight broadcasts, this reformatted show now focused on Eastern Alabama because that state, which is in the Central Time Zone, is an hour behind Georgia. Therefore, this was the only local newscast catering to viewers on the Alabama side of the market airing at 6 Central. Viewers in those areas also have access to stations from Dothan and Montgomery offering local news geared for their time zone. The format change for WLTZ's show was also made in conjunction with sister station WNCF in Montgomery after that outlet expanded its news department and outsourcing agreement with the Independent News Network. Newscasts would regularly feature WLTZ's reporters covering Eastern Alabama since Montgomery and Columbus have market areas that border each other. After a change in WNCF's operational ownership took effect in July 2011, personnel from WLTZ were dropped from the Montgomery station.
At some point in Fall 2011, WLTZ's weeknight show at 7 was moved to 11 but retained the Alabama First News branding. NBC 38 News at 6 now solely focused on Columbus and other areas in Georgia while the late news (now expanded to 35 minutes in length) offered coverage specifically from the greater Auburn, Phenix City, and Opelika areas in Alabama. Also at this point, there began to be local news and weather cut-ins on weekday mornings during Today from 7 until 11 (seen at :25 and :55 past the hour). Under this arrangement, the news anchor was normally live in Columbus while the weather forecast was still taped and originated from INN's headquarters.
On February 5, 2012, WLTZ introduced an expanded news operation based out of its Columbus studios complete with news anchors and a sports personality. However, weather was still produced by INN meteorologists and featured segments recorded in advance. Corresponding with the change, NBC 38 News at 6 was renamed Georgia First News on February 6. In December 2012, WLTZ launched a new weekday morning show known as Starting Today. It originally aired for an hour beginning at 6 and then for an additional half-hour at 7 on WLTZ-DT2 (which currently only shows the first hour of The Daily Buzz from 6 until 7). In Fall 2013, WLTZ's morning show was expanded further to two hours (running from 5 to 7 a.m.) while retaining the half-hour portion on WLTZ-DT2. The Independent News Network only provided taped weather segments on weeknights.
In July 2014, WLTZ built an in house weather department with Meteorologist Matt Wintz and Weather Forecaster Miller Robson, severing its last links to INN.