|Channels||Digital: 36 (UHF)
Virtual: 68 (PSIP)
|Owner||Sinclair Broadcast Group
(Birmingham (WABM-TV) Licensee, Inc.)
|First air date||January 31, 1986|
|Call letters' meaning||We've Got
(or, Alabama BirMingham
|Sister station(s)||WTTO, WBMA-LD|
|Former callsigns||WCAJ (1986–1991)|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
68 (UHF, 1986–2009)
|Former affiliations||independent (1986–1995, March-August 1998)
UPN (1995–March 1998, August 1998–2006)
|Transmitter power||885 kW|
|Public license information:||Profile
WABM, virtual channel 68 (UHF digital channel 36), is a MyNetworkTV-affiliated television station serving Tuscaloosa, Anniston and its city of license Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, as part of a duopoly with CW affiliate WTTO (channel 21); Sinclair also operates WTTO satellite WDBB (channel 17) under a time brokerage agreement with owner Cunningham Broadcasting. All three stations share studio facilities located on Beacon Parkway West in southeastern Birmingham, WABM's transmitter is located at Red Mountain. Syndicated programming featured on WABM includes Jerry Springer, Judge Mathis, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Family Guy, Maury and The Arsenio Hall Show.
The station first signed on the air on January 31, 1986 as WCAJ, operating as a religious independent station. Some of the shows that initially aired on the station were Catholic programs from the Irondale-based Eternal Word Television Network, as well as programming from the Southern Baptist Convention's ACTS Network. The original studios were located on the campus of Samford University. However, its ratings took a dive after the Trinity Broadcasting Network signed on WTJP-TV (channel 60) in July and never recovered. Eventually, it began airing home shopping programming and infomercials with religious shows being relegated to part of the broadcast day.
In 1990, the station was sold to Krypton Broadcasting, who changed its call letters to WABM and reformatted the station into a general-entertainment independent that featured classic movies, dramas and westerns. However, the station struggled at first against Fox affiliate WDBB (channel 17) and its Gadsden-based satellite WNAL (channel 44, now WPXH-TV) and the market's leading independent station, WTTO (channel 21). The Birmingham market wasn't nearly large enough at the time for what were essentially three independent stations, and there simply wasn't enough programming to go around. In 1991, WDBB and WNAL became semi-satellites of WTTO, which had taken the Fox affiliation earlier that year, simulcasting that station's programming 22 hours a day. As part of the deal, WDBB/WNAL moved their stronger shows onto WTTO's schedule. This resulted in WTTO owning a large amount of programming it no longer had time to air, so it sold a large amount of its cartoons and classic sitcoms to WABM.
Even with a stronger format, WABM still trailed WTTO in the ratings. The station had a disadvantage when it came to signal coverage, especially when WDBB and WNAL became full-time satellites of WTTO in 1993. WTTO, WDBB and WNAL provided a strong combined signal comparable to those of WBRC-TV and WVTM-TV. In contrast, WABM covered only Birmingham with a city-grade signal, while the western and northern parts of the market received a grade B signal. WABM also suffered because Krypton was going through financial problems, which put WABM at a severe disadvantage in acquiring programming. After selling off WABM's sister stations in West Palm Beach and Jacksonville, Florida; Krypton sold WABM itself in 1993 to a small locally-based group. The new owners immediately entered into a local marketing agreement with Abry-owned WTTO. Under the LMA, WTTO and WABM began sharing certain programs (although both stations maintained separate schedules) and WTTO sold advertising time on WABM.
On January 16, 1995, WABM became one of the charter affiliates of the United Paramount Network. By that time, Sinclair had merged with Abry and inherited the LMA. It remained with UPN, even through the 1996 affiliation switch that saw longtime ABC affiliate WBRC switch to Fox. In March 1998, WABM dropped the UPN affiliation over concerns by Sinclair over ratings and monetary issues, as did several of the company's other stations in several markets after Sinclair signed a lucrative affiliation deal with The WB (which WTTO affiliated with in an unrelated deal two years earlier). For five months, the station reverted to being an independent station, though the only effect on the station's schedule was the replacement of UPN programming with syndicated film packages during primetime and Saturday afternoons, and infomercials in place of UPN Kids on Sunday mornings. In the interim, local cable providers piped in the network's New York City-based flagship, WWOR-TV, to keep UPN programming available in the Birmingham area. Sinclair would eventually reverse its decision and come to terms with the network, resulting in WABM rejoining UPN on August 10. WWOR was dropped from the few area cable systems it was carried on within days of re-acquiring the UPN affiliation at WABM's request.
Sinclair purchased WABM outright in 2001, creating a duopoly with WTTO. By the late 1990s, the station shifted away from classic sitcoms, movies and syndicated cartoons (such as Dennis the Menace and Sailor Moon) towards more recent sitcoms as well as adding talk, reality and court shows. It continued to air cartoons on weekday mornings until August 2003, when UPN discontinued its Disney's One Too children's block.
On February 22, 2006, News Corporation announced the launch of MyNetworkTV, a new network that would be operated by Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television that was created to compete against The CW, another upstart network that would launch at the same time that September (and originally consisted primarily of UPN and The WB's higher-rated programs) as well as to give UPN and WB stations that were not mentioned as becoming CW affiliates another option besides converting to independent stations. On March 1, 2006, Sinclair and Fox announced that WABM would become the market's MyNetworkTV affiliate, it joined the network on September 5, 2006; WB affiliate WTTO/WDBB became the area's CW affiliate when it launched on September 18. For a time, WABM had considered acquiring the local rights to 4Kids TV, the Fox network's children's program block. Sister station WTTO had continued to carry its predecessor, Fox Kids, even after it lost the Fox affiliation to WBRC in September 1996; it dropped Fox Kids programming in the fall of 2000, however WBRC did not pick it up, leaving it and future blocks programmed by 4Kids Entertainment unseen in the Birmingham market. WABM eventually picked up the Weekend Marketplace paid programming block in lieu of WBRC, when it replaced 4Kids TV in December 2008.
On July 29, 2013, the Allbritton Communications announced that it would sell its seven television stations, including ABC affiliate WBMA-LD (channel 58) and its satellite stations, WCFT-TV and WJSU-TV (channels 33 and 40), to Sinclair. As part of the deal, Sinclair was planning to sell the license assets of WABM and WTTO to Deerfield Media, but would continue to operate them through shared services and joint sales agreements. The FCC, however, refused to clear the deal due to the longstanding time-brokerage agreement between WTTO and WDBB (which is nominally owned by Cunningham Broadcasting, a shell corporation for Sinclair; the Smith family, owners of Sinclair, own a majority of Cunningham's stock. As originally structured, the deal would have effectively created a new LMA between WBMA+ and WDBB, even though the Commission had ruled in 1999 that such agreements made after November 5, 1996 covering more than 15% of the broadcast day would count toward the ownership limits for the brokering station's owner. On March 20, 2014, as part of a restructuring of the deal in order to address these ownership conflicts, Sinclair announced that it would sell WABM to a third-party buyer and retain ownership of WTTO, forming a new duopoly with WBMA+ as senior partner. Sinclair would not enter into a sharing arrangement with or maintain any contingent interest in WABM, other than a possible transitional shared facilities agreement until WTTO's operations were migrated to WBMA's facilities in Hoover. On May 29, 2014, Sinclair informed the FCC that it had not found a buyer for WABM and proposed surrendering the WCFT-TV and WJSU-TV broadcast licenses. At present, Sinclair plans to move the ABC affiliation to WABM, with WBMA-LD (which, as a low-power station, is not subject to FCC ownership rules and will not be closed) as its satellite. MyNetworkTV would be moved to WABM's second digital channel. Sinclair opted to retain WABM because its facilities are superior to those of WCFT and WJSU. This plan would actually improve the coverage for ABC in the market, giving that network a full-power signal in Birmingham proper for the first time since WBRC left for Fox. WBMA's signal is effectively limited to Birmingham itself and its inner-ring suburbs, and most of the area's cable providers pick up either WCFT or WJSU's off-air signal. WABM's digital signal operates at 885,000 watts (equivalent to 4.4 million watts in analog)--more than double the power of WCFT and WJSU.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|68.1||720p||16:9||WABM-MY||Main WABM programming / MyNetworkTV (soon to be ABC)|
|68.2||480i||4:3||WABM-CO||Dark (soon to be MyNetworkTV)|
On February 2, 2009, Sinclair announced to cable and satellite television providers via e-mail that regardless of the exact mandatory switchover date to digital-only broadcasting for full-power stations (which Congress rescheduled for June 12 days later), the station would shut down its analog signal on the original transition date of February 17. WABM shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 68, at 11:59 p.m. on that date. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 36. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 68, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition.
- "News Corp. to launch new mini-network for UPN stations". USA Today. February 22, 2006. Retrieved January 21, 2013.
- News Corp. Unveils MyNetworkTV, Broadcasting & Cable, February 22, 2006.
- Heath, Thomas; Wilgoren, Debbi (July 29, 2013). "Allbritton to sell 7 TV stations, including WJLA, to Sinclair for $985 million". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
- "Sinclair Buying Allbritton Stations For $985M". TVNewsCheck. July 29, 2013. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
- Kreisman, Barbara A. (December 6, 2013). "Letter to Sinclair and Allbritton legal counsel" (PDF). CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
- Sinclair Offers to Sell Stations Ahead of FCC Decision, TVSpy, March 21, 2014.
- Sinclair Proposes Restructuring Of Allbritton Transaction In Order To Meet Objections Of The Federal Communications Commission, The Wall Street Journal (via PRNewswire), March 20, 2014.
- Eggerton, John (May 29, 2014). "Sinclair Proposes Surrendering Three Licenses to Get Allbritton Deal Done". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
- Jessell, Harry A. (May 29, 2014). "Sinclair Giving Up 3 Stations To Appease FCC". TVNewsCheck. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
- RabbitEars TV Query for WABM
- Hearn, Ted (February 2, 2009). "Sinclair Sticks To Feb. 17 Analog Cutoff". Digital Video Report. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- WABM68.com - Official website
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WABM
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WABM-TV