|WBMA-LD: Birmingham, Alabama
WCFT: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
WJSU: Anniston, Alabama
|Branding||Alabama's ABC 33/40 (general; official)
ABC 33/40 News (newscasts)
|Slogan||Alabama's News Leader|
|Channels||Digital: See table below|
|Subchannels||See table below|
|Owner||Allbritton Communications Company
(TV Alabama, Inc.)
|First air date||September 1, 1996|
|Call letters' meaning||See table below|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
58 (UHF; 1996–2011)
33 (UHF; 1965–2009)
40 (UHF; 1969–2009)
WCFT: 5 (VHF; ?–2009)
NBC (secondary, 1969–1970)
|Transmitter power||See table below|
|Height||See table below|
|Facility ID||See table below|
|Transmitter coordinates||See table below|
WBMA-LD is the ABC-affiliated television station in Birmingham, Alabama. Owned by Allbritton Communications Company, it broadcasts a high-definition digital signal on UHF channel 40 (virtual channel 58.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter located in western Birmingham. The station's studios are located in the Riverchase office complex on Concourse Parkway (near Riverchase Trail) in Hoover.
The station operates two full-power satellite stations that cover areas of Central Alabama not served by the main signal: WCFT-TV (digital and virtual channel 33) in Tuscaloosa and WJSU-TV (digital channel 9, virtual channel 40) in Anniston. The station uses the on-air name "ABC 33/40", making it appear that WCFT is the primary station; however, WBMA is officially Birmingham's ABC affiliate. The low-powered WBMA signal does not extend outside of the immediate Birmingham area – therefore, most Birmingham viewers and cable providers obtain the signal from either WCFT or WJSU. Combined, the three stations provide at least secondary coverage from the Alabama-Georgia state line westward to Columbus, Mississippi.
|Station||City of license||Physical channel||VC1||First air date||Call letters’
|ERP||HAAT||Facility ID||Transmitter Coordinates|
|WBMA-LD2||Birmingham||40 (UHF)||58||September 1, 1996||AlaBaMA||15 kW||255 m||60214|
|WCFT-TV3||Tuscaloosa||33 (UHF)||33||October 19654||Chapman
|300 kW||657 m||21258|
|WJSU-TV5||Anniston||9 (VHF)||40||October 26, 1969||Jacksonville
|15.6 kW||359 m||56642|
- 1: Virtual channel (PSIP).
- 2. WBMA-LD used the callsign W58CK until 1997. The callsign was changed to WBMA in 1997 and still is to this day.
- 3. WCFT-TV was an independent station from 1965 to 1970, and a CBS affiliate from 1970 to 1996.
- 4. The Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook says WCFT-TV signed on October 27, while the Television and Cable Factbook says it signed on October 29.
- 5. WJSU-TV used the callsign WHMA-TV from its 1969 inception until 1984. It was a CBS affiliate from 1969 to 1996, with a secondary NBC affiliation from 1969 to 1970.
Digital television 
The digital signals are multiplexed on all stations. "x" represents the PSIP number for the local channel.
|Channels||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|Main programming / ABC|
|"James Spann 24/7 Weather"|
|x.3||The Nashville Network|
Analog-to-digital conversion 
WCFT and WJSU shut down all analog transmissions on June 12, 2009 for the digital television transition. WCFT moved its digital broadcasts back to its previous analog channel on UHF 33, while WJSU's digital signal remained on its pre-transition VHF channel 9. However, through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display WJSU's virtual channel as 40.
Even though WBMA-LP was not obligated to shut off its analog signal, as the law exempted low-powered stations from the switchover, the FCC encouraged low-power stations to vacate from their out-of-core allotments – the high-band UHF channels from 52 to 69. On December 3, 2010, the FCC granted WBMA-LP a construction permit to flash-cut their analog signal on channel 58 to digital channel 40 (formerly occupied by the analog signal of WJSU). WBMA-LP had a permit to operate on channel 11, but due to possible interference with Columbus, Georgia's WTVM and Tupelo, Mississippi's WTOK-TV, the station decided to move to channel 40. In late May 2011, WBMA-LP signed on its low-power digital signal on channel 40 as WBMA-LD.
WCFT-TV started operating as western Alabama's first television station in October 1965, broadcasting on UHF channel 33. The original licensee, Chapman Family Television (for which the station's callsign is taken from), was a consortium of eight Tuscaloosa businessmen who saw the benefits of a television station, in both business and community service. WCFT began as an independent station, but because it did not return a profit suitable to the original owners, they sold the station to Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based Service Broadcasters in 1967. The new owners rejuvenated WCFT by heavily investing in the station, purchasing new equipment and improving the station's image.
Like WBMG-TV (channel 42, now WIAT) in Birmingham, WCFT picked up CBS and NBC programs that were not cleared by WAPI-TV (channel 13, now WVTM-TV) during channel 33's first few years. In 1970, WCFT became a full-time CBS affiliate, as did WBMG (and WHMA below, for eastern Alabama). Even though Tuscaloosa is less than one hour to the west of Birmingham, CBS opted to retain its affiliation with WCFT because channel 42's signal was severely weak at the time. As such, many cable providers in the western part of the market opted to carry WCFT instead. WCFT's viewership regularly trounced WBMG in that portion of the market.
In 1977, Arbitron made Tuscaloosa its own television market, ranking below number 170. For a time in the mid-1990s, WCFT served as the default ABC affiliate for the Columbus/Tupelo market. Service Broadcasters sold WCFT to Allbritton Communications Company in 1995. WCFT's transmitter is located near Windham Springs, Alabama, in rural Tuscaloosa County.
On October 26, 1969, WHMA-TV began broadcasting on UHF channel 40 as a primary CBS affiliate with a secondary affiliation with NBC. The station was operated by the Anniston Broadcasting Company, which was owned by members of the family of Harry M. Ayers (the station's namesake). The Ayers family also owned the Anniston Star newspaper and WHMA radio (1390 AM and 100.5 FM, now WNNX-FM in Atlanta). The station's first general manager, Harry Mabry, came to Anniston from Birmingham, where he had served as news director at WBRC for several years. Mabry already was familiar with Anniston, though, having been an announcer on WHMA-AM over fifteen years earlier.
WHMA-TV ultimately served approximately 100,000 households in east central Alabama, and management fought almost constantly to maintain its own Arbitron market between Birmingham and Atlanta; this was a maneuver critical to the station's survival. Despite being the only station located within the Anniston/East Alabama market (other than Alabama Public Television satellite station WCIQ), WHMA faced immense competition from the "spill-in" (grade B signal) coverage from stations in the larger nearby markets. Its ratings victories garnered it access to numerous national advertisers, a rarity for small-market stations of that time. In 1970, WHMA, along with WBMG and WCFT (above), dropped NBC programming in favor of becoming full-time CBS affiliates after WAPI became the sole NBC affiliate for all of central Alabama that year. As was the case with WCFT, CBS opted to retain its affiliation with WHMA because of WBMG's weak signal at the time. In fact, channel 42 was all but unviewable in much of east central Alabama, which is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains; the over-the-air reception of UHF stations is often impaired in rugged terrain. Many cable providers in the eastern part of the Birmingham market opted to carry channel 40 as the local CBS affiliate.
In 1984, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) forced the Ayers family to break up its media empire. Later, in a mid-1980s deal that concerned tax avoidance more than profit, the Ayers sold the station to Jacksonville State University, who changed the call letters to WJSU-TV. The station was ultimately sold in the 1990s to Flagship Broadcasting.
In 1995, Birmingham's longtime ABC affiliate, WBRC-TV (channel 6), was sold to Fox Television Stations in preparation to change the station's network affiliation to Fox. However, WBRC's affiliation contract with ABC did not expire until September 1996, giving ABC one year to find a new Birmingham affiliate. ABC reached a unique deal with Allbritton in which WCFT and WJSU would become the ABC affiliate for Central Alabama, with WCFT as the main station. However, under Nielsen rules, neither station would likely appear in the Birmingham ratings books because they were both considered to be out-of-market stations. Allbritton's solution was to purchase W58CK, a low-power station in Birmingham that began operations on November 18, 1994. W58CK would serve as the primary station for ratings purposes.
While the channel 58 purchase was not a condition of the deal between ABC and Allbritton, it did pave the way for Anniston and Tuscaloosa to be merged back into the Birmingham television market. That move benefited all of the major Birmingham stations, as it not only increased their viewership in Tuscaloosa and Anniston, but caused Birmingham to jump 12 spots in the market rankings. As part of the deal, WJSU and WCFT ended separate operations and became full-powered satellite stations of W58CK. Both stations also ceded exclusive CBS rights in all of central Alabama to WBMG, which had recently upgraded its transmitter to broadcast a much stronger full-power signal. Under this arrangement, Allbritton assumed control of WJSU's operations under a local marketing agreement with Flagship Broadcasting; this lasted until Allbritton bought WJSU outright in 2008.
The new station debuted on September 1, 1996 from its studios in Hoover. Its first slogan was "We're Building Our Station Around You," which was also used on WKYC-TV in Cleveland for some years. Unlike most advertising catchphrases, the phrase was quite accurate because the station's programming consultants surveyed a large number of central Alabama residents to literally build a new station from the ground up. W58CK officially changed its call letters to WBMA-LP on September 23, 1997; it had been unofficially using the WBMA calls since it began operations.
In September 2006, WBMA/WCFT/WJSU moved the popular soap opera All My Children from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. WBRC had aired All My Children one day behind on a tape delay since its days as an ABC affiliate, and this practice continued when WBMA/WCFT/WJSU picked up the affiliation with the network; this was the first time since the ABC daytime drama began in 1970 that it had aired in pattern in the Birmingham market. Its replacement, The Chew (which debuted in September 2011), also airs at 12 p.m.
In 1997, WBMA/WCFT/WJSU refused to air "The Puppy Episode", an episode of the Ellen DeGeneres sitcom, Ellen that gained notoriety for DeGeneres's character (and in effect, DeGeneres herself) coming out as a lesbian. The station cited a need to respect the family values of the region's largely conservative evangelical community as the basis of its decision. Some gay rights and civil libertarian activists decried the decision as a blatant example of censorship; in response, ABC sent a special satellite feed of the show to a community center in Birmingham that was viewed by about 1,000 people, mainly local gays, lesbians, and their supporters. Some cable providers also ran the feed out-of-market from other ABC affiliates including Atlanta's WSB-TV (channel 2). However, WBMA/WCFT/WJSU aired the same episode when it reran on the network later that same season.
News operation 
WBMA/WCFT/WJSU presently broadcasts 32 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours on weekdays and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays). In addition, WBMA/WCFT/WJSU produces an online-only Spanish-language webcast that is carried on the station's website; the brief news updates are anchored on a rotating basis by Vivian Mora and Hernan Prado, two Hispanic Birmingham area business owners.
The station achieved early success with its newscasts after the affiliation switch to ABC, due in part to the station's hirings of many well-known Birmingham television personalities: including news anchors Brenda Ladun and Linda Mays, sports anchor Mike Raita, and meteorologists James Spann and Mark Prater, all of whom had worked at rival WBRC. Former WVTM-TV news personalities Pam Huff and Tracy Haynes were later hired to anchor the station's early morning newscasts. Despite being a newer competitor to the other Birmingham stations (even though WCFT and WJSU had already established news departments prior to becoming satellites of WBMA-LD), the station regularly competes with WBRC – and since the mid-2000s, a ratings-surgent WIAT – for the #1 local newscast in the Birminghan-Anniston-Tuscaloosa market.
Weather coverage 
WBMA/WCFT/WJSU has had a long-standing policy to preempt regular programming for wall-to-wall severe weather coverage in the event that the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for any county within its viewing area. The station also operates "StormChaser 33/40", a Jeep specialized for storm chasing, equipped with a dashcam and a computer with several radar sources, and "AirLink 33/40", which is sometimes used to give aerial views of crime scenes, but is also occasionally used to show the paths of violent and long-track tornadoes. WBMA/WCFT/WJSU also operates a network of cameras around Alabama (currently sponsored by local insurance company Alfa Insurance) that also provide live weather information from observation sites in each camera location. The SkyCams operate in Downtown Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, as well as other cities in Alabama such as Inverness, Gadsden, Jasper, Mount Cheaha, Cullman and Clanton, and a few in Mississippi.
It also operates TowerLink cameras on the former and current transmitter sites of WBMA and its satellite stations: the Tuscaloosa TowerLink camera, located on the old Channel 33 broadcast tower, caught footage of an F4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in December 2000, as well as a tornado spawned from Hurricane Rita in September 2005, and an EF-3 tornado that struck southern Tuscaloosa on April 15, 2011; the Birmingham TowerLink camera, located on WBMA-LD's current tower, caught footage of a major power outage in western Birmingham, which indicated the presence of an F5 tornado on April 8, 1998; the SkyCam in Tuscaloosa (atop the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse) also captured live footage of a destructive EF4 tornado that struck Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011 (footage of the same tornado was captured by the Birmingham SkyCam when it struck the northern part of the city, the Cullman SkyCam also caught footage of a multiple-vortex tornado, both on the same day). A TowerLink camera is also located on WJSU's tower in Anniston. WBMA/WCFT/WJSU has recently set up additional cameras, referred to simply as "tower cams", in the Riverchase Galleria complex (either atop the Winfrey Hotel or the Galleria Tower) in Hoover, as well as atop the Alabama Power headquarters office building in downtown Birmingham.
Social media 
WBMA/WCFT/WJSU relies heavily on social media, especially for weather updates and alerts. The station has both a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, (as do several members of the station's on-air news staff) that are used to keep viewers updated on local news headlines and weather alerts, as well as to get feedback from viewers on news stories. Chief meteorologist James Spann has stated that social media makes it easier to alert people during severe weather, to warn viewers of impending severe weather. Facebook and Twitter were also used in the weeks following the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak to report – among other things – damage, missing persons and effects of the storm on the people of Alabama. WBMA/WCFT/WJSU also uses Flickr to post viewer-submitted weather photos, or pictures of severe weather damage. This strong reliance on social media prompted the station to develop an hour-long newscast with Facebook interaction as its basis, called Focus @ 4. Its purpose is for the station to be able to ask questions about current events and interesting topics to its viewers through Facebook and vice versa. The show also boosted WBMA/WCFT/WJSU's ratings because it is the only local newscast in Birmingham airing in the 4:00 p.m. timeslot.
Nielsen ratings errors 
Between May 26, 2008 and March 23, 2009, Nielsen Media Research shortchanged the WBMA/WCFT/WJSU system. For ratings purposes, the entire system is rated as WBMA+, but tuning to digital WBMA/WCFT/WJSU or anything that carried it (cable or satellite) was ignored, reducing the recorded ratings tremendously; ratings in Nielsen books were less than half of what station management expected. It later came out that Nielsen had undercounted and overcounted at various times between February 2008 and November 2009, including a time in January 2010 that primetime ratings had been shortchanged (including occasional zero shares). The confusion stemmed from the station's unique physical setup.
News/station presentation 
Newscast titles 
- TV-33 News (1970s; WCFT)
- Eyewitness News (1970s–1980s; WCFT)
- (33) Eyewitness News (1980s–1996; WCFT)
- TV-40 News (1980s–1996; WJSU)
- The (time) News on Alabama's ABC 33/40 (general) / The Night Team on Alabama's ABC 33/40 (10 p.m. newscast; 1996–2001)
- ABC 33/40 News (2001–present)
Station slogans 
- "Alabama's All Electronic News Station" (late 1970s)
- "West Alabama's News Leader" (late 1980s–1996; WCFT slogan)
- "Northeast Alabama's Local TV News Source" (early 1980s–1996; WJSU slogan)
- "We're (Always) Building Our Station Around You" (1996–1998 and 2000–2002)
- "Where News Comes First" (1998–2000)
- "Alabama's News Leader" (2002–present)
On-air staff 
- Nicole Allshouse - host of Talk of Alabama (weekdays 9:00-10:00 a.m.)
- Dave Baird - weeknights at 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.
- Sheri Falk - weekday mornings on Good Morning Alabama (4:30-7:00 a.m.)
- Honora Gathings - Sundays at 5:00 and 10:00 p.m.; also weeknight reporter
- Ebony Hall - weekday mornings on Good Morning Alabama (4:30-7:00 a.m.)
- Pam Huff - weekdays on Focus @ 4 (4:00-5:00 p.m.) and weeknights at 5:00 p.m.
- Brenda Ladun - weeknights at 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.
- Linda Mays - weekdays at 11:00 a.m. and weeknights at 5:00 p.m.
- Bryant Somerville - Saturdays at 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.; also weeknight reporter
- Storm Alert Weather
- James Spann (AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Seal of Approval) - chief meteorologist; weekdays at 4:00, and weeknights at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.
- Charles Daniel - meteorologist; weekday mornings on Good Morning Alabama (4:30-7:00 a.m.) and weekdays at 11:00 a.m.
- Ashley Brand (AMS and NWA Seals of Approval) - meteorologist; weekend evenings
- Sports team
- Mike Raita - sports director; weeknights at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00 p.m.; also host of local sports talk show The Zone (Sundays 10:30 p.m.)
- Jeff Speegle - sports anchor; weekend evenings; also sports reporter
- Stu McCann - sports reporter; also fill-in anchor
- Kevin Scarbinsky - co-host of The Zone (Sundays 10:30 p.m.); also Birmingham News sports columnist
- Doug Segrest - co-host of The Zone (Sundays 10:30 p.m.)
- Edward Burch - 4 p.m. reporter
- Sherrie Evans - general assignment reporter
- Isaiah Harper - Tuscaloosa bureau/West Alabama reporter
- Thomas Lower - technology reporter; seen Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m.
- Cory McGinnis - general assignment reporter
- Larry Miller - general assignment reporter
- Marissa Mitchell - 4 p.m. reporter
- Sarah Snyder - general assignment reporter; also fill-in anchor
- Kevyn Stewart - Anniston bureau/East Alabama reporter
- Candace Sweat - 4 p.m. reporter
- Haley Westbrook - general assignment reporter
- Candace White - weekday morning reporter
Notable former on-air staff 
- John Oldshue - meteorologist (1997-2007; left to operate a small business)
See also 
- Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- WCFT and WJSU Switch to DIgital
- CDBS Print
- WBMA Moves to Channel 40
- WCFT Info
- Other WCFT Info
- WJSU Info
- Other WJSU Info
- WBMA/WCFT/WJSU Info
- The Chew' airing at 12:00
- Refusal to Air 'The Puppy Episode
- December 2000 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- September 2005 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- April 15, 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- April 27, 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado, AlabamaWX.com, April 28, 2011.
- ABC 33/40 Facebook page
- ABC 33/40 Twitter feed
- James Spann relies on social media
- Twitter helpful after April 27
- Nielson Shortchanges WBMA+ in Ratings
- Nielson Makes Mistakes Regarding WBMA+
- WCFT-TV 1970s
- WCFT-TV 1970s
- Birmingham News Opens, Closes and Promos (3)
- Birmingham News Opens, Closes and Promos (5)
- ABC 33/40 News at 11 Open
- Birmingham News Opens, Closes and Promos (2)
- "ABC 33/40 News - Talent Bios". WBMA-LP. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
- ABC3340.com - Official website
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WBMA-LD
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WCFT
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WJSU
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WCFT-TV
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WJSU-TV