- NOTE: The full name of this local television station, for call sign purposes, is WBMA-LD/WCFT/WJSU; for the sake of brevity, the station will be referred to, in the text of this article, as WBMA+, the name used by Nielsen Media Research in reference to the station.
|WBMA-LD: Birmingham, Alabama
WCFT: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
WJSU: Anniston, Alabama
|Branding||Alabama's ABC 33/40 (general; official)
ABC 33/40 (general; colloquial)
ABC 33/40 News (newscasts)
|Slogan||Alabama's News Leader|
|Channels||Digital: (See table below)|
|Subchannels||(See table below)|
|Owner||Sinclair Broadcast Group
(TV Alabama, Inc.)
|First air date||September 1, 1996|
|Call letters' meaning||(See table below)|
|Sister station(s)||WABM, WTTO / WDBB|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
58 (UHF; 1996–2011)
33 (UHF; 1965–2009)
40 (UHF; 1969–2009)
WCFT: 5 (VHF; ?–2009)
33 (UHF; 2009–2014)
WJSU: 9 (VHF; ?–2014)
NBC (secondary, 1969–1970)
|Transmitter power||See table below|
|Height||See table below|
|Facility ID||See table below|
|Transmitter coordinates||See table below|
|Public license information:||/ WCFT-TV / WJSU-TV Profile
/ WCFT-TV / WJSU-TV CDBS
WBMA-LD, virtual channel 58 (UHF digital channel 40), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. WBMA-LD maintains studio facilities located in the Riverchase office complex on Concourse Parkway (near Riverchase Trail) in Hoover, and its transmitter located in western Birmingham atop Red Mountain.
The station's brand name, "ABC 33/40", comes from WBMA's two full-power satellite stations: WCFT-TV (virtual and UHF digital channel 33) in Tuscaloosa and WJSU-TV (virtual channel 40, VHF digital channel 9) in Anniston. Although the "ABC 33/40" branding makes it appear that WCFT is the primary station, WBMA is officially Birmingham's ABC affiliate. Even in digital, the low-powered WBMA signal is effectively limited to Jefferson and Shelby counties. Most viewers and cable providers in the Birmingham metropolitan area obtain the signal from either WCFT or WJSU. Combined, the three stations provide at least secondary broadcast coverage from the Alabama-Georgia state line westward to Columbus, Mississippi. WJSU maintains transmitter facilities located in Anniston; WCFT's transmitter is located near Windham Springs, in rural Tuscaloosa County.
- 1 Stations
- 2 Digital television
- 3 History
- 4 Programming
- 5 News operation
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
|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|
|WABM-DT2||Birmingham||35 (VHF)||68.2||January 31, 1986||Alabama BirminghaM||885 kW||406 m||16820|
- 1: Virtual channel (PSIP).
- 2. WBMA-LD used the callsign W58CK until 1997, at which time the callsign was officially changed to WBMA.
- 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.
The digital channels are multiplexed on all stations. "x" represents the PSIP number for the local channel.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|x.1||720p||16:9||WBMA & WCFT: ABC3340
|Main programming / ABC|
|x.2||480i||4:3||WBMA & WCFT: ABC3340
|"James Spann 24/7 Weather"|
WCFT and WJSU shut down their analog signals, respectively over UHF channels 33 and 40, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. WCFT-TV's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition VHF channel 5 to UHF channel 33. WJSU-TV's digital signal remained on its pre-transition VHF channel 9; through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 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, which were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition. On December 3, 2010, the FCC granted WBMA-LP a construction permit to flash-cut its 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 Meridian, Mississippi's WTOK-TV, the station decided to move to channel 40. WBMA-LP signed on its low-power digital signal on channel 40 as WBMA-LD in late May 2011.
WCFT-TV first signed on the air in October 1965, broadcasting on UHF channel 33, becoming the first television station in western Alabama. 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, Chapman Family Television 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 for broadcast by WAPI-TV (channel 13, now WVTM-TV) during channel 33's first few years. In 1970, WCFT became an exclusive CBS affiliate, as did WBMG (and WHMA below, for eastern Alabama). Even though Tuscaloosa is less than one hour to the southwest of Birmingham, CBS opted to retain its affiliation with WCFT because channel 42's signal was severely weak at the time. WBMG barely covered Tuscaloosa even though that city is only 45 minutes west of Birmingham, even with a power increase to 1.2 million watts in 1969. As such, many cable providers in the western part of the market opted to carry WCFT instead. WCFT regularly trounced WBMG in that portion of the market, and unlike WBMG, was often competitive with WBRC and WAPI/WVTM, especially with its local newscasts that were designed exclusively for western Alabama.
WJSU-TV signed on the air on October 26, 1969 as WHMA-TV, broadcasting on UHF channel 40; it originally operated 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). WHMA-TV's first general manager, Harry Mabry, came to Anniston from Birmingham, where he had served as news director at WBRC-TV (channel 6) for several years. Mabry already was familiar with Anniston, though, having been an announcer on WHMA-AM over fifteen years earlier. Another former Birmingham personality who was among the station's original staff was "Cousin Cliff" Holman, who left WAPI in 1969 after that station moved his children's show from weekdays to weekends the previous year. Holman resumed his program on WHMA in the afternoons, but changes in the television industry and the Federal Communications Commission's decision in the early 1970s to prohibit children's hosts from promoting products directly on-air forced channel 40 to cancel the program by 1972. Holman would, in later years, revive his program on a cable access channel in Birmingham (and for a short time, WBRC) and make public appearances at various children's gatherings.
WHMA-TV ultimately served approximately 100,000 households in east central Alabama, and management fought almost constantly to maintain Anniston as a separate 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, even with its 1969 power boost, channel 42 was all but unwatchable 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. In fact, many cable providers in the eastern part of the Birmingham market opted to carry channel 40 as the local CBS affiliate, instead of WBMG.
In 1984, the 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 television station's call letters to WJSU-TV. The station was ultimately sold in the early 1990s to Flagship Broadcasting.
WBMA/WCFT/WJSU as an ABC affiliate
In 1995, Birmingham's longtime ABC affiliate, WBRC-TV, 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 the network one year to find a new Birmingham affiliate. ABC reached a unique deal with Allbritton in which WCFT and WJSU would become Central Alabama's new ABC affiliate, with WCFT as the main station. However, under Nielsen rules, neither station would likely appear in the Birmingham ratings books because Tuscaloosa and Anniston were separate markets. 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 (which took place for the 1998-99 television season). That move benefited all of the major Birmingham stations, as it not only increased their viewership in Tuscaloosa and Anniston, but also 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"; 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, catering to the interests of its potential viewers. 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.
Acquisition by Sinclair
For over a decade and a half, WBMA+ maintained a strong relationship with its owner, Allbritton Communications, with no major problems arising between the two and likewise no major changes occurring. However, in the spring of 2013, Allbritton began to realize that it was having trouble financially supporting the television stations it owned. As a result, on July 29, 2013, Allbritton announced that it would sell its seven television stations, including WBMA+, to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, in an attempt to shift its focus toward its co-owned website, Politico. As part of the deal, Sinclair had intended to sell the license assets of its existing Birmingham stations, CW affiliate WTTO (channel 21) and MyNetworkTV affiliate WABM (channel 68) to Deerfield Media, but would still operate those stations through shared services and joint sales agreements. At the time, no affiliation changes were expected.
On December 6, 2013, the FCC informed Sinclair that applications related to the deal need to be "amended or withdrawn," as Sinclair would retain an existing time brokerage agreement between WTTO and its satellite station, WDBB (channel 17); this would, in effect, create 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 Sinclair-Allbritton deal in order to address these ownership conflicts, Sinclair announced that it would retain ownership of WTTO, forming a new duopoly with WBMA+ (while retaining the LMA between WDBB to continue operating it as a satellite station of WTTO); WABM was to be sold to a third-party buyer with which Sinclair would not enter into a sharing arrangement or maintain any contingent interest, other than a possible transitional shared facilities agreement until WTTO was able to move its operations from its longtime home on Beacon Parkway West to WBMA's facility in Hoover.
On May 29, 2014, however, Sinclair informed the FCC that it had not found a buyer for WABM and proposed surrendering WCFT and WJSU's licenses. Under the restructured plan, WABM would become the ABC affiliate for central Alabama, with WBMA-LD as its satellite. WABM's existing programming would move to its second digital channel (WBMA-LD itself, as a low-power station, would not be affected). Sinclair opted to retain WABM on the basis that its facilities are superior to those of WCFT and WJSU; indeed, moving ABC programming to WABM would give ABC a full-power affiliate in Birmingham itself for the first time since 1996. After nearly a year of delays, Sinclair's deal to acquire Allbritton was approved by the FCC on July 24, 2014, and was completed on August 1, 2014.
On September 18, 2014, in preparation for the shutdown of WCFT and WJSU, a simulcast of WBMA-LD was added to WABM's second digital subchannel.
In September 2006, WBMA+ 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+ affiliated 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+ refused to air "The Puppy Episode", an episode of the sitcom, Ellen, that gained notoriety for Ellen 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 Birmingham community center that was viewed by about 1,000 people, mainly local gays and lesbians, and their supporters. Some cable providers also ran the feed out-of-market from other ABC affiliates including Atlanta's WSB-TV. WBMA+ would eventually air the episode when it reran on the network later that same season.
WBMA+ presently broadcasts 27 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours on weekdays, and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays).
The station achieved early success with its newscasts, due in part to hiring many well-known Birmingham television personalities: these included 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, and former WVTM-TV news personalities Pam Huff and Tracy Haynes, who were later hired to anchor the station's early morning newscasts. Although it is a newer competitor to the other major Birmingham stations (even though WCFT and WJSU had already established news departments prior to becoming satellites of WBMA-LD), the station has spent most of its history in a spirited battle with WVTM, and more recently WIAT, for second place in the market behind longtime leader WBRC.
WBMA+ has had a long-standing policy to preempt regular programming for wall-to-wall, uninterrupted severe weather coverage in the event that the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for any county within its viewing area. The station 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", a helicopter that is normally used for newsgathering, but is also occasionally used to show the paths of violent and long-track tornadoes. WBMA+ also operates a network of cameras around all of Alabama that provide live video and weather information from observation sites throughout Alabama. Areas in which these "SkyCam" sites are located include downtown Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Inverness, Gadsden, Jasper, Mount Cheaha, Cullman, Clanton, Gulf Shores and Huntsville. A few SkyCams are located in Mississippi, at locations where the signal from the WCFT tower can be received.
In the latter half of 2013, WBMA+ upgraded many of its SkyCams to high-definition, and additionally set up new HD SkyCams in the Riverchase Galleria complex (atop the Galleria Tower) in Hoover, atop the Alabama Power headquarters office building in downtown Birmingham, and in several other locations around the central part of the state.
Despite being a relatively new station to central Alabama, WBMA+ has captured several significant weather events in Alabama history on both its SkyCams and its tower cameras (described below). On April 27, 2011, the Cullman SkyCam caught footage of a multiple-vortex tornado. Later that day, the SkyCam in Tuscaloosa (located atop the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse) captured footage of an EF4 tornado that caused incredible devastation across portions of Tuscaloosa. Footage of the same tornado was captured by the Birmingham SkyCam (which is located atop the Daniel Building) as it passed through the northern part of the city almost an hour later. During the 2012 Christmas tornado outbreak, the Mobile SkyCam, located in Battleship Park, captured the faint image of an EF2 tornado as it struck Mobile.
Additionally, WBMA+ operates "TowerLink" cameras that are mounted on former and current transmitters of each of the stations, some of which have also played parts in severe weather coverage. 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 the infamous F5 tornado on April 8, 1998. The Tuscaloosa TowerLink camera, which was located on the old WCFT broadcast tower (which was dismantled in 2012), caught footage of an F4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in December 2000, a tornado spawned from Hurricane Rita in September 2005, and an EF3 tornado that struck southern Tuscaloosa on April 15, 2011. A TowerLink camera is also located on WJSU's tower in Anniston.
WBMA+ 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) which 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+ 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 the ratings for WBMA+ because it is the only local newscast at 4:00 p.m. airing in the Birmingham market.
Nielsen ratings errors
Between May 26, 2008 and March 23, 2009, Nielsen Media Research shortchanged the WBMA system. For ratings purposes, all three stations are rated as WBMA+, but tuning to any of the three digital channels or the station feeds on cable and satellite was ignored, reducing the recorded ratings tremendously; ratings in Nielsen books were less than half of what station management expected. It was later explained that Nielsen had undercounted and overcounted at various times between February 2008 and November 2009, as well as a time in January 2010 that primetime ratings had been shortchanged (including occasional zero shares). The confusion stemmed from the station's unique three-station simulcasting setup.
Current on-air staff
- 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.
Notable former on-air staff
- Cliff Holman ("Cousin Cliff") - WJSU-TV children's program host (1969–1972; deceased)
- John Oldshue - meteorologist (1997–2007; left to operate a small business)
- Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- RabbitEars TV Query for WBMA
- RabbitEars TV Query for WCFT
- RabbitEars TV Query for WJSU
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- CDBS Print
- WBMA Moves to Channel 40
- WCFT Info
- Other WCFT Info
- WJSU Info
- Other WJSU Info
- WBMA/WCFT/WJSU Info
- Fybush, Scott (2002-06-05), A Quick Jaunt Through Birmingham, Alabama, fybush.com, p. A selection from a decade of visits to tower and studio sites in the Northeast and beyond, retrieved 30 January 2014
- Lafayette, Jon. "Birmingham's WBMG-TV cleans house with news staff." Electronic Media 15 December 1997: 2.
- 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.
- Eggerton, John (24 July 2014). "FCC Approves Sinclair/Allbritton Deal". Broadcasting & Cable. NewBay Media. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
- Sinclair's Deal For Allbritton Closes, Broadcasting & Cable, 1 August 2014, Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- "Use an antenna to pick up ABC 33/40? Important info here". abc3340.com (Sinclair Broadcast Group). Retrieved 18 September 2014.
- The Chew' airing at 12:00
- Refusal to Air 'The Puppy Episode
- April 27, 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado, AlabamaWX.com, April 28, 2011.
- December 2000 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- September 2005 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- April 15, 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- 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+
- 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