WBRC

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WBRC
WBRC 6 logo.pngWBRC-DT2 Bounce Birmingham.png
Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/
Anniston, Alabama
United States
City of license Birmingham, Alabama
Branding Fox 6 (general)
Fox 6 News (newscasts)
Slogan On Your Side
Channels Digital: 50 (UHF)
Virtual: 6 (PSIP)
Subchannels 6.1 Fox
6.2 Bounce TV
6.3 Grit (TV network)
Affiliations Fox
Owner Raycom Media
(WBRC License Subsidiary, LLC)
First air date July 1, 1949; 65 years ago (1949-07-01)
Call letters' meaning Bell Radio Company
(original owner of WBRC radio)[1]
Former channel number(s) Analog:
4 (VHF, 1949–1953)
6 (VHF, 1953–2009)
Former affiliations Primary:
NBC (1949–1954)
CBS (1954–1961)
ABC (1961–1996)
Secondary:
ABC (1949-1961)
DuMont (1949–1953)
Transmitter power 1000 kW
Height 373 m
Facility ID 71221
Transmitter coordinates 33°29′21.2″N 86°47′56.1″W / 33.489222°N 86.798917°W / 33.489222; -86.798917
Licensing authority FCC
Public license information: Profile
CDBS
Website www.myfoxal.com

WBRC, virtual channel 6 (UHF digital channel 50), is a Fox-affiliated television station serving Tuscaloosa, Gadsden, Anniston and its city of license Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by Raycom Media. WBRC maintains studio and transmitter facilities located atop Red Mountain, between Vulcan Trail and Valley View Drive, in southeastern Birmingham (located to the immediate west of the studios of NBC affiliate WVTM-TV, channel 13).

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

The station first signed on the air on July 1, 1949, originally broadcasting on VHF channel 4 as WBRC-TV (standing for Bell Radio Company, after J.C. Bell, the founder of WBRC radio;[1] the "-TV" suffix was dropped from the call sign in June 1999).[2] It is Alabama's second-oldest television station, signing on just over a month after WAFM-TV (channel 13, now WVTM-TV). It was originally owned by the Birmingham Broadcasting Company, run by Eloise D. Hanna, along with WBRC radio (960 AM). It was a primary NBC affiliate, and also carried secondary affiliations with ABC and DuMont; during the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.[3]

In 1953, WBRC-TV moved to channel 6 as part of a frequency realignment ordered by the Federal Communications Commission resulting from the 1952 Sixth Report and Order. This move was made in order to avoid interference between WBRC and Nashville's WSM-TV (now WSMV), which also operated on channel 4; the two stations' respective signals suffered from interference problems in northern Alabama. Later that year, Hanna also sold the WBRC stations to Storer Broadcasting.[4] George B. Storer, the company's founder and chairman, was a member of the CBS board of directors, and most of his stations operated as CBS affiliates. Storer may have used his leverage to secure a primary CBS affiliation for WBRC-TV in 1954. NBC moved to channel 13, then WABT, and both stations retained a secondary affiliation with ABC. That year, the WBRC stations moved to a new studio facility built by Storer on Red Mountain, where channel 6 remains today. The building, like many of those built by Storer, resembled an antebellum mansion. While it may have been out of place in most of Storer's other markets (outside of the Southern U.S.), it was a perfect fit for Birmingham. Unusual for a commercial broadcaster, Storer supported educational television, and the company gave two transmitters and frequencies in the Birmingham market (channels 7 and 10) to Alabama Educational Television. This also, however, may have been a move to forestall future commercial competition, as Birmingham would not get a third outlet until WBMG (now WIAT) debuted in October 1965, on UHF channel 42, a signal considerably weaker than either channel 6 or 13, a problem which hampered that station's progress until the early 21st century.

In 1957, Storer sold the WBRC stations to Radio Cincinnati Inc., the forerunner of what would become Taft Broadcasting.[5] Storer had to sell its Birmingham holdings after it purchased WIBG (now WNTP) in Philadelphia and its television sister, WPFH in Wilmington, Delaware (whose frequency is now occupied by WHYY-TV) in order to comply with the FCC's ownership limits of that time period.

In 1961, WBRC-TV took the ABC affiliation full-time, leaving channel 13 (by then known as WAPI-TV) to share CBS and NBC.[6] This was very unusual for a market with only two commercial stations; usually, one or both stations carried ABC as a secondary affiliation, since that network would not be on anything resembling an equal footing with CBS and NBC until the 1970s. However, Taft had very good relations with ABC. The company's chairman was a personal friend of ABC's president Leonard Goldenson, and several of Taft's other stations, including flagship WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, had recently switched to ABC. Taft later bought ABC's former syndication arm, Worldvision Enterprises, in 1979 (ABC spun off this division in 1973 as a result of fin-syn laws, which have since been repealed). Another factor, though supposedly not as important as the Taft-Goldenson relationship, was CBS News' apparent strong support of the Civil Rights Movement, which did not sit well with many white viewers, a large segment of WBRC's audience. ABC had very few full-time affiliates south of Washington, D.C. at the time, but now it had the full benefit of one of the South's strongest signals, best antenna locations and largest coverage areas. It provided at least secondary coverage from Decatur in the north to near Montgomery in the south, and from the Mississippi border in the west to the Georgia border in the east.

Like many network affiliates, WBRC-TV would preempt ABC programming occasionally or regularly, in some cases. For example, according to local legends, the station initially turned down Bewitched, not because it was concerned about witchcraft, but because it concerned a mixed marriage (between a witch and a mortal); there were fears that Bewitched would encourage what some segregationists referred to as "cross-breeding"; channel 6 would not clear Bewitched until 1967 (although, according to the October 15, 1965 issue of the Birmingham News, Bewitched was shown airing at its in-pattern time of Thursdays at 8 p.m. (Central) on WBRC). Channel 6 continued these practices for most of its years with ABC. However, ABC largely brushed off the preemption issue, even though it would eventually become the #1 network nationwide by the late 1970s, because of WBRC's status as central Alabama's dominant station.

In 1972, Taft sold the WBRC radio stations, which changed their call letters to WERC-AM-FM.[7] Meanwhile, WBRC-TV had become one of ABC's strongest affiliates, a position it retained for the next quarter-century. For a time, it incorporated the ABC circle logo inside its own "6" logo (just as it had done with the CBS eye in the 1950s). Channel 6 could make a plausible claim to be not only the most-watched station in the Birmingham market, but in the entire state of Alabama, thanks in part to unusually weak competition. It won practically every news timeslot, with WAPI-TV/WVTM-TV coming in a distant second. CBS affiliate WBMG was not a factor, and for a time in the early 1980s aired no newscasts at all; in fact, that station was among the lowest-rated major-network affiliates in the nation at some points, making Birmingham a de facto two-station market to industry observers from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.

WBRC further cemented viewer allegiances by carrying a heavy schedule of local programs in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably two long-running morning shows. The first was Country Boy Eddie, which featured local country, bluegrass and Southern Gospel music artists. Aimed at rural Alabama viewers, the show was hosted by fiddler, guitarist and vocalist Eddie Burns, who over time added novelty acts to the format and did most of the commercials himself in the studio live, from 1957 to 1993. The Morning Show, hosted by Tom York from 1957 to 1989, was a more general-interest interview and features program that was basically a local version of Today. York's program was so popular that, when ABC debuted Good Morning America in 1975, WBRC declined to carry it – preferring not to alter, let alone cancel, what had become a local television institution. WBRC began to clear only one hour of GMA in the early 1980s, and began airing the program in its entirety after York retired in 1989. WBRC was also one of the first stations in the region to adopt a 24-hour schedule, beginning in the early 1980s.

In late 1987, Taft was restructured into Great American Broadcasting after a hostile takeover. In December 1993, Great American Broadcasting was restructured again after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and became known as Citicasters. Citicasters then decided to put most of its television stations up for sale. These moves, though, did not immediately affect WBRC's high standing in the ratings or its reputation in the community.

As a Fox station[edit]

In early 1994, Citicasters agreed to sell WBRC, WDAF-TV in Kansas City, KSAZ-TV in Phoenix and WGHP in High Point, North Carolina to New World Communications. However, a month before, New World agreed to buy four stations owned by Argyle Communications, including Birmingham's WVTM (although the transfer/assignment applications of the Argyle stations were not filed with the FCC until after New World's purchases of the Citicasters stations had already been completed). This posed a problem for New World on two counts. FCC rules at the time forbade one company from owning two stations in the same market. In addition, the acquisitions put New World three stations over the FCC's 12-station ownership limit in effect at the time.

On May 23, 1994, New World agreed to affiliate twelve of its television stations with Fox,[8] one of which was WBRC. Although Fox' incumbent affiliate in Birmingham, WTTO (channel 21), was one of Fox' strongest affiliates, Fox found the chance to align with long-dominant WBRC too much to resist. The New World deal also gave New World a chance to solve its ownership problem by having Citicasters sell WBRC and WGHP directly to Fox.

However, since Fox was unable to immediately purchase the two stations outright due to questions over the American citizenship of then-parent company News Corporation's Australian-born CEO Rupert Murdoch, New World decided to acquire the stations but place them in an outside trust company, with WBRC being placed in the trust on October 12 (one month after WGHP was transferred). New World owned the licenses of both stations while Citicasters continued to control operations. Fox then took over the operations of WBRC and WGHP from Citicasters in September 1995 through time brokerage agreements, before its purchase of the stations was finalized on January 17, 1996.[9] Since WBRC's affiliation agreement with ABC did not expire until September 1, 1996, Fox had to run channel 6 as an ABC affiliate for over a year. This gave the network time to find another affiliate to serve central Alabama. ABC would eventually strike a deal with low-power station W58CK (channel 58), which created a triple-simulcast with two former CBS affiliates, WJSU-TV (channel 40) in Anniston and WCFT-TV (channel 33) in Tuscaloosa. With the switch, WBRC became one of only a few stations in the country to have had primary affiliations with all of the Big Three networks, and the only one in the country to have had primary affiliations with all four current major networks.

WBRC was originally going to run the Fox Kids weekday block from 1 to 4 p.m., but once it was determined that WTTO would end up as an independent station, it opted to let WTTO keep Fox Kids. As a Fox affiliate, WBRC has only aired the network's primetime, news and sports programming. Fox replaced its children's programming with the Weekend Marketplace infomercial block in January 2009, but WBRC still declined to carry that block; it currently airs on MyNetworkTV affiliate WABM (channel 68). Soon after WBRC switched to Fox, it stopped producing and broadcasting the local segments of the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon; WBRC was the first station to broadcast the telethon starting in 1949. National celebrities would fly in to appear on this telethon and it was from WBRC that it moved to national prominence. Even in its waning years on WBRC, the UCP Telethon would air locally produced mini-documentaries from the station (produced by Randy Mize and Tom Stovall).

When Media General completed its acquisition of WVTM from NBC on June 26, 2006, WBRC became the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston market's only remaining network-owned station. However on December 22, 2007, Fox announced that it had entered into an agreement to sell WBRC and seven other Fox O&O stations[10] to Oak Hill Capital Partners' Local TV, which jad earlier purchased the television stations formerly owned by The New York Times Company; the sale was finalized on July 14, 2008.[11] On January 6, 2009, Local TV announced that it would trade WBRC to Raycom Media in exchange for that company's Richmond, Virginia station WTVR-TV.[12] Raycom is headquartered in Montgomery (the market to the adjacent south of the Birmingham DMA), and also owns that market's NBC affiliate WSFA as well as Huntsville NBC affiliate WAFF. The transfer closed on March 31, 2009.[13]

Digital television[edit]

Digital channels[edit]

The station's digital channel is multiplexed:

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[14]
6.1 720p 16:9 WBRC Main WBRC programming / Fox
6.2 480i 4:3 Bounce Bounce TV
6.3 480i 4:3 Grit Grit (TV network)

On September 26, 2011, WBRC added Bounce TV as part of the network's affiliation agreement with WBRC owner Raycom Media.[15]

Analog-to-digital conversion[edit]

WBRC shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 6, 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. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 50.[16] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 6.

Programming[edit]

Syndicated programming featured on WBRC includes Judge Judy, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Cops Reloaded, Divorce Court, the Raycom-produced America Now, and Inside Edition. WBRC produces a weekly call-in program, Fox 6 WBRC Law Call, in which viewers phone in and ask for law advice from a legal panel (usually personal injury attorneys). It is hosted by former WBRC reporter Tiffany Bittner, and airs live after the station's 10 p.m. newscast on Sunday nights.

News operation[edit]

WBRC newscast title card; seen nightly at 9:30.

WBRC presently broadcasts 45½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 7½ hours on weekdays, 3½ hours on Saturdays and 4½ hours on Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the highest local newscast output among the Birmingham market's television stations and the most of any station in the state of Alabama. For most of the time since it joined Fox in 1996, the station's 9 p.m. newscast has been one of the highest-rated primetime newscasts in the country.[citation needed] WBRC has been the ratings leader in the market for most of the last half-century, dating back to its tenure as an ABC affiliate.

WBRC is part of the Raycom News Network, a service designed to share news resources among Raycom's television stations and websites that also involves Columbus/Phenix City ABC affiliate WTVM, Montgomery NBC affiliate WSFA and Huntsville NBC affiliate WAFF in which stations share information, equipment such as satellite trucks or even reporters' stories. The four stations also comprise the Raycom Weather Network and the Raycom Alabama Weather Blog, where meteorologists from all four stations post forecasts and storm reports, as well as providing live feeds from cameras and doppler radar systems that each of the stations operate. The only Raycom-owned station in Alabama that does not participate in the arrangement is Dothan's WDFX-TV, whose news programming is produced by WSFA under a news share agreement.

After WBRC became a Fox station in 1996, the station began placing more emphasis on its newscasts, maintaining a newscast schedule very similar to the one it had as an ABC affiliate, increasing its news programming output from about 25 hours a week to around 40 hours. All of the station's existing newscasts were retained, however its weekday morning newscast was expanded from one to three hours (with two hours added from 7-9 a.m.); the separate 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts on weeknights were consolidated into a 90-minute news block with the addition of a 5:30 p.m. news broadcast; and a 30-minute primetime newscast at 9 p.m. was added (until that newscast was expanded to one hour in 1999, WBRC opted to fill the 9:30 p.m. half-hour with syndicated programs, as a lead-in to the also retained 10 p.m. newscast). WBRC is one of several Fox stations that offer newscasts in both the final hour of primetime and the traditional late news timeslot (in WBRC's case, at 10 p.m. Central time), one of the few affiliated with the network that runs a 10 p.m. (or 11 p.m.) newscast seven nights a week and one of the few to continue its Big Three-era 10 p.m. newscast after the affiliation switch.

On July 14, 2009, the Saturday evening 6 p.m. newscast was eliminated due to budget cutbacks at the station.[17] On October 26, 2009, WBRC became the second television station in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Anniston market (after WVTM-TV) – and the third station in Alabama – to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. The news set and the graphics were also redesigned as part of the transition.

Controversy[edit]

David Neal lawsuit[edit]

In May 2008, former chief meteorologist David Neal filed a breach-of-contract and fraud lawsuit against WBRC and members of the station's management team, after the station had fired Neal without explanation that March.[18] The station denied wrongdoing, and began defending the lawsuit.[19] In July 2008, the station announced that James-Paul Dice, formerly of Huntsville CBS affiliate WHNT-TV, would replace Neal as chief meteorologist.[20] On July 29, 2008, the parties to the lawsuit filed a stipulation of dismissal, stating that the dispute had been resolved in mediation. Terms of the settlement were not immediately disclosed.[21]

Notable former on-air staff[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  2. ^ "WBRC-TV To Debut July 1, First in Ala.". Billboard: 13. 1949-06-11. 
  3. ^ "Require Prime Evening Time for NTA Films". Boxoffice: 13. November 10, 1956. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Storer options fifth TV as two others reach limit." Broadcasting - Telecasting, March 30, 1953, pg. 27. [1]
  5. ^ "This week's receipts: $26 million." Broadcasting - Telecasting, April 8, 1957, pp. 31-32. [2] [3]
  6. ^ "Taft stations switch to ABC-TV." Broadcasting, February 27, 1961, pp. 36. [4]
  7. ^ "Taft's WBRC-AM-FM sold for $2 million." Broadcasting, January 24, 1972, pp. 29. [5]
  8. ^ "Fox Gains 12 Stations in New World Deal". Chicago Sun-Times. May 23, 1994. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Citicasters, Inc., announces completion of sale of three television stations". Thefreelibrary.com. 1994-09-14. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  10. ^ "News Corporation". Newscorp.com. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  11. ^ "Oak Hill Capital Partners Completes Acquisition of 8 TV Station sales". Thefreelibrary.com. 2008-07-14. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  12. ^ [6][dead link]
  13. ^ [7][dead link]
  14. ^ "RabbitEars TV Query for WBRC". Rabbitears.info. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  15. ^ Cummings, Jozen (2011-05-06). "Bounce TV Reaches Distro Deal". Bvnewswire.com. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  16. ^ "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24. 
  17. ^ EXCLUSIVE: Fox 6 has another round of layoffs, drops Saturday 5 p.m. newscast, Media of Birmingham, July 14, 2009.
  18. ^ "Still No Sign of David Neal on Fox 6," The Birmingham News, March 26, 2008, p. 3C
  19. ^ "Meteorologist Sues Fox 6 Over Firing," The Birmingham News, May 13, 2008, p. 1B
  20. ^ "Fox 6 Hires Dice as Chief Meteorologist," The Birmingham News, July 19, 2008, p. 2C
  21. ^ Sherri C. Goodman. "Fox 6, David Neal Settle Lawsuit, ''The Birmingham News'', July 30, 2008". Blog.al.com. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 

External links[edit]