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|City of license||Birmingham, Alabama|
|Branding||WIAT 42 (general)
WIAT 42 News (newscasts)
|Slogan||Coverage You Can Count On|
|Channels||Digital: 30 (UHF)
Virtual: 42 (PSIP)
42.2 Untamed Sports TV
42.3 WIAT 42 Weather Channel
|Translators||42 (UHF) Tuscaloosa
(sale pending to Media General)
(LIN License Company, LLC)
|First air date||October 17, 1965|
|Call letters' meaning||It's About Time
(former station slogan)
|Former callsigns||WBMG (1965–1998)|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
42 (UHF, 1965–2009)
|Transmitter power||1,000 kW|
|Public license information:||Profile
WIAT, virtual channel 42 (UHF digital channel 30), is a CBS-affiliated television station serving Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by LIN Media. WIAT maintains studio facilities located on Golden Crest Drive (near Valley Avenue) in southeastern Birmingham; and its transmitter is located atop Red Mountain, near the southern edge of Birmingham.
Although a construction permit was issued in 1956, the station did not sign on the air until October 17, 1965 as WBMG (standing for BirMinGham). It was owned by local investment banker Bill DuBois, with Southern Broadcasting, owners of radio station WSGN (now WAGG), as its minority owner.
As was the case at the time with most UHF stations in markets served by at least two commercial VHF stations – in Birmingham's case, NBC/CBS affiliate WAPI-TV (channel 13, now WVTM-TV); and then-ABC affiliate WBRC-TV (channel 6) – WBMG experienced considerable competitive disadvantages from the outset. Many households did not have television sets capable of viewing UHF broadcast signals without a converter. Television set manufacturers had only begun including UHF tuning a year earlier, per a 1962 directive from the Federal Communications Commission. The station's signal also left much to be desired. This was particularly problematic since central Alabama is a fairly large market geographically, stretching across nearly the entire width of the state; much of this area's terrain is also hilly to mountainous. This was a major reason that it took longer for Birmingham to get a third station than other cities of its size – even though it had been large enough to support a third station since the 1950s. UHF stations usually did not get good signal coverage in areas with rugged terrain at the time, and as a result, only Birmingham proper and some inner-ring suburbs over Red Mountain received a decent signal from channel 42. The FCC had actually allocated four VHF channels to what would become the Birmingham market, but two of them – channels 7 and 10 – were acquired by Alabama Educational Television.
On paper, WBMG took the CBS affiliation from WAPI-TV. However, CBS continued to allow channel 13 to air some of its more popular programs. WBMG was left with CBS' news programming and numerous lower-rated CBS shows, and filled the schedule with some NBC shows that WAPI-TV turned down. One of them was, strangely given its popularity elsewhere in the country, The Tonight Show. Another example is the infamous Heidi Game American Football League event in 1968. One benefit, though, was that the CBS Evening News returned to Birmingham after being absent from the market for several years. After CBS and NBC expanded their news programs to 30 minutes in 1963, NBC's The Huntley-Brinkley Report was the only national network newscast seen in Birmingham until 1965 (WBRC did not carry ABC's evening newscast at that point). Both stations listed their affiliation as "CBS/NBC." By 1970, though, WAPI's owners, the Newhouse family, opted for an exclusive contract with NBC, leaving WBMG to take a full CBS affiliation more or less by default.
With a poor signal, the lack of sets with UHF capability and two of the South's oldest and most respected stations as competition, WBMG found the going very difficult. Due in part to WBMG's weak signal, CBS opted to affiliate with two other central Alabama stations, WCFT-TV (channel 33) in Tuscaloosa and WHMA-TV (channel 40, now WJSU-TV) in Anniston. Both stations signed on roughly around the same time as WBMG, and reached some Birmingham homes with UHF rooftop antennas. However, some of WBMG's problems were of its own making, due to the reported lack of professionalism to its newscasts at times. Furthermore, CBS' 1971 decision to cancel many of its rural-oriented sitcoms and variety shows, especially the country music showcase Hee Haw and shows hosted by Sylacauga native Jim Nabors, in order to comply with the Prime Time Access Rule probably hurt WBMG's ability to attract viewers in rural Alabama, where those programs were highly popular among viewers. For example, when Hee Haw returned in syndication in fall 1971, it aired on WAPI because of that station's greater attractiveness to the distributor due to its longevity and larger audience.
Still, WBMG gained publicity in Central Alabama for some local shows, such as live studio wrestling, and the children's show Sergeant Jack (which ran on weekdays from 1965 to 1976 and on weekends from that point until 1982), featuring former WSGN disc jockey Neal Miller, who donned a sheriff's deputy uniform (and was actually sworn in as an honorary deputy by the Jefferson County sheriff himself). The program revolved around puppets, with an in-studio audience of elementary school-aged children, typical for its day. Mother Angelica, who would later launch the Christian cable network EWTN from Irondale in 1981, began her career by taping faith-related programs at the WBMG studios for distribution on the station and other broadcast outlets.
DuBois and Southern Broadcasting tried vigorously to increase channel 42's viewing area and production quality, first by constructing a tower putting out a 1.2 million-watt signal in 1969. Next, they built a larger studio facility for the station on Golden Crest Drive atop Red Mountain, where WBRC and WAPI were also located. However, this did not significantly improve the situation, likely prompting DuBois and Southern to sell WBMG to Park Communications in 1973, bringing that company to the FCC's television station ownership limit at the time. Park significantly boosted the station's signal, erecting yet another new tower in 1974. WBMG's signal was still rather weak after the signal boost, effectively limiting its coverage area to Birmingham itself and close-in suburbs in Chilton and Shelby counties. As a result, many cable providers in the western and eastern portions of the market would not carry it. With this in mind, CBS kept its affiliations with WCFT and WHMA/WJSU, which regularly trounced WBMG in their respective regions. This was especially true in Anniston since WBMG's signal did not cover east central Alabama well at all during that period, again because of high elevations from the Appalachian foothills. What little market share WBMG had in those areas dwindled even further when Arbitron separated Tuscaloosa and Anniston into separate markets.
Even when local news returned to the station in 1987 after a seven-year hiatus, WBMG had no luck whatsoever competing with WVTM-TV and WBRC, leading many industry insiders to deem Birmingham a de facto two-station market. It was perennially one of CBS' weakest affiliates, in marked contrast to its competitors, which were two of their networks' strongest affiliates. It even trailed WTTO (channel 21), an independent station (and later a Fox affiliate) that had only been on the air since 1982. By some measures, it was the weakest major-network affiliate in the nation. By the early 1990s, WBMG was only ahead of WABM (channel 68) in the Birmingham ratings.
Fox purchased WBRC in 1995, although ABC's affiliation with that station did not expire until September 1996; Fox continued to run WBRC as an ABC affiliate as a result while that network looked for a new affiliate in the central Alabama area. ABC first approached WTTO, but broke off talks after WTTO was only interested in carrying the network's primetime and sports programming. WTTO's owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, also did not budget for local news programming on its non-Big Three stations at the time. ABC then approached WBMG; despite channel 42's anemic ratings, ABC wanted to align with a station that at least had a functioning news department. ABC saw enough promise that it even offered to buy the station. Instead, for undisclosed reasons, WBMG renewed its affiliation with CBS in a long-term deal. ABC then opted for a unique arrangement with WCFT and WJSU, which would combine to act as full-powered satellites of low-power station WBMA-LP (channel 58), whose signal did not extend outside of Jefferson and Shelby counties. The switch took place on September 1, 1996. At that time, CBS decided to temporarily affiliate with another central Alabama station, WNAL-TV (channel 44, now WPXH-TV) in Gadsden, which had a decent signal reach into the eastern portions of the Birmingham area, as well as eastern Alabama. However, WNAL opted to run simulcasts of WBMG's newscasts during this time.
In 1997, Park Communications was sold to Media General. However, the new ownership brought no change to the ratings. By late 1997, it had only a mere 1% market share, leaving it well behind not only WBRC, WVTM, WBMA but also WTTO and at times even WABM. The latter two didn't air any news programming at the time. Per an agreement with CBS, which was increasingly concerned about its lackluster performance in a growing market, Media General invested millions into turning WBMG around. Media General boosted the station's transmitting power to 5 million watts, the highest level allowed by the FCC. This finally put WBMG’s signal on equal footing with the other Birmingham stations. Media General’s upgrades also allowed channel 42 to be the first television station in the market to broadcast in high definition. This was important to Media General as it fought the perception that the station had a weak signal. Viewers in Central Alabama were able to watch CBS primetime programming and sports in HD.
In order to signify a new start as it prepared to reboot its news department (see below), Media General changed the station's callsign to WIAT (for "It's About Time", the station's new slogan) on February 1, 1998. A month earlier, general manager Eric Land fired all but one news staffer and replaced the newscasts with a clock which counted down to the launch of the new WIAT on February 5. On that date, Land appeared just before the countdown clock expired speaking to an unseen audience, then threw a switch that blew up an image of the WBMG logo, with the new WIAT logo emerging.
In 2003, Bill Ballard, who took over as president and general manager, created a new path for the station which included numerous changes such as stronger syndicated programming like Dr. Phil, Jeopardy!, Entertainment Tonight, and a much more aggressive approach to news coverage. The moves which were implemented dramatically altered the landscape of Central Alabama television, and made the station a factor in the ratings for the first time in its history. The station stopped referring to its callsign and erstwhile slogan, "It's About Time," in its branding, instead concentrating on establishing the station's association with CBS and turning the news department towards more in-depth investigative reporting.
In April 2006, Media General bought four NBC owned-and-operated stations, including WVTM. Since the FCC does not allow one company to own two of the four highest-rated stations in a single market and the two stations rank among the four highest-rated stations in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Anniston market in total day viewership, Media General opted to keep the then higher-rated WVTM and sell WIAT to New Vision Television, which on August 2, 2006, announced its purchase of WIAT and sister station KIMT in Mason City, Iowa for $35 million; The sale was finalized on October 12, 2006.
WIAT has long since left its ratings-challenged past behind, and is now one of the strongest CBS affiliates in the nation. It has seen some of the largest ratings gains in its history since the sale to New Vision. Additionally, CBS' broadcasts of Southeastern Conference football games garner higher ratings on WIAT than any other station in the nation. SEC games, particularly those involving Alabama and Auburn, are among the highest-rated programs in Birmingham during the season, typically delivering higher ratings on WIAT than the Super Bowl broadcasts in the market. This includes the Iron Bowl rivalry game itself, which has aired on WIAT for all but two years since 2000.
On May 7, 2012, LIN TV Corporation purchased the New Vision Television stations, including WIAT, for $330.4 million and the assumption of $12 million in debt. The FCC approved the sale on October 2, and the transaction was finalized on October 12; as a result, WIAT became a sister station to LIN's Mobile duopoly of Fox affiliate WALA-TV and CW affiliate WFNA, both were purchased by LIN from Emmis Communications in 2006.
On March 21, 2014, Media General announced that it would acquire LIN in a $1.6 billion deal. As a result, Media General was once again required to sell either WIAT or WVTM to another station owner in order to comply with FCC ownership rules. In this situation, the required sales would also be in response to planned changes to rules regarding same-market television stations which would prohibit sharing agreements. On August 20, 2014, Media General announced that it would keep WIAT and sell WVTM to Hearst Television.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|42.1||1080i||16:9||WIAT-HD||Main WIAT programming / CBS|
|42.2||480i||4:3||WIAT-DT||Untamed Sports TV|
|42.3||480i||4:3||WIAT-ANT||WIAT Storm Track Weather|
Untamed Sports TV was added on WIAT's second digital subchannel in 2009; the station promotes digital channel 42.2 as a separate channel on-air and on the station's website. In addition to Untamed Sports programming, the 42.2 subchannel also carries live and tape-delayed local high school sports events and a video simulcast of the Rick and Bubba show.
WIAT shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 42, 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 30. Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 42.
On April 5, 2010, the FCC granted WIAT a construction permit for a digital fill-in translator on its former UHF analog channel 42 to serve the Tuscaloosa area.
WIAT presently broadcasts 22 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with four hours on weekdays and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays). Unlike most CBS affiliates in the Central Time Zone, WIAT does not air local news during the weekday noon timeslot. WIAT has won many awards in recent history and in 2007 and 2008, WIAT won more Alabama Broadcasters Association Awards than any other station, as well as numerous Associated Press Awards. WIAT was awarded the "Alabama Television Station of the Year" award by the Alabama Broadcasters Association in 2010 and 2012, and is the only Alabama television station to have won the award twice. In 2012, the station won 19 awards, more than in any other year in its history, including nine regional Edward R. Murrow Awards (including for "Overall Excellence;" "Best Newscast;" and "Best Breaking News Coverage" and "Best Continuing Coverage" for its coverage of the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak), more than any other station in the country.
As WBMG, channel 42's newscasts consistently languished at (an often distant) last place. According to local legends, channel 42's newscasts often – inadvertently or not – became comedy shows. Examples of this include mid-1970s sportscaster (and local radio personality) Tommy Charles wadding up scripts and tossing them over his shoulder after reading them, as well as even letting balloons fly around the set for no apparent reason. Under Park Communications ownership, the station tried to professionalize its newscasts, with little success. WBMG discontinued local news programming in 1980 and for seven years, the station broadcast syndicated shows at both 5 and 10 p.m. The only news programming on channel 42 was in the form of hourly cut-ins. WBMG re-established its news department in 1987, but barely registered as a blip in the ratings.
The station managed to make a name for itself while John Harrod was news director from 1990 to 1995. He launched a very aggressive and hard-hitting news department, concentrating exclusively on local stories and investigative reporting. During Harrod's tenure, the station won awards from the Associated Press for its reporting. Unfortunately, the critical acclaim was not rewarded with a ratings win. Despite making a more credible effort than before, WBMG's newscasts still lagged behind WBRC and WVTM, and even fell to fourth shortly after WBRC switched to Fox and the WBMA trimulcast was formed. At one point in 1997, the station's news programming scored lower ratings than reruns of Sanford and Son.
After only a few months under Media General ownership, new general manager Eric Land decided to start a complete overhaul of the news department. He fired eight anchors and ten other news staffers, including all of the on-air reporters. On January 1, 1998, Land canceled the station's newscasts and fired all of channel 42's remaining news staffers, except for weekend sports anchor Sam Smith. Over the next month, channel 42 rebuilt its news department from scratch with input from focus groups and market research. During that time, the station showed a much-talked-about countdown clock in the 5 and 10 p.m. slots, where newscasts would air once the department was relaunched. During this time, the station sent coverage of the January 29 bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic by Eric Rudolph to CBS Newspath, CNN and to neighboring stations, even though it did not have a formal news department.
The new format debuted on February 5, 1998 – coinciding with the start of the Winter Olympics (which was carried by CBS) – under the title 42 Daily News. Land later said that even with its AP awards earlier in the decade, the station's research "found that our people were so closely identified with a poorly performing product that we had to create a new brand and start over again". Don Fitzpatrick, a TV news analyst, called the drastic changes an "extremely rare [...] act of desperation". The timing of the relaunch was chosen for a reason. Partly due to the merger of WCFT, WJSU and WBMA-LP into Birmingham's ABC affiliate, Tuscaloosa and Anniston areas were merged back into the Birmingham market, causing it to jump 12 places on the list of Nielsen markets (from 51 to 39). At the same time, Nielsen converted Birmingham to a metered market in the fall of 1998 for ratings purposes.
The rebooted newscasts initially did not have any on-air reporters, using crews of photographers with either reporters or field producers, and one-man bands, in an approach that emphasized content over personalities. All stories were narrated by the anchors, much as was the case for most television stations well into the 1960s. Strict time limits were imposed on story packages, leading to segments such as "Top Story in a Minute," "Weather Minute," "Neighborhood Minute" and a "2-Minute Drill" sportscast. One anchor manned the news desk, while the other read stories from various places on the new set. Al Primo, who created the "Eyewitness News" format at KYW-TV back in 1965, delivered sharp criticism of what he felt was "a product that was generated solely by research and implemented by people who don't know anything about the news business" and "the most disjointed presentation [of a newscast] that I have ever seen in my life". Land responded to Primo's scathing remarks by comparing the format to the Al Schottelkotte News, a longtime staple of WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, for which he had been a reporter: "[The Al Schottelkotte News] was very nontraditional, but jam-packed with information."
The new anchor team was mostly made up of out-of-town talent (anchor Keith Cate had previously been a main anchor at WMAR-TV in Baltimore; his reaction to the fast-paced news style was, according to him, "This looks like 'Headline News' gone local"), except for the two-person sports team, sports director Paul Finebaum and Smith. Finebaum's established popularity from his highly opinionated column in the Birmingham Post-Herald and radio show on WERC sparked some interest from sports fans. However, his sportscasts were often seen as incomplete since he had only two minutes to convey the day's sports. Smith, the only holdover from the old WBMG, left the station after a few months.
Even with the time constraints, WIAT was seen as making a more credible effort at news than ever before. Ratings increased immediately (for the 10 p.m. news, to a 7 share in February from a 1/3 in 1997, partly due to the Winter Olympics) but were still not enough to overtake the competition. Ratings also increased once Birmingham became a metered market, moving to 3 and 4 shares most nights early in the fall of 1998. That same year, the station received its first two Emmy Awards in station history. The station later rebranded its newscasts as "News 42". It also began adding reporters, and gradually eased its limits on story lengths.
Bill Ballard, who succeeded Land as general manager in 2003, brought in a seasoned news director who quickly hired WVTM veteran Ken Lass and WBMA weatherman Mark Prater, formerly the understudy of James Spann, a long-tenured Birmingham meteorologist. For the last decade, WIAT has had a spirited three-way battle with WVTM and WBMA for second place behind long-dominant WBRC. It has consistently been second in late news ratings since 2006. On April 9, 2010, WIAT became the third television station in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Anniston market (after WVTM and WBRC) to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition.
Notable former on-air staff
- Doug Bell - weeknight sports anchor (1987–1997; husband of WBMA/WCFT/WJSU anchor Brenda Ladun; now a freelance sports journalist)
- Dale Cardwell - investigator reporter (1984–1987)
- Keith Cate - weekday evening news anchor (1998–2000; now at WFLA-TV in Tampa)
- Hank Erwin - anchor (late 1970s–early 1980s; later became a news reporter on WYDE, formerly a member of the Alabama State Legislature)
- Paul Finebaum - sports director (1998–2001; currently hosting syndicated sports talk show based at WJOX)
The WIAT-TV Tower is a 365.8 meter high guyed mast, located at 30°41'17.0" N and 87°47'54.0" W. The WIAT-TV Tower was built in 1974.
- Listing 1059778 in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Antenna Structure Registration database
- Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- Broadcasting Yearbook 1960
- Tim Hollis (2008-10-25). "The "Heidi" game in Birmingham". Birmingham Rewound. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- Broadcasting Yearbook 1975
- Malone, Michael (May 7, 2012). "LIN Acquiring New Vision Stations for $330 Million". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved May 7, 2012.
- Sruthi Ramakrishnan (21 March 2014). "Media General to buy LIN Media for $1.6 billion". Reuters. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
- TV Station Mega Merger: Media General, LIN Set $1.6 Billion Deal from Variety (March 21, 2014)
- Media General acquiring LIN Media for $1.6 billion, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2014.
- Media Gen/LIN To Sell/Swap In Five Markets, TVNewsCheck, March 21, 2014.
- "Media General, LIN Sell Stations In 5 Markets". TVNewsCheck. August 20, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
- Malone, Michael (August 20, 2014). "Media General, LIN Divest Stations in Five Markets". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
- RabbitEars TV Query for WIAT
- I Want 42.2 - WIAT.com
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- "News staff fired. Quill 86.1 (January/February 1998): 6.
- Lafayette, Jon. "Birmingham's WBMG-TV cleans house with news staff." Electronic Media 15 December 1997: 2.
- Lafayette, Jon. "Alabama CBS affiliate tries spartan newscast." Electronic Media 9 February 1998: 49.
- Rogers, Patrick, and Durocher, Debra. "From Birmingham to the world--in a minute." American Journalism Review 20.3 (April 1998): 14.
- Lafayette, Jon. "News guru whacks WIAT-TV." Electronic Media 16 February 1998: 32-33.
- Lafayette, Jon. "Birmingham newscast gains from re-start." Electronic Media 6 April 1998: 4.
- Lafayette, Jon. "CBS affiliate's ratings grow by meters." Electronic Media 9 November 1998: 3-4.
- WIAT.com - Official website
- Birmingham Rewound -- classic TV
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WIAT
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WIAT-TV