|WTTO: Homewood/Birmingham, Alabama
WDBB: Bessemer/Tuscaloosa, Alabama
|Slogan||TV NOW (uses network's national slogan in station advertising)|
WTTO: 28 (UHF)
Virtual: 21.1 (PSIP)
WDBB: 18 (UHF)
Virtual: 17.1 (PSIP)
The Country Network (DT2)
Sinclair Broadcast Group
(sale to Deerfield Media pending; to remain operated by Sinclair thereafter)
(operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group)
(WTTO: WTTO Licensee, LLC)
(WDBB: WDBB-TV, Inc.)
|First air date||WTTO: April 21, 1982
WDBB: October 8, 1984
|Call letters' meaning||WTTO:
(original owners of WDBB)
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
21 (UHF, 1982-2009)
17 (UHF, 1984-2009)
Fox (1986-1996, simulcast with WTTO from 1991)
The WB (1996-2006)
|Transmitter power||WTTO: 765 kW
WDBB: 350 kW
|Height||WTTO: 427.3 m
WDBB: 675 m
|Facility ID||WTTO: 74138
WTTO is the CW-affiliated television station for Birmingham, Alabama. The station is licensed to the Birmingham suburb of Homewood and broadcasts a high-definition digital signal on UHF channel 28 (or virtual channel 21.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter located at Red Mountain. The station operates a full-time satellite, WDBB, which is licensed to the Birmingham suburb of Bessemer but primarily serves Tuscaloosa and the western part of the market. It broadcasts a high-definition digital signal on UHF channel 18 (or virtual channel 17.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter near Windham Springs.
Owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, both stations are sister to MyNetworkTV affiliate WABM and all three share studios on Beacon Parkway West in southeastern Birmingham. Receiving the WTTO signal, the station can also be seen on Bright House Networks channel 9, Comcast Xfinity channel 4 and AT&T U-verse channel 21.
In Central Alabama, channel 21 was originally allocated to Gadsden as WTVS. It was one of the earliest UHF television stations, but could not gain any foothold and soon went dark because UHF tuning was optional at the time. The WTVS callsign was ultimately used by the PBS station in Detroit, Michigan.
WTTO began originally on April 21, 1982 as Alabama's second independent station (and the Birmingham market's first), signing on a few months after WPMI-TV in Mobile. It was a typical UHF independent that aired numerous cartoons, movies, and sitcoms. The first program it broadcast was a rerun of the 1970s action series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It quickly became the strongest independent station in Alabama, and one of the strongest in the nation. The station's original owner, Chapman Broadcasting, sold it to Arlington Broadcasting in 1983. It was sold to HR Broadcasting in 1987. Despite being one of the strongest independent stations in the country, WTTO turned down the Fox affiliation when that network started up. Even without Fox, the station continued to prosper. HR Broadcasting sold WTTO to Abry in 1989.
Meanwhile, WDBB had its start on October 8, 1984 as an independent station licensed to Tuscaloosa, also serving Birmingham. The station was owned by Dubose Broadcasting (hence its call letters) and operated from studios on Jug Factory road on the southern edge of Tuscaloosa. In the fall of 1985, WDBB gained the broadcasting rights to the Alabama Crimson Tide's football and basketball coaches shows. The shows had aired on WBRC and then WAPI, later WVTM, and this was a major coup for the upstart station. The two stations waged a pitched battle for viewership, even though Birmingham was just barely large enough at the time for two independent stations.
In 1986, the station moved its city of license to Bessemer and built a new tower there in an attempt to improve its coverage in the Birmingham area. It signed on WNAL-TV (channel 44) in Gadsden as a satellite to serve the northern part of the market. The Fox network launched soon afterward, and WDBB/WNAL became the Birmingham area's Fox affiliate. However, neither station decently covered Birmingham, even though Bessemer is only 18 miles southwest of Birmingham. As a result, several large Birmingham-area cable systems refused to carry it. In January 1991, Fox moved its affiliation to WTTO after all efforts to get better cable coverage for WDBB/WNAL failed. Soon afterward, WDBB and WNAL began simulcasting WTTO for all but two hours of the broadcast day. By 1993, Abry had bought WNAL and WDBB outright and turned them into full-time satellites of WTTO, which nonetheless only called itself "Fox21". WDBB then moved back to its original transmitter in Windham Springs, but remained licensed in Bessemer. Within a year, WTTO was one of the strongest Fox affiliates in the country, and was actually the third-highest rated station in central Alabama.
Abry merged with Sinclair in 1994. A few months later, Sinclair began a local marketing agreement with WABM, which joined UPN in 1995. Meanwhile, that same year, New World bought WBRC from Citicasters. At the same time, it bought WVTM from Argyle. This posed a serious problem for New World. It not only owned two stations in the same market, but now owned more stations than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed. A few months later, however, New World and Fox reached a deal in which New World would switch most of its stations to Fox affiliates. This gave New World a chance to solve its Birmingham ownership problem by selling WBRC directly to Fox.
WBRC had been one of ABC's strongest affiliates for decades. However, ABC's contract with WBRC didn't run out until September 1996, giving ABC time to find a replacement. The network first approached WTTO. However, Sinclair only wanted to carry ABC's primetime and news programming, as it wasn't interested in carrying the network's then-unsuccessful morning and daytime programming. Sinclair was also unwilling to start a news department; at the time it did not budget for news on its non-Big Three stations. Unlike situations in St. Louis and the Piedmont Triad, where the network was all but forced to align with a Sinclair station (or one eventually acquired by Sinclair) due to a lack of another financially secure full-power station, other options were available in the Birmingham market. ABC turned down the offer in late 1995, eventually settling on the WBMA-LP/WCFT/WJSU trimulcast with Allbritton Communications in the fall of 1996 as "ABC 33/40".
WTTO and WDBB continued as Fox stations until WBRC officially joined Fox in 1996. The two stations then became independents once again, though WTTO held onto Fox Kids after WBRC didn't opt to air the programming block. In the meantime, WNAL was sold to Fant Broadcasting and became the CBS affiliate for Gadsden and northeast Alabama. That station is now WPXH-TV, the Ion Television station for central Alabama. In February 1997, WTTO and WDBB affiliated with The WB as one of the first affiliations for the network by a Sinclair station. Before then, Birmingham had been one of the largest markets without a WB affiliate.
In the late 1990s, WTTO gradually moved away from movies, classic sitcoms, and cartoons to the more general talk/reality show/court show/syndicated sitcom schedule which became the standard slate at that time for netlet stations. WTTO dropped Fox Kids programming in fall 2000, with WBRC not picking it up and leaving it and future blocks programmed by 4Kids Entertainment unseen in the Birmingham market. WTTO has continued to air the WB and CW children's blocks without interruption through the years, with WABM eventually picking up the Weekend Marketplace paid programming block in lieu of WBRC.
The WB merged with UPN in September 2006 to form The CW, a network featuring programming from both networks. Sinclair announced on May 2, 2006 that WTTO would become the CW affiliate. As a CW affiliate, the station brands as "CW 21", and sometimes "CW 21 Alabama"; WABM had earlier affiliated with Fox's MyNetworkTV.
On July 29, 2013, Allbritton announced that it would sell its entire television group, including the WBMA "ABC 33/40" trimulcast operation, to Sinclair. As part of the deal, Sinclair will sell the license assets of WTTO and WABM to Deerfield Media, but will still operate them through shared services and joint sales agreements.
|Channels||Video||Aspect||PSIP ID name||Programming|
|Main programming / The CW|
|The Country Network|
On February 17, 2009 at 11:59 p.m., WTTO and WDBB ceased to transmit their signals in analog format on channels 21 and 17. The stations are now exclusively available in ATSC digital format.
While WDBB broadcast much of the same programming as WTTO, the Tuscaloosa station operated its own local news department twice during its history. First as NewsCenter 17 during the 1980s and then as WDBB 17 News during the early 1990s. WDBB 17 News directly competed with then-CBS affiliate WCFT-TV (which, incidentally, had been Chapman's flagship station) for West Alabama viewers. The newsroom and studio were housed at WDBB's studio. Talent such as Dan Cates and Don Hartley, who were already known from previous stints on other TV and radio stations, were part of the news department. Later on, they were joined by Gene Lively, longtime anchor at WVTM. Soon afterward, WDBB's separate newscast was shut down. The newsroom and studio were vacant until late 1997, when upstart WJRD-CA (now WVUA-CA) moved into WDBB's former facilities to start a news local news operation to cover western Alabama. Some of WJRD's talent were former WDBB staffers who had been let go two years earlier.
In September 2003, WTTO began producing its own local newscast, titled "WB21 News at 9:00" as part of Sinclair's national News Central concept, with local segments originating from Birmingham. The newscast made no headway against WBRC's early newscast, and in early 2005 WTTO outsourced its newscast to CBS affiliate WIAT when News Central-dependent newscasts throughout Sinclair were discontinued due to budget concerns. The news share and newscast with WIAT was canceled on October 13, 2006.
WDBB newscast titles
- NewsCenter 17 (1980s)
- Alabama's Nine O'Clock News (1980s)
- WDBB 17 News (early 1990s-December 1995)
- WB21 News at Nine (Mid 2000s)
- Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- 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.
- "APPLICATION FOR CONSENT TO ASSIGNMENT OF BROADCAST STATION CONSTRUCTION PERMIT OR LICENSE". CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. August 9, 2013. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- "Sinclair Buying Allbritton Stations For $985M". TVNewsCheck. July 29, 2013. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
- Tower Site of the week; "A Quick Jaunt Through Birmingham, Alabama" (2002)
- Listing 1050693 in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Antenna Structure Registration database
- Listing 1035175 in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Antenna Structure Registration database
- WTTO website
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WTTO
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WDBB
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WTTO-TV
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WDBB-TV