|WTTO: Homewood/Birmingham, Alabama
WDBB: Bessemer/Tuscaloosa, Alabama
|Slogan||TV Now (CW national slogan used in station advertising)|
WTTO: 28 (UHF)
Virtual: 21.1 (PSIP)
WDBB: 18 (UHF)
Virtual: 17.1 (PSIP)
|Subchannels||21.1/18.1 The CW
21.2/18.2 ZUUS Country
ZUUS Country (DT2)
Sinclair Broadcast Group
(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)
independent (1982–1991, 1996-1997)
independent (1984–1986, 1996-1997)
Fox (1986–1996, simulcast with WTTO from 1991)
The WB (1997–2006)
|Transmitter power||WTTO: 765 kW
WDBB: 350 kW
|Height||WTTO: 427.3 m
WDBB: 675 m
|Facility ID||WTTO: 74138
|Public license information:||/ WDBB Profile
/ WDBB CDBS
WTTO, virtual channel 21 (UHF digital channel 28), is a CW-affiliated television station serving Birmingham, Alabama, United States. Licensed to the nearby suburb of Homewood. WTTO maintains transmitter facilities located at Red Mountain.
The station operates a full-time satellite, WDBB (virtual channel 17; UHF digital channel 18), which is licensed to Bessemer, another Birmingham suburb, but primarily serves Tuscaloosa and the western part of the market. WDBB's transmitter is located near Windham Springs.
WTTO is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group; Sinclair operates WDBB under a time brokerage agreement with owner Cunningham Broadcasting, though Sinclair effectively owns WDBB as well due to Cunningham's ownership structure. Both are sister stations to MyNetworkTV affiliate WABM (channel 58). All three stations share studio facilities located on Beacon Parkway West in southeastern Birmingham. Receiving the WTTO signal, the station is also available on Bright House Networks channel 9, Comcast Xfinity channel 4 and AT&T U-verse channel 21.
The UHF channel 21 allocation in Central Alabama was originally allocated to Gadsden and was occupied by WTVS, which operated during the 1950s. It was one of the earliest UHF television stations in the United States, but could not gain a foothold with the region's other stations and soon ceased operations after suffering from low viewership due to the lack of television sets in Central Alabama that were capable of receiving UHF stations since set manufacturers were not required to equip televisions with UHF tuners until the Federal Communications Commission passed the All-Channel Receiver Act in 1961, with such tuners not included on all newer sets until 1964. The WTVS callsign has since been used by a PBS member station in Detroit, Michigan.
WTTO first signed on the air on April 21, 1982 as the second independent station in Alabama (and the first in the Birmingham market), debuting 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 highest-rated in the nation. The station's original owner, Chapman Broadcasting, sold WTTO to Arlington Broadcasting in 1983. It was then 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 launched in 1986. Even without Fox, the station continued to prosper. HR Broadcasting sold WTTO to Abry Communications in 1989.
WDBB began operations 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 located 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 (channel 6) and then WAPI-TV (later WVTM-TV, channel 13), and WDBB's acquisition 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 relocated its city of license to Bessemer and built a new transmission tower in that city in an attempt to improve its signal coverage in the Birmingham area. It signed on WNAL-TV (channel 44) in Gadsden as a satellite station to serve the northern part of the market. The Fox network launched soon afterward on October 6, and WDBB/WNAL became the Birmingham area's original affiliate of the network. However, neither station decently covered Birmingham, even though Bessemer is only 18 miles southwest of the city. As a result, several large Birmingham-area cable providers 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 "Fox 21". WDBB then moved back to its original transmitter in Windham Springs (a 609.6 metres (2,000 ft) tall guyed mast structure that was constructed in 1986), but remained licensed to 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 the Sinclair Broadcast Group in 1994. A few months later, Sinclair entered into a local marketing agreement with WABM, which joined UPN in 1995. Meanwhile, that same year, New World Communications bought WBRC from Citicasters. At the same time, it bought WVTM from Argyle Broadcasting. 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 allowed. A few months later, however, New World and Fox reached a deal in which New World would switch most of its network-affiliated stations to Fox. This gave New World a chance to solve its Birmingham ownership problem by selling WBRC, which had been one of ABC's strongest affiliates for decades, directly to Fox.
ABC's contract with WBRC did not expire until September 1996, giving the network time to find a replacement affiliate. The network first approached WTTO. However, Sinclair only wanted to carry ABC's primetime and news programming, as it was not interested in carrying the network's then-languishing 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 trimulcast of WBMA-LP/WCFT/WJSU (channels 58, 33 and 40) with Allbritton Communications in the fall of 1996.
WTTO and WDBB continued as Fox stations until WBRC officially joined the network on September 1, 1996. The two stations then became independents once again, though WTTO held onto Fox Kids after WBRC opted not 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 Sinclair's first affiliates for the network (six months before the company struck a deal to switch several of its UPN affiliates and independent stations to The WB). Before that point, Birmingham had been one of the largest markets without a WB affiliate.
In the late 1990s, WTTO's schedule gradually shifted away from running movies, classic sitcoms and cartoons to the more general talk/reality/court show and syndicated sitcom schedule which became the standard slate at that time for netlet stations. WTTO dropped Fox Kids programming in the fall of 2000; WBRC did not pick it up, 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.
On January 24, 2006, the Warner Bros. unit of Time Warner and CBS Corporation announced that the two companies would shut down The WB and UPN and combine the networks' respective programming to create a new "fifth" network called The CW. Sinclair announced on May 2, 2006 that WTTO would become Birmingham's affiliate of The CW, and began to brand as "CW 21", and sometimes "CW 21 Alabama" when the network debuted on September 18; WABM affiliated with Fox's own new service, MyNetworkTV, on September 5, 2006. Sinclair later sold WDBB to Cunningham Broadcasting, but continues to operate it via a time brokerage agreement. However, the sale was purely nominal, as nearly all of Cunningham's stock is controlled by trusts owned by the Smith family, owners and founders of Sinclair. Cunningham has long faced allegations that it is merely a shell corporation to circumvent FCC rules on ownership.
On July 29, 2013, Allbritton announced that it would sell its television station group, including the WBMA "ABC 33/40" trimulcast operation, to Sinclair. As part of the deal, Sinclair was planning to sell the license assets of WTTO and WABM to Deerfield Media, but would still operate them through shared services and joint sales agreements.
On December 6, 2013, the FCC informed Sinclair that applications related to the deal need to be "amended or withdrawn," as the existing, grandfathered local marketing agreement between WTTO and WDBB would remain with Sinclair; this would, in effect, create a new LMA between WBMA and WDBB, even though the FCC 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-LD/WCFT-TV/WJSU-TV (which would mark the first known instance in which the senior partner in one duopoly became the junior partner in another, as well as the first instance involving a duopoly that was broken up legally terminating all operational ties with the junior partner); WABM will be sold to a third-party buyer with which Sinclair will not enter into a sharing arrangement or maintain any contingent interest, other than a possible transitional shared facilities agreement until WTTO's operations are migrated to WBMA's facilities. The LMA between WTTO and WDBB will be retained to continue operating the latter as a satellite station.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|Main programming / The CW|
On February 2, 2009, Sinclair announced to cable and satellite television providers via e-mail that regardless of the exact mandatory switchover date to digital-only broadcasting for full-power stations (which Congress rescheduled for June 12 days later), the station would shut down its analog signal on the original transition date of February 17. WTTO and WDBB shut down their analog signals, respectively over UHF channels 21 and 17, at 11:59 p.m. on that date. WTTO's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 28; through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 21. WDBB's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 18; digital television receivers display its virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 17.
While WDBB broadcast much of the same programming as WTTO, the Tuscaloosa station operated its own local news department twice during its history. It first ran a primetime newscast at 9:00 p.m. as NewsCenter 17 (later Alabama's Nine O'Clock News) during the 1980s. It then brought back news programming in the early 1990s as WDBB 17 News; WDBB's newscasts directly competed with then-CBS affiliate WCFT-TV (which, incidentally, had been original WTTO owner Chapman's flagship station) for West Alabama viewers. The newsroom and studio were housed at WDBB's original facility in Tuscaloosa. Talent such as Dan Cates and Don Hartley, who were already known from previous stints on other television and radio stations, were part of the news department. Later on, they were joined by longtime WVTM anchor Gene Lively. Soon afterward, WDBB's separate news department was shut down in December 1995. The newsroom and studio facility were vacant until late 1997, when upstart WJRD-CA (channel 49, now WVUA-CA channel 7) moved into WDBB's former facilities to start its own 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 airing a nightly primetime newscast, titled WB21 News at 9:00. As part of Sinclair's News Central local/national hybrid news concept, local news segments originated from the station's Birmingham studios while national news, weather and sports segments were based out of studios located at Sinclair's Beaver Dam Road headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland. It also aired "The Point", a controversial one-minute conservative political commentary feature, that was a requirement of all Sinclair-owned stations that aired newscasts (regardless of whether it carried the News Central format or not). The newscast made no headway against WBRC's longer-established (and much higher-rated) 9:00 p.m. newscast, which debuted with its September 1996 switch to Fox; production of the WTTO newscast was outsourced to CBS affiliate WIAT (channel 42) under a news share agreement in early 2005. The WIAT-produced newscast was canceled on October 13, 2006 due to low ratings; the News Central format had earlier been phased out entirely in its other markets by March 2006.
WDBB newscast titles
- NewsCenter 17 (1980s)
- Alabama's Nine O'Clock News (1980s)
- WDBB 17 News (early 1990s–1995)
- WB21 News at 9:00 (2003–2006)
- Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- "Fox Gains 12 Stations in New World Deal". Chicago Sun-Times. May 23, 1994. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
- WB woos and wins Sinclair, Broadcasting & Cable, July 21, 1997. Retrieved June 8, 2013 from HighBeam Research.
- 'Gilmore Girls' meet 'Smackdown'; CW Network to combine WB, UPN in CBS-Warner venture beginning in September, CNNMoney.com, January 24, 2006.
- UPN and WB to Combine, Forming New TV Network, The New York Times, January 24, 2006.
- 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.
- 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.
- RabbitEars TV Query for WTTO
- RabbitEars TV Query for WDBB
- Hearn, Ted (February 2, 2009). "Sinclair Sticks To Feb. 17 Analog Cutoff". Digital Video Report. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- 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
- 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