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|City of license||Birmingham, Alabama|
|Branding||Alabama's 13 (general)
Alabama's 13 News (newscasts)
|Slogan||We Are Alabama (general)
Accuracy Matters (newscasts)
|Channels||Digital: 13 (VHF)
Virtual: 13 (PSIP)
(sale to Hearst Television pending)
(Media General Communications Holdings, LLC)
|First air date||May 29, 1949|
|Call letters' meaning||Vulcan
(in reference to statue)
|Former callsigns||WAFM-TV (1949–1953)
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
13 (VHF; 1949–2009)
52 (UHF; –2009)
CBS (sole primary 1949–1954, joint primary with NBC 1961–1965)
|Transmitter power||20 kW|
|Public license information:||Profile
WVTM-TV, virtual channel and VHF digital channel 13, is an NBC-affiliated television station serving Tuscaloosa, Gadsden, Anniston and its city of license Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by Media General. WVTM maintains studio and transmitter facilities located atop Red Mountain, between Vulcan Trail and Valley View Drive, in southeastern Birmingham (to the immediate east of the studios of Fox affiliate WBRC). On cable, WVTM is available on Bright House Networks channel 8, and Comcast Xfinity and AT&T U-verse channel 13, and in high definition on Bright House digital channel 652, Xfinity channel 432 and AT&T U-verse channel 1013. Syndicated programs seen on WVTM include The Doctors, The 700 Club, Extra, Bethenny and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The station first signed on the air on May 29, 1949 as WAFM-TV; it was originally owned by The Voice of Alabama, Inc., along with radio stations WAPI (1070 AM), and WAFM (then at 93.3, now at 94.5 FM as WJOX-FM). It is Alabama's oldest television station. The station originally operated as a primary CBS affiliate with a secondary ABC affiliation. In July 1953, the Birmingham News bought the Voice of Alabama and changed the station's call letters to WABT (for Alabama's Best Television). The following year, WABT swapped primary affiliations with WBRC-TV (channel 6) and joined NBC, retaining a secondary affiliation with ABC. On January 26, 1956, the Newhouse newspaper chain bought the News. The station changed its callsign again in 1958 to WAPI-TV (for Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which owned WAPI radio from 1925 to 1932) to match its sister radio stations.
WBRC-TV became a full-time ABC affiliate in 1961, forcing WAPI-TV to shoehorn both NBC and CBS programs onto its schedule. This was rather unusual, since in most two-station markets ABC was typically relegated to secondary status on either one or both of the existing stations. The Birmingham market is a fairly large market geographically, stretching across nearly the entire width of the state. It also has some areas of fairly rugged terrain. Both of these factors made prospective station owners skittish about putting one of the available UHF allocations on the air, even though Birmingham was big enough even then to support three full network affiliates. Although there were two other VHF channels in the market, they had both been allocated to Alabama Educational Television.
While channel 13 tried to carry the most popular NBC and CBS shows, a lot of fairly popular shows did not air in the Birmingham area because of this arrangement. One of the more popular CBS shows that WAPI-TV did not carry was The Ed Sullivan Show, which resulted in Central Alabama viewers missing The Beatles' American debut unless they were lucky enough to pick up stations in Atlanta, Huntsville or Montgomery. Curiously, one of the NBC shows that channel 13 turned down was The Tonight Show. WAPI-TV strongly favored NBC for news, so when CBS and NBC expanded their news programs to 30 minutes in 1963, the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite did not air in Birmingham for the next two years. This was due, of course, to both networks' feeding their newscasts to affiliates at 5:30 p.m. Central Time (as they continue to do today). Channel 13 aired its local newscast at 6 p.m., and prior to 1971, prime-time network programming began at 6:30 p.m. Central time. This left no room on the schedule for the CBS Evening News to air, even if the station management had wanted to broadcast it.
When WBMG-TV (channel 42, now WIAT) signed on in 1965, it nominally had a CBS affiliation, but CBS allowed WAPI-TV to continue airing its higher-rated programming. This was largely because WBMG had only started one year after the Federal Communications Commission required that new television sets include all-channel tuning, and relatively few households in the area at the time had sets with built-in UHF tuning, or expensive converter boxes to enable older sets to pick up UHF signals. To fill out the schedule, WBMG aired some NBC programs that WAPI-TV turned down (such as The Tonight Show). Both stations listed "CBS/NBC" as their affiliation. However, in May 1970, for a number of reasons, WAPI-TV became the exclusive NBC affiliate, sending all of CBS's programming to WBMG. At the same time that channel 13 became an exclusive affiliate of NBC and WBMG aligned with CBS, WCFT in Tuscaloosa and WHMA in Anniston, two UHF stations respectively serving the western and eastern portions of Central Alabama, also affiliated with CBS; both signed on the air in the late 1960s, as WBMG was. Prior to that time, the primetime schedule of WCFT and WHMA virtually mirrored that of WBMG, because of WAPI's exclusive rights to network programming shown on that station for all the viewing area. During the 1970s, WAPI ran a distant second to WBRC in local news and general viewership, but was far ahead of WBMG, which was one of the lowest-rated commercial stations in the U.S. then. It was only in western and eastern Alabama that the CBS affiliates, WCFT and WHMA, were competitive against WBRC and WAPI, particularly in local newscasts designed for those areas only.
The Newhouse company, Advance Publications, departed the broadcasting business in the early 1980s to focus exclusively on its newspaper holdings. The Newhouse television stations, including WAPI-TV, were sold to the Times Mirror Company, and as a result the station changed its calls to WVTM (for Vulcan Times-Mirror) on March 28, 1980.
In 1993, the station was purchased by Argyle Broadcasting. In 1994, New World Communications, which had recently cut an affiliation deal with Fox, agreed to purchase WVTM along with its sister stations KTVI in St. Louis, Missouri, KDFW in Dallas, Texas, and KTBC in Austin, Texas. However, New World also decided to purchase several stations from Great American Broadcasting, including WBRC. New World was able to close on its purchase of WBRC on October 12, 1994 because the transfer applications of the Argyle stations were not submitted to the FCC until after the Citicasters (renamed from Great American Broadcasting) purchase was already finalized. However, WBRC and WGHP in High Point, North Carolina were immediately placed in an outside trust company since Citicasters changed its plans for both stations and decided to sell them directly to Fox once it discovered New World's plan to purchase the Argyle stations (which would have left New World over the FCC-mandated limit of 12 stations that was in effect at the time).
In January 1995, while awaiting for the Argyle purchase to receive FCC approval, New World took over the operations of the Argyle stations, including WVTM, through time brokerage agreements. The transfers of WBRC and WGHP to the trust were completed in early April 1995 while the New World purchase of the Argyle stations closed on April 14. As such, WVTM retained its NBC affiliation, while KTVI (formerly an ABC affiliate), KDFW and KTBC (both former CBS affiliates) switched their affiliations to Fox. Fox operated WBRC as an ABC affiliate until 1996, as its contract with that network did not expire until that September. New World sold off all its stations in 1996. Its Fox affiliates were sold to Fox outright, while its two NBC stations (WVTM and KNSD channel 39 in San Diego) were sold to NBC itself; the sale of WVTM and KNSD to NBC closed in July 1996.
WVTM was one of four NBC-owned stations in smaller markets that were put up for sale on January 9, 2006, along with WJAR-TV in Providence, Rhode Island, WCMH-TV in Columbus, Ohio, and WNCN in Raleigh, North Carolina. On April 6, 2006, NBC Universal and Media General announced that the latter would purchase WVTM-TV as part of a $600 million four-station deal between the two companies. Media General subsequently announced that it would sell its existing station in Birmingham, WIAT, since the FCC does not allow for one company to own two of the four largest stations in a single market. Media General closed the deal on all four stations on June 26, 2006 – after the FCC granted the company a temporary waiver allowing it to keep both WVTM and WIAT for six months. On August 2, it was announced that Media General sold WIAT to New Vision Television. After Media General took over, WVTM resumed its former branding of "Alabama's 13."
On March 21, 2014, LIN Media entered into an agreement to merge with Media General in a $1.6 billion deal. Because LIN already owns CBS affiliate WIAT and the two stations rank among the four highest-rated stations in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Anniston market in total day viewership, the companies were required to sell either WVTM-TV or WIAT to another station owner in order to comply with FCC ownership rules as well as planned changes to those 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, along with WJCL in Savannah, Georgia, to Hearst Television.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|13.1||1080i||16:9||WVTM-DT||Main WVTM-TV programming / NBC|
In 2008, WVTM added the Retro Television Network to its second digital subchannel, replacing the defunct NBC Weather Plus. WVTM replaced RTV with Me-TV in 2011 as part of a groupwide affiliation agreement with Media General; the channel replaced RTV on some Media General-owned stations in other markets.
WVTM-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 13, 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 relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 52, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition, to its analog-era VHF channel 13 for post-transition operations. WVTM was one of more than ten stations around the country that requested for a power increase due to the problems of VHF digital signals. The station then moved back to channel 13 for its post-transition operations.
WVTM-TV presently broadcasts 31 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 4½ hours on weekdays, 3½ hours on Saturdays and five hours on Sundays); in addition, the station produces a lifestyle and entertainment program titled Daytime Alabama (based on the format of the Daytime program originated by Tampa sister station WFLA-TV), which airs weekday mornings at 11:30 a.m. after the midday newscast (with day-behind rebroadcasts airing each weekday at 7:30 a.m. on WVTM-DT2, preempting Me-TV programming in that timeslot).
For most of the last half-century, channel 13's newscasts have been a solid, if usually distant, runner-up to long-dominant WBRC. This was the case even during the second half of the 1980s with NBC's powerful primetime lineup as a lead-in. However, starting in 1996, it had to fend off a spirited challenge from the newly-created ABC trimulcast fronted by WBMA. Since the start of the new millennium, it has also had to contend with a resurgent WIAT, whose news ratings prior to the 1998 reboot of its news department generally languished at a very distant fourth place. Indeed, since 2006 WIAT has consistently beaten WVTM in the late news ratings.
In 2004, WVTM began utilizing a one-million watt Doppler weather radar system originally branded as "Skywatch Doppler One Million" (which was later renamed "WeatherPlus Doppler One Million" and is now known as "Alabama's 13 Live Doppler Radar"), which is located on Bald Rock Mountain in St. Clair County. On October 17, 2007, WVTM-TV became the first television station in Alabama to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition.
Notable former on-air staff
- Sophia Choi - weekend morning anchor (1991–1996; now at WSB-TV in Atlanta)
- Les Coleman - 11 pm Anchor ( 1974) - White House Correspondent, RKO Network, CBS News, Beirut. Retired
- Bill Fitzgerald - anchor/reporter (1999–2004; now at WTVR-TV in Richmond)
- Cliff Holman ("Cousin Cliff") - children's program host (1954–1969; later at WJSU-TV; deceased)
- James Spann - meteorologist (1979–1983; now at WBMA-LP/WCFT/WJSU)
- Rene Syler - weekend anchor (1990–1992; later at KTVT in Dallas-Ft. Worth, then at CBS' The Early Show)
- "Fox Gains 12 Stations in New World Deal". Chicago Sun-Times. May 23, 1994. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
- Lowry, Brian (July 18, 1996). "New World Vision : Murdoch's News Corp. to Buy Broadcast Group". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
- NBC and New World Announce Closing of Sale of Birmingham TV Station to NBC
- NBC Universal begins to sell TV stations, The Tuscaloosa News, January 11, 2006.
- Media General to Buy NBC Affiliates for $600 Million, The New York Times, April 6, 2006.
- Media General buying WVTM-NBC13, selling WIAT-CBS, Birmingham Business Journal, April 6, 2006.
- Media General Completes Purchase of Four NBC Television Stations, Media General, June 26, 2006.
- 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 WVTM
- Where to watch MeTV: WVTM
- "Equity Media's RTN Adds Birmingham Affiliate". Reuters. January 7, 2008.
- Me-TV Beefs Up Roster With 10 New Stations, TVNewsCheck, September 15, 2011.
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- Eggerton, John (June 29, 2009). "Boise Station Gets Power Boost". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved July 1, 2009.
- CDBS Print
- Alabamas13.com - WVTM-TV official website
- MeTVBirmingham.com - Me-TV Birmingham official website
- Birmingham TV News: Station Histories
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WVTM
- BIAfn's Media Web Database -- Information on WVTM-TV
- Birmingham Rewound-Birmingham TV Memories
- Huntsville Rewound-Huntsville AL TV Memories