|Branding||CBS 8 (general)
Alabama News Network (newscasts)
|Channels||Digital: 42 (UHF)
Virtual: 8 (PSIP)
(Alabama Broadcasting Partners)
|First air date||March 17, 1960|
|Sister station(s)||WBMM, WNCF|
|Former callsigns||WSLA (1960–1984)|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
8 (VHF, 1960–2008)
55 (UHF, 2005–2008)
|Former affiliations||ABC (1960–1968)
|Transmitter power||1,000 kW|
|Public license information:||Profile
WAKA is the CBS-affiliated television station for Central Alabama's River Region that is licensed to Selma. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 42 (or virtual channel 8.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Gordonville. Owned by Bahakel Communications, WAKA is sister to CW affiliate WBMM and ABC affiliate WNCF. However, the latter is actually owned by SagamoreHill Broadcasting but operated by Bahakel through a shared services agreement. All three television outlets share studios on Harrison Road in North Montgomery. Syndicated programming on WAKA includes Wheel of Fortune, Dr. Phil, The Doctors, and Jeopardy! among others.
Channel 8 debuted on March 17, 1960 as WSLA (acronym for SeLmA). The station was originally owned by the Brennan family and their company, Deep South Broadcasting, along with WBAM radio in Montgomery (740 AM, now WMSP), and broadcast from a converted home in Selma with the studio located in the garage. Deep South originally sought the WBAM-TV call letters for channel 8. However, in those days, Selma and Montgomery were separate markets, and Federal Communications Commission regulations at the time would not allow companion call letters to be issued to stations located in different markets. Originally an independent, it picked up an ABC affiliation soon afterward.
Channel 8 was the only primary ABC affiliate in south-central Alabama. In Montgomery, ABC was relegated to off-hours clearances on NBC affiliate WSFA-TV and CBS affiliate WCOV-TV. Originally, Deep South could not afford a direct network feed. Instead, station engineers switched to and from the signal of WBRC-TV in Birmingham whenever ABC programming was available. Often, if the engineer was not paying attention, local WBRC breaks and IDs would air on WSLA. It operated from a tiny 360-foot (110 m) tower just west of Selma, with only 3,000 watts of power. This effectively limited its coverage area to Dallas County.
In 1964, WKAB-TV (later WHOA-TV and now WNCF) started up as Montgomery's ABC affiliate, but WSLA continued to broadcast ABC programming to the western part of the market because of UHF's limited coverage at the time. Interestingly, it could be argued that WSLA was almost always a CBS affiliate. Once it ended a brief stint as an independent station and affiliated with ABC, it also established a secondary affiliation with CBS by carrying one hour of that network's programming every week with Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour.
The station fought a 30-year battle (probably the longest on record) over its current transmitting facilities. Channel 8 received its construction permit in February 1954, weeks before the area's only other VHF station, Montgomery's WSFA. Early on, the Brennans realized that Selma and Montgomery were going to be a single market. Almost as soon as they received the construction permit from the FCC, the Brennans applied to replace channel 8's original low-powered facility with a much taller tower near Lowndesboro, operating at a full 100,000 watts of power. It would have been the tallest broadcasting structure ever, and would have been strong enough to easily cover Montgomery while staying within 15 miles of Selma as required by FCC rules. Numerous government agencies chimed in on this application, and it was struck down due to "aeronautical safety issues".
The Brennans then applied for a 1,750 foot tower just north of Prattville with a full 316,000 watts of power, the most allowed for a high-band VHF station. However, the FCC blocked this move due to a protest from WCOV, which claimed that the FCC would not be fostering the growth of UHF stations if it allowed the expansion. In truth, WCOV feared that if WSLA was permitted to expand its signal, CBS would make WSLA the exclusive CBS affiliate for the Montgomery area. Deep South proposed another facility this time from unspecified facilities near Strata in southern Montgomery County, only to be rejected again due to protests from WCOV.
By this time, the channel 8 allocation in Selma had caught the attention of Post Stations, the broadcasting division of The Washington Post. In the late 1950s, in an effort to maximize the 12 VHF channels available, the FCC proposed relaxing its mileage separation rules for these channels. The separations were proposed to be decreased only a few miles to minimize interference; however, the channel 8 at Selma would be one of a handful of channels that could fall under this action. Had the proposal been implemented, the channel 8 license would have been moved to Birmingham (Channel 8 at Nashville, then occupied by WDCN, under 10 miles too close to Birmingham according to established FCC interference separation rules, had prevented this in the past). The Post made it clear that it would like to move the channel 8 allocation to Birmingham. Meanwhile, the Brennans seemed to have no immediate plans to activate channel 8 at Selma. This was logical, since Selma was just barely large enough to support a full-service television station, and the only way for the station to be profitable would be if it served Montgomery. Probably afraid the license would be in jeopardy, Deep South went on the air from its originally-specified facilities in Selma about eight months afterward. Later, Deep South applied to build a 2000-foot tower in West Blocton that could serve Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Selma. This request also failed ater two other UHF stations--WCFT (now WSES) in Tuscaloosa and WBMG (now WIAT) in Birmingham—objected out of concerns for fostering UHF's growth. WCFT and WBMG had construction permits for new towers, but stated they would not do so if channel 8 was granted a tower at West Blocton.
The station's facilities burned down on August 1, 1968; to this day the cause is still unknown. WCOV's then-owner, Gay-Bell Corporation, made a move to purchase the silent channel 8 facility from Deep South and operate it as a low-powered West Alabama repeater of WCOV. However, the FCC would not allow WCOV to reduce channel 8's power. For some unknown reason, perhaps the enormous amount of capital expense that would have been required, WCOV passed on the chance to operate channel 8 as a full-power satellite even though there would have been little difficulty getting FCC authorization to do so (since WCOV, the main protester in the channel 8 expansion case, would have owned the facility).
Due to intense competition from the Montgomery stations (especially WSFA) and the large amount of money Deep South had invested in the legal fight, WSLA stayed off the air until 1972, when Charles Grisham of Huntsville and his company, Gala Broadcasting, bought the dormant channel 8 license. Gala also owned Huntsville's CBS affiliate, WHNT-TV. The station was rebuilt in Selma and returned to the airwaves on November 1, 1973 as a full-time CBS affiliate. Over the next decade, Grisham continued the battle for a tall tower and full power to cover Montgomery, only to be derailed each time by protests from WCOV.
At one time, WCOV proposed that the FCC move the analog channel 8 frequency to Tuscaloosa as an educational station and then make the entire Montgomery market a "UHF island" by reassigning the channel 12 frequency to Columbus, Georgia (which would have made that market all VHF). This got nowhere, but did extend the battle. By the early 1980s, the FCC (in keeping with its emphasis on deregulation) had become more neutral in the protection of UHF facilities. With all possible arguments exhausted, the FCC granted WSLA a construction permit in 1984 for a new 1,757-foot (536 m) tower in Gordonville, roughly halfway between Selma and Montgomery. The new tower would give the station primary coverage of Montgomery while still being within 15 miles of Selma. At the same time, the FCC collapsed Selma into the Montgomery market. The station's call sign changed to WAKA on October 28, 1984 (unofficially said to stand for, in jest, We Are Kicking Ass). It was thought that with the move to Montgomery the calls WSLA would be confused with those of WSFA.
Grisham sold WAKA to current owner Bahakel Communications in 1985. That April, WAKA activated its new tower. It now claimed to have the largest coverage area in the entire state of Alabama. The station provides at least secondary coverage from the fringes of the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa suburbs to the Florida Panhandle and Wiregrass Region to the southeast. On New Year's Day 1986, WAKA became the sole CBS affiliate for Montgomery after the network dropped its programming from WCOV. That station spent the first half of 1986 as an independent before joining the upstart Fox network in October. Soon after activating its new tower, WAKA moved most of its operations to a state-of-the-art studio in Montgomery. For a time, newscasts were split between the Selma and Montgomery studios. Before the end of the 1980s, channel 8 moved its entire operation to Montgomery. However, the station still has a news bureau in Selma.
On July 7, 2011, WAKA announced ambitious plans to purchase WBMM and operate a shared services agreement with WNCF. The plans called for merging all three stations' operations at a new, ultra-modern, HD-ready facility at WNCF's studios, though WAKA is the senior partner. Ironically, Bahakel was the founding owner of channel 32, selling it in 1985 in order to buy WAKA. However, it still owned the Harrison Road facility, leasing it to channel 32's various owners over the years. WAKA's original Montgomery studio had long been hampered by its location close to downtown, which limited its ability to expand. WAKA moved its operations to WNCF's facility in 2012.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|8.1||1080i||16:9||WAKA-DT||Main WAKA programming / CBS|
WAKA shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 8, on November 28, 2008. The station was the first station in the Montgomery market to broadcast in stereo and is the only one to transmit with a full one megawatt in digital (equivalent to five megawatts for an analog transmitter). Because of WAKA's original digital allocation on UHF channel 55, and a belief by ownership that a return to VHF channel 8 for digital service may create reception issues, WAKA petitioned to the FCC to move its post-transition channel to channel 42 since any channel above 51 would not be allocated for digital television after February 17, 2009. In order to get its post-transition channel up and running.
At that time, the analog antenna and broadcasting equipment were removed from its tower and replaced with digital equipment for channel 42 (digital channel 55 continued to operate via a side-mounted antenna at full power). Digital channel 42 signed-on January 19, 2009 while digital channel 55 signed-off on the mandated date on February 17. Although for only a month, the station has the distinction of being the only facility in the country to actually operate two digital channels at the same time (42 and 55) as part of the digital transition. WAKA is the only big four station in the market to operate at full power (1 megawatt), using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 8.
In the past several years in order to become more competitive in the ratings, WAKA expanded its news department with additional personnel, outlying bureaus, and more newscasts. Newsrooms with live broadcast capabilities were established and currently exist in Selma (on Landline Road/SR 22 Truck/SR 219) known as the West Alabama Newsroom and in Greenville known as the South Alabama Newsroom. Recently, a third bureau was established in Troy ("The Troy Newsroom"). Those additions along with improved production values helped WAKA become a solid runner-up to longtime dominant WSFA in viewership. In the July 2011 ratings, WAKA's weekday noon and weekend show at 10 out-rated WSFA in key demographic areas.
In January 2007, WBMM (then separately owned by SagamoreHill Broadcasting) entered into a news share agreement with WAKA allowing the big three affiliate to produce the market's first prime time newscast on the CW outlet. Known as CW News at Nine, the weeknight-only broadcast could be seen for thirty minutes and originated from WAKA's studios featuring most of the its on-air personnel. WBMM would begin to have competition to the outsourced broadcast on January 7, 2008 after Fox affiliate WCOV-TV entered into a news share arrangement with NBC outlet WSFA.
That agreement resulted in Montgomery's second prime time newscast at 9 which was only initially seen on weeknights for 35 minutes (a weekend half-hour edition would begin in Summer 2008). On April 16, 2010, WNCF expanded its partnership with the Independent News Network (INN) and launched a half-hour weeknight newscast at 9 on WBMM airing in high definition. As a result, that outlet terminated the outsourcing arrangement with WAKA.
After WCOV's contract with WSFA expired at the end of 2010, the Fox station entered into another news outsourcing agreement with WAKA to produce a nightly prime time broadcast known as WCOV News at 9. This second incarnation of a WAKA-sponsored newscast in prime time features a music theme and graphics package modified from original use on Fox owned-and-operated stations. WCOV News at 9 can be seen from WAKA's primary set at its facility except with separate duratrans indicating the Fox-branded show. Meanwhile, on January 1, 2011, WSFA transitioned its prime-time show to its second digital subchannel (currently affiliated with Bounce TV) resulting in three options for newscasts at 9. At some point in Summer 2012, WNCF and WBMM terminated their newscast outsourcing agreement with Independent News Network in preparation for local news production duties to be assumed by WAKA. Unlike most CBS affiliates, WAKA did not air a full two-hour weekday morning show until late-October 2012. Rather, it presented a ninety-minute block beginning at 5:30.
WAKA and WNCF officially debuted their combined local news operation on February 2, 2013. Based out of what was formerly WNCF's studios on Harrison Road, a newly expanded high definition-ready facility features state-of-the-art production capabilities which has allowed WAKA to finally offer local news in high definition. The broadcasts on WAKA and WNCF are known on air as Alabama News Network and shows are simulcasted between the CBS and ABC affiliates on weekday mornings, weeknights at 10, and weekends. The latter two time slots can feature a delay or preemption on one network if national programming runs into them.
WAKA airs its own weekday noon broadcast as well as separate newscasts weeknights at 5 and 6. In addition, WNCF has its own local show weeknights at 5:30 while WAKA offers the CBS Evening News. As a result, the ABC outlet airs World News Tonight weeknights at 6 from a second feed offered by the network (live if significant changes have occurred since the 5:30 feed; otherwise on a delay). Despite merging with WNCF, WAKA continues to produce a nightly, half-hour prime time newscast at 9 on Fox affiliate WCOV through a pre-existing news share arrangement.
- Station history page
- RabbitEars TV Query for WAKA
- "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and the Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- WAKA "CBS 8"
- WBMM "Montgomery's CW"
- WNCF "ABC Montgomery"
- WCOV-TV "Fox 20"
- Query the FCC's TV station database for WAKA