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WBBM CBS 2 Logo.png
Chicago, Illinois
United States
Branding CBS 2 (general)
CBS 2 News (newscasts)
Slogan Original reporting
Channels Digital: 12 (VHF)
Virtual: 2 (PSIP)
Subchannels 2.1 CBS
2.2 Decades
Translators 26 (UHF) Chicago
(construction permit)
Affiliations CBS (O&O)
Owner CBS Corporation
(CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)
Founded 1940
(as experimental station W9XBK)
First air date September 6, 1946; 68 years ago (1946-09-06)
Call letters' meaning derived from sister station WBBM radio
Former callsigns WBKB (1946–1953)
Former channel number(s) Analog:
4 (VHF, 1940–1953)
2 (VHF, 1953–2009)
3 (VHF, 2003–2009)
Former affiliations Independent (1946–1949)
Paramount Television Network (1949–1953)
Transmitter power 8 kW
Height 497 m (1,631 ft)
Facility ID 9617
Transmitter coordinates 41°52′44″N 87°38′8″W / 41.87889°N 87.63556°W / 41.87889; -87.63556
Licensing authority FCC
Public license information: Profile
Website chicago.cbslocal.com

WBBM-TV, channel 2, is a CBS owned-and-operated television station located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of CBS Corporation. WBBM-TV's main studios and offices are located on West Washington Street in the Loop section of Chicago as part of the development at Block 37, and its transmitter is atop the Willis Tower.


Early years[edit]

WBBM-TV traces its history to 1940 when Balaban and Katz, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, launched experimental station W9XBK, the first all-electronic television facility in Chicago. Balaban and Katz was already well known for owning several theaters in Chicago. To establish the station, they hired television pioneer William C. (Bill) Eddy away from RCA’s experimental station W2XBS in New York City. When World War II began, Eddy used the W9XBK facilities as a prototype school for training Navy electronics technicians.[1] While operating the Navy school, Eddy continued to lead W9XBK and wrote a book that defined commercial television for many years.[2]

On September 6, 1946,[3] the station received a commercial license as WBKB (for Balaban and Katz Broadcasting) on channel 4, becoming the first commercial station outside the Eastern Time Zone; it was also the sixth TV station in the United States. WBKB aired some of the earliest CBS programs, including the debut in 1947 of Junior Jamboree (renamed Kukla, Fran and Ollie after moving to NBC in 1948). Channel 4 was originally an independent station, because at the time it was not clear that it would be part of the CBS television network and eventually, Millwaukee's WTMJ-TV became the first station of outside the Eastern time to affiliate with a major network. One of the station's early highlights was televising the National Football League's championship game between the Chicago Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 28, 1947.[4]

Starting in 1948, WBKB shared the CBS affiliation in Chicago with WGN-TV (channel 9). Balaban and Katz became part of United Paramount Theatres in 1949, after Paramount was forced to divest its chain of movie theaters by order of the United States Supreme Court.[5]

WBKB played an indirect role in the demise of the DuMont Television Network. Paramount owned a stake in DuMont, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered DuMont as a firm controlled by the studio. Paramount also owned KTLA in Los Angeles. As DuMont already owned WABD (now WNYW) in New York City, WTTG in Washington, D.C. and WDTV (now sister station KDKA-TV) in Pittsburgh, the FCC's decision meant neither Paramount nor DuMont could acquire any more stations.[6] Paramount even launched a short-lived "Paramount Television Network" in 1949, with KTLA and WBKB as its flagship stations.[7][8] The programming service never gelled into a true television network.

Joining CBS[edit]

In 1953, WBKB's then-owner United Paramount Theaters merged with ABC, who already owned WENR-TV (channel 7). As the newly merged entity could not keep both stations under FCC regulations of the time, WBKB's channel 4 license was sold to CBS for $6.75 million. On February 12, one day after the merger took effect, channel 4 took the WBBM-TV call letters (after WBBM radio, which CBS has owned since 1929). The WBKB calls subsequently were taken by channel 7; that station's calls became WLS-TV in 1968. In addition, all CBS programming that had been airing on WGN-TV was moved to the new WBBM-TV, after a two-month cancellation clause, leaving WGN with the quickly crumbling DuMont as its only network affiliation.

As a result of the FCC's Sixth Report and Order, WBBM-TV moved to channel 2 on July 5, 1953 to eliminate interference with WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee.[9] WTMJ-TV moved to channel 4 from channel 3 to avoid interference with Kalamazoo, Michigan's channel 3 (then WKZO-TV, now WWMT). The channel 2 allocation was opened up coincidentally at the same time because Springfield was forced to let the allocation relocate to St. Louis, Missouri to be used by KTVI.

The WBBM-TV Studios at Washington Blvd and Dearborn St, across from Daley Plaza.

In 1956, CBS consolidated its Chicago operations into a renovated arena on North McClurg Court. That year, an episode of What's My Line? originated from the WBBM studios, one day prior to the start of the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, Columbia Records housed an office and recording studio in the building. In 1960, WBBM's McClurg Court studios were the site of the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. WBBM-TV also served as production home to syndicated programs Donahue from 1982–85 and Siskel & Ebert from 1986 to the late 1990s.

Also in 1956, the CBS network began broadcasting NFL games; with this, WBBM became the primary station for regular-season Chicago Bears games, a partnership that would continue until the end of the 1993 season, when the majority of games began to be carried by WFLD, thanks to Fox's acquisition of the NFC broadcast rights. Today, the station airs Bears games when the team plays host to an AFC team at Soldier Field (except those which are "cross-flexed" from CBS to Fox, as was the case with the 2014 home game vs. the Buffalo Bills), when they are featured on CBS's Thursday Night Football, and, beginning in 2014, when an NFC vs. NFC game is "cross-flexed" from Fox to CBS.

Recent history[edit]

For most of the time since the mid-1990s, WBBM has been one of CBS's weakest owned-and-operated stations, generally rating behind WLS-TV, NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (channel 5) and at times behind WGN-TV and Fox-owned WFLD (channel 32), despite the high ratings of CBS's daytime and prime-time shows. The station made some viewership gains during 2009 but has generally remained in third place in the ratings, partially due to its digital signal on low-VHF channel 3, that was lower-powered than other full-power Chicago stations so it would avoid interfering with the analog signal of WWMT in Kalamazoo (the same station that indirectly forced the channel change from 4 to 2 in 1953).

The station was brought back under common ownership with Paramount Pictures when the studio's parent since 1994, Viacom, bought CBS in 2000. This union was broken up again in 2006 when Viacom became CBS Corporation and spun off Paramount into a new Viacom.

In May 2007, WBBM-TV filed a last-minute request with the FCC to broadcast its post-transition digital signal at high power on channel 12, after analog shutdown in June 2009. The station filed a request to upgrade its signal to 13.8 kW at 520 m above ground level from the Sears Tower. Following the digital transition, WBBM is one of only three CBS O&Os (and the only full-powered Chicago station) to broadcast on the VHF dial (the other two are KTVT in Fort Worth and WJZ-TV in Baltimore); however, one of these three (KTVT) has been granted FCC approval to permanently move to a UHF frequency due to reception problems which adversely affected viewership.

On September 21, 2008, WBBM-TV moved to new facilities in the "Block 37" studio on North State Street. This move coincided with the upgrade of channel 2's newscasts to high definition, making them the fourth Chicago television station to begin broadcasting their newscasts in the format (only the studio cameras shoot in high definition; the remote field footage is shot in 16:9 standard definition widescreen); early in 2006, the WBBM radio stations moved into new studios within Two Prudential Plaza. The McClurg Court studio building was demolished over a two-month period from February to April 2009.

Digital television[edit]

Digital channel[edit]

Channel Video Aspect PSIP Short Name Programming[10]
2.1 1080i 16:9 CBS2-HD Main WBBM-TV programming / CBS
2.2 480i 4:3 Decades Decades

Analog-to-digital conversion[edit]

WBBM-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 2, 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 VHF channel 3 to VHF channel 12.[11] Through the use of PSIP, digital television receivers display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 2.

WBBM-TV is currently the only "full-power" digital television station in Chicago on the VHF band (as it was prior to the June 2009 digital transition). WBBM-TV's rival station, WLS-TV, was the other station to operate its full-power operations on VHF until the station moved its full power operations to the UHF dial in order to alleviate reception problems and keeping its VHF allotment as a digital fill-in translator on October 31, 2009. Some viewers have had trouble picking up VHF signals since the June 12 transition, so its newscasts aired over a low-power analog nightlight on WWME-CA (channel 23).[12]

In addition, WBBM-TV applied for a construction permit to build a low-power fill-in repeater on UHF channel 26 (which formerly housed the analog signal of WCIU-TV). However, the FCC notified WBBM that the channel 26 allocation would interfere with W25DW and on April 1, 2010, WBBM was given a 30-day notice to address the issue or have the application dismissed.[13] It applied only for a repeater on that channel and not a full-powered signal move (as WLS-TV did). The FCC granted WBBM-TV a construction permit for the channel 26 repeater on January 18, 2012.[14]

As of March 13, 2014 the channel 26 translator is operational, broadcasting on low power; this is to protect the signal contour of WKOW in Madison, Wisconsin.

On October 21, 2014, CBS and locally-based Weigel Broadcasting announced the launch of a new digital subchannel service called Decades, scheduled to launch on all CBS-owned stations in 2015, including on WBBM-TV on channel 2.2. As of February 1, 2015, this channel is now active on channel 2.2. The channel will be co-owned by CBS and Weigel (owner of CBS affiliate WDJT-TV in Milwaukee), with Weigel being responsible for distribution to non-CBS-owned stations. It will air programs from the extensive library of CBS Television Distribution, including archival footage from CBS News.[15]

News operation[edit]

WBBM-TV presently broadcasts 33½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 4½ hours on weekdays, two hours on Saturdays and 2½ hours on Sundays). In the late 1970s, WBBM-TV's newscasts surged past WMAQ-TV for first place. It became one of the most respected local news operations in the country and was considered a bastion of serious journalism. Led by anchors Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson, weatherman John Coughlin and sports director Johnny Morris, WBBM dominated the news ratings during the late 1970s and early 1980s. At one point, its dominance was so absolute that it titled its 10 p.m. newscast THE Ten O'Clock News.

Kurtis and Jacobson were first teamed together in 1973 by general manager Robert Wussler and news director Van Gordon Sauter, who introduced a hard-news format and began using the newsroom as the set for all newscasts. Kurtis became known for his "Focus Unit" in-depth reports, Jacobson for his "Perspective" commentaries. Among the others with WBBM-TV during this period were film critic Gene Siskel, police and crime reporter John "Bulldog" Drummond, women and consumer issues reporter Susan Anderson, feature reporter Bob Wallace, investigative reporter Pam Zekman, medical reporter Roger Field, political reporter Mike Flannery and reporter/weekend news anchor Mike Parker. Bob Sirott and Phil Ponce, later hosts of the WTTW program Chicago Tonight, were also reporters for WBBM-TV during this period. Zekman and Parker remain with the station, and Drummond also still contributes occasional reports.

In 1982, Kurtis left WBBM-TV to anchor the CBS Morning News in New York City and was replaced by Don Craig, formerly of WMAQ-TV. When Kurtis returned three years later, he was teamed with Craig for the hour-long 6 p.m. newscast, and Harry Porterfield, who had been the co-anchor of that newscast for several years, was demoted to weekends. Porterfield, who is African-American, later left for WLS, but his earlier demotion led the Rev. Jesse Jackson to begin a boycott of WBBM-TV. WBBM-TV later hired African-American news anchorman Lester Holt (later of NBC News) to replace Porterfield. Kurtis left WBBM for the second time in 1996.

In March 1986, WLS-TV, which had been a strong third for many years, overtook WBBM at #1. In 1990, WBBM hired Bill Applegate, who had taken WLS to first place as its news director, as general manager. Applegate took Jacobson off the anchor desk (Jacobson eventually left for WFLD in 1993) and controversially made the newscasts much flashier than they had previously been; the reporting staff during this time included Elizabeth Vargas (now at ABC News), Rob Stafford (now at WMAQ-TV), Jim Avila (now at ABC), Larry Mendte (now a commentator at WPIX in New York City) and Dawn Stensland (a former 10 p.m. anchor at Fox-owned WTXF in Philadelphia). It was enough for a rebound to a first-place tie with WLS-TV by 1993. The momentum did not last as Vargas, Avila, Mendte, Stafford and Stensland all left the station within a short time. By the mid 1990s, however, WBBM-TV had fallen to last place. For most of the next decade, WLS and WMAQ fought it out for first, while WBBM-TV's once-proud news division often trailed syndicated reruns on WFLD. The station has gone through several different on-air branding schemes – from its longtime brand of Channel 2 News to the present CBS 2 News. In 2002, the station eliminated its year-old computer-intensive graphics and "newsplex" studio in favor of a simpler studio and corresponding graphics set.

The most notable of many changes WBBM-TV has made to its news operation occurred in 2000, when it revamped its 10 p.m. newscast by ditching the traditional news format in favor of in-depth "hard news" features, a staple of its glory days. Anchored by former longtime WMAQ anchor Carol Marin, the newscast was hailed as a return to quality in-depth journalism in the best CBS tradition at a time when tabloid journalism and "soft news" were becoming the norm in broadcast news. However, plummeting ratings led to the newscast's format being dropped in October after being on the air for only nine months.

In 2002, former WLS-TV anchor Diann Burns, and former Good Morning America newsreader Antonio Mora became WBBM's new main anchor team. In January 2006, WBBM-TV had its best finish at 5 p.m. in 13 years, when it passed WMAQ for second place in the timeslot, although it was still far behind WLS. Channel 2's 10 p.m. news was still in last place, but was the only late newscast to gain audience share in the first month of the year. WBBM-TV also finished second from sign-on to sign-off (from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.), leapfrogging from fourth for its best monthly performance in 23 years. In August 2006, WBBM-TV added Rob Johnson (previously weekend anchor at WLS-TV starting in 1998) to co-anchor the 5 p.m. newscast alongside Burns, while Mora and Burns continued to co-anchor at 6 and 10. In May 2007, WBBM-TV slipped to fourth from sign-on to sign-off behind WLS-TV, CW affiliate WGN-TV and NBC station WMAQ, and just barely ahead of Fox station WFLD.

Immediately following that, WBBM replaced Antonio Mora on the 10 p.m. newscast with Johnson. Mora continued to co-anchor the 6 p.m. newscast and host Eye on Chicago. Mora left WBBM-TV in January 2008 to become evening anchor at Miami sister station WFOR-TV. Johnson then added the 6 p.m. newscast and Eye On Chicago to his duties. On March 31, 2008, it was announced that Diann Burns' contract would not be renewed. She, along with medical editor Mary Ann Childers, sports director Mark Malone, and reporters Rafael Romo and Katie McCall were laid off from the station. That month, WBBM hired Ryan Baker from WMAQ-TV to serve as sports director.

On April 30, 2009, WBBM-TV laid off more employees, along with cancelling its weekend morning newscasts and Eye On Chicago, and restructuring its weeknight 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts to use Rob Johnson as a solo anchor.[16][17] With its 10 p.m. newscast committed to enterprise reporting, that newscast began year-to-year growth that continues to this day. Harry Porterfield returned to WBBM-TV after 24 years at WLS-TV on August 3, 2009 to anchor the 11 a.m. news with Roseanne Tellez, and also to continued "Someone You Should Know", the series of reports he began at WBBM in 1977. On November 13, 2009, as main anchor Rob Johnson was away, Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson returned to channel 2 to anchor the 10 p.m. newscast; Jacobson later remained to continue his trademark "Perspective" commentaries.

At the conclusion of the November 2009 Nielsen Ratings sweeps period, WBBM-TV's 10 p.m. newscast overtook WMAQ-TV for second place. WLS-TV continues to dominate the local newscast ratings in the Chicago market; however, WBBM-TV's 10 p.m. newscast was the only late-night newscast in Chicago to see a viewership increase over the same ratings period the previous year.[18] In January 2010, ratings for the 10 p.m. newscast remained in second place, increasing from the previous year from a 4.3 to 6.0 rating.[19] During the February 2010 Nielsen ratings sweeps period, the 10 p.m. news slipped back to third place behind WMAQ due in large part to the latter network's airing of the 2010 Winter Olympics. By May 2012, WBBM-TV's 10 p.m. newscast finished second behind WLS.

In March 2010, Anne State's contract was not renewed, while longtime meteorologist and technology reporter Ed Curran was relieved of his duties (though he continued to be paid for the remaining 14 months of his contract).[20] Longtime political editor Mike Flannery also left the station after 30 years to join rival WFLD.[21]

On September 1, 2010, Kurtis and Jacobson were re-teamed as anchors of WBBM's 6 p.m. newscast, where they remained until February 2013, at which time Rob Johnson and Kate Sullivan assumed anchor duties for the 6 p.m. news. On September 13, former WCBS-TV morning anchor Kate Sullivan became co-anchor of the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts.[22] WBBM's evening newscasts have shown significant growth since then, often battling with WMAQ-TV for second place behind dominant WLS-TV. Weekend morning newscasts returned to WBBM in September 2012, as did Ed Curran, who returned to the station as meteorologist for those newscasts. Thanks to its best Sunday morning ratings since the introduction of Nielsen's Local People Meters, WBBM will expand its Sunday morning newscast with an additional hour at 6:00 a.m., starting in September 2013.[23]

"The Enforcer"[edit]

In 1975, Chicago jingle composer Dick Marx wrote a theme for WBBM-TV's newscasts based on the folk song, "I Love Chicago, Chicago My Home", which was written by Chicago folk singer Tary Rebenar. The popular theme, known as "Channel 2 News", and several variations on it have been used by WBBM for all but six years since then (1992-1994, 1998-1999, and 2009). The tune has also been adopted by several other stations across the country, mostly CBS-owned and affiliated stations, and has become the de facto official theme music for the newscasts on CBS's O&Os. From 1994 to 1997, 2000 to 2001, 2002 to 2008 and since 2010, WBBM-TV used an updated and synthesized version of the original theme specially written for the station called The CBS Enforcer Music Collection, composed by Frank Gari. From 2006 to 2008, WBBM-TV used an updated version of the theme, composed by Frank Gari's son Christian. For the switch to high-definition newscasts, WBBM-TV commissioned a new theme composed by inthegroovemusic. On June 21, 2010, with the adoption of a new CBS O&O graphics package, WBBM-TV brought back "Enforcer" with an orchestrated version originally commissioned by sister station WCBS-TV.


The February 2011 Nielsen local news ratings, showed that WBBM’s 10 p.m. newscast surged into second place with a 6.0 weeknight household rating, up nearly one rating point from a 5.2 share the previous February. Channel 2 ranked in second place overall behind perennial newsleader WLS-TV. WBBM-TV's primetime lead-in rating increased to a 7.4 share during the sweeps period.[24]

Notable on-air staff[edit]



† – deceased

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ”Loop Sailors,” Time Magazine, March 23, 1942; http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,802316,00.html
  2. ^ Eddy, Captain William C.; Television: The Eyes of Tomorrow, Prentice-Hall, 1945
  3. ^ members.aol.com/jeff560/chronotv.html - Similar Sites and Reviews | Xmarks
  4. ^ "(photo caption)" (PDF). Broadcasting. January 12, 1948. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Paramount; radio, video interests definitely split." Broadcasting - Telecasting. March 7, 1949, pg. 66: "WBKB (TV) Chicago, licensed to the Paramount subsidiary Balaban & Katz, will go to a firm to be known as New Theatre Co.". New Theatre Co. would later be formally named as United Paramount Theatres.
  6. ^ Weinstein, David (2004). The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television (pp. 24-25). Philadelphia: Temple University.
  7. ^ White, Timothy R. (1992). "Hollywood on (Re)Trial: The American Broadcasting-United Paramount Merger Hearing" Cinema Journal, Vol. 31, No. 3. (Spring, 1992), pp. 19-36.
  8. ^ Jajkowski, Steve (2001). "Advertising on Chicago Television". Chicago Television History. Retrieved January 10, 2007.
  9. ^ "TV coverage; RTMA predicts expansion." Broadcasting - Telecasting, May 19, 1952, pg. 78. [1]
  10. ^ RabbitEars TV Query for WBBM
  11. ^ "DTV Tentative Channel Designations for the First and Second Rounds" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-03-24. 
  12. ^ Eggerton, John (2009-06-17). "Weigel's Analog Nightlight Could Help Chicago Stations With Reception Issues". Broadcasting & Cable. 
  13. ^ http://licensing.fcc.gov/cgi-bin/prod/cdbs/forms/prod/getimportletter_exh.cgi?import_letter_id=17931
  14. ^ http://licensing.fcc.gov/prod/cdbs/pubacc/Auth_Files/1474864.pdf
  15. ^ CBS Stations, Weigel Partner on Oldies Digi-Net Decades Broadcasting & Cable (10/21/2014)
  16. ^ "Topic Galleries". Chicago Tribune. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. [dead link]
  18. ^ "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Chicago - Chicago : News : Politics : Things To Do : Sports". Chicago Sun-Times. [dead link]
  20. ^ "WBBM anchor Anne State out, weatherman Ed Curran off". Chicago Tribune. March 26, 2010. 
  21. ^ "WFLD gets Mike Flannery, WBBM political ace since '80". Chicago Tribune. March 29, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Kurtis, Jacobson To Anchor CBS 2 News At 6 PM" (Press release). CBS2 Chicago. July 29, 2010. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  23. ^ WBBM Expands Sunday Morning Newscast TVSpy, August 20, 2013.
  24. ^ Johnson-Sullivan anchor duo paying off for WBBM-Channel 2, Chicago Sun-Times, March 4, 2011.

External links[edit]