|Branding||Alabama's ABC 33/40 (general; official)
ABC 33/40 (general; colloquial)
ABC 33/40 News (newscasts)
|Slogan||Working For You|
|Channels||Digital: (See table below)|
|Subchannels||(See table below)|
|Owner||Sinclair Broadcast Group
(WBMA Licensee, LLC)
|First air date||November 18, 1994|
|Call letters' meaning||(See table below)|
|Sister station(s)||WABM, WTTO / WDBB|
|Former callsigns||W58CK (1994–1997)|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
58 (UHF; 1996–2011)
|Former affiliations||Independent (1994-1996)|
|Transmitter power||See table below|
|Height||See table below|
|Facility ID||See table below|
|Transmitter coordinates||See table below|
|Public license information:||Profile
WBMA-LD, virtual channel 58 (UHF digital channel 40), is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, as part of a de facto legal triopoly with CW affiliate WTTO (channel 21) and MyNetworkTV affiliate WABM (channel 68); Sinclair also operates Tuscaloosa-based WDBB (channel 17), which operates as a satellite station of WTTO, under a time brokerage agreement with Cunningham Broadcasting. WBMA-LD maintains studio facilities located at the Riverchase office park on Concourse Parkway in Hoover (with a Birmingham address), and its transmitter is located atop Red Mountain (near the Tarpley City neighborhood) in southwestern Birmingham.
WBMA transmits a low-power digital signal, which provides an over-the-air broadcasting radius that is effectively limited to Birmingham proper and nearby areas in Jefferson and Shelby counties. Because of this, the station's programming is simulcast as a digital subchannel on two other central Alabama stations that act as full-power relays – including those of WABM and WDBB – in order to reach the entire Birmingham–Tuscaloosa–Anniston market.
The station's brand name, "ABC 33/40", derives from the two stations that operated as its full-power satellite stations to simulcast WBMA in southwestern and northeastern areas of central Alabama from its inception in 1995 until 2014: WCFT-TV (channel 33) in Tuscaloosa and WJSU-TV (channel 40) in Anniston. The "ABC 33/40" brand remains in use as an artifact following a 2014 programming realignment stemming from Sinclair's sales of both stations – now respectively using the call letters WSES and WGWW, and operating as affiliates of Heroes & Icons – to Howard Stirk Holdings, which caused the former to lose its status as a WBMA satellite entirely and the latter to relegate WBMA's programming to one of its digital subchannels.
- 1 Stations
- 2 Digital television
- 3 History
- 4 Programming
- 5 News operation
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
While WBMA is technically considered the main station and official ABC affiliate for the overall Birmingham market, the signal of the low-powered WBMA is simulcast on the digital subchannels of other full-powered stations to ensure reception across the region. Nielsen Media Research treats the signals as one for ratings purposes, under the name WBMA+.
|Station||City of license||Physical channel||VC1||First air date||Call letters’
|ERP||HAAT||Facility ID||Transmitter Coordinates|
|WBMA-LD2||Birmingham||40 (UHF)||58||September 1, 1996||BirMingham, Alabama||15 kW||255 m||60214|
|WABM-DT26||Birmingham||36 (UHF)||68.2||January 31, 1986||AlaBaMa||885 kW||406 m||16820|
|WDBB-DT26||Bessemer||18 (UHF)||17.2||October 8, 1984||DuBose Broadcasting||350 kW||675 m||71325|
|WGWW-DT25,6||Anniston||9 (VHF)||40.2||October 26, 1969||15.6 kW||359 m||56642|
|Station||City of license||Physical channel||VC1||First air date||Call letters’
|ERP||HAAT||Facility ID||Transmitter Coordinates|
|WCFT-TV (now WSES)3||Tuscaloosa||33 (UHF)||33||October 19654||300 kW||657 m||21258|
- 1: Virtual channel (PSIP).
- 2. WBMA-LD used the callsign W58CK until 1997, at which time the callsign was officially changed to WBMA.
- 3. WSES used the callsign WCFT-TV from its 1965 inception until 2015. WSES was an independent station from 1965 to 1970, and a CBS affiliate from 1970 to 1996.
- 4. The Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook says WCFT-TV signed on October 27, while the Television and Cable Factbook says it signed on October 29.
- 5. WGWW used the callsign WHMA-TV from its 1969 inception until 1984, and callsign WJSU-TV from 1984 until 2015. It was a CBS affiliate from 1969 to 1996, with a secondary NBC affiliation from 1969 to 1970.
- 6. WBMA-LD is simulcast on WABM-DT2, WDBB-DT2, and WGWW-DT2.
The digital channels are multiplexed on all stations, however each station, especially WABM and WDBB due to pre-existing affiliations, carry different digital subchannels.
|58.1 / 68.2 / 17.2 / 40.2 ||720p||16:9||Main programming / ABC|
|58.2 / 68.3||480i||4:3||James Spann 24/7 Weather|
Even though WBMA-LP was not obligated to shut off its analog signal, as the law exempted low-powered stations from the switchover, the FCC encouraged low-power stations to vacate from their out-of-core allotments – the high-band UHF channels from 52 to 69, which were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition. On December 3, 2010, the FCC granted WBMA-LP a construction permit to flash-cut its analog signal on channel 58 to digital channel 40 (formerly occupied by the analog signal of WJSU). WBMA-LP had a permit to operate on channel 11, but due to possible interference with Columbus, Georgia's WTVM and Meridian, Mississippi's WTOK-TV, the station decided to move to channel 40. WBMA-LP signed on its low-power digital signal on channel 40 as WBMA-LD in late May 2011.
In 1995, Birmingham's longtime ABC affiliate, WBRC-TV, was sold to Fox Television Stations in preparation to change the station's network affiliation to Fox. However, WBRC's affiliation contract with ABC did not expire until September 1996, giving the network one year to find a new Birmingham affiliate. ABC reached a unique deal with Allbritton Communications in which WCFT and WJSU would become Central Alabama's new ABC affiliate, with WCFT as the main station. ABC had a strong relationship with Allbritton; its flagship station, WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., had long been one of the network's strongest affiliates. A few months before the Birmingham deal, that tie had been sealed wholesale when Allbritton agreed to a long-term agreement with ABC to affiliate all of its stations – including those affiliated with NBC – with the network. However, under Nielsen rules, neither station would likely appear in the Birmingham ratings books because Tuscaloosa and Anniston were separate markets. Allbritton's solution was to purchase W58CK, a low-power station in Birmingham that began operations on November 18, 1994. W58CK would serve as the primary station for ratings purposes.
While the channel 58 purchase was not a condition of the deal between ABC and Allbritton, it did pave the way for Anniston and Tuscaloosa to be merged back into the Birmingham television market (which took place for the 1998-99 television season). That move benefited all of the major Birmingham stations, as it not only increased their viewership in Tuscaloosa and Anniston, but also caused Birmingham to jump 12 spots in the market rankings. As part of the deal, WJSU and WCFT ended separate operations and became full-powered satellite stations of W58CK. Both stations also ceded exclusive CBS rights in all of central Alabama to WBMG, which had recently upgraded its transmitter to broadcast a much stronger full-power signal. Under this arrangement, Allbritton assumed control of WJSU's operations under a local marketing agreement with Flagship Broadcasting; this lasted until Allbritton bought WJSU outright in 2008.
The new station debuted on September 1, 1996 from its studios in Hoover. Although the "ABC 33/40" branding made it appear that WCFT was the primary station, WBMA was officially Birmingham's ABC affiliate. The market's cable providers picked up the signal from WCFT or WJSU, both of which provided at least secondary coverage of Birmingham's inner ring. The three stations' combined footprint provided at least secondary broadcast coverage from the Alabama-Georgia state line westward to Columbus, Mississippi.
Its first slogan was "We're Building Our Station Around You"; unlike most advertising catchphrases, the phrase was quite accurate because the station's programming consultants surveyed a large number of central Alabama residents to literally build a new station from the ground up, catering to the interests of its potential viewers. W58CK officially changed its call letters to WBMA-LP on September 23, 1997; it had been unofficially using the WBMA calls since it began operations.
For a time in the mid-1990s, WCFT served as the default ABC affiliate for the Columbus/Tupelo market.
Acquisition by Sinclair
For over a decade and a half, WBMA+ maintained a strong relationship with Allbritton, with no major problems arising between the two and likewise no major changes occurring. However, in the spring of 2013, Allbritton began to realize that it was having trouble financially supporting its television division. As a result, on July 29, 2013, Allbritton announced that it would sell its seven television stations, including WBMA+, to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, in an attempt to shift its focus toward its co-owned website, Politico. As part of the deal, Sinclair had intended to sell the license assets of its existing Birmingham stations, CW affiliate WTTO (channel 21) and MyNetworkTV affiliate WABM (channel 68) to Deerfield Media, but would still operate those stations through shared services and joint sales agreements. At the time, no affiliation changes were expected.
On December 6, 2013, the FCC informed Sinclair that applications related to the deal need to be "amended or withdrawn," as Sinclair would retain an existing time brokerage agreement between WTTO and its satellite station, WDBB (channel 17); this would, in effect, create a new LMA between WBMA+ and WDBB, even though the Commission 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+ (while retaining the LMA between WDBB to continue operating it as a satellite station of WTTO); WABM was to be sold to a third-party buyer with which Sinclair would not enter into a sharing arrangement or maintain any contingent interest, other than a possible transitional shared facilities agreement until WTTO was able to move its operations from its longtime home on Beacon Parkway West to WBMA's facility in Hoover.
On May 29, 2014, however, Sinclair informed the FCC that it had not found a buyer for WABM and proposed surrendering WCFT and WJSU's licenses. Under the restructured plan, WABM would become the ABC affiliate for central Alabama, with WBMA-LD as its satellite. WABM's existing programming would move to its second digital channel (WBMA-LD itself, as a low-power station, would not be affected). Sinclair opted to retain WABM on the basis that its facilities are superior to those of WCFT and WJSU; indeed, moving ABC programming to WABM would give ABC a full-power affiliate in Birmingham itself for the first time since 1996. After nearly a year of delays, Sinclair's deal to acquire Allbritton was approved by the FCC on July 24, 2014, and was completed on August 1, 2014.
Sale of WCFT and WJSU to Howard Stirk Holdings
On September 29, 2014, WJSU officially signed off at 10:35 PM CDT. WBMA-LD was still carried on WCFT-TV and also carried on the second digital subchannels of WABM and WDBB. On September 24, 2014, Sinclair filed to have WCFT's license assets sold to Armstrong Williams' Howard Stirk Holdings for $50,000, foregoing any operational agreements with the station's new owner. Sinclair had reached a similar deal to sell WCIV in Charleston, South Carolina – another station that was to be shut down – to the same company. As a result of the WCFT/HSH deal, WCFT remained on the air on September 30, 2014.
Due to a number of ownership conflicts with existing stations in the region that are owned or operated by Sinclair, along with the FCC's increased scrutiny of LMAs and JSAs, Sinclair was unable to retain ownership of WCFT and WJSU; subsequently, Sinclair announced that it would shut down WJSU and return its license to the FCC, and sell WCFT's license to Howard Stirk Holdings so it can operate the station separately from WBMA. Sinclair later reached a deal to sell both WCFT and WJSU to Howard Stirk Holdings. On September 29, 2014, WBMA ceased broadcasting on WJSU, and the station was added to the second digital subchannels of Sinclair's existing cluster – WTTO/WDBB and WABM. As of September 30, 2014, WBMA's simulcast continued on WCFT, likely to cease when Howard Stirk Holdings takes over programming duties.
In September 2006, WBMA+ moved the popular soap opera All My Children from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. WBRC had aired All My Children one day behind on a tape delay since its days as an ABC affiliate, and this practice continued when WBMA+ affiliated with the network; this was the first time since the ABC daytime drama began in 1970 that it had aired in pattern in the Birmingham market (its replacement, The Chew, which debuted in September 2011, also airs at 12 p.m.).
In 1997, WBMA+ refused to air "The Puppy Episode", an episode of the sitcom, Ellen, that gained notoriety for Ellen DeGeneres's character (and in effect, DeGeneres herself) coming out as a lesbian. The station cited a need to respect the family values of the region's largely conservative evangelical community as the basis of its decision. Some gay rights and civil libertarian activists decried the decision as a blatant example of censorship; in response, ABC sent a special satellite feed of the show to a Birmingham community center that was viewed by about 1,000 people, mainly local gays and lesbians, and their supporters. Some cable providers also ran the feed out-of-market from other ABC affiliates including Atlanta's WSB-TV. WBMA+ would eventually air the episode when it reran on the network later that same season.
WBMA+ presently broadcasts 27 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five hours on weekdays, and one hour each on Saturdays and Sundays).
The station achieved early success with its newscasts, due in part to hiring many well-known Birmingham television personalities: these included news anchors Brenda Ladun and Linda Mays, sports anchor Mike Raita, and meteorologists James Spann and Mark Prater, all of whom had worked at rival WBRC, and former WVTM-TV news personalities Pam Huff and Tracy Haynes, who were later hired to anchor the station's early morning newscasts. Although it is a newer competitor to the other major Birmingham stations (even though WCFT and WJSU had already established news departments prior to becoming satellites of WBMA-LD), the station has spent most of its history in a spirited battle with WVTM for second place in the market behind longtime leader WBRC.
WBMA+ has had a long-standing policy to preempt regular programming for wall-to-wall, uninterrupted severe weather coverage in the event that the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for any county within its viewing area. The station operates "StormChaser 33/40", a Jeep specialized for storm chasing, equipped with a dashcam and a computer with several radar sources, and "AirLink 33/40", a helicopter that is normally used for newsgathering, but is also occasionally used to show the paths of violent and long-track tornadoes. WBMA+ also operates a network of cameras around all of Alabama that provide live video and weather information from observation sites throughout Alabama. Areas in which these "SkyCam" sites are located include downtown Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Inverness, Gadsden, Jasper, Mount Cheaha, Cullman, Clanton, Gulf Shores and Huntsville. A few SkyCams are located in Mississippi, at locations where the signal from the WCFT tower can be received.
In the latter half of 2013, WBMA+ upgraded many of its SkyCams to high-definition, and additionally set up new HD SkyCams in the Riverchase Galleria complex (atop the Galleria Tower) in Hoover, atop the Alabama Power headquarters office building in downtown Birmingham, and in several other locations around the central part of the state.
Despite being a relatively new station to central Alabama, WBMA+ has captured several significant weather events in Alabama history on both its SkyCams and its tower cameras (described below). On April 27, 2011, the Cullman SkyCam caught footage of a multiple-vortex tornado. Later that day, the SkyCam in Tuscaloosa (located atop the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse) captured footage of an EF4 tornado that caused incredible devastation across portions of Tuscaloosa. Footage of the same tornado was captured by the Birmingham SkyCam (which is located atop the Daniel Building) as it passed through the northern part of the city almost an hour later. During the 2012 Christmas tornado outbreak, the Mobile SkyCam, located in Battleship Park, captured the faint image of an EF2 tornado as it struck Mobile.
Additionally, WBMA+ operates "TowerLink" cameras that are mounted on former and current transmitters of each of the stations, some of which have also played parts in severe weather coverage. The Birmingham TowerLink camera, located on WBMA-LD's current tower, caught footage of a major power outage in western Birmingham, which indicated the presence of the infamous F5 tornado on April 8, 1998. The Tuscaloosa TowerLink camera, which was located on the old WCFT broadcast tower (which was dismantled in 2012), caught footage of an F4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in December 2000, a tornado spawned from Hurricane Rita in September 2005, and an EF3 tornado that struck southern Tuscaloosa on April 15, 2011. A TowerLink camera is also located on WJSU's tower in Anniston.
WBMA+ relies heavily on social media, especially for weather updates and alerts. The station has both a Facebook page and a Twitter feed (as do several members of the station's on-air news staff) which are used to keep viewers updated on local news headlines and weather alerts, as well as to get feedback from viewers on news stories. Chief meteorologist James Spann has stated that social media makes it easier to alert people during severe weather, to warn viewers of impending severe weather. Facebook and Twitter were also used in the weeks following the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak to report – among other things – damage, missing persons and effects of the storm on the people of Alabama. WBMA+ also uses Flickr to post viewer-submitted weather photos, or pictures of severe weather damage. This strong reliance on social media prompted the station to develop an hour-long newscast with Facebook interaction as its basis, called Focus @ 4. Its purpose is for the station to be able to ask questions about current events and interesting topics to its viewers through Facebook and vice versa. The show also boosted the ratings for WBMA+ because it is the only local newscast at 4:00 p.m. airing in the Birmingham market.
Nielsen ratings errors
Between May 26, 2008 and March 23, 2009, Nielsen Media Research shortchanged the WBMA system. For ratings purposes, all three stations are rated as WBMA+, but tuning to any of the three digital channels or the station feeds on cable and satellite was ignored, reducing the recorded ratings tremendously; ratings in Nielsen books were less than half of what station management expected. It was later explained that Nielsen had undercounted and overcounted at various times between February 2008 and November 2009, as well as a time in January 2010 that primetime ratings had been shortchanged (including occasional zero shares). The confusion stemmed from the station's unique three-station simulcasting setup.
Notable on-air staff
- James Spann (AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Seal of Approval) – chief meteorologist; weeknights
- Cliff Holman ("Cousin Cliff") – WJSU-TV children's program host (1969–1972; deceased)
- John Oldshue – meteorologist (1997–2007; left to operate a small business)
- Nelson, Bob (2008-10-18). "Call Letter Origins". The Broadcast Archive. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- RabbitEars TV Query for WBMA
- RabbitEars TV Query for WSES
- RabbitEars TV Query for WGWW
- "Use an antenna to pick up ABC 33/40? Important info here". ABC 33/40. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
- WBMA Moves to Channel 40
- WBMA/WCFT/WJSU Info
- Fybush, Scott (2002-06-05), A Quick Jaunt Through Birmingham, Alabama, fybush.com, p. A selection from a decade of visits to tower and studio sites in the Northeast and beyond, retrieved 30 January 2014
- Lafayette, Jon. "Birmingham's WBMG-TV cleans house with news staff." Electronic Media 15 December 1997: 2.
- 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.
- "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.
- Eggerton, John (May 29, 2014). "Sinclair Proposes Surrendering Three Licenses to Get Allbritton Deal Done". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
- Jessell, Harry A. (May 29, 2014). "Sinclair Giving Up 3 Stations To Appease FCC". TVNewsCheck. Retrieved May 30, 2014.
- Eggerton, John (24 July 2014). "FCC Approves Sinclair/Allbritton Deal". Broadcasting & Cable. NewBay Media. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
- Sinclair's Deal For Allbritton Closes, Broadcasting & Cable, 1 August 2014, Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- "Use an antenna to pick up ABC 33/40? Important info here". abc3340.com (Sinclair Broadcast Group). Retrieved 30 September 2014.
- "APPLICATION FOR CONSENT TO ASSIGNMENT OF BROADCAST STATION CONSTRUCTION PERMIT OR LICENSE". TV Alabama, Inc. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
- "Howard Stirk Holdings Grabs WCIV for $50,000". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
- "Official FCC Blog". Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- "FCC Broadcast Actions". Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- "Alabama Broadcast Media Page". Alabama Broadcast Media. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
- The Chew' airing at 12:00
- Refusal to Air 'The Puppy Episode
- April 27, 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado, AlabamaWX.com, April 28, 2011.
- December 2000 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- September 2005 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- April 15, 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado
- ABC 33/40 Facebook page
- ABC 33/40 Twitter feed
- James Spann relies on social media
- Twitter helpful after April 27
- Nielson Shortchanges WBMA+ in Ratings
- Nielson Makes Mistakes Regarding WBMA+