|Branding||WLBT 3 (general)|
WLBT News (newscasts)
|Slogan||On Your Side|
The Spirit of Mississippi
|Channels||Digital: 30 (UHF)|
Virtual: 3 (PSIP)
(Gray Television Licensee, LLC)
|First air date||December 19, 1953|
(current license dates from June 1971)
|Call letters' meaning||Lamar Broadcast Television|
|Sister station(s)||WDBD, WLOO, WLOX,|
WVUE-DT, KNOE-TV, KSLA-TV, WTOK-TV
|Former callsigns||WJBT (1953–1954)|
|Former channel number(s)|
|Transmitter power||535 kW|
|Height||624 m (2,047 ft)|
|Public license information||Profile|
WLBT is an NBC-affiliated television station licensed to Jackson, Mississippi, United States. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 30 (or virtual channel 3 via PSIP) from a transmitter on Thigpen Road in Raymond. The station is owned by Gray Television, which also operates American Spirit Media-owned Fox affiliate WDBD (channel 40) and Vicksburg-licensed MyNetworkTV outlet WLOO (channel 35) through respective local marketing and shared services agreements. WLOO's license is owned by Tougaloo College, with American Spirit actually operating the station through a separate joint sales agreement (JSA); in turn, Gray provides WLOO with limited engineering support. All three stations share studios on South Jefferson Street in downtown Jackson.
Originally a pro-segregationist channel, in 1969, it became the first station stripped of its right to broadcast for failing to serve the public interest. It was then restarted under different ownership, becoming a pioneer in racial equality among Southern broadcasters.
The station was founded on December 19, 1953 as WJBT by the Lamar Life Insurance Company, owners of radio station WJDX. It is Jackson's second-oldest television station, following WJTV (channel 12), which debuted in January 1953. Channel 3 is also Mississippi's third-oldest television station (WTOK-TV in Meridian went on the air three months earlier). A few weeks after its debut, the station was renamed WLBT—which stands for Lamar Broadcasting Television—because the original call letters sounded similar to WJTV.
It has always been an NBC affiliate, though it shared ABC with WJTV until WAPT (channel 16) started broadcasting in 1970. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
Opposition to civil rights
The station gained notoriety for its aggressive support of racial segregation in Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s. Lamar had close ties to the state's white political and business elite and with segregationist groups, such as the White Citizens' Council. It went as far as to coordinate opposition to civil rights with these groups. For instance, the station allowed the WCC to operate a bookstore in the lobby of its studios in downtown Jackson. Station manager Fred Beard editorialized on the air against the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi in 1962, arguing that states should determine who should and should not be allowed to attend their schools.
For the most part, the station ignored the Civil Rights Movement, cutting out coverage of it from the NBC News feed (largely by pretending that technical problems were the cause of interruptions). The station provided a platform on its local newscasts and public affairs programs for individuals advocating resistance to efforts by the federal government to intergrate public schools and allow African-Americans to vote. It also pre-empted NBC programs that even mildly referred to racial justice or featured African-American actors prominently. In 1955, when civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall—later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court—appeared on the Today show, WLBT interrupted the interview, putting up a sign that said, "Sorry, Cable Trouble." Beard later declared he had pulled the interview, saying that television networks had become instruments of "Negro propaganda."
Owners and staffers at several other television stations in the South did not like network coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, including WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama and WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although some Southern stations severed their ties with their networks in order to prevent being forced to air coverage of the movement, WLBT kept its affiliation with NBC, even though that network historically had an extremely low tolerance towards local pre-emptions at the time. Indeed, many NBC stars, like Bonanza's Pernell Roberts, were speaking out on behalf of civil rights. This was largely because WLBT's only competition was CBS affiliate WJTV, a situation that lasted until 1970, when the market picked up a full-time ABC affiliate in WAPT.
Over the years, NBC—along with civil rights groups and the work of Rev. Everett Parker of the United Church of Christ (UCC)—sent numerous petitions to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complain of WLBT's flagrant bias. The FCC issued several warnings to Lamar, but these went unheeded. Finally, in 1964, Rev. Parker and the UCC's Office of Communication formally petitioned the FCC to revoke WLBT's license. The FCC ruled that the petitioners had no standing because they had no economic interest in the station or were not subject to electronic interference from WLBT's signal. The UCC appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1966, the court, in an opinion by Warren Burger, later to become Chief Justice of the United States, ruled that the public had the right to take part in FCC hearings in order to protect the public interest.
By this time, WLBT had had taken a few steps to change its segregationist image. It had fired Beard, hired some black announcers and began airing black church services. At a new hearing held in 1967, the FCC again ruled in favor of Lamar. The UCC again appealed to the Appeals Court, which found Lamar's record to be beyond repair and ordered the FCC to revoke Lamar's license in 1969. Lamar appealed, but lost in 1971. To this day, WLBT remains one of only two television stations that has ever lost its license for violating FCC regulations on fairness. The other station, WJIM-TV (now WLNS-TV) in Lansing, Michigan, had its license reinstated on appeal.
While hearings were held for a permanent licensee, the FCC gave control of the station to a bi-racial, non-profit foundation called "Communications Improvement, Inc." However, it retained the WLBT call letters and claimed the original station's history as its own. It also retained the NBC affiliation. The group promised to make the station a beacon of tolerance. While most WLBT employees were retained, a new group of managers, including some of the first African American television executives in the South, recreated the station as a far more neutral news source.
In 1973, the FCC was asked to revoke WLBT's broadcast license because the station's largest shareholder, William Mounger, also served as a Jackson Academy Vice President. The FCC filing stated that, since Mounger was affiliated with a segregation academy, he was not fit to hold a broadcast license. In 1974, the FCC rejected the complaint on the grounds that the complaint was untimely since the evidence of Mounger's association with the school and the school's discriminatory practices was available from at least 1969.
WLBT was one of the first television stations in the South to devote a significant block of airtime and dedicated personnel to the production of local investigative, documentary-style news—these blocks typically aired during off-network hours. Probe was a 30-minute program that aired weekly. It garnered numerous awards, including a George Foster Peabody award in 1976 for a segment called "Power Politics in Mississippi."
As the hearings dragged out through the 1970s, the five competing groups concluded that nothing was to be gained from further proceedings. They merged as TV-3, Inc., a consortium with holding blacks holding controlling interest and headed by a majority-black board. The merged group was awarded the license in late 1979, and took control of the station on January 9, 1980. In 1984, Civic Communications, one of the five groups that won the full license, bought out its partners and became sole owner of the station. Frank Melton, who later became mayor of Jackson, became CEO.
In 2000, Melton sold the station to Liberty Corporation. Even with the station's growth over the last two decades (see below), the growing trend toward consolidation in the media industry made it difficult for Melton to buy stronger syndicated programming or sell advertising. Liberty in turn merged with Raycom Media in 2006.
Sale to Gray Television
On June 25, 2018, Atlanta-based Gray Television announced it had reached an agreement with Raycom to merge their respective broadcasting assets (consisting of Raycom's 63 existing owned-and/or-operated television stations, including WLBT, WDBD and WLOO), and Gray's 93 television stations) under Gray's corporate umbrella. The cash-and-stock merger transaction valued at $3.6 billion – in which Gray shareholders would acquire preferred stock currently held by Raycom – will result in WLBT gaining new sister stations in nearby markets, including CBS/ABC affiliate KNOE-TV in Monroe, Louisiana and ABC affiliate WTOK-TV in Meridian. The combined company will be in every Mississippi market except for Greenville and Columbus-Tupelo as a result. The sale was approved on December 20, and was completed on January 2, 2019.
On October 23, 1997, three Canadian men from Canada's LeBlanc & Royal were preparing to replace the guy wires of WLBT's 1,999-foot (609 m) transmission tower near Raymond when the tower collapsed, killing them. The workers were at the 1,500-foot (457 m) level and held on to the tower as it fell.
The tower's collapse knocked WLBT and the local PBS/Mississippi ETV Network station WMPN off the air for several hours. WLBT was able to resume broadcasting on a 100-foot (30 m) secondary tower, which only reached about half of its normal viewing area until a new 2,000-foot (610 m) tower was completed in 1999.
The 1,999-foot tower was actually the second WLBT transmission tower to fall at their Raymond site. WLBT's original transmission tower collapsed on March 3, 1966 when the Candlestick Park Tornado, one of only two F5 tornadoes in Mississippi's history, struck the tower and transmitter building. WLBT engineers salvaged what they could of the transmitter and operated on the same stand by tower as it would operate with later after the second tower collapse. When the replacement tower was completed later in 1966, the new tower was one of the tallest structures east of the Mississippi River and was in service until the second collapse in 1997.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|3.1||1080i||16:9||WLBT-DT||Main WLBT programming / NBC|
WLBT shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 3, on June 12, 2009, as part of the federally mandated transition from analog to digital television. The station's digital signal relocated its pre-transition to VHF channel 7, using PSIP to display WLBT's virtual channel as 3 on digital television receivers.
On January 14, 2010, WLBT moved to UHF channel 30, because of viewers having difficulty receiving their signal on VHF channel 7. Some stations solved the problem with the power increase, but WLBT could not due to potential interference to another station. The former channel 7 transmitter was later moved to its sister station in Laurel/Hattiesburg, WDAM-TV.
Syndicated programming on WLBT includes Jeopardy!, Entertainment Tonight, RightThisMinute, and Inside Edition among others. Jackson is one of the handful of markets in which Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune air on separate stations, with the latter airing on WAPT.
There were two noteworthy pre-emptions made by WLBT after the start of its 1971 license. One was the miniseries Freedom Road (which was filmed in nearby Natchez) and another was the short-lived animated sitcom God, the Devil and Bob. The latter was mostly pre-empted due to the controversy it stirred within the religious community.
For most of the last 30 years, WLBT has been the dominant news station in Jackson. It currently has the market's only helicopter used for breaking news gathering and traffic reports. The station launched a weekday afternoon 4 p.m. newscast in March 2008; this was the first of its kind in Jackson. In October 2010, WLBT began broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition becoming the second television outlet in the area to make the upgrade.
After American Spirit Media completed its acquisition of WDBD and entered into the shared services agreement with WLBT, the Fox station's news department was shut down resulting in several members of the WDBD staff being laid-off. Production of its newscasts was assumed by WLBT on November 12, 2012, with all of the news programming retained (except for the 10 p.m. show on WUFX, now WLOO, since it would compete with WLBT). In addition, WDBD added Saturday and Sunday editions of its prime time broadcast at 9.
All newscasts on WDBD currently originate from WLBT's primary set at the South Jefferson Street studios except with separate on-air duratrans and graphics indicating the Fox-branded newscasts. Although it shares a majority of on-air personnel with WLBT, WDBD maintains a separate additional news anchor for the weekday morning and weeknight shows. WLBT and WDBD operate a combined news department under the Mississippi News Now branding very similar to Raycom partnerships in Tucson, Arizona (with TEGNA-owned KMSB) and Toledo, Ohio (with WUPW; those stations are no longer sister stations of WLBT).
Notable former on-air staff
- Woodie Assaf – weather reporter from 1953 to 2001, making him the longest serving weather reporter in the United States (deceased)
- Cynthia Bower - news reporter and anchor who later held the same jobs at CNN and CBS
- Helen Chickering - reporter who was later a national correspondent on health-related stories
- Rob Jay - former sports anchor (now works for WAPT TV 16)
- Randall Pinkston – reporter and anchor from 1971 to 1974; now CBS News correspondent
- Nannette Workman - hostess of Teen Tempos
- Timeline of the civil rights movement
- On the Front Lines: Television and African-American Issues From the Museum of Television & Radio; includes info on WLBT in the 1960s
- Woodie Assaf
- Thomas, William G. III (2004). "Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views in Virginia and Mississippi". Southern Spaces.
- "Require Prime Evening Time for NTA Films". Boxoffice: 13. November 10, 1956.
- Roberts, Gene and Hank Klibanoff (2006). The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-40381-7.
- Mills, Kay. "The Civil Right Case that Transformed Television". National Archives. Prologue Magazine. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
- Colker, David (2015-09-23). "Everett Parker Fought TV Station's racism in the 60's". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved 2015-09-24.
- The FCC & Censorship: Legendary Media Activist Everett Parker on the Revocation of WLBT’s TV License in the 1960s for Shutting Out Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, Democracy Now, March 06, 2008
- Ruby, Robert (November 30, 1973). "FCC asked to Reconsider". "Delta Democrat Times. p. 16.
- Kay., Mills, (2004). Changing channels : the civil rights case that transformed television. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604736045. OCLC 774384400.
- United States. Federal Communications Commission. FCC Reports, Second Series, Volume 48, August 16, 1974 to October 18, 1974, report, 1976; Washington D.C.; page 810
- archives Archived April 15, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Peabody UGA
- "GRAY AND RAYCOM TO COMBINE IN A $3.6 BILLION TRANSACTION". Raycom Media (Press release). June 25, 2018. Archived from the original on June 25, 2018. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- Miller, Mark K. (June 25, 2018). "Gray To Buy Raycom For $3.6 Billion". TVNewsCheck. NewsCheckMedia. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
- John Eggerton (June 25, 2018). "Gray Buying Raycom for $3.6B". Broadcasting & Cable. NewBay Media.
- Dade Hayes (June 25, 2018). "Gray Acquiring Raycom For $3.65B, Forming No. 3 Local TV Group". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation.
- "FCC OK with Gray/Raycom Merger", Broadcasting & Cable, 20 December, 2018, Retrieved 20 December 2018.
- "Gray Closes On $3.6 Billion Raycom Merger". TVNewsCheck. NewsCheckMedia. January 2, 2019. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
- WLBT TOWER COLLAPSE THE CGC COMMUNICATOR CGC #201, Thursday, October 30, 1997, Robert F. Gonsett, W6VR, Editor
- Monday: Candlestick Park Tornado Overview date= August 2011 NWS Forecast Office - Jackson, MS - NOAA
- RabbitEars TV Query for WLBT
- "List of Digital Full-Power Stations" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-08-29. Retrieved 2014-01-24.
- CDBS Print
- Dickson, Glen (2009-11-02). "KUAC Makes Unusual Digital Switch". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
- "God, the Devil and Bob". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. January 10, 2005. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
- "God, the Devil and a boycott". BBC. 2000-03-18. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
- Wells, Matt (2000-10-19). "BBC buys animated sitcom that shook US". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
- "Viewers find NBC's 'God' offensive". New York Daily News. New York, NY. 2000-03-13. Retrieved 2010-08-29.[dead link]
- Gates, Jimme E. (August 21, 2012). "Fox TV station WDBD sold". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved August 23, 2012.
- Gates, Jimmie (November 12, 2012). "Fox Affiliate WDBD Fox 40 begins joint news operation with WLBT". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
- Kay Mills (2004). Changing channels: the civil rights case that transformed television. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-57806-519-6. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
- Steven D. Classen (2004). Watching Jim Crow: the struggles over Mississippi TV, 1955-1969. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-3341-8. Retrieved 30 August 2011.