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WBMA-LP

WBMA-LP

WBMA-LP is the ABC television affiliate for Birmingham and central Alabama. Its transmitter is located in Birmingham, while its studio is in Hoover, a suburb of Birmingham.

The station's brand name, ABC 33/40, comes from its two full-power satellites: WCFT-TV, channel 33 in Tuscaloosa and WJSU-TV, channel 40 in Anniston. Although this makes it appear that WCFT is the main station, low-powered WBMA is officially Birmingham's ABC affiliate. WBMA-LP is a low power station whose signal does not extend outside of the immediate Birmingham area. Many Birmingham viewers and cable providers obtain the signal from the higher-power WCFT/WJSU stations. Their combined power carries the ABC 33/40 signal to all of central Alabama from the Alabama-Georgia state line westward to Columbus, Mississippi.

WBMA and WCFT are owned by Allbritton Communications through its subsidiary, TV Alabama, Inc. WJSU is operated by Flagship Broadcasting, under a local marketing agreement with Allbritton.

ABC 33/40 operates bureaus in Tuscaloosa and Anniston at the locations of the former independent stations.

History

WCFT-TV

WCFT started operating as western Alabama's first-ever television station in October 1965. The call letters stood for Chapman Family Television, the original licensee. The original owner was a consortium of eight Tuscaloosa businessmen who saw the benefits of a television station, in both business and community service. WCFT began as an independent station, but because it did not return a profit suitable to the original owners, they sold the station to Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based Service Broadcasters in 1967. The new owners rejuvenated the station by pumping money into it, purchasing new equipment, and improving the station's image. Like WBMG-TV in Birmingham, WCFT picked up in its first few years CBS and NBC programming not cleared by WAPI-TV (now WVTM-TV). In 1970, WCFT became an official CBS affiliate, as did WBMG (and WHMA below, for eastern Alabama). WCFT had considerably better luck with news than WBMG -- by the early 1980s, WCFT had the leading local newscast in western Alabama (with newscasts called "Eyewitness News"). It not only trounced WBMG, but it beat out Birmingham stations WBRC and WAPI/WVTM as well. In 1977, Arbitron made Tuscaloosa its own television market, ranking below number 170. Service Broadcasters sold WCFT to Allbritton in 1995. Its transmitter is located near Windham Springs, Alabama, in rural Tuscaloosa County.

WJSU-TV

On October 26, 1969, the station now known as WJSU began broadcasting as WHMA-TV, on channel 40 as a primary CBS affiliate with a secondary NBC affiliation. The station was operated by the Anniston Broadcasting Company, which was owned by members of the family of Harry M. Ayers (the station's namesake). The Ayers family also owned the Anniston Star newspaper and WHMA radio (1390 AM and 100.5 FM, now WWWQ-FM in Atlanta). The station's inaugural general manager, Harry Mabry, came to Anniston from Birmingham, where he had been news director of WBRC in Birmingham for several years. Mabry already was familiar with Anniston, though, having been an announcer on WHMA-AM over fifteen years earlier.

WHMA-TV ultimately served approximately 100,000 households in east central Alabama, and management fought almost constantly to maintain its own Arbitron market between Birmingham and Atlanta. This was a maneuver critical to the station's survival. Despite being the only station located within the Anniston/East Alabama market,(other than Alabama Public Television's WCIQ), WJSU faced immense competition from the "spill-in" coverage from larger stations in nearby larger markets. Its ratings victories garnered it access to national advertisers. In 1970, WHMA-TV, along with WBMG and WCFT (above), dropped NBC programming in favor of full-time CBS coverage after WAPI became the sole NBC affiliate for all of central Alabama that year.

In 1984, the FCC forced the Ayers family to break up its media empire. Later, in a mid-1980s deal that concerned tax avoidance more than profit, ownership of the station was transferred to the trustees of Jacksonville State University and the call letters were changed to WJSU-TV. The station was ultimately sold in the 1990s to current owners Flagship Broadcasting.

ABC 33/40

In 1995, Birmingham's longtime ABC affiliate, WBRC, was sold to Fox. However, WBRC's contract with ABC did not expire until September 1996, giving ABC a year to find a new affiliate in Birmingham. After being turned down by its original choices, WTTO and WBMG, ABC reached a unique deal with Allbritton. WCFT would become an ABC affiliate, and WJSU would become an ABC affiliate as well as part of a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Flagship Broadcasting. The two stations would end separate operations and combine to act as full-powered satellites of WBMA, a low-powered station based in Birmingham. Both stations also ceded exclusive CBS rights in all of central Alabama to WBMG.

The new station debuted on September 1, 1996 from studios in the Riverchase office complex in Hoover. Its first slogan was "We're Building Our Station Around You," which was also used on WKYC-TV in Cleveland, Ohio for some years. Unlike most advertising catchwords, the phrase was quite accurate because the programming consultants of ABC 33/40 surveyed numerous numbers of people across central Alabama about what they wanted in a station. They also literally built a new station in Birmingham from that information they gathered. The station achieved early success with their newscasts, due in part to hiring many well-known Birmingham television personalities, including 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. Later, Pam Huff, a former news anchor on WVTM, was hired to anchor the station's early morning newscasts. Since then, 33/40 has changed its slogan from "Where News Comes First" back to the original slogan of "We're Building Our Station Around You"; it is now "Alabama's News Leader." ABC 33/40 has had a long-standing tradition in that when any county in its viewing area is under a tornado warning, the station preempts regular programming for live, non-stop coverage, something the competing stations may refuse to do at times.

For a time in the mid-1990s, WCFT served as the default ABC affiliate for the Columbus/Tupelo market.

Stations

Station City of license Channels
(Analog/
Digital)
First air date Call letters’
meaning
ERP
(Analog/
Digital)
HAAT
(Analog/
Digital)
Facility ID Transmitter Coordinates
WBMA-LP Birmingham 58 (UHF)
11 (VHF)
September 6, 1996 AlaBaMA 8.8 kW
0.3 kW
255 m
255 m
60214
WCFT-TV1 Tuscaloosa 33 (UHF)
5 (VHF)
October 19652 Chapman
Family
Television
4370 kW
9.5 kW
662 m
625.4 m
21258
WJSU-TV3 Anniston 40 (UHF)
9 (VHF)
October 26, 1969 Jacksonville
State
University
5000 kW
15.6 kW
396 m
359 m
56642
Notes:

  • 1. WCFT-TV was an independent station from 1965 to 1970, and a CBS affiliate from 1970 to 1996.
  • 2. The Broadcasting and Cable Yearbook says WCFT-TV signed on October 27, while the Television and Cable Factbook says it signed on October 29.
  • 3. WJSU-TV used the callsign WHMA-TV from its 1969 sign-on until 1984. It was a CBS affiliate from 1969 to 1996, with a secondary NBC affiliation from 1969 to 1970.

Controversy over Ellen

In 1997, ABC 33/40 refused to air the famous "puppy episode" of Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom, Ellen. The station cited a need to respect the family values of the largely conservative evangelical community in the region as the basis of its decision. Some gay rights and civil libertarian activists decried the decision as a blatant example of censorship; indeed, in response, ABC sent a special satellite feed of the show to a community center in Birmingham and about 1,000 people, mainly local gays, lesbians, and their supporters, watched as DeGeneres came out of the closet.

When the same episode ran as a rerun on the network that same season, ABC 33/40 aired the program.

Current On-Air Staff

  • Nicole Allshouse, Talk of Alabama Co-Host
  • Dave Baird, 6pm/10pm Anchor
  • Ashley Brand, Weekend Meteorologist
  • Jeremy Campbell, Reporter
  • Kyle Craig, Sports Reporter/Producer
  • Katie Garrety, Reporter
  • Honora Gathings, Reporter
  • Ebony Hall, Reporter
  • Isaiah Harper, Reporter
  • Tracy Haynes, Morning Anchor/Talk of Alabama Co-Host
  • Roy Hobbs, Weekend Anchor
  • Pam Huff, Morning/5pm Anchor
  • Jeremy King, Reporter
  • Brenda Ladun, 6pm/10pm Anchor
  • Melissa Lee, Sports Reporter
  • Linda Mays, Midday/5pm Anchor
  • Brian Peters, Fill-In Meteorologist
  • Mike Raita, Sports Director
  • Melissa Riopka, Reporter
  • Jason Simpson, Morning/Midday Meteorologist
  • James Spann, Chief Meteorologist
  • Jeff Speegle, Weekend Sports Anchor
  • Kevyn Stewart, Reporter
  • "Thomas the Tech Guy"
  • Yenu Wodajo, Reporter

Former On-Air Staff

  • Brian Armentrout, Reporter, Left for a career in medical public relations
  • Joy Benedict, Reporter, Now at WEWS-TV in Cleveland, OH
  • Anastasiya Bolton, Reporter, Now at KUSA-TV in Denver, CO
  • Valorie Carter (Lawson), Reporter/Anchor, Now at WSFA-TV in Montgomery, AL
  • Tiffany Craig, Reporter, Now at WKRG-TV in Mobile, AL
  • Shelia Downey, Anchor
  • Rebecca Fox, Reporter
  • Jason Gaston, Reporter, Now a spokesman for Hoover City Schools in Hoover, AL
  • Dixon Hayes, Reporter, Now a photographer at WBRC-TV in Birmingham, AL
  • Dwann Holmes (Olsen), Reporter, Now at the University of Nebraska, Kearney
  • Laura Howe, Reporter, Now at American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.
  • Kelly Hunter, Sports Reporter
  • Casey Jones, Reporter/Anchor, Now at WJCL-TV in Savannah, GA
  • Mike Maher, Reporter
  • Jon Mangum, Reporter, Deceased
  • Brett Oates, Reporter, Now local sports talk radio co-host WATV-AM
  • Chris Osborne, Reporter, Now at American Red Cross in Birmingham, AL
  • John Oldshue, Meteorologist, Left to operate a small business
  • Kimberly Osias, Reporter, Later at CNN and WPEC-TV
  • Dyan Patterson (Zedeker), Reporter/Anchor, Now in media relations at Cape Coral Police Department in Florida
  • Ike Pigott, Reporter, Now at Alabama Power
  • Maggie Poteau, Anchor
  • Mark Prater, Meteorologist, Now Chief Meteorologist at WIAT
  • Rachel Rose, Reporter
  • Krista Saari, Sports Reporter
  • Mike Schoor, Sports Reporter, Left for a career in financial planning
  • Keisa Sharpe, Anchor, Now at Alabama Power
  • Christopher Sign, Reporter, Now at KNXV-TV in Phoenix, AZ
  • Bob Symon, Meteorologist, Now at WLKY-TV in Louisville, KY
  • Chris Tatum, Reporter, Now at WSMV-TV in Nashville, TN
  • Tiffani Taylor (Lupenski), Reporter, Now at KUSA-TV in Denver, CO, as a writer/producer
  • Josh Thomas, Anchor, Now at WFLA-TV in Tampa, FL
  • Deborah Vance, Reporter. Now Chief of Staff for Birmingham, AL mayor Larry Langford
  • Glenda Webb, Anchor/Reporter
  • Jennifer Webster, Reporter

Trivia

  • ABC 33/40 operates a number of Sky Cams throughout the state which send a live shot and weather information from that site. ABC 33/40 is assisted in this venture by regional banking giant Compass Bank. There are skycams in Downtown Birmingham, Inverness, Gadsden, Demopolis, Hamilton, Jasper, Mount Cheaha, Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Clanton and Gulf Shores. The Tuscaloosa TowerLink camera, located on the old Channel 33 broadcast tower, caught footage of an F4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in December 2000 TowerLink is also at WBMA-LP's tower in Birmingham and WJSU's tower in Anniston.
  • In September 2006, ABC 33/40 moved the popular soap opera All My Children from 10 a.m., where it had aired for many years on tape-delay since WBRC was an ABC affiliate, to 12 Noon. This is the first time since the ABC daytime drama began in 1970 that it has aired at the time of the daily network feed in the Birmingham market.
  • Former anchor Josh Thomas was seen in the 2004 film The Punisher as a news anchor for WFLA-TV in Tampa.
  • ABC 33/40 offers Spanish-language webcasts online. The brief news updates are anchored on a rotating basis by Vivian Mora and Hernan Prado, two Hispanic business owners in the Birmingham community.

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