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.
ABC 33/40 operates bureaus in Tuscaloosa and Anniston at the locations of the former independent stations.
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.
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.
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.
|Station||City of license|| Channels|
|First air date|| Call letters’|
|Facility ID||Transmitter Coordinates|
|WBMA-LP||Birmingham|| 58 (UHF)|
|September 6, 1996||AlaBaMA|| 8.8 kW|
| 255 m|
|WCFT-TV1||Tuscaloosa|| 33 (UHF)|
|October 19652|| Chapman|
| 4370 kW|
| 662 m|
|WJSU-TV3||Anniston|| 40 (UHF)|
|October 26, 1969|| Jacksonville|
| 5000 kW|
| 396 m|
When the same episode ran as a rerun on the network that same season, ABC 33/40 aired the program.