WBBM-TV, virtual channel 2 (VHF digital channel 12), is a CBS owned-and-operated television station licensed to Chicago, Illinois, United States. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of ViacomCBS. WBBM-TV's studios and offices are located on West Washington Street as part of the development at Block 37 in the Loop district, and its transmitter is located atop the Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive.
Early history (1940–1953)
WBBM-TV traces its history to 1940 when Balaban and Katz, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, signed on experimental station W9XBK, the first all-electronic television facility in Chicago. Balaban and Katz was already well known for owning several movie theaters in the Chicago area. In order to establish the station, the company 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. While operating the Navy school, Eddy continued to lead W9XBK and wrote a book that defined commercial television for many years.
On September 6, 1946, the station received a commercial license as WBKB (for Balaban and Katz Broadcasting) on VHF channel 4, becoming the first commercial station located outside the Eastern Time Zone; it was also the sixth commercial TV station in the United States behind WNBT (now WNBC), WCBW (now WCBS-TV), WABD (now WNYW) all in New York City; WRGB Schenectady, NY; and WPTZ (now KYW-TV Philadelphia). WBKB aired some of the earliest CBS programs, including the 1947 debut of Junior Jamboree (later renamed Kukla, Fran and Ollie after it moved to NBC in 1948). Channel 4 originally operated as an independent station, since at the time it was not clear that it would be an affiliate of the CBS television network; eventually, WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee became the first television station west of the Eastern Time Zone to affiliate with a major network. One of the station's early highlights was its telecast of the National Football League's championship game between the Chicago Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 28, 1947.
In April 1948, WBKB began sharing the market's CBS affiliation with WGN-TV (channel 9), after that station signed on. In 1949, Balaban and Katz became part of United Paramount Theatres, after Paramount Pictures was forced to divest its chain of movie theaters by order of the United States Supreme Court.
WBKB played an indirect role in the demise of the DuMont Television Network. At the time, Paramount Pictures owned a stake in DuMont, however the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered DuMont to be a firm that was controlled by the studio. Paramount also owned KTLA in Los Angeles; however 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 television stations. Paramount even launched a short-lived programming service, the Paramount Television Network (no relation to today's cable-only Paramount Network), in 1949, with KTLA and WBKB as its flagship stations; however, the service never gelled into a true television network.
As a CBS owned-and-operated station (1953–present)
In February 1953, United Paramount Theaters merged with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), which already owned WENR-TV (channel 7). As the newly merged entity could not keep both stations since FCC regulations enforced during that time forbade the common ownership of two television stations licensed to the same market, WBKB was sold to CBS for $6.75 million. On February 12, one day after the merger was finalized, the station changed its call letters to WBBM-TV, after WBBM radio (AM 780 and FM 96.3), which CBS has owned since 1929. The WBKB call letters were subsequently assumed by channel 7 (that station would eventually change its callsign to WLS-TV in 1968, and the callsign now resides at a CBS-affiliated station in Alpena, Michigan). While the old WBKB's talent remained with the new WBBM-TV under the radio station's longtime general manager, H. Leslie Atlass, the UPT-era management of the old WBKB moved to channel 7.
As a result of WBBM-TV's purchase by CBS, it picked up all CBS programming previously carried by WGN-TV, after a two-month cancellation clause in channel 9's affiliation contract with CBS; this left channel 9 with the quickly crumbling DuMont as its sole network affiliation.
In accordance to the VHF channel allocation realignments imposed by the FCC in its issuance of the Sixth Report and Order, WBBM-TV relocated to channel 2 on July 5, 1953, in order to eliminate interference with WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. WTMJ-TV concurrently moved to VHF channel 4—from channel 3—to avoid interference with fellow CBS affiliate WKZO-TV (now WWMT) in Kalamazoo, Michigan (on the other side of Lake Michigan), which itself broadcast on channel 3. The channel 2 allocation was coincidentally freed up at the same time as the state capital of Springfield was forced to let the allocation relocate to St. Louis, where the allocation was assigned to KTVI.
In 1956, CBS consolidated its Chicago operations into the former Chicago Arena, a renovated 62,000-square-foot (5,760 m2), three-story building on North McClurg Court in the Streeterville neighborhood; the property was built in 1924 as a horse stable, and had operated as an ice rink and bowling alley prior to CBS' approximately $1.3 million purchase of the building.
That year, an episode of What's My Line? originated from the WBBM studios, airing 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. On September 26, 1960, WBBM's McClurg Court studios served as the site of the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. WBBM-TV also served as production home to the syndicated programs Donahue (from 1982 to 1985) and Siskel & Ebert (from 1986 to the late 1990s, when production migrated to the studios of WLS-TV on State Street).
In October 1987, Center City Communications—a locally based investor group led by attorney Brenda Minor—filed a challenge to the FCC's renewal of WBBM-TV's station license. However, in asking the agency not to renew the station's license through 1992, Center City never detailed any specific objections to the station's license renewal, although it had been speculated that the challenge may have been related to the then-recent boycott by Operation PUSH surrounding the lack of diversity with the station's staff and allegations that WBBM's hiring practices were not fair towards blacks; Minor (who is African American) later cited that the station did not fulfill obligations to public affairs programming. Center City dropped its challenge three months later in July, after reaching a settlement agreement with CBS in which Center City agreed not to challenge the license renewal of any CBS station for a five-year period, in return for a $187,500 payment by CBS. The challenge sparked calls for the FCC to reform its comparative renewal process, which certain broadcasters claim was used solely for the purpose of "extort[ing]" large cash settlements from stations.
The station was brought back under common ownership with Paramount Pictures when Viacom—which acquired the studio from Gulf and Western in 1994—merged with (the original) CBS Corporation in a $36 billion deal in February 2000. This union was broken up again in December 2005 when Viacom became CBS Corporation and spun off Paramount Pictures and Viacom's cable networks into a separate company that assumed the Viacom name.
In 2003, WBBM signed a lease agreement with Chevy Chase, Maryland-based developer Mills Corporation to build a "media center" for the station in the "Block 37" developments in the Loop business district, with plans to include a street-level studio that would overlook Daley Plaza. WBBM had earlier considered selling the McClurg Court facility with the intent to relocate into a new studio complex in 1998 (with areas on North Fairbanks Court, North Michigan Avenue and West Jackson Street as potential sites for the planned facility); however, the plans were postponed due to transition to high-definition broadcasting.
On September 21, 2008, WBBM-TV moved to new facilities in the "Block 37" studio at the corner of Dearborn and Washington Street, with a 30-by-19-foot (9.1 m × 5.8 m) LED screen that adorns the lower facade of the 17-story building (which some residents complained is "tacky and visually hyperactive"). This move coincided with the upgrade of channel 2's newscasts to high definition, making WBBM the fourth television station in the Chicago market to begin broadcasting their newscasts in the format (only footage recorded in-studio is presented in high definition; the remote field footage is shot in 16:9 widescreen standard definition); in early 2006, the WBBM radio stations moved into new studio facilities within Two Prudential Plaza on North Stetson Avenue. The former McClurg Court facility building was demolished over a two-month period from February to April 2009.
On February 2, 2017, CBS agreed to sell CBS Radio to Entercom, currently the fourth-largest radio broadcasting company in the United States. The sale was completed on November 17, 2017, and was conducted using a Reverse Morris Trust so that it was tax-free. While CBS shareholders retain a 72% ownership stake in the combined company, Entercom is the surviving entity, with WBBM radio and its sister stations now separated from WBBM-TV.
|TV stations in Illinois|
|TV stations in Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana|
|WBBM 2 (CBS) |
WMAQ 5 (NBC)
WLS 7 (ABC)
WGN 9 (Ind)
WTTW 11 (PBS)
WOCK-CD 13 (Ind)
WYCC 20 (MHz)
WRJK-LP 22 (Diya TV)
WWME-CD 23 (MeTV)
WPVN-CD 24 (AZA)
W25DW-D 25 (HSN)
WCIU 26 (CW)
WLPD-CD 30 (Hillsong)
WFLD 32 (Fox)
WEDE-CD 34 (Ind)
WWTO 35 (TBN)
WCPX 38 (Ion)
WESV-LD 40 (ESTRELLA)
WSNS 44 (TLM)
WMEU-CD 48 (Ind)
WPWR 50 (MNTV)
WYIN 56 (PBS)
WDCI-LD 57 (Daystar)
WXFT 60 (UMas)
WCHU-LD 61 (JTV)
WJYS 62 (Ind)
WGBO 66 (UNI)