WBFF, virtual channel 45 (UHF digital channel 46), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Baltimore, Maryland, United States. It serves as the flagship station of the Sinclair Broadcast Group (based in nearby Hunt Valley), which also operates CW affiliate WNUV (channel 54) through a local marketing agreement (LMA) with owner Cunningham Broadcasting, and MyNetworkTV affiliate WUTB (channel 24) under a separate shared services agreement (SSA) with owner Deerfield Media. However, Sinclair effectively owns WNUV as the majority of Cunningham's stock is owned by the family of deceased group founder Julian Smith.
All three stations share studios, offices and transmitter facilities on 41st Street off the Jones Falls Expressway on "Television Hill" in the Woodberry neighborhood of north Baltimore. The 1,280-foot (390 m) tall WBFF/WNUV/WUTB tower stands adjacent to the earlier landmark "candleabra tower" from the late 1950s, also on the then renamed "Television Hill" or "TV Hill" for the city's original three main VHF stations (WMAR, WBAL, and WAAM).
On cable, WBFF is carried on channel 15 on most immediate Baltimore area cable systems, and on channel 10 on Verizon FiOS. In most outlying areas of the market, the station is carried on either channel 3, channel 7, or channel 10.
WBFF first came on the air on April 11, 1971, founded by what was then called the Chesapeake Television Corporation, which was controlled by Julian Sinclair Smith. It was Baltimore's second commercial UHF station and second independent station, signing on four years after WMET-TV (channel 24, frequency now occupied by WUTB) began operations. Both stations aired general entertainment programming, but WMET's owners experienced financial problems and were forced to take channel 24 off the air in 1972.
Even without direct competition, and operating on a small budget, WBFF still struggled for strong programming during the 1970s as Baltimore's network affiliates—WBAL-TV, WJZ-TV and WMAR-TV—continued to acquire off-network syndicated programs during this period. It did not help matters that Washington's WTTG and WDCA were readily available both over the air (Washington stations all provided a strong signal into Baltimore) and on cable. Channel 45 did find an advantage in having a decent library of movies, sitcoms and westerns at its disposal. Like other independent stations of that era, WBFF also ran network programs preempted by the local affiliates, local public affairs programs, and played cartoons and series reruns in the afternoon for the after-school kids crowd in a show hosted by nostalgic "Captain Chesapeake" (played by George Lewis) along with his side-kick "Mondy" the sea monster (who still works at WBFF under the alias "Traffic Jam Jimmy") as they cruised through the Bay. "Captain Chesapeake" was a fixture on WBFF from its beginnings until 1990, with his famous cheery greeting: "Ahoyyy Crewmembers!!"
Despite its financial troubles, WBFF became profitable enough that Julian Smith decided to expand his broadcast interests. Through a Chesapeake Television subsidiary, Commercial Radio Institute, Smith launched a new independent station in Pittsburgh, WPTT (now WPNT), in 1978. In 1984, Commercial Radio Institute signed on Smith's third station, Columbus, Ohio independent WTTE. That same year, WBFF received local competition again when WNUV-TV, then a two-year-old subscription television outlet, began to adopt a general entertainment schedule during the daytime and full-time by 1986.
In 1985, Julian Smith merged his three stations into the Sinclair Broadcast Group, and around this time one of his sons, David D. Smith, took a prominent role in the operations of the three stations. In 1986, Sinclair agreed to affiliate WBFF and WTTE with the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Company, which debuted on October 9 of that year. The growth and rise of Fox coincided with that of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which expanded its reach during beyond Baltimore, Columbus and Pittsburgh during the 1990s. But first, Sinclair attempted to increase the reach of its flagship station in a big way.
In early 1991, Sinclair filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for a new station on VHF channel 2—occupied by WMAR-TV—under a subsidiary called Four Jacks Broadcasting. If it were granted, Sinclair would have moved the WBFF intellectual unit (including its Fox affiliation) from channel 45 to the stronger channel 2, and with Sinclair then selling off WBFF's existing channel 45 allocation. The channel 2 analog signal traveled a very long distance under normal conditions. However, those plans never materialized, and WMAR-TV (then affiliated with CBS) was instead sold to the E. W. Scripps Company. In the end, Scripps' license to operate WMAR-TV on channel 2 was reaffirmed by the FCC. Resigned to remain on channel 45, Sinclair refocused on strengthening WBFF, and in June 1991 opened up the station's news department with Baltimore's first 10:00 p.m. newscast co-anchored by Lisa Willis (formerly of WWOR-TV in New York) and Jeff Barnd. WBFF is the only television station in the Baltimore market that has never changed its primary network affiliation. In 1996, Channel 45 began airing Baltimore Ravens games via the NFL on Fox; the station is given at least two games a season to air (usually when the team plays host to an NFC team at M&T Bank Stadium); starting in 2014, when the NFL instituted its new 'cross-flex' broadcast rules, games can be arbitrarily moved from WJZ-TV to WBFF.
Sinclair purchased Abry Communications, owner of WNUV, in 1994. As duopolies were not allowed at the time, channel 54 was spun off to Glencairn Ltd., a company owned by former Sinclair executive Edwin Edwards. However, Glencairn's stock was almost entirely owned by the Smith family. In effect, Sinclair now had a duopoly in Baltimore—and had emasculated its major rival in its hometown. Sinclair further circumvented the rules by taking over WNUV's operations under a local marketing agreement, with WBFF as senior partner.
Sinclair tried to buy Glencairn outright in 2001, but was unable to buy WNUV due to the FCC's rules on dupolies. Despite its relatively large size, the Baltimore market has only seven full-power stations (or six, if two stations licensed in the market that are operated by Maryland Public Television are treated as one)—two fewer than what FCC regulations allow to legally permit a duopoly (the FCC requires a market to have eight unique station owners once a duopoly is formed, effectively limiting duopolies to markets with at least nine full-power stations). Glencairn changed its name to Cunningham Broadcasting and retained ownership of WNUV. However, nearly all of Cunningham's stock is held in trusts owned by the Smiths. This de facto duopoly continues to this day, while the close relationship between Sinclair and Glencairn/Cunningham has led to claims that Cunningham is merely a corporate shell that Sinclair uses in order to evade FCC ownership restrictions.
While WBFF entered the new century thriving as both locally and as a Fox affiliate, its network partner threatened the station's immediate future. In 2001, Fox's parent company, the News Corporation, became the new owner of Baltimore's UPN affiliate WUTB (the former WMET-TV) through its purchase of most of Chris-Craft Industries' television holdings. Rumors abounded that Fox was considering moving its programming from WBFF to WUTB. In a move made clearly to protect its home interests, Sinclair persuaded Fox to sign a long-term contract to keep WBFF with the network. The same threat re-emerged in January 2006, when UPN owner CBS Corporation and Time Warner, owners of The WB Television Network, announced that those two networks would be shut down and replaced by the new CW Television Network. However, a month after The CW's formation, News Corporation announced that WUTB and its other UPN affiliates would become the nuclei of its new MyNetworkTV service.
On May 1, 2006, the station launched its .2 digital channel with retro programming, the first non-weather subchannel in the market. In
On May 15, 2012, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox agreed to a five-year extension to the network's affiliation agreement with Sinclair's 19 Fox stations, including WBFF, that will run through 2017. This included an option (that was exercisable from July 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013) to allow Sinclair to purchase WUTB, resulting in the creation of a virtual triopoly with WBFF and WNUV; while giving Fox the option to buy any combination of six CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates (two of which were standalone stations affiliated with the latter service) owned by Sinclair in three of four markets: Raleigh (WLFL and WRDC), Las Vegas (KVCW and KVMY), Cincinnati (WSTR-TV) and Norfolk (WTVZ). Under the agreement and the WUTB purchase option, Sinclair would pay $52.7 million to continue WBFF's affiliation with Fox; however, if Fox exercised the option to buy any of the Sinclair stations that were included in the option, the affiliation payments would decrease to $25 million. On November 29, 2012, Sinclair exercised its option to purchase WUTB through Deerfield Media for $2.7 million. Following the completion of the sale, WUTB began to be operated by Sinclair under a local marketing agreement, as with Deerfield's other stations. In January 2013, Fox announced that it would not exercise its option to buy any of the Sinclair stations included in the earlier purchase option. On May 6, 2013, the FCC granted its approval of WUTB to Deerfield Media. Sinclair officially took over the operations of WUTB eight days later, although the sale was not formally consummated until June 1. With the completion of the WUTB sale, this makes Baltimore the largest market where one company (outside of non-commercial public television station groups) operates a virtual triopoly between full-power stations.
On the afternoon of April 28, 2016, WBFF's studios were evacuated in response to a threat by a person wearing a hoax bomb; the suspect also allegedly set his vehicle on fire in the station's parking lot. The suspect was later shot and apprehended by police; besides a desire to share eschatological content with the station (a USB drive with videos was confiscated by a security guard), no specific motive for the incident was determined.
|TV stations in Maryland|
|TV stations in Greater Baltimore|
|WMAR 2 (ABC) |
WBAL 11 (NBC)
WJZ 13 (CBS)
WMPT 22 (PBS)
WUTB 24 (MNTV)
WMJF-CD 39 (Ind)
WWDD-LD 40 (Daystar)
WBFF 45 (Fox)
W45DN-D 46 (IBN)
WNUV 54 (CW)
WFPT 62 (PBS)
WMPB 67 (PBS)
WQAW-LP 69 (AZA)