WBRC, virtual channel 6 (UHF digital channel 50), is a Fox-affiliated television station licensed to Birmingham, Alabama, United States. The station is owned by Gray Television. WBRC's studios and transmitter are located atop Red Mountain, between Vulcan Trail and Valley View Drive, in southeastern Birmingham (to the immediate west of the studios of NBC affiliate WVTM-TV, channel 13); the station shares its transmitter tower with local NOAA Weather Radio station KIH54.
On cable, WBRC is available on Charter Spectrum channel 7, and Comcast Xfinity and AT&T U-verse channel 6.
The station first signed on the air on July 1, 1949, originally broadcasting on VHF channel 4 as WBRC-TV (standing for Bell Radio Company, after Fountain Heights physician J.C. Bell, founder of radio station WBRC (960 AM). the "-TV" suffix was dropped from the call sign in June 1999). Although WBRC-TV was the first television station in Birmingham to be granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it is the second-oldest television station in Alabama, signing on just over one month after WAFM-TV (channel 13, now WVTM-TV), which debuted on May 29. It was originally owned by the Birmingham Broadcasting Company, run by Eloise D. Hanna, along with WBRC radio. Hanna's first husband, M. D. Smith, had bought WBRC radio from Bell in 1928. Her son, M.D. Smith III, who worked at the radio stations in advertising sales and was later promoted to program director and vice president, ran the television station as its operations manager.
Originally broadcasting for three hours per day, it operated as a primary NBC affiliate (earning the affiliation as a result of WBRC radio's longtime affiliation with the NBC Red Network), and also carried secondary affiliations with ABC and the DuMont Television Network; during the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network. WBRC-TV originally operated from WBRC radio's facilities on 19th Street and 2nd Avenue, near downtown Birmingham, which originally only housed business and master control operations; the station originally relied mainly on network and film content for much of the programming it broadcast. The station's transmitter was originally purposed as the transmitter facilities for radio station WBRC-FM (102.5, now WBPT at 106.9 FM; original frequency now occupied by WDXB), which signed on in 1947 with the highest radiated power of any radio station worldwide, operating at 500,000 watts; after the FM station suspended operations in June 1948 due to continued revenue losses due to the lack of radios equipped with FM tuners, Hanna borrowed $150,000 to build a new studio facility and transmitter atop Red Mountain for the television station. In September 1950, WBRC established a coaxial cable link with fellow NBC-DuMont affiliate WRGB (now a CBS affiliate) in Schenectady, New York, allowing the station to broadcast NBC and DuMont network programs both live and live-to-air.
On February 19, 1953, WBRC-TV moved to channel 6 as part of a frequency realignment ordered by the FCC, resulting from the Sixth Report and Order issued the year prior in 1952. This move was made in order to alleviate signal interference problems between WBRC and WSM-TV (now WSMV-TV) in Nashville, which also transmitted on channel 4, that were present in portions of northern Alabama. Later that year, Hanna also sold the WBRC television and radio stations to Storer Broadcasting for $2.3 million--a handsome return on her first husband's purchase of WBRC radio 25 years earlier. George B. Storer, the company's founder and chairman, was a member of the board of directors at CBS, and most of his television stations were affiliates of that network. Storer may have used his leverage to secure a primary CBS affiliation for WBRC-TV, which joined the network on July 4, 1954. NBC programming subsequently moved to channel 13 (by then, using the call sign WABT); both stations, however, retained a secondary affiliation with ABC.
On September 17 of that year, the WBRC stations moved to a new, much larger studio facility located on Red Mountain that was built by Storer, where channel 6 continues to operate from to this day. The building, like many of those built by Storer to serve as studios for its broadcast properties, resembled an antebellum mansion. While it may have been out of place in most of Storer's other markets (many of which were located outside of the Southern United States), it was a perfect fit for Birmingham. Unusual for a commercial broadcaster, Storer supported educational television, and the company donated two transmitters and frequencies in the Birmingham market (channels 7 and 10, which were respectively occupied by WCIQ and WBIQ when both stations signed on in 1955) to Alabama Educational Television (now Alabama Public Television). This also, however, may have been a move to forestall future commercial competition in the market; WBRC and WABT remained the only commercial stations in Birmingham, which would not get a third commercial broadcast television outlet until WBMG (now WIAT) debuted in October 1965, on UHF channel 42, a signal considerably weaker than that of either channels 6 or 13, and a problem which hampered that station's progress until the early 2000s.
In 1957, Storer sold the WBRC stations to Radio Cincinnati Inc., the forerunner of what would become Taft Broadcasting, for $2.3 million. Storer had to sell its broadcast holdings in Birmingham after it purchased radio station WIBG (now WNTP) in Philadelphia and its television sister, WPFH (later WVUE) in Wilmington, Delaware (whose frequency is now occupied by WHYY-TV) in order to comply with the FCC's ownership limits of that time period.
As an exclusive ABC affiliate
On March 1, 1961, WBRC-TV signed an agreement with ABC to become a full-time affiliate of the network. This was very unusual for a market with only two commercial stations; usually, one or both stations carried ABC as a secondary affiliation, since that network would not be on anything resembling an equal footing with CBS and NBC until the 1970s. However, Taft had very good relations with ABC. The company's chairman was a personal friend of ABC's president Leonard Goldenson, and several of Taft's other stations, including flagship WKRC-TV in Cincinnati (which would rejoin CBS in 1995), had recently switched to ABC. During the 1970s, ABC aired cartoons from Hanna-Barbera, whose studios were acquired by Taft in 1967. Taft later bought ABC's former syndication arm, Worldvision Enterprises, in 1979 (ABC spun off this division in 1973 as a result of fin-syn laws, which have since been repealed). This also marked a significant turnaround for channel 6's relationship with the network, as during the later 1950s, the amount of ABC programming on WBRC had been dramatically reduced from about 50% of its schedule to only a very limited selection of shows, seemingly headed toward an exclusive CBS affiliation by 1960; even still, WBRC retained some of CBS' higher-rated soap operas on its daytime schedule until about 1968, when those programs moved to either WAPI-TV or WBMG.
Another factor, though supposedly not as important as the Taft-Goldenson relationship, was CBS News' apparent strong support of the Civil Rights Movement, which did not sit well with many white viewers, a large segment of WBRC's audience. An urban legend regarding the ABC affiliation agreement suggested that the switch was partly motivated by CBS' plans to air Who Speaks For Birmingham?, a controversial CBS Reports documentary focusing on desegregation at Birmingham Public Schools that later led to journalist Howard K. Smith's resignation from CBS News after he quoted an anti-desegregation statement by political scientist Edmund Burke in the closing narration, viewed by network president Bill Paley as editorializing his views in support of school integration; however, the special aired on May 18 of that year, two months after the ABC agreement was signed. ABC had very few full-time affiliates south of Washington, D.C. at the time, but now it had the full benefit of one of the South's strongest signals, best antenna locations and largest coverage areas. WBRC-TV's signal provided at least secondary coverage as far north as Decatur and extending south to near Montgomery, and from the Mississippi border in the west to the Georgia border in the east. The station became exclusively affiliated with ABC on September 7, 1961; on that date, channel 13 (by then known as WAPI-TV) assumed rights to CBS and NBC programming, although WBRC continued to occasionally carry certain CBS shows that WAPI chose not to carry through 1965. In 1972, Taft sold the WBRC radio stations, which changed their call letters to WERC-AM and FM.
In 1966, WBRC-TV began broadcasting local programming in color, after the station purchased two color cameras; among the first local programs to be produced in color was the Alabama Crimson Tide football coaches' program, The Bear Bryant Show (originated from CBS affiliate WCOV-TV (now also a Fox affiliate) in Montgomery, the first television station in the state to begin color broadcasts), which aired on WBRC until 1970, when it moved to WAPI-TV. Meanwhile, WBRC-TV had become one of ABC's strongest affiliates, a position it retained for the next quarter-century. For a time, it incorporated the ABC circle logo inside its own "6" logo (just as it had done with the CBS eye in the 1950s). Channel 6 could make a plausible claim to be not only the most-watched station in the Birmingham market, but in the entire state of Alabama, thanks in part to unusually weak competition. CBS affiliate WBMG (channel 42, now WIAT), which signed on in October 1965 as the market's third commercial television station, was not a factor and, in fact, was among the lowest-rated major-network affiliates in the nation at some points, making Birmingham a de facto two-station market to industry observers from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s. Even still, due to signal impairment in mountainous areas of northeastern Alabama, WBRC operated two low-power translators to extend its programming to that part of the state, W29AO (channel 29) in Anniston in W15AP (channel 15) in Gadsden.
In 1982, WBRC began receiving ABC network and syndicated programming, and news footage via satellite. In 1984, the station became one of the first television stations in the region to adopt a 24-hour-a-day programming schedule. After it suffered significant structural damage due to an ice storm that affected the Southeastern U.S. in the winter of 1985, the station's original transmitter tower was replaced in 1986, with a new tower on Red Mountain 3 miles (4.8 km) east of the original tower's location. In October 1987, Taft was restructured into Great American Communications following the completion of a hostile takeover of the group. In December 1993, Great American Communications was restructured again into Citicasters after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Citicasters then decided to put most of its television stations up for sale. These moves, though, did not immediately affect WBRC's high standing in the ratings or its reputation in the community.
As a Fox station
On May 5, 1994, Great American Communications (which would later be renamed Citicasters following the completion of its restructuring) agreed to sell WBRC and three other television stations – WDAF-TV in Kansas City, KSAZ-TV in Phoenix and WGHP in High Point, North Carolina – to New World Communications – for $350 million in cash and $10 million in share warrants. However, three weeks later, New World agreed to purchase four stations owned by Argyle Television Holdings, WVTM being among them, in a purchase option-structured deal for $717 million (although the transfer/assignment applications for the stations involved in the Argyle purchases were not filed with the FCC until after New World's acquisition of the four Citicasters stations was completed); this posed a problem for New World on two counts. At the time, the FCC forbade any broadcasting company from owning two commercial television stations in the same market; in addition, the concurrent acquisitions of the Argyle and Citicasters stations put New World three stations over the national television ownership cap that the agency enforced at the time, which allowed broadcasters to own a maximum of twelve stations nationwide.
On May 23, 1994, New World signed an affiliation agreement with Fox to switch twelve television stations – six that New World had already owned and eight that the company was in the process of acquiring through the Argyle and Citicasters deals, including WBRC – to the network, in exchange for the latter's then-parent company News Corporation purchasing a 20% equity stake in New World; the stations would become Fox affiliates once their affiliation contracts with existing network partners expired (with the first stations involved in the deal switching to the network in September 1994). Although the network's Birmingham charter affiliate, WTTO (channel 21), was one of Fox's strongest affiliates at the time, the network found the chance to align with WBRC too much to resist because of its longstanding ratings dominance in the market. The group's affiliation deal with Fox also gave New World a chance to solve its ownership problem by reaching an agreement with Citicasters to sell WBRC and WGHP directly to the network's owned-and-operated station group, Fox Television Stations.
Fox was unable to immediately purchase the two stations outright due to questions over the American citizenship of then-parent company News Corporation's Australian-born CEO Rupert Murdoch. New World then decided to acquire the stations itself, but place them in an outside trust company that it established; New World would sell the stations to Fox Television Stations, which, in turn, would pay the group $130 million in promissory notes upon the transfer's completion. New World formally filed an application with the FCC to transfer WBRC to the trust on October 12, 1994, one month after it filed transferred WGHP on September 9; the FCC approved the transfer on April 3, 1995. Under the arrangement, New World owned the licenses of both stations, while Citicasters continued to control their operations under outsourcing agreements. In April 1995, Citicasters transferred the operations of WBRC and WGHP to Fox Television Stations, which took over operational control through time brokerage agreements with New World and purchased the stations three months later on July 22; Fox formally finalized the purchase of the two stations on January 17, 1996.
Although it was now owned by the O&O group of another network, Fox now had to run channel 6 as an ABC affiliate for more than a year after the purchase was announced as WBRC's affiliation agreement with that network was not set to expire until August 31, 1996. This gave ABC a sufficient amount of time to find another station to replace channel 6 as its central Alabama affiliate. In January 1996, ABC struck a deal with Allbritton Communications to affiliate with CBS stations WCFT-TV (channel 33, now Heroes & Icons affiliate WSES) in Tuscaloosa and WJSU-TV (channel 40, now Heroes & Icons affiliate WGWW) in Anniston (the latter of which Allbritton had agreed to operate under a local marketing agreement with then-owner Osborne Communications Corporation weeks prior); because Tuscaloosa and Anniston were then separate markets, which would result in neither station being counted in Nielsen ratings reports for Birmingham, Allbritton purchased low-power station W58CK (channel 58, now WBMA-LD), creating a triple-simulcast with WCFT and WJSU, which would act as its satellite stations.
WBRC became a Fox owned-and-operated station on September 1, 1996, ending its affiliation with ABC after 47 years; however, the station had begun airing the network's short-lived morning program Fox After Breakfast for one month prior to the switch after it dropped Good Morning America from its schedule. The concurrent move of the ABC affiliation to W58CK and its satellites, also led to the CBS affiliation for the Anniston-Gadsden market to move to WNAL-TV (channel 44, now Ion Television owned-and-operated station WPXH-TV), which – along with WTTO and its Tuscaloosa satellite WDBB (channel 17) – lost its Fox affiliation to WBRC.
With the switch to Fox, WBRC became one of only a few television stations in the United States to have maintained primary affiliations with all of the Big Three networks, and the only one in the country to have had primary affiliations with all four current major networks; it also became the first network-owned commercial television station in the state of Alabama. At that time, WBRC phased out its longstanding "Channel 6" brand and began branding itself as "Fox 6", becoming one of three Fox stations affected by the affiliation deal between the network and New World to adopt Fox's standardized station branding conventions prior to the group's 1996 merger with Fox Television Stations (WGHP and WJBK in Detroit, which became a sister station to WBRC as a result of the New World merger, were the only others to comply with the network's branding techniques; the remaining ten stations did not incorporate network branding until after the merger was finalized).
WBRC would become the only remaining station in the Birmingham–Tuscaloosa–Anniston market that was owned by a major commercial broadcast television network, after Media General completed its acquisition of WVTM from NBC Television Stations on June 26, 2006. However, on December 22, 2007, Fox announced that it had entered into an agreement to sell WBRC and seven other Fox owned-and-operated stations (WDAF-TV, WGHP, WJW in Cleveland, WITI in Milwaukee, KTVI in St. Louis, KDVR in Denver and KSTU in Salt Lake City) to Local TV, a holding company operated by equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners that had earlier purchased The New York Times Company's television station division; the sale was finalized on July 14, 2008. On January 6, 2009, Local TV announced that it would trade WBRC to Raycom Media in exchange for acquiring CBS affiliate WTVR-TV in Richmond, Virginia from that group. Raycom – which is controlled by the Retirement Systems of Alabama – is headquartered in Montgomery (the market to the adjacent south of the Birmingham DMA), and also owns that market's NBC affiliate WSFA as well as Huntsville NBC affiliate WAFF. The transfer closed on March 31, 2009.
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 WBRC), and Gray's 93 television stations) under the former'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 WBRC gaining new sister stations in adjacent markets, including ABC affiliate WTOK-TV in Meridian and CBS/NBC affiliates WTVY and WRGX-LD in Dothan (while separating it from WDFX), in addition to the current Raycom stations. The sale was approved on December 20 and completed on January 2, 2019.
|TV stations in Alabama|
|TV stations in serving Central Alabama, including Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Anniston, and Gadsden|
|WBRC 6 (Fox) |
WCIQ 7 (PBS)
WVUA-CD 7 (This TV)
WBIQ 10 (PBS)
WVTM 13 (NBC)
WDBB 17 (CW)
WOTM-LP 19 (Ind.)
WTTO 21 (CW)
WVUA 23 (This TV)
WEAC-CD 24 (The Walk/AMGTV)
WBXA-CD 24 (Biz TV)
WCQT-LP 27 (The Walk)
WBUN-LD 28 (Daystar)
WSES 33 (H&I)
W20DE-D 34 (HSN2)
WGWW 40 (H&I)
WIAT 42 (CBS)
WPXH 44 (Ion)
WUOA-LD 46 (Laff)
WSWH-LD 46 (RTV)
W47EI-D 47 (Rel.)
WOIL-CD 47 (Youtoo)
WSFG-LD 51 (Daystar)
W16CM-D 55 (Rel)
WBMA-LD 58 (ABC)
WTJP 60 (TBN)
WABM 68 (MNTV)