WDBJ, virtual channel 7 (UHF digital channel 18), is a CBS-affiliated television station licensed to Roanoke, Virginia, United States and also serving Lynchburg. The station is owned by Gray Television, as part of a duopoly with Danville-licensed MyNetworkTV affiliate WZBJ (channel 24); it is also sister to Lynchburg-licensed low-powered, Class A station WZBJ-CD (channel 43). The three stations share studios on Hershberger Road in northwest Roanoke; WDBJ and WZBJ share transmitter facilities on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County.
WDBJ-TV first signed on the air on October 3, 1955, originally owned by the Times-World Corporation, publishers of the Roanoke Times and Roanoke World-News, and operators of WDBJ radio (960 AM, now WFIR; and 94.9 FM, now WSLC-FM). Channel 7 has been a CBS affiliate since its sign-on, owing to WDBJ radio's longtime affiliation with the CBS Radio Network. WDBJ-TV was the third television station to sign-on from Roanoke, after NBC affiliate WSLS-TV (channel 10) and WROV-TV (channel 27, frequency later occupied by WFXR), which operated as an independent station from February to July 1953. Before channel 7 signed on, CBS programming had been carried part-time on Lynchburg-based WLVA-TV (channel 13, now WSET-TV). During the late 1950s, WDBJ was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
For close to two years, the station's construction permit was heavily contested between Times-World and the owners of WROV-TV, who relinquished their UHF license (the station went dark in July 1953) in order to battle for channel 7. The two-way contest virtually ended in January 1955, when the WROV group relinquished their application and sold their television assets to WDBJ. The Times-World Corp. would be awarded the channel 7 construction permit two months later.
Channel 7, along with its radio sisters, originally operated from studio facilities located in the Mountain Trust Bank Building in downtown Roanoke. Its transmitter was located temporarily on Mill Mountain; the station originally planned to transmit its signal from Poor Mountain, but was not able to do so due to concerns regarding interference with the signal of WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina, whose broadcasting facilities were under construction at the time. In 1956, WDBJ radio and television moved their operations to the Times-World Building; the television station also relocated its transmitter to Poor Mountain.
Due to its affiliation with the Times and Virginia's second-oldest radio station, WDBJ-TV overtook WSLS-TV as the area's highest-rated station within three years of its sign-on. It has remained in the lead more or less ever since; although in recent years, WDBJ has been in a spirited three-way race with WSLS-TV and WSET in news and overall viewership. As channel 7 grew during the late 1950s, plans were drawn for a new studio at the corner of Brandon and Colonial Avenues in southwest Roanoke. The WDBJ stations moved to the then state-of-the-art building in the summer of 1961.
Schurz Communications ownership
In 1969, Times-World Communications merged with Norfolk-based Landmark Communications. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not allow Landmark to keep WDBJ-TV as the agency had recently prohibited the co-ownership of broadcast outlets and newspapers the previous year, while "grandfathering" existing newspaper-broadcasting combinations in several markets. With the Landmark merger, the WDBJ stations lost their grandfathered protection and could not be retained by the merged company. As a result, channel 7 was sold to South Bend, Indiana-based Schurz Communications. It is not likely that the FCC would have allowed Landmark to keep WDBJ-TV in any event due to a significant signal overlap with WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina, which Landmark already owned at the time. Channel 7's analog city-grade signal reached Patrick County, which is part of the Triad market. It provided at least grade B coverage as far south as Reidsville, North Carolina. At the time, the FCC normally did not allow common ownership of two television stations with overlapping signals, and would not even consider granting a waiver for a city-grade overlap.
Times-World also sold the WDBJ radio stations to separate owners. Channel 7 retained the WDBJ-TV call sign, though it officially dropped the -TV suffix in November 1983.
In 1979, WDBJ-TV opened a news bureau in Lynchburg, known as the Central Virginia Bureau, which provided reports focusing on the eastern part of the Roanoke-Lynchburg market (from Charlottesville to Danville); weekend anchor Graham Wilson served as the bureau chief. In the 1980s, the station aired a series of promotional programming and station image spots featuring the popular "Ernest P. Worrell" character portrayed by Jim Varney.
In 2000, WDBJ announced plans to construct a new studio facility on the site of the Best Products building in northwest Roanoke—which was demolished that June—which was designed for high definition broadcasting (photos of the complete demolition of the Best Products building & construction of the new "Digital Broadcast Center" are available at WDBJ); WDBJ began broadcasting from the new facility in June 2002.
On July 1, 2007, Jeffery A. Marks was named as the station's general manager, succeeding longtime GM Bob Lee (Marks became only the fourth general manager in the station's history). That same year, the station converted its news department to a tapeless operation, switching to a server-based playback system.
In July 2009, WDBJ announced that it would refuse to air a political advertisement from the National Republican Congressional Committee attacking Democratic Representative Tom Perriello's position on climate change, citing "factual inaccuracies".
In the spring of 2010, Schurz Communications entered into a website management partnership with Tribune Interactive, in which the content management system operator would assume responsibilities for operating the websites of Schurz's media properties (with the exception of NBC affiliate WAGT in Augusta, Georgia, which was operated by Media General through a shared services agreement with ABC affiliate WJBF). Schurz's Kansas television properties (KWCH-DT and KSCW-DT) were the first to launch new Tribune-run sites in late June of that year, with WDBJ following suit in mid-July. This lasted until mid-2013, when Internet Broadcasting began operating the WDBJ website.
Schurz Communications announced on September 14, 2015 that it would exit broadcasting and sell its television and radio stations, including WDBJ, to Gray Television for $442.5 million. This would make WDBJ a sister station to WCAV and WHSV-TV in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, respectively. The FCC approved the sale on February 12, 2016. and the sale was completed on February 16.
2015 murders of reporting crew
On August 26, 2015, WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were fatally shot during a live report on that day's edition of Mornin' at the Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta. Their killer was later identified as Vester Lee Flanagan II, a multimedia journalist who worked under the professional pseudonym "Bryce Williams" and was employed by WDBJ from 2012 to 2013 until he was fired. Flanagan died that afternoon at a hospital from self-inflicted gunshot wounds after he was approached by police on I-66 in Fauquier County. Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce director Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker before the shooting, was the only survivor and was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the back.
|TV stations in Commonwealth of Virginia|
|WTKR, Hampton Roads/Norfolk|
|TV stations in Roanoke/Lynchburg, including the New River Valley, Southside, and surrounding areas|
| WDBJ 7 (CBS)|
WSLS 10 (NBC)
WSET 13 (ABC)
WBRA 15 (PBS)
WWCW 21 (CW)
WZBJ 24 (MNTV)
WFXR 27 (FOX)
WPXR 38 (Ion)
WMDV-LD 44 (IND)