WBRC 6

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WBRC 6 is a broadcast television station owned by Raycom Media of Montgomery and affiliated with the Fox Network. The station currently has 160 employees, almost half in the news department, making it the state's largest. They produce 45 hours of local news weekly from newsrooms in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston. Special programs include "Sideline" high school football reports, which have been on the air since 1989.

History

WBRC-TV traces its beginnings to the Bell Radio Corporation, founded by physician J. C. Bell at his home in Fountain Heights in the 1920s. His early 10-watt AM radio broadcast grew into a 5,000-watt professionally-managed NBC Radio Network affiliate by the end of the 1930s. Eloise Hanna, widow of former owner M. D. Smith, Jr, assumed full ownership by 1940 and launched the most powerful radio station in the world with a 500,000 watt FM transmitter just after World War II.

The FM format was slow to win listeners, so Hanna repurposed the transmitter for television. She borrowed $150,000 to build a new studio and transmission tower on Red Mountain and WBRC-TV was the first broadcaster in the Birmingham market to be granted its FCC license.

WBRC began broadcasting at 14,250 watts on VHF channel 4 on July 4, 1949, three days after the city's first television program went out on WAFM-TV. At the time, there were only 12 television sets in the city, all in retail shop windows. WBRC began its broadcast schedule with 3 hours of NBC programming each evening. Until the city was connected by cable to the studios in New York, the programs were filmed from live telecasts in other cities and then trucked to Birmingham to be shown on the station's equipment. The station also broadcast local sporting and cultural events.

M. D. Smith III, son of the former radio station owner, became the operations manager of the new station, which was on the air for three or four hours a day showing kinescopes and reading local news over a fixed slide with the station logo. During the 1940s WBRC became the first station to broadcast the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon. The station continued to produce segments for the national UCP telethon up until the 21st century.

In September 1950 WBRC established a cable link with New York's NBC and DuMont Network affiliate, also Channel 6. Studio cameras were also brought in that year and WBRC began producing live local programming with Coffee Break, Supersonic Sam, and Cowboy Theatre. The news segment expanded from five minutes to fifteen.

Storer and Taft

WBRC's Red Mountain studio in 1954

Hanna retired in 1953 and sold the station to Storer Broadcasting for $2.3 million. Storer switched the frequency from 4 to 6 on Thursday February 19 of that year to minimize interference with WSM-TV 4 in Nashville. They switched the station's affiliation to CBS on July 4, 1954. The celebration included a large fireworks display atop Red Mountain; a tradition which WBRC has revived with their SkyConcert series celebrating Independence Day. A new Colonial-style studio and office building was dedicated that September. Storer donated the equipment that helped create WTIQ on Mount Cheaha. WCIQ and WBIQ-10 joined to form ETV, the first public educational television network in the United States.

In 1957, Storer sold the station to Taft Radio and Television of Cincinnati. That same year, Country Boy Eddie Burns was invited to bring his group to perform as the house band on the Tom York Morning Show. Within a few months Burns was offered his own "Country Boy Eddie Show", which soon expanded to three hours in the early mornings and continued until his retirement on December 31, 1993.

Fannie Flagg in the 1960s

Meanwhile, the Morning Show added Joe Langston and Fannie Flagg as co-hosts in the early 1960s. Flagg left in 1964 to join the writing staff for Candid Camera.

In 1961, Taft switched WBRC's affiliation to then fledgling ABC network. The switch came at a time when CBS's news commentary was becoming decidedly pro-intergration. Most Taft-owned stations switched to ABC around that time, but some have speculated that CBS' editorial stance helped prompt the switch. From 1961-65 WAPI carried both NBC and CBS programming, but favored NBCs news broadcast.

In 1966 they purchased their first color cameras. Joe Langston was promoted to Director of News and Editorial Policy in 1969. News footage started to switch from 16mm film to magnetic sound film, and then, in the mid 1970s to videotape. WBRC was the first Birmingham station to use a microwave-transmitting live news truck for newsgathering in 1978. In 1979 they bought a news helicopter, "Chopper 6". In 1982 the station started receiving its network and other programming by satellite. In 1988 "Skylink 6" allowed WBRC reporters to transmit to the studio by satellite as well.

The newsroom added a computer terminal in 1989.

Ownership changes

WBRC sign on Red Mountain, March 2005

In 1987 Taft sold the station to fellow Cincinnati company Great American Radio & TV Corporation. That company sold the station to Citicasters in 1993.

In 1994 the station was sold again, this time to New World Inc., which sold the station to FOX in 1995, making WBRC one of FOX's 35 owned and operated stations. Though the sale closed on January 17, 1996, the affiliate switch did not take effect until September 1. As a result of the switch, the station became commonly know as FOX6. It opened up space for the station to have one of the nation's highest rated prime-time newscasts, FOX News at 9:00. The station continues to be the ratings leader among the local newscasts.

On July 14, 2008 FOX completed the sale of WBRC and seven other network-owned affiliates to Local TV, LLC, a holding company controlled by Oak Hill Capital Partners. In January 2009, it was announced that Local TV would swap WBRC for a station in Virginia owned by Montgomery-based Raycom Media. Raycom owns 46 stations in 18 states and is an affiliate of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

General managers

On air personalities

Current

Past

1970s-era WBRC 6 personalities (Bill Bolen, Herb Winches, Tom York, Joe Langston, Donna Hamilton, Pat Gray and Country Boy Eddy Burns)

References


External links

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