Radio-TV Broadcast History

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WAFF is the NBC television network affiliate for Huntsville, Alabama. Broadcasting on UHF channel 49, the station serves the northern fifth of Alabama and three counties in southern Middle Tennessee.

Huntsville/Decatur, Alabama
Branding WAFF 48
Slogan The Heart of The Valley
Channels Digital: 49 (UHF); 48 (PSIP)
Subchannels 48.1 NBC

48.2 This TV

Affiliations National Broadcasting Company
Owner Raycom Media, Inc.

(WAFF License Subsidiary, LLC)

First air date July 4, 1954
Call letters' meaning American

Families' Finest (old slogan of former owner AFLAC)

Former callsigns WMSL-TV (1954-1975)

WYUR-TV (1975-1978)

Former channel number(s) Analog:

23 (1954-1969) 48 (1969-2009)

Former affiliations Primary:

NBC (1954-1968) ABC (1968-1977) Secondary: ABC (1954-1963) CBS (1954-1963) DuMont (1954-1955)

Transmitter power 41 kW (digital)
Height 552 m (digital)
Facility ID 591
Transmitter coordinates 34°42′36.3″N 86°32′5.1″W / 34.710083°N 86.53475°W / 34.710083; -86.53475 (WAFF)


[hide]*1 History

[edit] History[]

[edit] Decatur years, 1954-69[]

The station first began broadcasting from studios and transmitters in Decatur (30 miles / 50 km west of Huntsville) on July 4, 1954 as WMSL-TV, channel 23. It was owned by Frank Whisenant, a Decatur businessman who also owned WMSL-AM. It originally carried programming from all four networks of the time--NBC, CBS, ABC and DuMont--but was a primary NBC affiliate. It lost DuMont when that network began shutting down in 1955, lost ABC when WAAY-TV started in Huntsville in 1959 and lost CBS when WHNT-TV began in 1963. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.[1]

Until the early 1960s, Decatur was the largest town in the viewing area and centrally located, thus making it a perfect location for the region's first television station. However, when Huntsville became the region's largest city due to the exponential growth of U.S. Army and NASA installations, Whisenant decided to move WMSL-TV there. However, because the station's original channel assignment, channel 23, was too close in frequency to a nearby transmitter of Alabama Public Television, WHIQ-TV, on channel 25, the FCC ordered WMSL-TV to move to channel 48 as a condition upon its permit to relocate its city of license. WMSL-TV began broadcasting on channel 48 on January 7, 1969 while simultaneously continuing a simulcast on channel 23 for several days afterward; then channel 23 went dark. Some weeks later, Whisenant closed the Decatur studios when the new Huntsville studios opened. In the meantime, Whisenant sold WMSL radio to Clete Quick, another Decatur businessman; the radio station is now known as WWTM.

[edit] Early Huntsville years, 1969-74[]

In January 1968, about a year before moving to Huntsville, WMSL-TV lost the NBC affiliation to rival WAAY, which had built a greater audience in northern Alabama and thus was more attractive to the network. Still, the new channel 48, which got the ABC affiliation by default, made persistent efforts to serve its greatly expanded viewing area, which now included most of the Shoals region of northwestern Alabama.

Perhaps most notable (and surely most beloved) of WMSL-TV's local programs was the weekday children's show hosted by station general manager Benny Carle (born Benny Digesu), a Birmingham native who honed his talents for many years on WBRC-TV there. The show was typical for its day, featuring about 10 to 15 school-aged children in the studio with the host, who conducted party games, told stories, and engaged in clownish behavior; cartoons were shown during the one-hour (later 30-minute) late-afternoon (later mid-morning) program. He began the show in the mid-1960s, while the station was still in Decatur, and continued it until 1975, when ABC's Good Morning America took over its morning time slot. Carle now owns radio station WBCF and low-power TV station WBCF-LP in Florence, Alabama, which he established after leaving channel 48. Another notable program during that period was a Saturday-afternoon teenage dance show, which ran after the similar American Bandstand (although the local show resembled Soul Train more closely), that holds the honor of being the first television program exclusively aimed at northern Alabama's African-American population. The program was hosted by Nat Tate, who until his December 2007 death worked for radio stations in the Decatur area and served as a Baptist minister.

[edit] Callsign and ownership changes[]

In 1974, Whisenant sold the station to a Vermont-based company, which renamed the station WYUR-TV on March 9, 1975. Despite more aggressive attempts to promote its newscast, WYUR-TV's ratings were far behind WAAY and CBS affiliate WHNT. Then, in 1978, AFLAC, then known by its full name of American Family Life Assurance Company, bought the station, re-christening it WAFF-TV. Some months earlier, on December 11, 1977, WAAY decided to return to ABC, as that network had become the nation's most popular, in prime time programming especially; this left channel 48 with the then-less-desirable NBC affiliation. AFLAC did not immediately turn the corner with WAFF-TV; the station kept fine-tuning its newscasts and acquiring some nationally popular syndicated programs, but very little seemed to work.

Still, the station pressed forward; around 1980 or 1981 a new tower was constructed on the south end of Monte Sano, adjacent to the station's studios. The tower measured some 1,476 feet in height and was constructed in an effort to provide better reception to viewers across northern Alabama and southern middle Tennessee. The weather forecaster at the time, Glenn Bracken, held a coloring contest for schoolchildren across the viewing area, whereby they could depict their scenes of the new "tall tower" and incorporate WAFF's marketing message "New Tall Tower Means More Picture Power" and have their drawing and name presented during the nightly weather forecast (which usually took place on a balcony outside the news studio's doors). Also, during this period, WAFF began airing promotional spots showing various scenes of its news personalities interacting with residents of its viewing area, along with its news helicopter, "Sky48," to a song titled "We're Your Kind of People."

[edit] 1982 studio fire and aftermath[]

Unfortunately, on the evening of March 24, 1982, the station's building, situated on the side of Monte Sano overlooking Huntsville proper, caught fire and burned to the ground. Local firefighters could not control the blaze since the fire hydrant at the end of the driveway had not yet been connected to the water main and the water pressure at nearby hydrants was particularly low; this situation would later prompt competitor WHNT to relocate to downtown Huntsville, some years later. It was only a few days, however, before WAFF-TV began broadcasting again through the auspices of local cable companies, who provided NBC programming feeds from WSMV-TV in Nashville and WVTM-TV in Birmingham, both of which were available in their own rights on many northern Alabama cable systems prior to 1990. Eventually, WAFF-TV would rebuild at a new location, occupying a former jewelry store on North Memorial Parkway, some miles away from Monte Sano; microwave links connected the studios to the transmitter and tower. The fire would also prompt Huntsville city officials to repair the water pressure situation and build a new fire station atop Monte Sano, which sits directly across from WAAY's studios.

[edit] Beginnings of success, 1980s[]

The disaster may have proved to be a blessing in disguise, as AFLAC began investing money in developing talent and production facilities, enabling WAFF-TV to start making a serious ratings impact for the first time. Not only did the station benefit from the renewed popularity of NBC in the mid-1980s, but its acquisitions of highly popular syndicated shows like Oprah, Jeopardy!, and Wheel of Fortune made it a hit with viewers in the Tennessee Valley region. Since that time, the station has experienced continued success.

As with the other two major-network Huntsville stations, weather forecasting became a very high priority for WAFF-TV in the 1990s, especially after the city experienced a devastating tornado in November 1989. The station constructed a doppler radar and began to use highly sophisticated meteorological equipment.

[edit] Recent history[]

AFLAC sold WAFF-TV, along with its other broadcasting properties, to Raycom Media of Montgomery, Ala. in the late 1990s.

Notable news personalities over the years have included Newman Milwee, Bob Gord, Hans Sitarz, Paul Buxton, Robert Lane, Greg McCambell, Tom Kennemer, Missy Ming, Bob Baron, Kelly Cooper,Bruce Cunningham, Roy Ackland, Tony Troiano, Janette Smith, Jay Prater, Mark Thornhill, Kimberly Essex, Lee Marshall, Liz Hurley, Rudy Koski, Amy Witte, Tim Hall, Michael Gibson, Glenn Bracken, Brad Travis, Will Kennedy, Gasia Mikaelian, Ryan Korsgard, Varion Walton, Kristin Tallent, and Rachad Hollis.

WAFF received national media attention on July 29, 2010 when a report aired on July 28 became a viral video[2]. The video features the reaction of a family member in response to a purported attempted rape.

[edit] Digital television[]

The station's digital channel:

Digital channels

Channel Programming
48.1 / 49.1 main WAFF/NBC programming
48.2 / 49.2 This TV

[edit] Post-analog shutdown[]

After the analog television shutdown on June 12, 2009 [3], WAFF-TV, according to an FCC filing, was to move back to channel 48 and increase power. However, this move did not take place and WAFF-TV remains on RF channel 49 with a low-powered signal.

[edit] News/Station presentation[]

[edit] Newscast titles[]

  • Your Esso Reporter (1954-1960)
  • The Valley Report (1960-1963)
  • The Gibson/Bracken Report (1963-1970)
  • Newsnight (1970-1974)
  • Valley News at 10 O'Clock (1974-1975)
  • Region Report (1975-1977)
  • News 48 Update (1977-1982)
  • First News 48 (1982-1983)
  • The News 48 (1983-1987)
  • WAFF 48 News (1987-1994 and 1997-present)
  • The Tennessee Valley NewsChannel (1994-1997)

[edit] Station slogans[]

  • WAFF TV-48, Proud as a Peacock! (1979-1981, local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • 48, Our Pride is Showing (1981-1982; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • We're 48, Just Watch Us Now (1982-1983; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • 48 There, Be There (1983-1984; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • 48, Let's All Be There (1984-1986; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • Come Home to 48 (1986-1987, local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • Come on Home to 48 (1987-1988; local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • Come Home to the Best, Only on 48 (1988-1990, local version of NBC ad campaign)
  • The Heart of The Valley (1997-present)

[2] This film, television or video-related list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it with reliably sourced additions.==[edit] Personalities==

  • Mark Thornhill - Weekdays 5, 6, and 10
  • Kim Essex - Weekdays 6 and 10
  • Liz Hurley - Weekdays 5
  • Karla Redditte - Weekdays "Today"
  • Jim Abath - Weekdays "Today" and Noon
  • Jeanie Powell - Saturday & Sunday, 5 and 10
  • Eric Sollman - Saturday "Today"
Weather anchors
  • Brad Travis - Chief Meteorologist
  • Jeff Castle
  • Remeisha Shade
Sports anchors
  • Scott Theisen
  • Carl Prather
Traffic reporter
  • Dave Kent
  • Trang Do
  • Elizabeth Gentle
  • Monica Rix
  • Margo Gray
  • Nick Lough - Shoals Bureau
  • Stephen McLamb - Sand Mountain Bureau
  • Jeanie Powell
  • Karla Redditte
  • Bobby Shuttleworth - Decatur Bureau
  • Eric Sollman

[edit] Notes[]

In 2006, retired news anchor Tom Kennemer ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for a seat on the Morgan County Commission. Morgan County sits across the Tennessee River from Huntsville.

[edit] External links[]

[edit] References[]

  1. ^ "Require Prime Evening Time for NTA Films" ([dead link]), Boxoffice: 13, November 10, 1956,
  2. ^
  3. ^