Chronology data should be put on the appropriate chronology page ("Chronology of call letters WIAT") .
Other material must be reorganized into appropriate categories of articles.
|Branding||CBS 42 (general)
CBS 42 News (newscasts)
|Slogan||The Names You Know... The Experience You Trust|
|Channels||Digital: 30 (UHF)|
|Subchannels||42.1 CBS42.2 Untamed Sports TV42.3 Weather|
|Translators||42 (UHF) Tuscaloosa(construction permit)|
|Owner||New Vision Television, Inc.
(NVT Birmingham Licensee, LLC)
|First air date||October 17, 1965|
|Call letters' meaning||It's About Time|
|Former callsigns||WBMG (1965-1998)|
|Former channel number(s)||Analog:
|Former affiliations||Secondary:NBC (1965-1970)|
|Transmitter power||1000 kW|
|Transmitter coordinates||33°29′4.5″N 86°48′25.4″W / 33.484583°N 86.807056°W / 33.484583; -86.807056|
WIAT is the CBS affiliate in the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston, Alabama television market. It is a UHF television station licensed to Birmingham, on digital channel 30, although through the use of PSIP technology the stations channel number is displayed as 42.1. Its transmitter is located on Red Mountain, just by the city's southern edge.
The station signed on October 17, 1965 as WBMG (standing for BirMinGham). It was owned by Bill DuBois, a local investment banker. A minority owner was Southern Broadcasting, owners of radio station WSGN.
As was the case at the time with most UHF stations in markets served by at least two commercial VHF stations (NBC/CBS affiliate WAPI-TV, now WVTM-TV; and then-ABC affiliate WBRC-TV), WBMG experienced considerable competitive disadvantages from the outset. Many households did not have TV sets capable of viewing UHF signals without a converter. Television set manufacturers had only begun including UHF tuning a year earlier, per a 1962 directive from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The station's signal also left much to be desired, particularly given central Alabama's hilly-to-mountainous terrain. At the time, UHF stations usually didn't get good coverage in areas with rugged terrain. As a result, only Birmingham itself and some inner-ring suburbs over Red Mountain received channel 42 clearly.
As a result, although on paper WBMG took the CBS affiliation from WAPI, CBS continued to allow channel 13 to air some of its more popular programming. WBMG was left with numerous lower-rated CBS shows, and filled the schedule with some NBC shows that WAPI-TV turned down. One of them was, strangely given its popularity elsewhere in the country, The Tonight Show. Another example is the Heidi Game, the infamous American Football League game played in 1968. One benefit, though, was that the CBS Evening News returned to Birmingham after several years' absence. After the networks expanded their national newscasts to half an hour, NBC's The Huntley-Brinkley Report was the only national newscast seen in Birmingham for much of the 1960s. Both stations listed their affiliation as "CBS/NBC." By 1970, though, WAPI's owners, the Newhouse family, opted for an exclusive contract with NBC, leaving WBMG to take a full CBS affiliation more or less by default.
With a poor signal, the lack of sets with UHF capability and two of the South's oldest and most respected stations as competition, WBMG found the going very difficult. But many of WBMG's problems were of its own making. Its newscasts often--inadvertently or not--became comedy shows. Examples of this include mid-1970s sportscaster (and local radio personality) Tommy Charles wadding up scripts and tossing them over his shoulder after reading them, as well as even letting balloons fly around the set for no apparent reason.
Furthermore, CBS' decision in 1971 to cancel many of its rural-oriented sitcoms and variety shows, especially the country music showcase Hee Haw and shows hosted by Sylacauga native Jim Nabors, in order to comply with the Prime Time Access Rule may have hurt WBMG's ability to attract viewers in rural Alabama, where those programs were highly popular among viewers.
Still, WBMG gained publicity in central Alabama for some local shows, such as live studio wrestling, and the children's show Sergeant Jack, which featured former WSGN radio disc jockey Neal Miller, who donned the uniform of a sheriff's deputy (and actually was sworn in as an honorary deputy by the Jefferson County sheriff himself) and engaged in fanciful banter with puppets. Sergeant Jack ran on weekdays from 1965 to 1976 and on weekends from that point until 1982. Mother Angelica, who would later launch the Christian cable network EWTN from Irondale in 1981, began her career by taping faith-related programs at the WBMG studios for distribution on the station and other cable networks.
Park Communications bought WBMG in 1973. Park significantly boosted the station's signal, erecting a new tower in 1974. It also tried to professionalize the newscasts, with little success. WBMG had no local newscasts at all from 1980 until 1987, aside from hourly cut-ins. During this time, the station broadcast syndicated shows at both 5 and 10 p.m. Even when local news returned in 1987, WBMG had no luck whatsoever competing with WVTM and WBRC. It was perennially one of CBS' weakest affiliates, in marked contrast to its competitors, who were two of their networks' strongest affiliates. It even trailed WTTO, an independent station (and later a Fox affiliate) that had only been on the air since 1982.
Since WBMG's signal was still rather weak after the signal boost, many cable systems in the western and eastern portions of the market wouldn't carry it. As a result, CBS retained affiliation with two other stations in central Alabama, WCFT-TV in Tuscaloosa and WHMA-TV (later WJSU-TV) in Anniston. Both stations, started during WBMG's formative period, reached some Birmingham homes with UHF rooftop antennas. WCFT and WHMA/WJSU regularly trounced WBMG in their respective regions. This was especially true in Anniston since WBMG's signal didn't cover east central Alabama well at all during that period, again because of high elevations from the Appalachian foothills.
By the early 1990s, WBMG was only ahead of WABM in the Birmingham ratings. Despite this, the station managed to make a name for itself while John Harrod was news director. He launched a very aggressive and hard hitting news department, concentrating exclusively on local stories and investigative reporting. During his time as news director from 1990 through 1995, the station won awards from the Associated Press for its reporting. Unfortunately, critical acclaim was not rewarded with a ratings win.
In 1995, Fox purchased WBRC. ABC's affiliation with WBRC did not expire until September 1996, so Fox continued to run WBRC as an ABC affiliate while ABC looked for a new affiliate in the central Alabama area. It first approached WTTO, but broke off talks after WTTO would only offer a secondary affiliation, carrying just prime time and sports. ABC's second choice, WBMG, at least had a news department and ABC even offered to buy the station. Instead, WBMG re-signed a long-term deal with CBS. ABC then opted for a unique arrangement with WCFT and WJSU. The two stations would combine to act as full-powered satellites of WBMA, a low-powered station whose signal did not carry outside of Jefferson and Shelby counties.
The switch took place in September. At that time, CBS decided to affiliate with yet another central Alabama station, WNAL-TV (now WPXH) in Gadsden, which put a fairly decent signal into the eastern portions of the Birmingham area, as well as eastern Alabama. However, WNAL simulcasted WBMG's newscasts during this time.
In 1997, Park Communications merged with Media General. However, WBMG stayed in the ratings basement with a mere 1% market share, trailing not only WVTM and WBRC but also WTTO and at times even WABM.
After only a few months, new general manager Eric Land decided to revamp WIAT's news department. On New Year's Day 1998, all newscasts were canceled and the news department was shut down. Over the next month, channel 42 rebuilt its news department from scratch. During that time, the station showed a picture of a countdown clock at 5 and 10 p.m. -- the slots where news would air once the product was re-launched. In order to signify a new start, Media General had the station's callsign changed to WIAT, which stood for It's About Time, the station's new slogan. The new format debuted on February 5, 1998 -- the same day as the start of the Winter Olympics--with a new name, "42 Daily News". Land was seen just before the countdown clock expired speaking to an unseen audience, then throwing a switch that blew up an image of the WBMG logo, with the new WIAT logo emerging.
The station did not have any on-air reporters; instead all stories were narrated by the anchors. Strict time limits were imposed on story lengths, leading to segments such as "Top Story in a Minute," "Weather Minute," "Neighborhood Minute," a "2-Minute Drill" sportscast, etc.
The new anchor team was mostly made up of talent from out of town, except for the two-person sports team. Sports Director Paul Finebaum's established popularity from his highly-opinionated newspaper column and radio show sparked some interest from sports fans. However, his sportscasts were often seen as incomplete since he had only two minutes to convey the day's sports. Weekend sports anchor Sam Smith was the only on-air WBMG staff member to survive the transition to WIAT; however, he soon departed.
Even with the time constraints, WIAT was seen as making a more credible effort at news than ever before. Ratings increased immediately but were still not enough to overtake the competition. However, that year the station received its first two Emmy Awards in station history. The station later updated its image to become "News 42." It also began adding reporters, and gradually eased its strict time limits on story lengths.
In 2003, Bill Ballard, who took over as President and General Manager, created a new path for the station which included numerous changes such as stronger programming like Dr. Phil, Jeopardy!, Entertainment Tonight, and Wendy Williams and a much more aggressive approach to news coverage. The moves which were implemented have dramatically altered the landscape of Central Alabama television.
In April 2006, Media General bought four NBC owned and operated stations, including WVTM. Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not allow one company to own two of the four largest stations in a single market, Media General opted to keep the then higher-rated WVTM and sell WIAT to another owner. On August 2, 2006, New Vision Television, LLC announced its purchase of WIAT and sister station KIMT in Mason City, Iowa for $35 million. The sale was finalized on October 12, 2006.
Previous owners of Channel 42
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
Untamed Sports TV was added on a subchannel in 2009. WIAT promotes 42.2 as a separate channel on the air and the station's website.  In addition to Untamed Sports, 42.2 also carries live and tape-delayed local high school sports and the Rick and Bubba show.
On April 5, 2010, the FCC granted WIAT a construction permit for a digital fill-in translator on their pre-analog allotment Channel 42. The translator will serve the Tuscaloosa area.
Unlike most CBS affiliates in the Central Time Zone, WIAT does not air local news during the weekday noon timeslot. In October 2005, WIAT teamed with former WB affiliate WTTO, now a CW affiliate (as of September 2006) to begin producing a 9 p.m. newscast. Using the same set and anchors as WIAT and a modified graphics package, the CW21 News at 9 (formerly WB21 News at 9) aired seven days a week. However, the newscasts were discontinued on October 13, 2006, after the finalization of the Media General/New Vision deal, therefore leaving WTTO with no evening newscasts, as WVTM opted not to continue them under the previous Media General agreement.
In August 2007, the station began Wake Up Alabama, a morning newscast. It has also made several high-profile hires of major Birmingham television personalities. These include Cynthia Gould, formerly a long-time anchor at rival WBRC; Mark Prater, who previously held meteorologist positions at WBRC and WBMA; former long-time WVTM sports director and news anchor Jim Dunaway; and Ken Lass, another well known alumnus of WVTM. The station now also has the largest on-air sports team in Alabama. WIAT's 10 p.m. newscast often finishes at the top of the ratings for individual newscasts and continues to grow.
The change has been dramatic in all facets of the station. In 2007 and 2008, WIAT won more Alabama Broadcasters Association Awards than any other station, as well as numerous Associated Press Awards, including the following:
On April 9, 2010, WIAT began broadcasting its local newscasts in High Definition, making WIAT the third station in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa-Anniston market after WVTM and WBRC to do so. The news set and the graphics were also redesigned in the transition to HD.
WIAT has seen some of the largest ratings gains in its history since this sale, posting higher late news ratings than WVTM since 2006. WIAT is now considered one of the strongest overall CBS affiliates in the nation; only a decade ago, it was one of the weakest. Additionally, CBS' broadcasts of Southeastern Conference football garner higher ratings on WIAT than anywhere else in the nation. The ratings continue to climb in all dayparts, and as the other stations in Central Alabama continually lose household ratings from sign on to sign off, WIAT is the only station to post household growth year to year.
News Music Packages
Current on-air staff
CBS 42 Weather Team
Former on-air news staff