WBRC FOX6 News Station History

Updated: Aug. 9, 2019 at 2:28 PM CDT
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The history of WBRC FOX6 News dates back to 1928 when WBRC was a radio station. M.D. Smith, Jr., a local business man, purchased WBRC-AM from J.C. Bell for $2,000. In fact, WBRC stands for Bell Radio Corporation.

In the late twenties, WBRC AM 950 operated with a power of 10 watts. The transmitter facilities and studios were in the home of J.C. Bell in Fountain Heights, and WBRC-AM had a broadcast day of only four hours.

In 1929, M.D. Smith decided to move the transmitter to a location behind the Birmingham Awning and Tent Works (his place of business) at the corner of 12th Avenue and 27th Street North. The studios were moved to the Old Athletic Club and the power increased to 500 watts. The broadcast day also expanded to 12 hours, and Leslie Connor became WBRC’s first announcer.

The 1930's brought about more changes for WBRC. The power increased from 500 to 5,000 watts, the studios moved to the Temple Theater on the mezzanine floor, known as "The Crystal Studio". The studio's all-glass enclosure allowed people to watch live radio broadcasts. WBRC's new home was ahead of its time.

In 1931, the transmitter moved to a location in North Birmingham known as Kilocycle, Alabama. Bill Young was hired as a second salesman, and John Connerly became chief announcer. The radio station became incorporated allowing J.C. Bell and Glenn Marshal, to buy up 25 percent of the stock, while M.D. Smith, Jr. and wife Eloise purchased 50 percent.

Growing rather rapidly, the WBRC radio studios were forced to move again in 1932, to the Bankhead Hotel. WBRC also paid its first dividend of $5,000 to its stockholders. By 1932 standards, radio was a very profitable business.

WBRC radio capitalized on this booming industry by moving once again to the corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue North. Now affiliated with NBC, WBRC employed 20 people.

In 1937, WBRC radio suffered a loss. M.D. Smith Jr., the man who had advanced this radio station so much in less than a decade, died from blood poisoning he got from a cut. Eloise Haney Smith, his wife, took control of WBRC radio. Two years later, Eloise bought out Glenn Marshal's stock for $25,000 and became the corporation's president. In 1940, J.C. Bell died. Mrs. Eloise Smith purchased Bell's stock for $35,000. Now owning 100% of WBRC radio, Eloise married Dr. Hanna and legally became Eloise H. Hanna.

In 1941, World War II began. Mrs. Hanna provided valuable services during this hard time. Eloise was a member of the American Red Cross and she joined the Motor Corps. The Motor Corps was responsible for transporting troops to and from arrival and departure points.

Also during this time, there was talk of a new type of radio: FM radio. After the war, Mrs. Hanna decided to venture into FM radio by applying for and receiving a construction permit to put WBRC-FM on the air. In 1946, WBRC-FM was the most powerful FM station in the world operating at a power of 500,000 watts.

The next year Mrs. Hanna's son, M.D. Smith III, joined WBRC-AM and FM as salesman. Later he was promoted to Program Director and Vice President of WBRC.

Despite all the talk of how great FM radio was going to be, it didn't sweep the nation like the proponents had hoped. Due to large losses, Mrs. Hanna removed WBRC-FM from the airwaves in June 1948. This move allowed Eloise to focus on yet another new form of communication: television!

Many skeptics felt that TV would end up just like FM radio and lose money. However, Mrs. Hanna was determined to try. She borrowed $150,000 to put WBRC-TV Channel 4 on the air July 4, 1949 atop Red Mountain. The WBRC remains at this same location today.

Back then, there were only 12 television sets in Birmingham, and all of those were in dealers' show windows. The man in charge of WBRC was none other than operations manager M.D. Smith III. Oliver Naylor, a salesman; Evelyn Allen, a traffic director; Bob Farris, a film editor; Felix Lewis, a cameraman; Hardy Carl, chief engineer; and Nora Harrimontrec, an artist rounded out the staff of seven at WBRC-TV.

Programs were shipped to the station on kinescope or film. A normal broadcast day then was three or four hours. The first newscasts consisted of a 35-millimeter slide showing a Channel 6 logo as an announcer read five minutes of news from the local news wire. This was usually done at sign on and signoff.

A big step came in September of 1950 when coaxial cable connected New York to WBRC. This allowed the station to have a live link to air NBC and DuMont network programs. The first live studio cameras were added too, and this opened the way for live shows. One of the first was "Coffee Break." Other live acts were "Supersonic Sam" and "Cowboy Theatre."

With the addition of live cameras, news expanded from five to fifteen minutes. WBRC added more anchors and divided the newscast into sections: news, weather and sports.

Still pictures received on a special machine gave viewers scenes of national and international events. Also, some 16-millimeter news-film shot by a local photographer was used.

In 1953, WBRC-TV was moved to channel 6 as part of an FCC-ordered frequency realignment. This move was made in order for WBRC-TV to avoid interference with WSM-TV (now WSMV) in Nashville, which also operated on channel 4; the two stations' respective signals suffered from interference problems in northern Alabama. (Wikipedia)

In 1953, WBRC-TV's founder, Mrs. Eloise Hanna decided to retire and sold WBRC-TV/AM-FM to Storer broadcasting for $2.3 million. On July 4, 1954, only five years old, WBRC-TV switched from DuMont and NBC networks to CBS, then considered the nation's top network.

This called for a big celebration, so large newspaper ads were displayed in local papers and a giant fireworks display was staged atop Red Mountain. This may have been the forerunner to an annual treat that WBRC gave to the citizens each Fourth of July for many years.

Later that same year, Friday, September 17, 1954, WBRC-TV received a new home. The colonial building housing the studios and offices of WBRC-TV was completed and put into operation. It was a reason to celebrate, Storer Broadcasting came to town and local tours of the new facilities were open to the public.

1957 was to be another benchmark in the life of WBRC-TV. Storer sold the station to Taft Radio and Television Corporation, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio and four years later on September 1, 1961 Channel 6 made its second network switch. This time it was to the rather fledgling ABC network.

James Hagerty traveled to Birmingham to celebrate the move. Hagerty had served as press secretary to former president Dwight Eisenhower, and was serving as vice president of the ABC network. Other ABC stars also came to town to join in the festivities including, Edd "Kookie" Byrnes of "77 Sunset Strip," Diane McBain of "Surf Side Six," Peter Brown of "Lawman" and Bob Conrad of "Hawaiian Eye."

In 1966, a dramatic change came when the station purchased two General Electric color cameras. One of the first local programs to be carried in color was "The Bear Bryant Show." About this same time local news was also ready for a shot in the arm. More and more 16-millimeter footage was being used in newscasts, and magnetic sound film that had been used primarily for commercials was used in newscasts.

The giant step in news came in 1976 when electronic news gathering equipment better known as the "mini cam" came on the scene. To shoot, develop and edit 16-millimeter film was a time-consuming process. Now that television stations used videotape, it took much less time to shoot, edit and get a breaking news event on the air.

Shortly behind the mini cam were live news trucks. They had already made their appearance in other markets, but WBRC-TV was the first station to put microwave live truck into service here in 1978. This enabled Channel 6 to go to the scene of a breaking story and within minutes show it on television.

The next year the news helicopter came to Channel 6. Our viewers could now see dramatic aerial pictures of train derailments, large fires and tornado destruction. And, with the help of Chopper 6, our news crews could quickly reach big stories happening far away.

The eighties brought another major advance in technology... satellites. The big dishes took root on Red Mountain in 1982, making it cheaper and more convenient for WBRC to receive network programs, news feeds, commercials and syndicated programs.

By 1988, Channel 6 could take that satellite technology on the road. Skylink 6 enabled us to beam back live pictures and stories by Channel 6 reporters from ten, twenty, or even a thousand miles away.

And perhaps the most recent advance in presenting news was the introduction of the computer into the newsroom. This occurred in September of 1989. It has enabled Channel 6 to get instant information from around the world.

Ownership changes continued in the television industry and here in Birmingham. In October of 1987, Taft sold WBRC-TV to Great American Radio & TV Corporation, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The most recent ownership changes would be a part of television history. New World Incorporated purchased WBRC on October 12, 1994. New World would alter the network affiliate landscape across America as they aligned many of their stations with the FOX network.

Less than a year later, the FOX Network, owned by Rupert Murdoch would become our owner on July 22, 1995.

Channel 6 became FOX6 on September 1, 1996, making it one of the most successful FOX owned and operated TV stations in the country.

In July 2008, WBRC was sold by Fox Television Stations to Local TV, LLC.

In March 2009, WBRC was sold by Local TV, LLC, to Raycom Media.

On June 12, 2009, at 8:55 a.m. CDT, WBRC shut off its analog Channel 6 transmitter as part of a federally-mandated analog shutdown of all TV stations in the country.

In January 2019, WBRC was sold by Raycom Media to Gray TV.

WBRC FOX6 News has come a long way since July 4, 1949. Today, more than 130 people make up the WBRC staff.