WBAL-TV, channel 11, is an NBC-affiliated television station located in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. It is the flagship television station of Hearst Television, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation, and is locally co-owned with sister radio stations WBAL (1090 AM) and WIYY (97.9 FM). The three stations share a studio and office facility on Television Hill in the Woodberry section of Baltimore, near the transmitting tower that WBAL-TV shares with WIYY and four other Baltimore television stations.
WBAL-TV began operations on March 11, 1948, from its original studios on North Charles Street in Downtown Baltimore. The station's parent, the Hearst Corporation, also owned WBAL radio and two local newspapers, the Baltimore News-Post and the Baltimore American (which later merged as the Baltimore News-American before shutting down in 1986). WBAL-TV is one of two Hearst-owned broadcast properties to have been built and signed on by the company (the other being WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh), and the oldest to be continuously owned by Hearst through its various television subsidiaries through the years. At its launch, WBAL-TV was an NBC affiliate, owing to its radio sister's long affiliation with the NBC Red Network.
Early programming on channel 11 included Musical Almanac, Look and Cook and Know Baltimore, along with news and sports productions. In the 1950s, the station introduced Romper Room, a children's program produced locally by Bert and Nancy Claster that eventually became a nationally franchised and syndicated program. Another long-running show of the 1950s was the weekday Quiz Club, co-hosted by local personalities Brent Gunts and Jay Grayson. Baltimore Sun columnist Jacques Kelly described it at the time of Grayson's death in June 2000, as "pure 1950s live television ... executed on a low budget ... the genial hosts ... ruled the 1 p.m. airwaves".
WBAL-TV produced several local bowling shows in the 1960s and early 1970s, including Strikes and Spares, Pinbusters, Duckpins and Dollars, Bowling for Dollars and Spare Time. The station even went as far as building bowling alleys at its studios. It also launched several children's entertainment shows during this period, such as Rhea and Sunshine, Pete the Pirate, P.W. Doodle, Heads Up, and the teen-oriented Kirby Scott Show.
WBAL-TV has boasted many television firsts, including becoming the first Baltimore television station to broadcast in color, the first station in Maryland (and the eighth in the world) to acquire a videotape cartridge machine; the first station in Baltimore to acquire a mobile satellite news-gathering system (dubbed "NEWSTAR 11") and the first Baltimore station to hire an African-American news anchor and an African-American news director.
In the late 1970s, ABC steadily rose in the ratings to become the number one network in primetime. Accordingly, the network began to seek upgrades to its slate of affiliates, which included some stations that either had poor signals or poorly performing local programming. WBAL-TV had been invited to switch to ABC in 1977, but opted to remain with NBC out of concerns about the poor ratings for ABC's evening newscasts.
WBAL-TV's first stint as an NBC affiliate ended on August 30, 1981, when the station swapped networks with WMAR-TV (channel 2), then owned by the A.S. Abell Company (owners of the Baltimore Sun at the time), and became a CBS affiliate. In its reasoning for initiating the switch, CBS cited displeasure with WMAR-TV's frequent preemptions and low ratings for the station's newscasts. As a CBS affiliate, however, channel 11 preempted an hour of the network's daytime schedule everyday, as well as half of its Saturday cartoon lineup. Channel 11 also did not run CBS's late night programming. Baltimore viewers who wanted to see the entire CBS lineup could be able to view those programs through WDVM-TV/WUSA in Washington, D.C., which was available over-the-air in most of the Baltimore area and preempted little network programming.
In 1994, the E. W. Scripps Company, present owners of WMAR-TV, negotiated with ABC to affiliate with its Baltimore station as part of a multi-station deal. In response, CBS and Westinghouse Broadcasting formed a partnership which resulted in the CBS affiliation moving from WBAL-TV to Westinghouse's WJZ-TV (channel 13), Baltimore's longtime ABC affiliate. Largely by default, channel 11 rejoined NBC on January 2, 1995.
The station was a prominent feature in the 1982 movie Diner, set in Baltimore. One of the main characters' girlfriends worked at the station, and another character watches College Bowl, an NBC program that aired on WBAL-TV. It was also the primary setting for the 1991 film He Said, She Said, in which two newspaper columnists for the Baltimore Sun (Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins) serve as hosts of an opinion/debate segment on the station.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|11.1||1080i||16:9||WBAL-DT||Main WBAL-TV programming / NBC|
WBAL-TV carries a digital subchannel on 11.2, which launched in August 2005 as "11 Insta-Weather Plus", an affiliate of NBC Weather Plus until the network dissolved in November 2008; after that, the subchannel carried automated local and regional weather information provided by NBC Plus until April 2009, when an alternate programming format was adopted featuring local weather information, newscasts and other special programming. On March 5, 2012, WBAL launched a 10 p.m. newscast on the subchannel (which was renamed WBAL Plus the previous year).
On July 24, 2012, Hearst Television renewed its affiliation agreement with MeTV through 2015, to maintain existing affiliations with eight Hearst-owned stations that were already carrying the digital multicast network. As part of the renewal, Hearst also signed agreements to add the network as digital subchannels of WBAL-TV and four other Hearst stations in Sacramento, Boston, Oklahoma City and Greensboro. MeTV was added to subchannel 11.2 on October 1, 2012.
WBAL-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 11, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal relocated from its pre-transition UHF channel 59, which was among the high band UHF channels (52-69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition, to its analog-era assignment of VHF channel 11. Several VHF digital stations received permission for a power increase later that month after stations experienced signal problems as a result of changing their digital channel from UHF to VHF. WBAL-TV chose to test its equipment before making a commitment.
Syndicated programs seen on WBAL-TV include The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Dr. Oz Show, Inside Edition, Steve Harvey and Access Hollywood. WBAL-TV clears the vast majority of the NBC programming schedule, however it is one of the few NBC affiliates that does not air the fourth hour of Today (which can be seen in the area via NBC O&O WRC-TV in Washington. Excluding most regular season games (seen mostly on WJZ), WBAL-TV is the official station of the Baltimore Ravens, and had aired most of the NFL team's regular season games in 1996 and 1997. WBAL-TV produces and airs the majority of the team's preseason games, but will use the NBC network feed if NBC picks up a Ravens preseason game for telecast.
WBAL-TV presently broadcasts 39 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (5⅔ hours on Monday, 5 hours 35 minutes on Tuesday-Friday, 4½ hours on Saturday and 6½ hours on Sunday); the station also produces a weekly public affairs program on Sunday mornings called 11 TV Hill.
Appropriately for a station with roots in a newspaper, channel 11 has a rich news tradition. WBAL's newscasts have spent the better part of its history in either first or second place in the ratings. It led the ratings from the 1960s until WJZ-TV passed it in the early 1970s. However, for the better part of the last 40 years, WBAL-TV had waged a spirited battle for first place in the ratings with WJZ-TV. In recent years, WBAL-TV's newscasts placed first at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. However, in the November 2009 Nielsen ratings sweeps period – the first since the debut of The Jay Leno Show – WBAL's 11 p.m. newscast fell precipitously from first to a distant second behind WJZ (by contrast, the 11 p.m. newscast on WRC-TV in nearby Washington, D.C. was one of the least affected late-night newscasts of any NBC affiliate or owned-and-operated station in the country; it continued to dominate its competitors). WBAL still continued to lead at 5 and 6 p.m. until the November 2011 sweeps period. Since NBC took Leno off of primetime in February 2010 – in part due to complaints from WBAL and other affiliates about effects on its newscasts – viewership of channel 11's late newscast has often come close to the WJZ newscast. However, since the November 2011 sweeps period, WJZ's newscasts took the lead in nearly all time slots but WBAL is still a strong second.
In 1974, WBAL introduced the Action News format to Baltimore. Characterized by short, usually 90 second, news "packages" and upbeat introductory news themes, Baltimore's Action News briefly replaced WJZ as the number one news station in Baltimore during the mid-1970s. The architect of the success was news director Ron Kershaw, who had come to Baltimore from Texas and was considered somewhat ahead of his time. He brought in talented anchors like Sue Simmons and Spencer Christian and streamlined the news operation. Kershaw later brought other innovations to WNBC-TV in New York City and WBBM-TV in Chicago as news director at those stations.
WBAL-TV lent then-meteorologist Sandra Shaw to Hearst-Argyle sister station WDSU-TV in New Orleans on September 1, 2008, to assist with the Louisiana station's coverage of Hurricane Gustav.
On January 3, 2009, WBAL-TV became the second station in Baltimore (behind WBFF-TV) to begin broadcasting its local news programming in high definition. Only the in-studio cameras and footage from the station's helicopter were in HD at the time of the switch. For over a year, most field reports were still in pillarboxed 4:3 standard definition. Most field reports are switched from 16:9 widescreen enhanced definition to 16:9 high definition in March 2012. On March 5, 2012, WBAL debuted a half-hour 10 p.m. newscast on its WBAL Plus digital subchannel, which competes against an hour-long newscast on WBFF.
On January 12, 2015, WBAL-TV expanded their morning newscast "11 News Today" to 4:30 a.m.
Awards and achievements
In addition, WBAL-TV became the first Baltimore television station to win a Peabody Award for local news coverage, specifically of their Chesapeake Bay pollution investigation (and the first Baltimore television station to win the award in any category in more than fifty years). WBAL's news department was also awarded as one of the top three Best Television Newscasts by the National Headliners Association, alongside WFAA-TV in Dallas, and WBAL's Boston sister station WCVB-TV. The station has also won regional Edward R. Murrow Awards, the George Polk Award and the American Bar Association Gavel Award for excellence in reporting and journalism; it has also been rated the most outstanding television news operation in Baltimore (by the Associated Press and United Press International).
Notable current on-air staff
- Gerry Sandusky — Sports anchor
Notable former on-air staff
- Curt Anderson (now in the Maryland General Assembly)
- Sade Baderinwa (now with WABC-TV in New York City)
- Campbell Brown (formerly at CNN)
- Ron Canada - newscaster (1970s–early 1980s; now working as an actor)
- Spencer Christian (now with KGO-TV in San Francisco)
- Carol Costello (now at CNN)
- Rod Daniels (Retired)
- Mike Hambrick
- Vicki Mabrey (now with ABC News)
- Royal Parker (1962-mid-1990s)
- Lisa Salters (now with ESPN)
- Sue Simmons (later with WNBC-TV in New York City 1980–2012; was at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. 1978–1980 before that)
- Ron Smith (died on December 19, 2011, at age 70, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer)
- Julius Westheimer (deceased)
- Bernard H. Paul - Paul's Puppets children program for 10 years
Outside of Baltimore, WBAL-TV can be seen in Maryland's Eastern Shore from Cecil County to Worcester County, and Sussex County, Delaware. Both Comcast and Mediacom systems in the Salisbury, Maryland/Dover, Delaware market carry WBAL-TV along with that market's NBC affiliate, WRDE-LD (Comcast's system in Sussex County, Delaware carries both WRDE-LD and WBAL-TV, as well as NBC's Philadelphia owned-and-operated station WCAU).
WBAL-TV is also viewed in many parts of southern Pennsylvania such as Gettysburg in Adams County, and Hanover and York as well as the majority of York County due to its proximity to Baltimore. In Lancaster County, WBAL is only available in Marietta, Columbia, and Elizabethtown mainly because of competition and prevalence of Philadelphia and local television stations in the area that are more well-known such as WGAL and WCAU.
The station also live streams its newscasts on the internet several times a day.