- This article is about WBKB-TV in Alpena, Michigan. For the stations in Chicago, Illinois that formerly used the call sign, see WBBM-TV and WLS-TV.
WBKB-TV is the CBS-affiliated television station for the Northern Lower Peninsula of Northeastern Michigan. Licensed to Alpena, the station broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 11 from a transmitter in Alcona County (near M-72) south of Hubbard Lake. The station can also be seen on Charter channel 10 in SD and in HD form on digital channel 781. Owned by the Marks Radio Group, WBKB has studios on North Bagley Street in Alpena. WBKB is the only commercial television station in one of the smallest media markets in the United States.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming|
|11.1||1080i||16:9||WBKB-HD||Main WBKB-TV programming / CBS|
|11.2||480i||4:3||WBKB-FX||WBKB 11.2 Fox & MyNetworkTV (letterboxed into 480i 16:9 for network programming)|
|11.3||WBKB-AB||WBKB 11.3 ABC (letterboxed into 480i 16:9 for network programming)|
WBKB's second subchannel features the market's Fox affiliate, which also carries MyNetworkTV directly after Fox primetime on weeknights. Syndicated programming on WBKB-DT2 includes Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, and NBCUniversal Television Distribution's conflict talk shows, including Jerry Springer and Maury. WBKB-DT2 is carried in standard definition locally on Charter's channel 13 in SD and in HD form on digital channel 786; the subchannel's cable distribution is the only current way to watch Fox programming locally in HD, although to alleviate the resulting aspect ratio issue for viewers without Charter Cable (at least during network hours), network programming on the over-the-air feed for this DT2 subchannel is presented in a letterboxed 480i 16:9 format.
WBKB's third subchannel began carrying ABC programming on January 14, 2013, effectively replacing former ABC O&O WJRT-TV from Flint on area cable systems and taking WJRT's former cable positions on Charter of channel 12 in SD and in HD form on digital channel 782. WBKB-DT3 serves as the local outlet of Detroit Lions team programming, including preseason football and the team's coach's show. Syndicated programming on WBKB-DT3 includes Rachael Ray, Judge Judy and Steve Harvey. As with WBKB-DT2, ABC programming in HD from WBKB-DT3 is only available through cable, although to alleviate the resulting aspect ratio issue for viewers without Charter Cable (at least during network hours), network programming on the over-the-air feed for this DT3 subchannel is presented in a letterboxed 480i 16:9 format.
Thunder Bay Broadcasting Corporation was formed in the State of Michigan in September 1971 by Thomas Scanlan, a US Air Force Captain stationed in Indianapolis, for the express purpose of establishing a commercial television station in Alpena, Michigan. At the time Alpena and its surrounding area was one of the last places in the Eastern United States without any over-the-air television service, as defined by the FCC. Such areas were called 'white areas'. Scanlan had just completed a tour of duty in Germany, where he and three other active duty airmen, Thomas Disinger, S. Peter Neumann and Curtis Smith had been engaged in creating the first use of live satellite feeds to Europe of events specifically targeted to military personnel stationed in Europe. This first use was the live Apollo XI Moon Walk and events surrounding it from blast off to touchdown.
Beside his stock and stock reserved for Disinger, Neumann and Smith, Scanlan sold off stock to 43 other stockholders, mostly residents of Alpena. The construction permit application was filed on September 22, 1971 and specified using the tower of WHSB-FM radio at Manning Hill, near Lachine, MI, some 15 miles west of Alpena. Expectations were that the permit would be granted and the station could be on the air by the summer of 1972, most likely as an ABC affiliate. On November 22, 1971 a competing application was filed for Channel 11 by a group headed by cable operator Bruce Freel. Freel's North American Broadcasting Company specified a much larger coverage area than that applied for by Scanlan, with a 792 foot tower near Millersburg, and coverage extending well to the west of Interstate 75. To maximize its opportunity to receive a grant in the event the FCC designated the two applications for a hearing, Scanlan amended the Thunder Bay application in 1972 to specify a shared tower with Alpena's non-commercial WCML-TV, Channel 6. With both Freel's and Scanlan's group applying for facilities that would duplicate, to a small degree, that of Traverse City's WGTU, Channel 29, Traverse City, the President of WGTU, Thomas Kiple, urged his group, Northern Entertainment, to ask the FCC to invoke their "UHF Impact Policy" on the applications. The UHF Impact Policy is no longer active, but at the time, 1972, the FCC would entertain applications to limit, or deny applications from proposed VHF facilities seeking new or improved facilities that would duplicate existing or planned UHF coverage.
At this same time Freel's group was facing mounting expenses in his cable and real estate businesses, and Freel offered to sell out to Scanlan's group for its out of pocket expenses, which the FCC approved almost immediately. This would allow Thunder Bay to proceed with its construction. Within a matter of weeks Northern Entertainment filed its UHF Impact Request with the FCC. This action set in motion a competitive posture between Thunder Bay and Northern Entertainment. To break the logjam of inactivity, Thunder Bay voluntarily again modified its application to specify a smaller, peanut-shaped coverage area from a 500-foot tower at Barton City, about 25 miles south of Alpena. This reduced the percentage of overlap with WGTU's signal to 4.7%. On July 19, 1974 the FCC set aside Northern's objections and granted Thunder Bay its permit. The station with facilities basically unchanged to date since originally built, beginning in September 1974, signed on September 22, 1975. In 1982 Scanlan's group sold controlling interest in Thunder Bay to Stephen Marks of Maryland.
The station first went on-the-air September 22, 1975 as the first of two stations in Alpena to sign-on that year (the other being WCMU-TV satellite WCML that launched in November). The Alpena market consists of Alpena and Alcona Counties, and is the third smallest media market in the United States. It is also served by portions of the Northern Michigan (Traverse City, Cadillac, and Sault Ste. Marie) as well as the Mid-Michigan (Bay City, Saginaw, Midland, and Flint) markets. The station originally aired a digital signal on VHF channel 13 from a transmitter at the station's studios.
After the switch to digital-only broadcasting on June 12, 2009, it moved its digital signal to channel 11. WBKB signed-on a new second digital subchannel to serve as the area's primary Fox and secondary MyNetworkTV affiliate in November 2009. Until this point, Cadillac's WFQX-TV had been serving as the default Fox affiliate, operating a translator in Alpena, W31BO, Channel 31, between 1996 and 2005. In addition, WFQX's full-powered satellite WFUP in Vanderbilt served areas around greater Alpena although not in the city proper.
Despite the existence of WBKB-DT2, Charter systems still carry WFQX in standard and high definition to this day. MyNetworkTV can also still be seen in the market on Charter through Bay City's WNEM-DT2. That outlet served as the area's default MyNetworkTV outlet since the service signed-on back in September 2006.
On January 14, 2013, WBKB added a new third digital subchannel to be the area's ABC affiliate—the first over-the-air ABC service to Alpena since WGTU-TV translator K55AW, Channel 55, went off the air in the mid-1970s. Until the launch of ABC on 11.3, WJRT-TV in Flint had been serving as the market's default affiliate on Charter with standard and high definition feeds.
Legacy of WBKB callsign
The WBKB call letters originally belonged (from 1946 until 1953) to channel 4 in Chicago. That station was owned by the Balaban and Katz Broadcasting subsidiary of Paramount Pictures and is now CBS owned-and-operated affiliate WBBM-TV. WBKB then transferred to Chicago's ABC owned-and-operated station on channel 7 from 1953 to 1968 until it was renamed WLS-TV.
Shortly after Stephan Marks acquired WBKB, newscasts known as UGN News (with "UGN" meaning "Upper Great <Lakes> Network") began to be simulcasted with WBKP/WBUP in Marquette. Likewise, the programs featured regional news and weather coverage from the entire Upper and Northern Lower Peninsulas. In 2006, UGN News was re-focused to the Upper Peninsula and only originated from WBKP/WBUP. Currently, WBKB only airs local news weeknights at 6 and every night at 11 ET. All on-air personnel at the station perform "one-man-band" journalism duties such as shooting video, editing coverage, and producing the newscasts. With the addition of ABC programming to its third digital subchannel, WBKB finally launched its first ever weekday morning show (as of February 2013). The nightly newscasts are simulcasted on WBKB's CBS and ABC channels.
The fact that the station is in one of the smallest television markets in the country makes it a launch pad for recent graduates from broadcasting schools and of journalist majors. In certain circles, the call letters WBKB have come to jokingly stand for "We Barely Know Broadcasting".