WDBJ, channel 7, is a CBS-affiliated television station located in Roanoke, Virginia, United States. WDBJ is owned by Gray Television, and maintains studio facilities on Hershberger Road in northwest Roanoke; its transmitter is located on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County.
WDBJ became the center of international media attention on August 26, 2015, when two of its employees, reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward, were shot dead while on live television. The gunman was later identified by police as former WDBJ reporter Vester Lee Flanagan II, who was fired from the station two years earlier and died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds five hours after the shooting.
WDBJ-TV first signed on the air on October 3, 1955, originally owned by the Times-World Corporation, publishers of the Roanoke Times and Roanoke World-News, and operators of WDBJ radio (960 AM, now WFIR; and 94.9 FM, now WSLC-FM). Channel 7 has been a CBS affiliate since its sign-on, owing to WDBJ radio's longtime affiliation with the CBS Radio Network. WDBJ-TV was the third television station to sign-on from Roanoke, after NBC affiliate WSLS-TV (channel 10) and WROV-TV (channel 27, frequency later occupied by WFXR), which operated as an independent station from February to July 1953. Before channel 7 signed on, CBS programming had been carried part-time on Lynchburg-based WLVA-TV (channel 13, now WSET-TV). During the late 1950s, WDBJ was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
For close to two years, the station's construction permit was heavily contested between Times-World and the owners of WROV-TV, who relinquished their UHF license (the station went dark in July 1953) in order to battle for channel 7. The two-way contest virtually ended in January 1955, when the WROV group relinquished their application and sold their television assets to WDBJ. The Times-World Corp. would be awarded the channel 7 construction permit two months later.
Channel 7, along with its radio sisters, originally operated from studio facilities located in the Mountain Trust Bank Building in downtown Roanoke. Its transmitter was located temporarily on Mill Mountain; the station originally planned to transmit its signal from Poor Mountain, but was not able to do so due to concerns regarding interference with the signal of WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina, whose broadcasting facilities were under construction at the time. In 1956, WDBJ radio and television moved their operations to the Times-World Building; the television station also relocated its transmitter to Poor Mountain.
Due to its affiliation with the Times and Virginia's second-oldest radio station, WDBJ-TV overtook WSLS-TV as the area's highest-rated station within three years of its sign-on. It has remained in the lead more or less ever since; although in recent years, WDBJ has been in a spirited three-way race with WSLS-TV and WSET in news and overall viewership. As channel 7 grew during the late 1950s, plans were drawn for a new studio at the corner of Brandon and Colonial Avenues in southwest Roanoke. The WDBJ stations moved to the then state-of-the-art building in the summer of 1961.
Schurz Communications ownership
In 1969, Times-World Communications merged with Norfolk-based Landmark Communications. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not allow Landmark to keep WDBJ-TV as the agency had recently prohibited the co-ownership of broadcast outlets and newspapers the previous year, while "grandfathering" existing newspaper-broadcasting combinations in several markets. With the Landmark merger, the WDBJ stations lost their grandfathered protection and could not be retained by the merged company. As a result, channel 7 was sold to South Bend, Indiana-based Schurz Communications. It is not likely that the FCC would have allowed Landmark to keep WDBJ-TV in any event, as its signal significantly overlapped with WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina, which Landmark already owned at the time. At the time, the FCC normally did not allow common ownership of two television stations with overlapping signals, and would not even consider granting a waiver for stations with a significant signal overlap. Times-World also sold the WDBJ radio stations to separate owners. Channel 7 retained the WDBJ-TV call sign, though it officially dropped the -TV suffix in November 1983.
In 1979, WDBJ-TV opened a news bureau in Lynchburg, known as the Central Virginia Bureau, which provided reports focusing on the eastern part of the Roanoke-Lynchburg market (from Charlottesville to Danville); weekend anchor Graham Wilson served as the bureau chief. In the 1980s, the station aired a series of promotional programming and station image spots featuring the popular "Ernest P. Worrell" character portrayed by Jim Varney.
In 2000, WDBJ announced plans to construct a new studio facility on the site of the Best Products building in northwest Roanoke – which was demolished that June – which was designed for high definition broadcasting (photos of the complete demolition of the Best Products building & construction of the new "Digital Broadcast Center" are available at ); WDBJ began broadcasting from the new facility in June 2002.
On July 1, 2007, Jeffery A. Marks was named as the station's general manager, succeeding longtime GM Bob Lee (Marks became only the fourth general manager in the station's history). That same year, the station converted its news department to a tapeless operation, switching to a server-based playback system.
In July 2009, WDBJ announced that it would refuse to air a political attack advertisement from the National Republican Congressional Committee Democratic Representative Tom Perriello's position on climate change, citing "factual inaccuracies".
In the spring of 2010, Schurz Communications entered into a website management partnership with Tribune Interactive, in which the content management system operator would assume responsibilities for operating the websites of Schurz's media properties (with the exception of NBC affiliate WAGT in Augusta, Georgia, which is now operated by Media General through a shared services agreement with ABC affiliate WJBF). Schurz's Kansas television properties (KWCH-DT and KSCW-DT) were the first to launch new Tribune-run sites in late June of that year, with WDBJ following suit in mid-July. This lasted until mid-2013, when Internet Broadcasting began operating the WDBJ website.
Schurz Communications announced on September 14, 2015 that it would exit broadcasting and sell its television and radio stations, including WDBJ, to Gray Television for $442.5 million. This will make WDBJ a sister station to WCAV and WHSV-TV in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, respectively. The FCC approved the sale on February 12, 2016. and the sale was completed on February 16.
2015 murders of reporting crew
On August 26, 2015, WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were fatally shot during a live report on that day's edition of Mornin' at the Bridgewater Plaza in Moneta. The suspect was later identified as Vester Lee Flanagan II, a multimedia journalist who worked under the professional pseudonym "Bryce Williams" and was employed by WDBJ from 2012 to 2013 until he was fired. Flanagan died that afternoon at a hospital from self-inflicted gunshot wounds after he was approached by police on I-66 in Fauquier County. Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce director Vicki Gardner, who was being interviewed by Parker before the shooting, was the only survivor and was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the back.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|7.1||1080i||16:9||WDBJ||Main WDBJ programming / CBS|
|7.2||480i||MY19||"My19" / MyNetworkTV|
WDBJ-DT2 is a MyNetworkTV-affiliated digital subchannel of WDBJ, which broadcasts over-the-air in standard definition on virtual channel 7.2 (UHF digital channel 18.2). Its on-air branding, My 19, is derived from the station's primary cable channel placement on Cox Communications channel 19.
WDBJ launched its second digital subchannel in 2004 as "7 Too," an independent service which carried rebroadcasts of WDBJ newscasts along with some syndicated programming; the channel also aired special event programming, such as sporting events sourced from Raycom Sports and occasionally by CBS Sports, and the entirety of the 2004 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
On February 22, 2006, News Corporation (which would later spin-off its American television properties into 21st Century Fox in July 2013) announced the launch of MyNetworkTV, a new network that would be operated by two of its divisions, Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television. MyNetworkTV was created to compete against another upstart network that would launch at the same time that September, The CW – a network created through a partnership between CBS Corporation and Time Warner, which had announced one month earlier on January 24 that the two companies would respectively shut down UPN and The WB, which originally consisted primarily of the higher-rated programs from its two predecessors; MyNetworkTV was also formed to give UPN- and WB-affiliated stations that were not named as The CW's charter affiliates another option besides converting into independent stations. When the network debuted on September 5, 2006, WDBJ-DT2 became the MyNetworkTV affiliate for the Roanoke-Lynchburg market; WWCW (channel 21) became the market's CW affiliate when that network launched two weeks later on September 18.
Debuting with the subchannel's MyNetworkTV affiliation, WDBJ began producing a half-hour weeknight 10:00 p.m. newscast on "My19", which maintains an alternative format to the newscasts seen on WDBJ's main channel, providing "anchor movement" to a different set after each commercial break and includes a "Fun Fact" feature during each newscast, which is associated with one of the stories featured on that evening's broadcast. As of 2015, the newscast is currently anchored by Melissa Gaona, meteorologist Robin Reed, and sports director Travis Wells. The program is WDBJ's second attempt at a primetime newscast: the station previously produced a 10:00 p.m. newscast, titled News 7 Primetime, for religious independent station WEFC (channel 38, now Ion Television owned-and-operated station WPXR-TV) from September 1996 to August 1997; that program was canceled due to low ratings. WDBJ-DT2 also airs a rebroadcast of the main channel's morning newscast Mornin' each weekday from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m.
WDBJ discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 7, 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 remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 18, using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 7.
Out-of-market cable and satellite coverage
WDBJ is also carried on cable providers on the West Virginia side of the Bluefield-Beckley, West Virginia television market; the station had served as the default CBS affiliate for the West Virginia side of that market until WVSX (now WVNS-TV) became a CBS affiliate in 2001.
WDBJ is also available on cable systems in Pocahontas County, West Virginia (including Snowshoe), and as far east as Clarksville and South Boston, as far west as Glade Spring, Marion, Grundy (on digital cable only), Clintwood and Norton (all four of which are part of the Tri-Cities market), and as far south as Galax, Martinsville in Virginia and Person, Caswell and Rockingham counties in North Carolina (the latter two of which are part of the Greensboro/Winston-SalemHigh Point market). In Virginia, DirecTV offers WDBJ in several areas in Mecklenburg and Patrick counties located outside of the Roanoke-Lynchburg market. In North Carolina, DirecTV offers WDBJ in Alleghany County, which is part of the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point market.
Syndicated programs broadcast on WDBJ include Jeopardy!, it's sister show Wheel of Fortune, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and Live! with Kelly and Michael. Syndicated programs broadcast on WDBJ-DT2 include The Insider, Steve Harvey, Right This Minute Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (which is also seen on MNTV's programming service) and Sanctuary. WDBJ-DT2 will also carry newscasts and syndicated programming from the main channel if they are preempted there.
WDBJ carries the entire CBS network schedule on its main channel, as well as the entire MyNetworkTV schedule on digital channel 7.2. However, WDBJ's main channel splits the CBS Dream Team children's program block into two blocks, with the first two hours (which air in reverse order from and two hours earlier than their network-recommended scheduling) airing on Saturdays and the final hour airing on Sundays, both immediately before the station's weekend morning newscasts; it also airs CBS This Morning Saturday three hours later than most CBS affiliates (which usually run the program before the Dream Team block).
WDBJ presently broadcasts 24 hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with four hours on weekdays, and two hours each on Saturdays and Sundays). In addition, it also presently produces an additional 2½ hours of newscasts each week for its "My 19" subchannel (consisting of a half-hour on weekdays, not counting its rebroadcast of the main channel's weekday morning newscast). Combined across both channels, WDBJ produces a total of 26½ hours of local newscasts each week. Unlike most CBS affiliated stations in the Eastern Time Zone, the station does not produce a local newscast at 5:30 p.m. timeslot on weekdays.
In addition, the station produces the sports programs Friday Football Extra (which airs Friday nights following the 11:00 p.m. newscast during the high school football season) and broadcasts Virginia Tech Sports Today (a university-produced program which airs Sundays during the Virginia Tech Hokies football and basketball seasons). In addition to the newsroom at its main studios in Roanoke, WDBJ also maintains newsrooms in Lynchburg, Blacksburg and Richmond.
For the better part of a half-century of the station's history, WDBJ has been the ratings leader among the Roanoke market's television news operations. In particular, WDBJ's 6:00 and 11:00 p.m. newscasts are viewed by an estimated average of 92,000 households within the market. A key to WDBJ's ratings success has been the continuity of its on-air staff, which is not the norm in local television news, especially for a market of the size of the Roanoke-Lynchburg DMA. Keith Humphry anchored the station's 6:00 p.m. newscast for 30 years from 1981 until his retirement on May 25, 2011 (in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market, local news viewership tends to be much higher at 6:00 p.m. than at 11:00). Robin Reed has served as the station's lead weathercaster since 1982. Jean Jadhon has anchored WDBJ's evening newscasts since 1992, while morning anchor Kimberly McBroom has been with the station since 1993. Senior reporter Joe Dashiell has been at WDBJ since the 1970s, and was the longtime correspondent for the station's Richmond newsroom.
In 2006, WDBJ entered into a news content partnership with its former radio sister WFIR. In August 2006, WDBJ added an outdoor "Weather Deck" outside of the station's studios, providing a controlled new location for weather and news segments conducted outdoors. In addition to the "Weather Deck", the station also has a "Weather Garden" outside its Roanoke studio; WDBJ often presents feature packages about the "Weather Garden" and offers tips, advice and ideas about common gardening from that area.
On August 13, 2007, WDBJ became the only television station in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market to employ four meteorologists as part of its weather staff. WDBJ's weather department is also serves as the market's broadcast partner in the WeatherBug real-time automated weather observation network, which offers real-time observation and same-day almanac data from 24 weather stations located around the region within the WDBJ viewing area. On April 22, 2008, WDBJ began broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition; the station also became the first in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market with high-definition weather graphics.
In 2012, WDBJ began to phase out the News 7 branding for its newscasts, shifting to "Your Hometown News Leader: WDBJ 7". Newscast titles no longer reference a specific time, except for the morning newscast which is still titled Mornin'. WDBJ's also rebranded its weather department under the "First Alert Weather" brand, replacing the longtime moniker of "Skytracker 7".
On March 23, 2015, the FCC issued a $325,000 fine against WDBJ – the largest levied against a television station in the agency's history for a one-time instance of indecent content – for a story aired on the station's 6:00 p.m. newscast in July 2012 for airing sexually explicit material outside of the designated safe harbor period (between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.). The report, which centered a former female porn actress who became a volunteer EMT for a Roanoke area rescue squad, featured a brief image from an adult website showing the subject of the report (who was not nude or engaged in a sexual act) that included a video clip of a hand stroking a penis unblurred which appeared within the safe area of the editing suite while the story was being packaged, but was visible on the edge of the screen when it was broadcast. Schurz Communications stated that it would challenge the fine, contending the images were fleeting (lasting only three seconds) and small enough to not be visible for many viewers.
Current on-air staff
Notable former on-air staff
- Mike Randall – reporter (now at WKBW-TV in Buffalo)
- Alison Parker and Adam Ward – reporters, murdered while on live television
- Cecily Tynan – reporter and weather anchor (now at WPVI in Philadelphia)
- Bryce Williams – former reporter, murderer of Alison Parker and Adam Ward