WMAR-TV, channel 2, is an ABC-affiliated television station located in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. The station is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company. WMAR-TV's studios and offices are located on York Road (Maryland Route 45) in Towson (though with a Baltimore City mailing address), north of the Baltimore City-Baltimore County border. Its landmark three-pronged candelabra transmitter and broadcast tower is located on Television Hill in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore.
Early years; CBS affiliation (1948-1981)
WMAR-TV first began broadcasting to Baltimore and central Maryland on October 27, 1947. It was the fourteenth television station in the United States, and the first to sign on in Maryland. It was owned by The A.S. Abell Company, publisher of the then Sunpapers, twice daily newspapers of Baltimore, along with the original WMAR-FM (97.9 MHz, frequency now occupied by WIYY-FM). Its first studios and broadcasting facilities were located for the first four years in the old Sun Building at so-called "Sun Square" at the southwestern corner of South Charles Street and West Baltimore Street in downtown Baltimore. With the 1950s and early 1960s redevelopment of downtown with Charles Center and the later razing of the Sun Building to be replaced by the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre and the relocation of the newspaper's offices and printing plant to 501 North Calvert Street, facilities for the station were temporarily located there.
Channel 2 was originally an Independent station, largely because at the time it was not clear whether Baltimore would be part of the Washington, D.C. market (Baltimore is 45 minutes northeast of Washington, and most of the Washington stations decently cover the Baltimore area for major news stories and advertising markets). In 1948, however, the Federal Communications Commission made Baltimore a separate media market. On March 29, 1948, WMAR-TV was announced as the Columbia Broadcasting System's third affiliate, after WCBS-TV in New York City and WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. One of Channel 2's early local personalities was Jim McKay, who later moved over to CBS briefly before achieving greater fame on ABC as host of "Wide World of Sports". Another was Helen Delich Bentley, a maritime editor for the Baltimore Sun who hosted The Port That Built A City, a weekly review presenting maritime, shipping and transportation-related news. (Bentley later ran several times and was finally elected as the U.S. Representative from Maryland, serving several terms. By the 2010s, the Port of Baltimore was renamed symbolically for her.)
As a CBS affiliate, the station preempted an hour of the network's weekday morning daytime schedule, as well as CBS's late night programming. However, this was not a problem for Baltimore area viewers, as most of the area got a decent signal from WTOP-TV in Washington (now WUSA). For many years, the station was also co-owned with WBOC-TV in Salisbury.
In 1959, WMAR-TV teamed up with WBAL-TV and WJZ-TV to build the world's first three-antenna candelabra tower. The new 730-foot tower was built on the newly named "Television Hill" in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore, which significantly improved the station's signal coverage in central Maryland. It is still in operation today, and can be seen from Interstate 83 in Baltimore. During the 1970s, the FCC tightened its cross-ownership rules, eventually barring common ownership between a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city without a waiver. However, the combination of the Baltimore Sun and WMAR-TV was one of several combinations that were "grandfathered" under these rules.
NBC affiliation (1981-1994)
In March 1981, CBS announced that it would be moving its local affiliation in Baltimore to WBAL-TV, the market's NBC station. Among its reasons for making the switch, CBS cited WMAR-TV's weak newscast ratings and heavy preemptions of network programs for its widely popular locally oriented occasional programs. Channel 2 quickly cut a deal with NBC, and Baltimore's first affiliation switch took place on August 30, 1981. However, Channel 2 also preempted as much as two hours of the network's daytime programming. The station also preempted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for several years in the mid-1980s, choosing to air sitcom reruns instead. Both Tonight and preempted daytime programs were aired on then-independent station, WBFF, though Baltimore viewers could also watch the entire NBC lineup on the network's neighboring Washington owned-and-operated station, WRC-TV, along with Lancaster, Pennsylvania's WGAL.
On March 1, 1982, after negotiations between WMAR-TV management and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) failed, all of the station's on-air talent, except one, went on strike. AFTRA members, joined by the Teamsters, the Communication Workers of America and other local unions, picketed the station's offices on York Road and Abell's offices at North Calvert and East Centre Streets. When color announcer (and long-time popular Baltimore Orioles third baseman) Brooks Robinson refused to cross the picket line at the start of the baseball season, the strike ended. The following day, both news anchors, Tom Sweeney and Curt Anderson, were fired; there has never been another strike by on-air talent in the Baltimore TV market since.
On October 27, 1986, the A.S. Abell Company was purchased by the Los Angeles-based Times-Mirror Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times. With the loss of the grandfathered protection between the former Abell media properties, Times-Mirror opted to keep the The Sun and The Evening Sun and sold WMAR together with WRLH-TV in Richmond, Virginia to Gillett Communications three days after the merger was consummated. After filing for bankruptcy some time later, Gillett restructured its television holdings into SCI Television, and in the early 1990s, SCI put WMAR-TV on the market.
The Cincinnati-based E. W. Scripps Company announced its purchase of the station in the summer of 1990, but in February 1991, the transfer was cancelled after Scripps accused Gillett of misreporting WMAR's financial statements. Gillett then took legal action against Scripps, but both sides settled and the sale went forward. Scripps took control of the station in the fall of 1991. As this scenario was playing out, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, parent company of WBFF, applied with the FCC for a new station on WMAR-TV's channel 2 allocation under a subsidiary called "Four Jacks Broadcasting." If it were granted, it would have resulted in the entire WBFF intellectual unit (including its Fox network affiliation) moving from channel 45 to channel 2, with WBFF's existing channel 45 allocation sold. In the end, however, Scripps' license to operate WMAR-TV on channel 2 was reaffirmed by the FCC, and WBFF permanently remained on channel 45.
In 1994, Scripps and ABC announced a long-term affiliation deal, which resulted in four Scripps-owned stations switching to ABC. WMAR-TV was included in the deal, and Channel 2 would displace Baltimore's longtime ABC affiliate, Westinghouse Broadcasting-owned WJZ-TV. ABC agreed to the deal as a condition of keeping its affiliation on Scripps' two biggest stations, WXYZ-TV in Detroit and WEWS in Cleveland, who had been heavily wooed by CBS, which was about to lose its longtime Detroit and Cleveland affiliates to Fox. Locally, it triggered Baltimore's second network affiliation swap, which saw WMAR-TV switch to ABC, WBAL-TV reuniting with NBC and CBS moving to WJZ-TV. The second switch occurred on January 2, 1995. As a result, channel 2 became one of the few stations in the country to have been a primary affiliate with each of the "Big Three" networks.
In 1996, a year after the affiliation change, station management opted not to renew channel 2's carriage of The Oprah Winfrey Show, deciding instead to take a chance on the new The Rosie O'Donnell Show. The move proved costly in the long term, as market leader WBAL-TV picked up Oprah, and Rosie lasted only seven years. Since the switch, WMAR-TV has seen a drastic drop in viewership for its 5:00–6:30 p.m. news block, while WBAL-TV has thrived in that time slot.
On May 13, 2014, after a station security guard denied him entry into WMAR-TV's studio/offices, 28-year-old Vladimir Baptiste crashed a pickup truck into the building lobby – which was stolen around 12:00 p.m. from a Maryland State Highway Administration subcontractor. All of the station's approximately 120 employees were evacuated and the building was placed on lockdown as Baltimore County Police officers searched for the suspect. Channel 2 ran an automated feed of ABC programming for four hours, before going dark for about 80 minutes; a satellite relay with Phoenix sister station KNXV-TV was then established late that afternoon until WMAR master control operators were able to resume broadcasting from the studio. Police captured the man just after 4:30 p.m. that afternoon, as he was watching news coverage of the incident in one of the facility's offices. Officers found weapons in the truck, but there were no reports of gunshots being fired. No staffers inside the building were injured. Baptiste was taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation, and was later charged with three counts of attempted second degree murder.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|2.1||720p||16:9||WMAR-HD||Main WMAR-TV programming / ABC|
WMAR-TV shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 2, 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 52, which was among the high band UHF channels (52–69) that were removed from broadcasting use as a result of the transition, to UHF channel 38, using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 2.
Syndicated programs seen on WMAR-TV include Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Rachael Ray, The Doctors, and Right This Minute. As an ABC affiliate, WMAR-TV now usually runs the network's entire lineup. The station was Baltimore's home to the annual Jerry Lewis/MDA Labor Day Telethon for nearly three decades until it moved to WNUV-TV (channel 54). From 1979 to 1993, channel 2 was the over-the-air flagship station of the Baltimore Orioles--long after most "Big Three" stations dropped local regular season sports coverage.
WMAR-TV presently broadcasts 23½ hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with 4½ hours on weekdays and one hour on Sundays); with regards to the amount of news programming, it is the lowest output among Baltimore's television stations. Unlike most news-producing ABC affiliates that are located in the Eastern Time Zone, WMAR does not air a newscast in the weekday midday timeslot; it also holds the distinction of being the largest news-producing "Big Three" station by market size that does not air any local newscasts on Saturdays (although WMAR does produce local weather cut-ins that are shown during the weekend edition of Good Morning America).
WMAR is also one of ten television stations that airs the "Don't Waste Your Money" series of consumer reports from John Matarese, based at Cincinnati sister station WCPO-TV. WMAR formerly operated a 24-hour local weather channel known as "ABC 2 WeatherNet Digital", which was also available on Xfinity digital cable channel 204 and streamed on the station's website; until 2012, the channel was also broadcast on a third digital subchannel of WMAR's over-the-air signal.
Despite its newspaper roots and its status as the oldest television station in Maryland, WMAR's newscasts have been in last place among Baltimore's "Big Three" network affiliates since the early 1960s, and the station has not been a significant factor in the news ratings in over 30 years. It lags behind both WBAL-TV and WJZ-TV in the ratings by a wide margin, and has even trailed WBFF in some timeslots. For the past decade, WMAR and WBFF have formed one tier of local newscast ratings – significantly lower than the tier that is occupied by WBAL and WJZ. As such, it is currently one of ABC's weakest affiliates, especially in a top-50 market. By contrast, WJZ-TV dominated the ratings in the Baltimore market when it was affiliated with ABC before it switched to CBS.
However, WMAR formerly boasted one of the most respected sports departments in the region, thanks in large part to the presence of longtime anchor and former Baltimore Ravens radio play-by-play announcer Scott Garceau. Garceau has since left to host a show on WJZ-FM and sports director Rob Carlin left for MSG Network, meaning WMAR's newscasts no longer have a separate sports anchor. Despite this, the station lays claim to the market's most aggressive coverage of local college and high school lacrosse, arguably the most popular sport in the area among young athletes. WMAR works in partnership with ESPNU to produce the ABC 2 Lacrosse Game of the Week during the college season, featuring prime matchups involving one or more Maryland lacrosse powerhouses, including Johns Hopkins University, Loyola College in Maryland, Towson University, the University of Maryland, College Park, and the U.S. Naval Academy. Garceau continues to do play-by-play for the station's lacrosse telecasts. Quint Kessenich, four-time lacrosse All-American with Johns Hopkins, is a major contributor to lacrosse coverage and appears sporadically as a fill-in anchor, host of the station's Baltimore Blast show and field reporter for select Ravens games.
On October 4, 2010, WMAR-TV became the last station in the market and the last Scripps-owned television station at the time to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition (Scripps has since acquired the television station group of McGraw-Hill; of those stations, one of them still produces its newscasts in pillarboxed 4:3 standard definition as of January 2012). On April 18, 2011, WMAR became the first television station in Baltimore to expand its weekday morning newscast to the 4:30 a.m. timeslot.
Notable former on-air staff
- Curt Anderson (currently in the Maryland General Assembly)
- Andy Barth (left WMAR to pursue a political career, his 2006 bid for Congress failed, now reporter for WTTG in Washington, D.C.)
- Nelson Benton (1982–1983) former CBS Evening News Correspondent. Deceased.
- Stu Kerr (d. 1994)
- Tom Marr (former Orioles broadcaster; currently on WCBM Radio in Baltimore)
- Jim McKay (went on to ABC's Wide World of Sports, died in 2008)
- Uma Pemmaraju (now an anchor with Fox News Channel)
- John Saunders (now with ESPN)
- Sally Thorner (went on to anchor at WJZ-TV, now retired)
- Brian Wood (now at KATU in Portland, Oregon)