WMBB is the ABC-affiliated television station for Panama City, Florida. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 13 from a transmitter in unincorporated Youngstown along the Bay and Calhoun County line. Owned by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, the station has studios on Harrison Avenue/US 231 in Downtown Panama City.
It first began broadcast operations on October 4, 1973 as WDTB-TV started by Panhandle Broadcasting Corporation (run by attorney Denver T. Brannen), financed by local businessman/car dealer Tommy Thomas, and attorneys Julian Bennett and Dick Arnold. When it first took to the air, the channel was originally an NBC network affiliate. On February 28, 1977, WDTB was sold to Octagon Broadcasting, an Atlanta-based outfit. Upon the change, Octagon changed the station's call sign to the current WMBB (which stands for "The World's Most Beautiful Beaches").
Originally, the station was positioned to be the NBC affiliate for Tallahassee as well since the market did not have one until April 21, 1983, when WTWC began. At the time, its transmitter was in Frink, Calhoun County, well over fifty miles (80 km) away from Tallahassee at approximately . In addition, many viewers in the capital city already received NBC from Albany, Georgia's WALB which provided a better signal to the area.
On January 4, 1982, WMBB made the affiliation switch to ABC swapping with crosstown rival WJHG, which had been the market's original NBC station prior to 1973. Then on December 5, 1986, Buford Television of Tyler, Texas purchased the station and began investing in equipment and news talent in order to make the station more competitive, not only with WJHG, but also with Dothan, Alabama's WTVY, the CBS station serving the eastern part of the Northwestern Florida Panhandle region. It was also around this time that this station moved from its location in Downtown Panama City to its current location on Harrison Avenue that formerly housed a Buick dealership. The new facilities offered three times the space of the previous location.
Unexpectedly at 2:03 p.m. Central Time on May 18, 1989, an Air Force F-15 fighter jet clipped a wire at WMBB's Frink tower. This caused the tower, antenna, and transmitter to be completely destroyed. Not long after this incident, the channel was sold once again. This time, it joined Spartan Communications of Spartanburg, South Carolina as construction of new transmission equipment got underway. The company completed the acquisition on April 12, 1990. On August 6 of that same year, WMBB began broadcasting from a new 1,500-foot (457 m) state-of-the-art antenna and transmitter tower now in Youngstown. This allowed for better viewing of the station in the western half of the market including the rapidly growing southern Walton County area and Destin.
In 1993, WMBB became one of several ABC affiliates across the country that refused clearance to the ABC show NYPD Blue. Instead, it aired syndicated programming during the timeslot. Then-General Manager Hugh Roche kept the show off the station until 1997 when the parental ratings system was adopted by the networks. By the time WMBB finally allowed the program to air, it was the last station in the country to lift its ban on the show.
In March 2000, this station became one of thirteen in a package acquired by Media General worth $605 million. Later that year, Media General purchased the Jackson County Floridan newspaper. WMBB then established a Jackson County Bureau and used the resources of the Floridan to cover Jackson County as well. This caught the eye of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because of the common ownership of a newspaper and television station in the same market. With the sale of WMBB to Hoak Media, this is no longer an issue. By the time Media General sold the station, Media General was granted a permanent waiver by the FCC to operate both properties in the same market. Media General later divested all of their newspapers (with the exception of the Tampa Tribune) to Warren Buffett's World Media Holdings in June 2012.
On March 14, 2008, it was announced that Media General would sell the station (and sister KALB-TV in Alexandria, Louisiana) to Hoak Media. The deal was closed on July 16. At the time of the closing, WMBB was Hoak's only television station east of the Mississippi River. In July 2010, the station replaced its second digital subchannel broadcast of weather radar with This TV. That network originally aired on WBIF after that channel stopped airing content from the Retro Television Network (RTV). Its replacement was supposed to be WPGX-DT2 but this never made it to air.
On November 20, 2013, Hoak announced the sale of most of its stations, including WMBB, to Gray Television. Due to Gray's existing ownership of WJHG-TV and WECP-LD, Gray immediately placed the station, along with KREX-TV in Grand Junction, Colorado, up for sale to comply with FCC regulations. On December 19, Gray announced that the overlap properties, including WMBB, would be sold to Nexstar Broadcasting Group, for $37.5 million. The sale was completed on June 13, 2014. The deal made WMBB a sister station to Dothan's ABC affiliate, WDHN.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|13.1||720p||16:9||WMBB-DT||Main WMBB programming / ABC|
|13.3||Escape (Launch date TBD)|
|13.4||Laff (Launch date TBD)|
WMBB shut down its analog signal, over VHF channel 13, 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 19 to VHF channel 13.
WMBB made history during Hurricane Dennis in July 2005 when it became the first station in Panama City to broadcast live storm coverage over the internet. It was one of the first stations in the country to use Weather Services International's Titan forecasting tool (a 3D forecasting system which showed the collapse of the storm just before it struck Santa Rosa Island). In May 2011, WMBB upgraded local news production to 16:9 enhanced definition widescreen becoming the second station in the market (after WJHG) to do so. New graphics, music, and a modified set design were a part of the upgrade.
On July 21, 2011, WMBB announced on their Facebook page that they would add another newscast starting September 12, News 13 Midday, that will run from 11 a.m. until noon each day. This is actually a return to doing a news program during the midday time slot since the station used to produce a midday program until the late-1990s. In June 2012, WMBB debuted a state-of-the art news set using flat panel monitors and LED lighting for the backgrounds and to light the set. This is the first top-to-bottom new set built for the station since it moved to the current studio location in 1987. On March 30, 2013, WMBB became the first station in Panama City to launch local news in full high definition. With the change came an update to the on-screen graphic package.
In February 2016, Tom Lewis returned to WMBB to become their news director. He was the primary anchor from the late 1980s until 2001, and left for rival station WJHG to become their primary anchor until 2014. He also served as their news director from 2005 to 2010.