WNCF is the ABC-affiliated television station for Central Alabama's River Region that is licensed to Montgomery. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 31 (or virtual channel 32.1 via PSIP) from a transmitter in Gordonville. Owned by SagamoreHill Broadcasting, WNCF is operated by Bahakel Communications through a shared services agreement. This makes it a sister station to CW affiliate WBMM and CBS affiliate WAKA.
All three television outlets share studios on Harrison Road in North Montgomery. Syndicated programming on WNCF includes Family Feud, Maury, Divorce Court and The Rachael Ray Show among others. The station can also be seen over-the-air in standard definition through WBMM's second digital subchannel on UHF channel 22.2. This airs from a transmitter in unincorporated southeastern Bullock County along the Pike County line.
The station signed-on as WCCB-TV in 1962 with unknown owners. This venture failed shortly thereafter and the station went dark. Few recall this short beginning of channel 32's history. Bahakel Communications, headed by Cy Bahakel (a native Alabamian), purchased the dormant channel 32 license and returned it to the air in early 1964 as WKAB-TV (standing for "Kasner and Bahakel", referring to Bahakel's engineering partner and close friend, Don Kasner) as the fourth television station in the Montgomery area. Bahakel wound up taking the original WCCB calls for his flagship station in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The station was an ABC affiliate right from the start, but faced competition and duplication from the network's original outlet, WSLA in Selma. Even after the launch of this station, WSLA continued broadcasting ABC programming to the western parts of the market because of UHF's limited coverage area at the time. WSLA would not drop the affiliation until 1968 when the station went dark due to a fire that completely destroyed the WSLA facility; it stayed dark until 1973 when it returned as a CBS affiliate.
After that, Bahakel gradually boosted WKAB's signal to just over 1 million watts. This put it on par with CBS affiliate WCOV-TV, but was still far inferior to NBC affiliate WSFA-TV. Bahakel sold channel 32 in 1985 in order to buy channel 8, which had recently changed its calls to WAKA and was about to activate a new tower that would give it primary coverage of Montgomery.
The station changed its calls to WHOA-TV (for "Heart Of Alabama") on September 4, 1989. The station has gone through several owners, including Media General among others. It became WNCF on July 1, 1999 coinciding with a short-lived return to the local news race. It originally aired a digital signal on UHF channel 51 from a transmitter located at its studios.
It was announced on July 7, 2011 that Bahakel will purchase WBMM from SagamoreHill Broadcasting. Even before the sale received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Bahakel entered into a shared services agreement (SSA) with SagamoreHill resulting in WNCF being operated by WAKA. SagamoreHill will retain responsibility for WNCF's programming, personnel, and finances while Bahakel will provide WNCF with sales and administrative services as well as production and technical services. Despite being the senior partner in the SSA, the combined operation would be based at an upgraded high-definition facility at WNCF's studios. WAKA moved from its longtime home in south central Montgomery to the WNCF facility in 2012. The move was made somewhat easier due to the fact (and the irony) that Bahakel has always owned the channel 32 facility, leasing it to channel 32's subsequent owners after selling the channel 32 license in 1985 to obtain WAKA.
To restate and clarify a rather confusing chain of events: Bahakel owned and operated channel 32 as WKAB until selling it in 1985 to purchase the more desirable WAKA. While Bahakel sold channel 32's license, he continued to own its studios. The WNCF property offers more space for WAKA to upgrade to a full high-definition operation. WAKA had found it difficult to modernize and expand its old facility due to its location close to downtown.
In September 2012, as part of the "beefing up" process of the station afforded by the relationship with WAKA, WNCF increased its power from 50 kW to 720 kW from a new transmitter located at the WAKA tower and transmitter facility. This new location was only 2 miles from the old WNCF tower, which had been sold to a tower company years ago to help out WNCF's bottom line. At that point, WNCF was merely a tenant of that tower, which continues to hold other tenants.
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|32.1||720p||16:9||WNCF-DT||Main WNCF programming / ABC|
|32.2||480i||WBMM-SD||Simulcast of WBMM|
Compared with the area's other television stations (WSFA, WCOV, and WAKA) WNCF has never had much success operating a news department of its own. The first attempt at a newscast began in 1981 while full-length newscasts or short briefs continued to at least 1985. At this point, it maintained a small news presence and produced broadcasts under the NewsWatch 32 branding. Entire news operations would eventually be dropped in February 1999 (and again in 2003 after a second attempt) since WNCF was unable to gain consistent viewership and ratings due to tough competition from the area's other television outlets.
In August 2005, WNCF partnered with the Independent News Network (INN) to produce weekday local news and weather updates. Included in the outsourcing agreement were five-minute cut-ins (at :25 and :55 past the hour) during Good Morning America from 7 until 9 in the morning. There was also a ten-minute abbreviated broadcast seen on weeknights (known as ABC 32 News 10 at Ten) featuring brief news headlines, a weather forecast, and sports scores. The news anchors, meteorologist, and sports anchor were provided by the centralized news operation and other personnel filled-in as needed. WNCF maintained two locally based reporters at its studios who contributed to the updates. All of the aforementioned programming was taped in advance from INN's facility on Tremont Avenue in Davenport, Iowa and then fed to the station through satellite relay.
In January 2007, WBMM entered into a news share agreement with WAKA allowing the big three affiliate to produce the market's first prime time newscast on the former station. Known as CW News at Nine, the weeknight-only broadcast could be seen for thirty minutes and originated live from WAKA's studios featuring most of the CBS affiliate's on-air personnel. WBMM would begin to have competition to its outsourced broadcast on January 7, 2008 after Fox affiliate WCOV-TV entered into a news share arrangement with NBC outlet WSFA. That agreement resulted in Montgomery's second prime time newscast at 9 initially seen only on weeknights for 35 minutes. A weekend half-hour edition began in Summer 2008.
On April 16, 2010, WNCF expanded its partnership with the Independent News Network and launched full half-hour newscasts weeknights at 9 (on WBMM) and 10 on this outlet airing in high definition but still recorded in advance. As a result, WBMM terminated its outsourcing arrangement with WAKA. After WCOV's contract with WSFA expired at the end of 2010, that station entered into another news outsourcing agreement with WAKA to produce a nightly prime time broadcast. On January 1, 2011, WSFA transitioned its prime-time show to its second digital subchannel (then affiliated with the Retro Television Network) resulting in three options for newscasts at 9.
A content sharing arrangement would eventually be set up between WNCF and then sister station WLTZ in Columbus, Georgia to share resources when covering East-Central Alabama since Montgomery and Columbus have coverage areas bordering each other. As a result, additional reporters locally employed by WLTZ were seen during CW News at Nine and ABC 32 News at Ten in HD. After the change in operational ownership to Bahakel, personnel from the NBC station in Columbus were dropped. At some point in Summer 2012, WNCF and WBMM terminated their newscast outsourcing agreement with Independent News Network in preparation for local news production duties to be assumed by WAKA.
WNCF and WAKA officially debuted their combined local news operation on February 2, 2013. Based out of what was formerly WNCF's studios on Harrison Road, a newly expanded high definition-ready facility features state-of-the-art production capabilities which has allowed WAKA to finally offer local news in high definition. The broadcasts on WNCF and WAKA are known on-air as Alabama News Network and shows are simulcasted between the ABC and CBS affiliates on weekday mornings, weeknights at 10, and weekends. The latter two time slots can feature a delay or pre-emption on one network if national programming runs into them.
WAKA airs its own weekday noon broadcast as well as separate newscasts weeknights at 5 and 6. In addition, WNCF has its own local show weeknights at 5:30 while WAKA offers the CBS Evening News. As a result, the ABC outlet airs World News Tonight weeknights at 6 from a second feed offered by the netwotk (live if significant changes have occurred since the 5:30 feed; otherwise on a delay). Despite merging with WNCF, WAKA continues to produce a nightly, half-hour prime time newscast at 9 on Fox affiliate WCOV through a pre-existing news share arrangement. Like all CW Plus outlets, sister station WBMM airs the nationally syndicated morning show The Daily Buzz on weekdays from 6 until 8.