CBS 8 History
The history of CBS 8 is unique among America's television stations. While we have always broadcast on Channel 8, we haven't always been WAKA or even a CBS affiliate. In fact, our offices weren't always in Montgomery!
Our history was filled with struggles early on but much recent success thanks to you, our viewers.
Channel 8 first hit the airwaves as Selma TV station WSLA on March 17, 1960. In the beginning, it was an independent station but soon became an ABC affiliate. Network programs were picked up from Birmingham's WBRC through an antenna and then rebroadcast to our part of the state.
It was a makeshift way to receive and transmit network programming -- primitive even by the standard of the day, which was to receive network programs through telephone lines. It would be decades before satellites would be the standard way stations received outside programming.
It would be several years before Montgomery would get an ABC station of its own. At that time, ABC itself was a fledgling network with few hit programs.
WSLA's owners were confident brighter days were just around the corner. The Brennan family and their company Deep South Broadcasting also owned WBAM AM 740, a powerhouse Montgomery radio station. When they received the FCC license for Channel 8 in 1954, weeks before Montgomery's WSFA Channel 12, they immediately planned to move the station's tower closer to Montgomery and increase the station's transmitting power.
Those moves would require government approval. Standing in WSLA's way was Montgomery's then-CBS affiliate, WCOV Channel 20. Starting in 1954 and lasting 30 years, WCOV fought every attempt WSLA's owners made to improve Channel 8's signal.
Some people's TV sets couldn't even receive UHF channels at all. WCOV saw that tiny WSLA would be a big threat.
So Channel 8 made due with only 3,000 watts of visual power. All the while, the owners believed it wouldn't be long before the FCC would allow them to make much-needed technical improvements.
The dreams of owners and workers at WSLA went up in flames on August 1, 1968. The entire station burned to the ground in a fire.
The station went dark and would stay that way for years. Maybe because of the legal fight with WCOV, the potential of Channel 8 didn't seem to be clear to anyone.
WCOV actually investigated buying WSLA, lowering its power, so that legally it could simulcast WCOV's programming to West Alabama. This time, WCOV was dealt a defeat when the FCC said no.
No one knows why WCOV's owners didn't simply buy WSLA and operate it as a full-power station -- taking the action they had long feared that others would.
Better times finally arrived in 1972. Charles Grisham, the owner of CBS affiliate WHNT in Huntsville, bought the station.
WSLA was rebuilt in Selma and returned to the air in 1973 broadcasting in color. This time, Channel 8 was a CBS affiliate -- a direct challenge to WCOV's CBS affiliation.
During this time, WSLA's facilities made dramatic improvements with new equipment and a growing commitment to covering the news. But without a stronger signal, the station's ability to reach all viewers still couldn't be realized.
Bonus Video: A look back at the 20th anniversary of CBS 8 in 1980.
By the 1980s, the FCC was beginning to loosen its heavy regulations on local TV stations. At the same time, WCOV was running out of arguments to prevent WSLA from reaching more Alabama families.
In 1984, Grisham was finally allowed to boost the transmitter's power and build a new, taller tower in Lowndes County. Hundreds of thousands of people would now be able to watch Channel 8 for the first time in places like Montgomery, Alexander City, Troy and Andalusia. What had been the Selma TV market would be absorbed into the Montgomery market.
This was just the first of many major changes at the station. The call letters were changed from WSLA to WAKA on Oct. 28, 1984 so that viewers wouldn't confuse the station with Montgomery's NBC affiliate, WSFA.
Bahakel Communications of Charlotte, NC, bought the new WAKA in 1985, the same year that Channel 8 started broadcasting from its new 1,757-foot tower with a full 316,000 watts. Now Channel 8 could be seen from the suburbs of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa to the Florida panhandle and from near the Mississippi state line to extreme East Alabama. It is the largest coverage area in the state of Alabama.
Those weren't the only changes. Soon, portions of "Action 8 News" would be broadcast, not from the main studios in Selma, but from the station's brand new building on East Boulevard in Montgomery. For a while, some station functions remained in Selma, but eventually, the entire operation moved to the Capital City.
Even then, the station has never forgotten its roots in Selma. It has always kept an office there with a full-time news reporter and an account executive dedicated to the needs of West Alabama.
Meanwhile, WCOV's fears were realized when CBS dropped the station as an affiliate on Jan. 1, 1986. The station came under new ownership and joined the upstart Fox network.
With legal battles, power upgrades and the move to Montgomery behind us, the station has never stood still.
In the past decade, we began a new commitment to our viewers in South Alabama by opening the South Alabama Newsroom in downtown Greenville and to people in Pike County with the Troy Newsroom. Our news crews can easily cover those parts of the state and reporters can broadcast Live. Those newsrooms complement the Montgomery and West Alabama Newsrooms, giving us a huge advantage over the competition when news breaks across our 15-county viewing area.
In a dramatic shift from the days that WCOV battled our attempts at boosting our signal, we now produce "WCOV News at Nine" seven nights a week for our one-time foe.
CBS 8 is now making history with a unique shared services agreement involving four of Montgomery's other leading stations, WNCF ABC Montgomery, WBMM CW Montgomery, MeTV Montgomery and Heartland Montgomery. We are now under one roof as Alabama News Network, with cutting-edge high definition equipment and a state-of-the-art studio. It's a multi-million dollar investment to bring you local news, weather, sports and entertainment from the most advanced television center in Alabama.