WBFF, channel 45, is a Fox-affiliated television station located in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. WBFF is the flagship station of the locally based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which also operates MyNetworkTV affiliate WUTB (channel 24) and CW affiliate WNUV (channel 54), through respective local marketing agreements with Deerfield Media and Cunningham Broadcasting. All three share studios, while WBFF and WNUV share transmitter facilities on 41st Street off the Jones Falls Expressway on the landmark "Television Hill"(shared with WJZ-TV and WBAL-TV) in the Woodberry section of north Baltimore.
WBFF signed on on April 11, 1971, founded by what was then called the Chesapeake Television Corporation, which was controlled by Julian Sinclair Smith. It was Baltimore's second commercial UHF station and second independent station, signing on four years after WMET-TV (channel 24, frequency now occupied by WUTB) began operations. Both stations aired general entertainment programming, but WMET's owners experienced financial problems and were forced to take their station off the air in 1972.
Even without direct competition, and operating on a small budget, WBFF still struggled for strong programming during the 1970s as Baltimore's network affiliates – WBAL-TV, WJZ-TV and WMAR-TV – continued to acquire off-network syndicated programs during this period. It did not help matters that Washington's WTTG and WDCA were readily available both over the air (Washington DC stations had a strong signal into Baltimore) and on cable. Channel 45 did find an advantage in having a decent library of movies, westerns, and older sitcoms at its disposal. Like other independent stations of that era, WBFF also ran network programs preempted by the local affiliates, local public affairs programs, and played cartoons and series re-runs in the afternoon for the after-school kids crowd in a show hosted by nostalgic "Captain Chesapeake" (played by George Lewis), with his side-kick "Mondy" the sea monster as they cruised through the Bay, who was a fixture on WBFF from its beginnings until 1990, with his famous cheery greeting: "Ahoyyy Crewmembers!!".
Despite its financial restraints, WBFF became profitable enough that Julian Smith decided to expand his broadcast interests. Through a Chesapeake Television subsidiary, Commercial Radio Institute, Smith launched a new independent station in Pittsburgh, WPTT (now WPNT), in 1978. In 1984, Commercial Radio Institute signed on Smith's third station, Columbus, Ohio independent WTTE. That same year, WBFF received local competition again when WNUV-TV, then a two-year-old subscription television outlet, began to adopt a general entertainment schedule during the daytime and full-time by 1986.
In 1985, Julian Smith merged his three stations into the Sinclair Broadcast Group, and around this time one of his sons, David D. Smith, took a prominent role in the operations of the three stations. In 1986, Sinclair agreed to affiliate WBFF and WTTE with the fledgling Fox Broadcasting Company, which debuted on October 9 of that year. The growth and rise of Fox coincided with that of Sinclair Broadcast Group, which expanded its reach during beyond Baltimore, Columbus and Pittsburgh during the 1990s. But first, Sinclair attempted to increase the reach of its flagship station in a big way.
In early 1991, Sinclair filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for a new station on VHF channel 2 – occupied by WMAR-TV – under a subsidiary called Four Jacks Broadcasting. If it were granted, Sinclair would have moved the WBFF intellectual unit (including its Fox affiliation) from channel 45 to the stronger channel 2, and with Sinclair then selling off WBFF's existing channel 45 allocation. The channel 2 analog signal traveled a very long distance under normal conditions. However, those plans never materialized, and WMAR-TV (then affiliated with NBC) was instead sold to the E. W. Scripps Company. In the end, Scripps' license to operate WMAR-TV on channel 2 was reaffirmed by the FCC. Resigned to remain on channel 45, Sinclair refocused on strengthening WBFF, and in June 1991 opened up the station's news department with Baltimore's first 10:00 p.m. newscast. WBFF is the only television station in the Baltimore market that has never changed its primary network affiliation.
Sinclair purchased Abry Communications, owner of WNUV, in 1994. As duopolies were not allowed at the time, channel 54 was spun off to Glencairn Ltd., a company owned by former Sinclair executive Edwin Edwards. However, Glencairn's stock was almost entirely owned by the Smith family. In effect, Sinclair now had a duopoly in Baltimore – and had emasculated its major rival in its hometown. Sinclair further circumvented the rules by taking over WNUV's operations under a local marketing agreement, with WBFF as senior partner. Sinclair tried to buy Glencairn outright in 2001, but was unable to buy WNUV due to the FCC's rules on dupolies. Despite its relatively large size, the Baltimore market has only seven full-power stations (or six, if two stations licensed in the market that are operated by Maryland Public Television are treated as one) – two less than what FCC regulations allow to legally permit a duopoly (the FCC requires a market to have eight unique station owners once a duopoly is formed, effectively limiting duopolies to markets with at least nine full-power stations). Glencairn changed its name to Cunningham Broadcasting and retained ownership of WNUV. However, nearly all of Cunningham's stock is held in trusts owned by the Smiths. This de facto duopoly continues to this day, while the close relationship between Sinclair and Glencairn/Cunningham has led to claims that Cunningham is merely a corporate shell that Sinclair uses in order to evade FCC ownership restrictions.
While WBFF entered the new century thriving as both locally and as a Fox affiliate, its network partner threatened the station's immediate future. In 2001, Fox's parent company, the News Corporation, became the new owner of Baltimore's UPN affiliate WUTB (the former WMET-TV) through its purchase of Chris-Craft Industries. Rumors abounded that Fox was considering moving its programming from WBFF to WUTB. In a move made clearly to protect its home interests, Sinclair persuaded Fox to sign a long-term contract to keep WBFF with the network. The same threat re-emerged in January 2006, when WUTB lost its status as a UPN affiliate when that network's owner CBS Corporation and Time Warner, owners of The WB Television Network, announced that those two networks would be shut down and replaced by the new CW Television Network. However, WBFF's Fox affiliation was protected again when News Corporation announced that WUTB would become an affiliate of its new MyNetworkTV service.
On May 1, 2006, the station launched its , the first non-weather subchannel in the market. In
On May 15, 2012, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox agreed to a five-year extension to the network's affiliation agreement with Sinclair's 19 Fox stations, including WBFF, that will run through 2017. This included an option (that was exercisable from July 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013) to allow Sinclair to purchase WUTB, resulting in the creation of a virtual triopoly with WBFF and WNUV; while giving Fox the option to buy any combination of six CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates (two of which were standalone stations affiliated with the latter service) owned by Sinclair in three of four markets: Raleigh (WLFL and WRDC), Las Vegas (KVCW and KVMY), Cincinnati (WSTR-TV) and Norfolk (WTVZ). Under the agreement and the WUTB purchase option, Sinclair would pay $52.7 million to continue WBFF's affiliation with Fox; however, if Fox exercised the option to buy any of the Sinclair stations that were included in the option, the affiliation payments would decrease to $25 million. On November 29, 2012, Sinclair exercised its option to purchase WUTB through Deerfield Media for $2.7 million. Following the completion of the sale, WUTB began to be operated by Sinclair under a local marketing agreement, as with Deerfield's other stations. In January 2013, Fox announced that it would not exercise its option to buy any of the Sinclair stations included in the earlier purchase option. On May 6, 2013, the FCC granted its approval of WUTB to Deerfield Media. Sinclair officially took over the operations of WUTB eight days later, although the sale was not formally consummated until June 1. With the completion of the WUTB sale, this makes Baltimore the largest market where one company (outside of non-commercial public television station groups) operates a virtual triopoly between full-power stations.
On the afternoon of April 28, 2016, WBFF's studios were evacuated in response to a threat by a person wearing a hoax bomb; the suspect also allegedly set his vehicle on fire in the station's parking lot. The suspect was later shot and apprehended by police; besides a desire to share eschatological content with the station (a USB drive with videos was confiscated by a security guard), no specific motive for the incident was determined.
The station's digital channel is multiplexed:
|Channel||PSIP Short Name||Video||Aspect||Programming|
|45.1||WBFF-HD||720p||16:9||Main WBFF programming / Fox|
On October 27, 2014, WBFF announced that their 45.2 subchannel would convert to carrying WeatherNation TV, featuring local and national forecasts, at the beginning of November. It is currently unknown what the fates of the This and ZUUS subchannels are.
WBFF shut down its analog signal, over UHF channel 45, on February 17, 2009, the original target date in which full-power television stations in the United States were to transition from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate (which was later pushed back to June 12, 2009). The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 46, using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former UHF analog channel 45.
WBFF had announced in September 2015 that test broadcasts would begin in Baltimore and Washington, DC for ATSC 3.0 (dubbed "Futurecast") via a two-transmitter SFN with one transmitter in each city on UHF 43 delivering 4K UHDTV and mobile feeds to viewers. This station, named WI9XXT, began experimental broadcasts on August 24, 2015, and the Special temporary authority ends on February 25, 2016. WI9XXT's broadcasts are from WRC-TV's tower in the northeast section of Washington, DC, and from WBFF's tower in Woodberry, Baltimore.
On May 1, 2006, WBFF launched a new service on its second digital subchannel (45.2) originally called WBFF-2, which was later renamed Good TV. This digital-only channel featured classic television programs such as Magnum, P.I., Mission: Impossible, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, In the Heat of the Night and Good Times (its format predated the existence of several nationally distributed digital multicast networks focused on classic television programming such as Me-TV, Antenna TV and Retro Television Network). In addition, "Good TV" offered expanded coverage of church services on Sunday mornings, local events, and paid programming. This channel ceased broadcasting on or around September 30, 2008, to make way for the This TV network
WBFF-TV presently broadcasts 49 hours 50 minutes of locally produced newscasts each week (with 8 hours 35 minutes on weekdays, 3 hours 50 minutes on Saturdays and 3 hours 5 minutes on Sundays); in regards to the number of hours devoted to news programming, it is the highest local newscast output among Baltimore's broadcast television stations as well as in the state of Maryland in general. It is also the highest output of Sinclair Broadcast Group's stations (both out of its Fox affiliates and the company's overall television stations); it is also the only Fox station owned or managed by Sinclair prior to its series of station acquisitions that began with the 2011 purchase of Four Points Media Group that produces early evening and weekend morning newscasts (two stations that have been acquired since then or are in the process of being acquired currently run early evening weeknight newscasts).
Sinclair decided to invest in developing a news department for WBFF, with the station launching a nightly 10 p.m. newscast on June 3, 1991. The station added a weekday morning newscast in March 2000. In February 2003, it added a weeknight 11 p.m. newscast that was broadcast from Sinclair's now-defunct centralized news service, News Central, located in Hunt Valley. The start time of the weekday morning newscast was moved to 5:30 a.m. and an early evening newscast at 5:30 p.m. was subsequently added to the schedule in January 2005. On June 2, 2008, WBFF became the first Baltimore television station to begin broadcast its local newscasts in high definition.
Jeff Barnd, a former WBFF news anchor, also hosted and provided commentary for the Sinclair-distributed syndicated news program American Crossroads. WBFF was featured in an episode during the third season of The Simple Life. On that episode, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie took control of the station's weekday morning newscast. The two read the weather forecast and messed with the teleprompter. Tony Harris, later a CNN anchor, was once WBFF's lead anchor. In 2015 former WJZ-TV Co-anchor Kai Jackson was named WBFF's Lead Anchor.
Every Wednesday morning during the regular school year, a randomly selected child nominated by his or her teacher is selected to help meteorologist Jonathan Myers during the 6:30 and 6:40 a.m. forecast segments. The child usually helps with the weather report, gets a tour of WBFF, and receives a video copy of their performance; the segment is called "Weather Kid Wednesday" (a segment that has been used on other Sinclair-owned stations such as Oklahoma City sister station KOKH-TV).
On January 24, 2011, WBFF expanded its weekday morning newscast from four to five hours to 5-10 a.m. weekdays, with the 9 a.m. edition called Fox 45 Good Day Baltimore. On April 9, 2012, WBFF expanded its early evening newscast by adding another half-hour at 5 p.m., shifting Judge Judy to a full-hour at 4 p.m.; the 5:30 p.m. newscast remains, but is treated as a separate newscast. In 2015 the station added a 4 p.m. newscast pushing Judge Judy back to 3 p.m. On January 20, 2013, WBFF debuted weekend morning newscasts, featuring a two-hour Saturday morning newscast and three hours of newscasts on Sunday mornings (with the third hour of the Sunday newscast airing after Fox News Sunday).