WMAR-TV, virtual channel 2 (UHF digital channel 38), is an ABC-affiliated television station licensed to 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 transmitter and antenna, which is on the landmark three-pronged candelabra broadcast tower, is located on Television Hill in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore.
On cable, the station is carried on channel 12 on most Baltimore area cable systems, including Verizon Fios. In most outlying areas of the market, the station is carried on channel 2.
WMAR first began broadcasting on October 27, 1947. It was the first television station in Maryland and was the fourteenth television station in the United States to begin commercial operations. WMAR was founded by the A. S. Abell Company, publisher of the Sunpapers (The Baltimore Sun and its evening counterpart, The Evening Sun) and was the first completed phase of the Sunpapers ' expansion into broadcasting; the newspapers also held construction permits for WMAR-FM, which signed-on at 97.9 MHz (frequency now occupied by WIYY) in January 1948 and a proposed WMAR (AM), which never made it to air. Channel 2's first broadcast was a pair of horse races emanating from Pimlico Race Course.
WMAR-TV's studios, offices, transmitters, and towers were initially located at the present-day Bank of America Building in downtown Baltimore; the studios were later shifted into a larger space adjacent to the building. WMAR-TV moved into its present facility, known originally as "Television Park" on York Road, in May 1963.
Channel 2 was an independent station at its launch, 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 weather reports).
In 1948, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made Baltimore a separate media market. On March 29, 1948, WMAR-TV was announced as CBS's third full-time television affiliate, after WCBS-TV in New York City and WCAU-TV in Philadelphia.
One of WMAR'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 and Olympic coverage. 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.)
In 1959, WMAR-TV teamed up with WBAL-TV (channel 11) and WJZ-TV (channel 13) to build the world's first three-antenna candelabra tower. The new 730-foot (223 m) tower was built on the newly named "Television Hill" (formerly known as "Malden Hill") in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore, which significantly improved the station's signal coverage well beyond Central Maryland.
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 Sunpapers and WMAR-TV was one of several combinations that were "grandfathered" under these rules.
Switch to NBC
On March 3, 1981, CBS announced that it would be moving its affiliation to WBAL-TV, Baltimore's NBC station. Among its reasons for making the switch, CBS cited WMAR-TV's poor newscast ratings and preemptions of network show for syndicated programs, local public affairs, and sports coverage. After briefly considering becoming independent once again, channel 2 quickly cut a deal with NBC, and Baltimore's first affiliation switch took place on August 30, 1981.
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.
On May 28, 1986, the A.S. Abell Company was purchased by the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Company, the then-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 Sunpapers and sold WMAR-TV (and WRLH-TV in Richmond) to Gillett Communications in July 1986.
After filing for bankruptcy sometime later, Gillett restructured its television holdings into SCI Television, and in the early 1990s, SCI put WMAR-TV back 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 canceled 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 spring of 1991.
As this scenario was playing out, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the parent company of UHF station WBFF (channel 45), 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 allocations 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 three 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; both of those outlets 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 after signing a groupwide affiliation deal with Westinghouse that also switched the affiliations of its sister stations in Boston and Philadelphia to CBS. 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.
ABC had been reluctant to drop its affiliation with WJZ-TV, which had been the highest-rated station in Baltimore for over a quarter-century and was one of the strongest ABC affiliates in the nation. In contrast, WMAR-TV had been a rating also-ran for three decades. Indeed, ABC's ratings in Baltimore went into a steep decline after the switch, with a number of programs falling from first to third in the Baltimore ratings in one stroke.
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.
On April 16, 2018, WMAR unveiled a new logo, and reverted to branding under its call letters rather than "ABC 2". The new branding was designed to reflect on WMAR's heritage, incorporating a modernized version of the stylized "2" logo it had used in various forms from 1975 to 1998.