Waterman Agrees To Sell ‘NBC2’ In SWFL


In April 1979, an agreement was reached that allowed the owner of a pair of San Antonio radio stations to acquire a UHF television station serving Southwest Florida — at the time a sleepy corner of the Sunshine State that served as the terminus of Interstate 75.

Today, Fort Myers, Naples and the communities in-between represent the fastest-growing metropolitan area of the U.S., a locale where Waterman Broadcasting has long served as the owner of that UHF property, the market’s NBC affiliate.

Pending FCC approval, a larger privately held television broadcasting company will become the new owner of WBBH-20, branded as “NBC2.”

Hearst Television parent Hearst is acquiring WBBH for an undisclosed price.

Paperwork had not been posted to the FCC’s LMS as of RBR+TVBR’s Wednesday deadlines.

WBBH-20 also broadcasts the Heroes & Icons network on a digital sub-channel.

In addition to ownership of WBBH, Hearst will assume Waterman Broadcasting’s shared services relationship that allows it to handle the programming of Southwest Florida’s ABC affiliate, WZVN-7. It is licensed to Montclair Communications, and offers the MeTV and Dabl networks on its digital sub-channels.

The acquisition of WBBH-TV expands Hearst’s presence in Florida to a key growth market, creating a sibling to WESH-2 in Orlando-Daytona Beach; growing WPBF-25 in West Palm Beach-Vero Beach-Stuart; and unaffiliated WMOR-TV in Tampa-St. Petersburg.

During Hurricane Ian, WBBH was largely uninterrupted with its storm coverage, experiencing minimal damage compared to the other independently owned TV station serving the market, Fort Myers Broadcasting Co. CBS affiliate WINK-11.

Commenting on the WBBH purchase, Hearst President/CEO Steven R. Swartz said, “This transaction provides an excellent strategic fit for our company and underscores our commitment to local television broadcasting and to leadership in our television markets across the country.”

Hearst Television President Jordan Wertlieb added, “Bernie and Edith Waterman have been outstanding stewards of WBBH-TV and the programming relationship with WZVN-TV. They have served the viewers of Fort Myers and Naples with distinction since 1979. Of course, both stations provided important lifesaving coverage during Hurricane Ian and have been providing information and updates as the area recovers and rebuilds. We are proud to have been selected to continue the legacy of such distinguished broadcasters.”

Speaking for Waterman Broadcasting, EVP/GM Steve Pontius commented, “Waterman Broadcasting has always placed paramount importance on local journalism and unwavering service to the community. Southwest Florida viewers have known for decades that they can ‘Count on NBC2.’ I am confident that Hearst is the best television broadcaster in America to continue that commitment.”

Speaking for the Watermans, Bernie Waterman’s widow, Edith Waterman, said, “The decision to sell WBBH is challenging and emotional. We have had the great privilege of proudly serving southwest Florida for more than four decades. Broadcasting has filled our lives with wonderful relationships and deep ties to our communities. I am so grateful to all the talented and dedicated employees who made our innovative stations pillars of their communities and great places to work and grow over the last 67 years.”

Bernard Waterman died in 2017.

“Hearst Television has long admired the manner in which Waterman Broadcasting, together with Montclair Communications, under the leadership of Lara Kunkler, have demonstrated a consistent commitment to excellence in both news and community service; these are the twin pillars of success in local television and are core tenets of Hearst,” added Michael J. Hayes, Hearst Television’s Chief Operating Officer. “We look forward to upholding that tradition in the rapidly growing Southwest Florida region.”

Fort Myers/Naples is the 55th-largest television market in the United States. The acquisition would add a 12th NBC affiliate to the Hearst station group. Hearst also owns 14 ABC affiliates. Both represent significant partnerships with the respective networks, the company said.

WBBH-TV went on the air in December 1968 as the market’s NBC affiliate. Waterman Broadcasting Corporation was founded by Bernard Waterman in 1956 when he purchased WAAB-AM in Worcester, Mass.; and later the radio stations in San Antonio. WBBH and what is now WZVN began a programming relationship in 1994.

The anticipated closing date for the transaction is third-quarter 2023, pending completion of all regulatory approvals.