The station's transmitter is about 40 miles (64 km) north of other stations in the Grand Rapids market, and its over-the-air signal is unavailable in the two southwestern tiers of Michigan as a result. Since April 2009, however, WZZM has been available on most cable providers in Southwest Michigan, even though Battle Creek-based WOTV (channel 41) serves as the ABC affiliate for that part of the Grand Rapids market. Until then, viewers outside of the reach of WZZM's signal relied on out-of-market stations from South Bend, Indiana or Lansing to view syndicated programs carried by WZZM.
A local group known as West Michigan Telecasters received a construction permit to operate a television station on VHF channel 9 in 1961. However, later that year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised the channel positions in the area, resulting in the VHF channel 13 allocation moving from Cadillac to Grand Rapids.WWTV in Cadillac, then on channel 13, was required to move to channel 9 as a result of the action.
WZZM-TV officially signed on the air at 6:30 p.m. on November 1, 1962. The station went off the air just 20 minutes later, after a tube on its transmitter failed; it returned to the air 10 minutes later. The celebratory opening show anchored by news director Jack Hogan. WZZM certainly had humble beginnings; its first broadcasts were from a banquet room-turned studio at the Pantlind Hotel (now the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel). Live broadcasts included This Morning with Bud Lindeman, Shirley's Show and an evening news program, though the station's most notable show is The Bozo Show, which was broadcast on the station for more than 30 years. Bill Merchant was the original Bozo, with Dick Richards as "The Ringmaster"; Richards took over the role of Bozo shortly thereafter.
As a result of the swap with WWTV, WZZM was now short-spaced to WSPD-TV (now WTVG) in Toledo, Ohio. It had to build its transmitter about 40 miles farther north than the other stations in West Michigan and redirect its signal in order to protect WSPD-TV from interference. As a result, WZZM's signal barely reached Kalamazoo and just missed Battle Creek. Southwestern Michigan viewers had to rely on WSJV in Elkhart, Indiana, WXYZ-TV in Detroit, or WLS-TV in Chicago for ABC programming until WUHQ-TV (channel 41, now WOTV) signed on from Battle Creek in 1971. Sometime in late 1964, WZZM-TV signed on a satellite station in Kalamazoo, operating on VHF channel 12.
In August 1971, WZZM opened a multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art studio in Walker, with Congressman Gerald Ford presiding over the ceremony. In the following years, WZZM became a formidable force in the Grand Rapids market, gathering high ratings and a reputation as having one of the top newscasts in the West Michigan area.
WZZM's longtime logo, utilized through most of the 1997 until September 2008. In the final years of this logo it was redesigned to feature a glossy finish to match the new ABC 'glass ball' logomark.
In 1978, West Michigan Telecasters sold WZZM to Miami-based Wometco Enterprises. WZZM (95.7 FM) was sold at that time, becoming WZZR. Wometco's stations were sold to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) in 1985; KKR subsequently sold the station to Price Communications in 1986. A local investor, Richard Appleton, formed Northstar Television in 1989 and purchased WZZM. Appleton tried to acquire WUHQ in 1991 and turn it into a satellite of WZZM, which would have created a strong combined signal with about 40% overlap. However, the proposed deal fell through at the last minute. Ironically, WUHQ had served as a de facto satellite of WZZM for most of its history; its engineers had to switch to and from WZZM's signal on most occasions before the station was able to acquire a network feed from ABC.
In the 1990s, WZZM made an array of changes with the new millennium looming. The station purchased new news vehicles, a new tape format (Beta SP) was introduced to digitize all media, a new radar receiver and new weather cameras were added across the state; it also built a new set, coinciding with the introduction of a new logo. In early spring of 2006, WZZM finalized a major station overhaul, complete with a new logo, graphics, and promotional campaign.
In late September 2006, WZZM announced on-air through a series of commercials that the morning newscast (with Derek Francis, Lauren Stanton and Hally Vogel) moved into first place in viewership, according to Nielsen.
On September 14, 2006, WZZM broadcast its first local program in high definition, the special Great Lakes Adventure. Lee Van Ameyde and Juliet Dragos hosted the special about Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge, as well as Michigan's wine country, and charter boats. In 2007, WZZM launced three websites co-developed with Gannett's Michigan newspapers: MichiganMoms.com (now MomsLikeMe.com), MichiganSmartShopper.com, and MyMitten.com.
Around the first week of October 2012, Gannett entered a dispute against Dish Network regarding compensation fees and Dish's AutoHop commercial-skip feature on its Hopper digital video recorders. Gannett ordered that Dish discontinue AutoHop on the account that it is affecting advertising revenues for WZZM, thus causing major problems in the West Michigan area. Gannett threatened to suspend its contact with the satellite provider should the skirmish continue beyond October 7 and Dish and Gannett fail to reach an agreement. The two parties eventually reached an agreement after extending the deadline for a few hours.
On June 29, 2015, the Gannett Company split in two, with one side specializing in print media and the other side specializing in broadcast and digital media. WZZM was retained by the latter company, named TEGNA.
In 2005, WZZM launched its second digital subchannel as a weather channel called the "13 On Target Weather Network"; the channel is carried on Comcast and Charter Communications cable systems in West Michigan on channel 247 and is streamed online on the station's website. In January, 2015, WZZM launched its third digital subchannel carrying Justice Network, which is carried on Comcast channel 297 and Charter Communications channel 181 in West Michigan.
WZZM carries ABC's entire programming lineup, including the Litton's Weekend Adventure block (which is syndicated almost exclusively to ABC stations) on Saturday mornings, which provides most of the station's required E/I content. Syndicated programs airing on WZZM include Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, The Closer, The Insider and Entertainment Tonight. The former two are distributed by Disney-ABC. The latter two are distributed by CBS Television Distribution. Theater 13 is the umbrella title for movies that are broadcast by the station. WZZM is one of the first stations in Michigan to produce and broadcast local commercials and station promotions in high definition. It is also the first station to air segments such as its popular high school sports franchise 13 On Your Sidelines in high definition.
Take Five & Company (originally named Take Five Grand Rapids) is a live talk and entertainment show that airs weekdays at 9:00 a.m. (it originally aired at 5:00 p.m. from its debut in early 2004 until September 2005, when it moved to 4:30 p.m.). The program is hosted by Catherine Behrendt. On August 25, 2008, the program's title was revised to Take Five and Company, expanded from a half-hour to one hour and moved to 9:00 a.m. (displacing Live with Regis and Kelly, which had held that timeslot on WZZM for more than 20 years; Live was then moved to WWMT).
The program utilizes some of the same soft news features that were included on the 5:30 Edition newscast in the 1990s, such as movie reviews and cooking segments. Segments featured on the series include "Rescue My Home", which is similar to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and occurs several times a year, in which a local homeowner is chosen to have a room in their house undergo a makeover. In early 2005, there was an "Extreme Mini-Makeover" feature, similar to Extreme Makeover. In addition to a week's worth of segments about the project, WZZM airs primetime "Rescue My Home" specials. In addition to segments about gardening, cooking, parenting and healthy lifestyle tips, movies, restaurants, money management and auto maintenance, the show features celebrity interviews and performances by local and national music artists visiting Grand Rapids. In 2008, Take Five began a new monthly segment, called the "Take Five Book Club", which provides picks of certain books and includes a discussion about the book on the first Monday of the month; the segment lends itself to a partnership with the Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague.
Beginning September 14, 2015, Take Five & Company will be replaced with My West Michigan, an improved format that will focus on a combination of news, entertainment and lifestyles programming. My West Michigan will be hosted by longtime WZZM anchors Lauren Stanton and Jennifer Pascua.
WZZM presently broadcasts 34 and a half hours of locally produced newscasts each week (with five and half hours on weekdays and three hours on Saturdays and four hours on Sundays). The station maintains partnerships with two co-owned newspapers in the market, the Grand Haven Tribune and The Daily News in Greenville, to provide weather forecasts. Chief meteorologist George Lessens writes a weekly column for Advance Newspapers, which includes the forecast for the upcoming week, as of February 2006; it originally had a review of the previous week's weather conditions.
For most of its history starting in 1969, the station's newscasts were branded as Eyewitness News until the late 1990s, when it was retitled to the current WZZM 13 News. In 1971, WZZM became the first station in the West Michigan to use a weather radar, which was upgraded in 1974 to a computerized color version. In 1993, WZZM debuted a half-hour news program called 5:30 Edition; the program included soft news features, in addition to news headlines. Many of its feature segments were phased out and the program became a standard newscast by 1997. WZZM started expanded coverage of high school football in 1995 with the debut of the weekly seasonal highlight program Friday Night Football; a few years later, the program was renamed to 13 On Your Sidelines.
On June 7, 2009, the station suspended its weekend morning newscasts (which debuted in 2006), due to economic conditions; on March 5, 2011, WZZM resumed the Saturday and Sunday morning newscasts after a two-year absence, airing for two hours from 6 to 8 a.m. on both days. They now also offer a one hour, 9 a.m. Newscast on Sunday mornings after GMA.
In late 2009, WZZM became the third television station in West Michigan to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in widescreenstandard definition (WWMT was the last major station in West Michigan with 4:3 standard definition newscasts until April 16, 2011, when it became the second station in the market to upgrade to full high definition newscasts). In June 2010, WZZM rehired Brent Ashcroft, who had left the station twelve years prior to become sports director at Fox affiliate WXMI (channel 17). On December 3, 2011, WZZM became the fourth and final television station in West Michigan to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition.
WZZM-TV and its closest rival, WOOD-TV, along with WXMI, focus their newscasts on the northern half of the market (Grand Rapids and Muskegon) with a secondary focus on Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
On September 8, 2014; WZZM began airing news at 5 p.m. WZZM now has local news from 5-6:30 p.m.
WZZM's team of meteorologists compares the accuracy of the previous day's forecast in comparison to the actual weather of the current day for its "On Target Forecast". If the day's weather is accurate to the previous day's forecasted prediction, a graphic is displayed showing an arrow shooting and hitting a bullseye. If the temperature was only a degree or two off from the prediction, it is called a "Very Close" forecast. If the forecasted temperature was 3 to 5 degrees off or if the forecast was inaccurate in its prediction of sunlight or precipitation, it is called a "Close" forecast. If the forecast is more incorrect than that, it is called a "Try Again," and the arrow shoots past the target completely.
WZZM's weather radar is often branded as "13 X-RAD 3D", utilizing data from National Weather ServiceDoppler radars to produce a 3D radar image. My 13 On Target Weather is a customizable e-mail and website service powered by myweather.net, which features headlines, weather conditions and severe weather warnings.
The original weatherball was perched on top of the Michigan National Bank building in downtown Grand Rapids, and was constructed in 1967. The colors it displayed were representative of the forthcoming weather pattern. A poem was written about the weatherball's colors:
Weatherball red, warmer weather ahead.
Weatherball blue, cooler weather in view.
Weatherball green, no change foreseen.
Colors blinking bright, rain or snow in sight.
However, due to questions about its stability, it was removed in 1987, after 20 years of existence. WZZM located the weatherball, which had resided in a Kalamazoo junkyard since its removal, and purchased it in 1999. In 2002, plans were announced to refurbish the stainless steel ball, and add new neon lights. The weatherball was perched on a 100-foot (30 m) monopole, and was lit on May 7, 2003. It is visible from both Interstate 96 and U.S. Highway 131, the two major freeways in the area.
Shortly after the reintroduction of the WZZM 13 Weatherball, a contest was held where viewers submitted video recordings of songs to coincide with its meanings. The winner chosen had their song appear on a new commercial that aired to inform viewers on the significance of the colors. The winners were Dale Ray Schumaker and Allison Rae Schumaker of Holland with their jingle, "Know Before You Go". "DJ Dale" Schumaker and Allison Rae Schumaker are prominent hit songwriters.
On June 5, 2008, the Weatherball was struck by lightning for the first time in its history. The lightning scrambled the electronic components of the Weatherball, causing it to glow in a rainbow of colors, and it had to be turned off temporarily for repairs as a result. The station also has a costumed character mascot of the Weatherball named "Blinkie". A similar weatherball is also located on the Citizen's Bank building in Flint. Gannett-owned ABC affiliate KXTV in Sacramento, California also owns a weather beacon.
The Weather Chaser was introduced in 2001; it was a mobile version of the in-studio weather office capable of live broadcasts from anywhere in the broadcast area. During severe weather, the meteorologist using the Chaser was able to track and report storm conditions on location. It has not been mentioned on-air in recent months. It was spotted being used in August 2006 as a live shot vehicle at the Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon, Michigan.
The Weather Chaser (seen in the above photo) has since been transformed back into a live truck; a new Weather Chaser was introduced in 2011 and is an SUV, and was used on May 12, 2011 in Grand Haven, Michigan at Mary A. White Elementary School during a visit by chief meteorologist George Lessens to help the students launch a weather balloon.
The "Weather Deck" is a deck set up outside of the station's Walker studios for use during weather forecasts on WZZM's newscasts (and is similar to such outdoor weather setups seen on other Gannett-owned stations). Most weather reports are done outside, except during weather conditions that make it unsafe for the meteorologist to go outside, such as during severe weather. The weather deck was introduced in 1999; from 1995 to 1999, the evening meteorologist reported from the station's parking lot. In the spring of 2009, WZZM stopped using the Weather Deck during its newscasts as lighting for the deck became too expensive for the station to maintain. Instead, these weather reports are done from inside the main news studio. The noon newscast occasionally features a "Weather Deck Guest" live interview segment. Regular weather segments resumed from the Weather Deck at some point during 2010.