The station first signed on the air on July 1, 1949, originally broadcasting on VHF channel 4 as WBRC-TV (standing for Bell Radio Company, after Fountain Heights physician J.C. Bell, founder of radio station WBRC (960 AM). the "-TV" suffix was dropped from the call sign in June 1999). Although WBRC-TV was the first television station in Birmingham to be granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it is the second-oldest television station in Alabama, signing on just over one month after WAFM-TV (channel 13, now WVTM-TV), which debuted on May 29. It was originally owned by the Birmingham Broadcasting Company, run by Eloise D. Hanna, along with WBRC radio. Hanna's first husband, M. D. Smith, had bought WBRC radio from Bell in 1928. Her son, M.D. Smith III, who worked at the radio stations in advertising sales and was later promoted to program director and vice president, ran the television station as its operations manager. His son, M.D. Smith IV later organized Smith Broadcasting, which purchased WAFG-TV, Channel 31 in Huntsville, Alabama in 1963, with himself as operations manager. The call letters were immediately changed to WAAY-TV. M.D. Smith III is also named a remote General Manager of WAAY-TV from Birmingham.