Local News: Sweltering Orlando Heats Up

Christy Turner reports for Cox Media Group station WFTV in Orlando.
Christy Turner reports for Cox Media Group station WFTV in Orlando. (Image credit: WFTV)

Florida news gatherers and residents look at mid-September as the peak of hurricane season. Tropical storms and hurricanes are more than weather stories in Orlando. “Weather is a huge priority,” WOFL-WRBW senior VP and general manager Mike McClain said. “It’s an all-departments effort.”

WOFL has Fox 35 Storm Alert warnings, and ran the special Tracking the Tropics in late August. In recent years, Telemundo station WTMO compelled its weather presenters to get their meteorological certification. WKMG offers viewers “Forecasting Change” segments on climate change. 

“Weather can be a matter of life and death on a pretty regular basis around the market,” said Jeff Hoffman, WKMG VP and general manager.  

Also Read: Orlando TV Stations Quick to Help Viewers

Cox Media Group holds market leader WFTV, an ABC affiliate, and independent WRDQ. Hearst Television has NBC affiliate WESH and The CW outlet WKCF. Fox has WOFL and MyNetworkTV affiliate WRBW, known as Fox 35 Plus. Graham Media Group owns CBS station WKMG. NBCUniversal holds WTMO and Univision has WVEN. Spectrum is Orlando’s primary pay TV operator. 

Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne moved up a slot to DMA No. 17 this year, bypassing Miami-Fort Lauderdale. New arrivals mean viewers who have not yet settled on their preferred news station. 

Orlando is best known for its theme parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, but the market offers more. An Orlando Economic Partnership slogan says, “You Don’t Know the Half of It.” There’s a vibrant business community and the Space Coast, including Blue Origin and SpaceX. “It feels like there’s a rocket going up every week,” said Paul Briggs, WFTV-WRDQ VP and general manager. 

Lots of Competition

Exceptionally strong owners make the TV market super-competitive. “If you’re a news person at heart, this is the place to be,” Melissa Medalie, VP and news director at WOFL-WRBW, said. “You need to win every minute, every day, and you can’t have a bad day. It pushes us to be better — all of us.”

WFTV won the 6-7 a.m. household race in August and WKMG won viewers 25-54. WFTV won 5 and 6 p.m. in both races, while WESH, which had the Olympics until Aug. 8, took the 11 p.m. title. WESH had a 2.64 in 11 p.m. households, ahead of WKMG’s 2.18, WFTV’s 1.75 and WTMO’s 1.21, with WVEN posting a 1.06 and WOFL a 1.04. In the 11 p.m. demo, WESH scored a 1.31 and WFTV a 0.96. WKMG had a 0.78, WOFL a 0.39 and WTMO a 0.25.

WFTV thrives on balanced reporting, an experienced anchor corps and robust investigative work, such as a late August story on drinking water in Orange County running low, due to a shortage of a purifying element used to treat COVID patients. “Viewers can rely on us to do investigative, to do important journalism,” Briggs said. 

Indie WRDQ, known as TV 27, does 7-9 a.m. weekday news, and a 10 p.m. newscast Monday to Sunday. 

WESH special Crusade for Change, part of Hearst TV’s Project CommUNITY initiative, focused on social justice. The station has moved some anchors around, including Summer Knowles shifting from 4, 5 and 10 p.m. to 6 and 11 p.m., and Meredith McDonough departing the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts to do morning news. Michelle Imperato moved from the morning newscast to
5 and 10 p.m. 

“We always evaluate where our strengths may be and try to fit the right anchors into the right time periods with the right teams,” said John Soapes, WESH president and general manager. “This gives us the best opportunity to win the time periods and be our best in the market.”

WESH was tied for tops in Olympics Opening Ceremonies ratings among LPM markets, which Soapes said was a result of creative services director Steve Rifkin’s promotional work and the steamy market’s love for summer sports. WESH has the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl in early 2022. “We’ve got some big events here all in a matter of a few months,” said Soapes. 

Unlike its competition, WKMG does not have a duopoly partner. The station wasn’t much of a news player when Hoffman arrived in 2015, but he, news director Allison McGinley and creative director Kym Peoples have hustled to build the News 6 — Getting Results profile. “Now I think we’re established,” said Hoffman. “People know what we stand for.”

WKMG’s ClickOrlando.com has emerged as a digital force in central Florida. 

Fox 35 picked up a couple experienced anchors this summer, with Ray Villeda jumping from WNBC New York and John Brown, who used to anchor Fox 35’s Good Day Orlando, departing KTVI St. Louis to anchor WOFL’s evenings. McClain described Brown as “a fan favorite,” and “not the kind of anchor who sits behind the desk and waits for someone to write copy.” 

WESH Orlando News at Sunrise Team

WESH news team members (from l.): meteorologist Kellianne Klass, traffic anchor Jaclyn DeAugustino, and news anchors Jason Guy, Meredith McDonough, Sanika Dange and Sheldon Dutes. (Image credit: WESH)

WOFL has syndicated You Bet Your Life and Nick Cannon premiering this month. 

WTMO added noon news during the pandemic and debuted morning traffic and weather updates, running a couple minutes a pop. A morning newscast isn’t in the plans quite yet. “Of course I want to, but the station needs to continue to improve its foundation, its workflows,” president and general manager Migdalia Figueroa said. “We’re still building one step at a time.”

Figueroa was WTVJ Miami VP of news before moving into the WTMO GM office in August 2020. 

Stations are connecting with consumers on digital platforms. WTMO plans a daily digital newscast to debut in the fourth quarter. In May, WFTV premiered Breve Del 9, a digital daily newsbrief hosted by anchor Nancy Alvarez. Briggs noted “the tremendous Hispanic community” in DMA No. 17. 

WOFL is the East Coast hub for streaming platform LiveNOW, serving the Fox Television Stations in the a.m., with Phoenix the hub in the later hours. “We’re really excited to be able to be in this space,” said McClain. “It’s a feather in our cap that the company chose us.”

Orlando turned on ATSC 3.0 this summer.

Disney Turns 50

Theme parks represent a giant chunk of the local economy. When they’re doing well, the whole market does well. “The pandemic has had an impact on tourism,” Soapes said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to recuperate from that.”

Walt Disney World turns 50 this year. The anniversary festivities begin Oct. 1. “Every day, Disney is in the news,” said Medalie. 

The theme parks mean residents almost always have a friend visiting Orlando. “Every person you ever met in your life is going to come through town,” Hoffman said. 

The heat this time of year is oppressive, but cooler temps await. Briggs described winters as “spectacularly beautiful.” He added, “Seven months of perfect weather almost makes up for four and a half months” of crippling heat. 

Orlando welcomes people from all corners of the globe, whether they’re tourists or new residents, which tends to make them friendlier to more recent arrivals. “People here are warm and welcoming,” said McClain. “It’s a place where people are from all over, and that’s what I like about it. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.