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Banking on Growth

Asked to describe Charlotte, N.C., in a word, local broadcasters agree that “growing” sums it up. A banking center that's home to Wachovia and Bank of America headquarters, Charlotte is indeed fast on the rise: Station managers expect its Nielsen DMA rank to climb from 26 to 25 in September.

“The growth here really is phenomenal,” says Lee Armstrong, VP/general manager of ABC affiliate WSOC.

Charlotte took in $211.7 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $198.8 million the year before. Cox-owned WSOC grabbed the biggest slice in 2005 (the most recent year station numbers are available) with $55.2 million, ahead of Lincoln Financial's WBTV ($44.6 million) and Belo's WCNC ($37 million). Rounding out the competition are WCCB, Cox's independent WAXN, and Capitol Broadcasting's CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates.

As the longtime market leader, WSOC celebrated its 50th birthday with yet another strong sweeps, winning morning and evening news in February. The station also introduced high-definition newscasts late last month. “The consistency of the local-news coverage has been the bread and butter for the station lo these many years,” says Armstrong, who retires next month (see sidebar). “We're on top of the local-local part of news.”

And so is the competition. CBS affiliate WBTV split the total day ratings crown with WSOC while taking primetime and late news. WBTV has closed the gap with what Senior VP/General Manager Mary MacMillan calls “compelling customer-focused content” and a strong crew of veterans. “Our team has stabilized over the last few years,” she says. “We've got great people at all levels.”

True to its Fox affiliation, WCCB is looking to shake things up. “There's an awful lot of homogenized [news] product around,” says VP/General Manager John Hutchinson. “Our station exudes a Fox identity.”

Several local programs at WCCB sport “Fox News” branding, such as the Daily Show-inspired Fox News Edge and the jock-minded Fox News Got Game. Hutchinson describes the newscasts as “bright, contemporary, fast-paced, hyper-local and creative.” The station's mission statement: Create a Disturbance.

Community programming is a big part of the mix. The Carolina Traveler, on NBC affiliate WCNC, explores the region for unique characters, such as a lady who transforms gourds into art objects. It airs at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, where, says President/General Manager Stuart Powell, it's consistently No. 1: “There's probably no end to the stories we're able to tell.”

The Capitol duopoly might not have much market share, but VP/General Manager Will Davis plans to out-local the competition, with shows like Charlotte Now. The Sunday show on WJZY, he says, is the only primetime public-affairs program in the market. “If something of critical importance happens in this market, it's on the show,” says Davis. “Localism is where we think the future is.”

Next: Hartford-New Haven, Conn.

Armstrong started her career by working for Ted Turner at WTCG, the station that would later become WTBS, where her duties often included dressing up as Snorky the Elephant from the Banana Splits children's series for special public appearances. Armstrong fondly recalls, “I was the only one who figured out how to dance in those round feet.”

WBTV General Manager Mary MacMillan describes Armstrong as “an excellent competitor,” adding, “She's a groundbreaker at Cox, and it's been great to have her in the market.”