Charleston, S.C.: High Times in Low Country

The greatest thing about Charleston, S.C., say station managers in the No. 100 DMA, is, well, Charleston. History, the ocean, golf, elite restaurants (“low-country” cuisine features soul-food and Cajun influences) and charming vibe make for a winsome place to live and work. “Charleston has a way of seducing you,” says WCSC VP/General Manager Rita Littles Scott. “The city just feels romantic.”

Even better, local business is booming; Charleston is ranked No. 87 in terms of revenue. While some locals would prefer the city stay its current size, everyone seems to agree that it's poised to grow. Charleston's tech sector is rising, Google is opening a call center, new residents—including a large number of retirees—are opting for Charleston in droves (the market has gained 50,000 residents since 2001), and tourism continues to boom. Managers say Charleston flourished as a vacation destination in the wake of 9/11; people still desired an exotic getaway but didn't want to venture as far as, say, Europe.

“It's not one of those places you only visit once,” says WCIV President/General Manager Suzanne Teagle. “The lifestyle can't be beat.”

The primary source of jobs in Charleston is the Naval Weapons Station, which employs around 18,000. And with much of the market rural, stations are working hard to remind and educate viewers of the analog TV switch-off in February.

WCSC is a news force in Charleston. The CBS affiliate took total day household ratings honors in February, along with morning, evening and late news. And the station just might be getting stronger: Raycom recently took it over after buying it and two others in the region for $583 million from Lincoln Financial Group. With Raycom's news expertise and strong presence in the area (it also owns WIS Columbia and WTOC Savannah, among others), WCSC stands to benefit. “Raycom has a real good hold on the coastal communities around here,” says Littles Scott.

The market booked $50.9 million last year, according to BIA Financial. WCSC led the 2006 pack (the last year for which station earnings are available) with $16.6 million, ahead of Media General's NBC outlet WCBD ($12.23 million), Allbritton's ABC affiliate WCIV ($8.9 million) and Cunningham's Fox outlet WTAT ($8 million). Sinclair owns the local MyNetworkTV station, and WCBD airs CW programming on a digital multicast signal.

Stations are experimenting with new newscasts. WTAT unveiled an hour program at 7 a.m. a year ago (WCSC produces its news), and WCBD, which gives the CBS affiliate a run for its money in evening news, recently added a 7 p.m. Saturday newscast. “It fits with the 24/7 news philosophy of Media General,” says VP/General Manager Rick Lipps.

But it's clearly WCSC's title to lose. Littles Scott says the station's strength lies in its coverage of all corners of the expansive DMA, as well as the experience and polish of its talent. “Any of our anchors could be top anchors anywhere in the U.S.,” she says. “There's a big-market feel to the newscasts.”

Maybe it's Charleston's charm that keeps talent from jumping to bigger ponds. “I love the water, the history, the blue sky,” says Lipps, who's been there for eight months. “I pinch myself every time I look out the window.”

Next: Des Moines-Ames, IA

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.