Down in the Valley

The two top stations for news in Chattanooga, Tenn., are heading into a crucial May sweeps. NBC affiliate WRCB and ABC affiliate WTVC have traded late-news wins in the last two ratings books and compete with equal ferocity in early evening. And with American Idol on fire and CBS' prime time strong, Fox affiliate WDSI and CBS affiliate WDEF are in the race, too.

Looking for an edge in news, the two leaders have recently shuffled anchor teams. At WRCB, late-news anchor Bill Markham now heads a new investigative team and anchors the 5:30 p.m. news, while Greg Glover has replaced him at 11 p.m.

WTVC elevated Calvin Sneed to 11 p.m. and moved 30-year station vet Bob Johnson to noon and 6 p.m. Reporters get additional airtime on WDSI's 10 p.m. newscast, which WTVC produces. “We want to continue to build all of our personalities and get them exposure,” says General Manager Mike Costa.

The stations also compete in early mornings, when WRCB leads. Last fall, WTVC replaced its local chatfest with a Headline News-style show, filled with quick hits of news and traffic, and debuted This-N-That, a new 12:30 p.m. talk show. “The days of coffee talk and call-in morning shows are gone,” says Costa. “Coming out of the noon news, This-N-That is like a community bulletin board.”

In the fall, WRCB will add Dr. Keith Ablow Show and The Rachael Ray Show to bolster its daytime.

Stations took in $45.5 million in gross revenue last year, according to BIA Financial, up slightly from $43.2 million in 2003. As in ratings, WRCB and WTVC are closely matched.

Regional and national ad spending, particularly automotive, is often siphoned away by the larger Nashville, Knoxville and Atlanta markets nearby, say station managers. But political ad spending in Nielsen's No. 86 market should jump. “Indications are [the ad market] has begun to turn around,” says WRCB General Manager Tom Tolar.

But with Media General set to sell WDEF, and WDSI parent Pegasus Communications struggling financially, things are still uncertain. And this fall, Meredith-owned WB affiliate WFLI will become a CW station, while WDSI will carry My Network TV (see box at right).

WFLI General Manager Deb Corson expects a smooth transition. “We're keeping the WB shows that people are fans of, and our syndication doesn't change,” she says. “This was the path of least resistance.”