Local News Close-Up: Hotlanta Still Simmering
Reasons to celebrate? A station’s milestone anniversary, a major award, new branding
WSB, the longtime leader in Atlanta TV, is counting down to a significant milestone. The station turns 75 in September. Two prime specials are coming up in March, one looking at 75 years of weather in Atlanta and one looking at sports. There will be a half dozen anniversary specials this year, leading up to what Ray Carter, WSB VP and general manager, calls “a two-hour blowout” September 29, the day of the station’s birth.
“That one’s just gonna have everything you could imagine in a special,” Carter said.
The other stations in Atlanta have stuff to celebrate too. In early February, WXIA was one of five U.S. TV stations to pick up prestigious duPont-Columbia awards in New York, for Rebecca Lindstrom’s #Keeping report on a special-needs child who was abandoned in an emergency room, which revealed “a disturbing flaw in Georgia’s social safety net,” according to duPont-Columbia.
In October, WGCL became WANF, short for Atlanta News First. Sister station WPCH, known as Peachtree TV, is set to launch a batch of new primetime programs.
WAGA has new shows too. Portia, hosted by anchor Portia Bruner and focused on the needs of Black women in the market, debuted September 12. “It’s designed to be aspirational and inspirational,” Bill Schneider, WAGA senior VP/general manager, said.
Also: Check Out Our Local News Close-Up Profiles on Dozens of U.S. Markets
Cox Media Group owns ABC affiliate WSB. Fox Television Stations has WAGA. Gray Television owns CBS affiliate WANF and independent WPCH, along with Telemundo station WKTB. Tegna has NBC station WXIA and MyNetworkTV affiliate WATL. Univision owns WUVG.
Comcast is Atlanta’s primary pay TV operator.
WSB won the key races in November, including 6-7 a.m., 5 and 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to Nielsen, in both households and viewers 25-54, with WAGA in second. In the late news race, WSB averaged 68,041 households at 11 p.m. in November, ahead of WAGA’s 44,725 (WAGA also has news 10-11 p.m.), WXIA’s 38,943 and WANF’s 34,904. In the 25-54 race at 11 p.m., WSB had 23,717, with WAGA just behind at 21,215. WXIA scored 16,142 and WANF had 6,463.
Carter said consistency is key for WSB and its Coverage You Can Count On brand. “You know what that brand means and you trust we will deliver on that promise,” he said.
WSB offers robust investigative work, including a pair of consumer investigative reporters, and has its own helicopter, while the others share. Cox Media Group has a Washington, D.C., bureau, which Carter called a major advantage. The station offers three streaming channels, including one for breaking news and another for weather.
WSB’s rivals say the race is getting tighter, with on-air changes at the market leader, and Atlanta’s many new arrivals turning on their sets without a preferred station. “People move in every day,” said Erik Schrader, WANF-WPCH VP/general manager, said. “They don’t know which station people watched in 1977.”
Carter isn’t buying it. “It’s not very competitive,” he posited.
Everyone is scrambling for ratings points. Besides the call letter change, WANF has added a whopping 50 people to the newsroom in the past year, along with “a ton of newscasts,” Schrader said. That includes 9-10 a.m., 3-4 p.m. and a half hour at 7 p.m.
Gray Television acquired the stations in December 2021. Schrader is motivated to think about WANF playing in the Gray executives’ offices. “This is Gray’s hometown,” said Schrader. “It’s the only hometown station in Atlanta. We take that responsibility very seriously.”
On March 26, WPCH rolls out a new lineup, with the 8-9 p.m. slot home to unscripted shows with Atlanta influencers on center stage. Those include Celebrity Mamas Check In, hosted by Trina Braxton; court show Bury the Hatchet; and My Real Life, hosted by radio personality Sasha the Diva.
“Atlanta programming for Atlanta people,” is how Schrader described it.
Peachtree TV had an hour of original daily news when Gray picked up the stations, and now has 7-9 a.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. newscasts.
Kim Saxon is the news director at WANF-WPCH.
Known as Fox 5 Atlanta, WAGA features 73 hours of local news a week. It aired the weekly politics program Road to November last spring, a few months before the Georgia primaries, and again in the fall, months before the general election. Quarterly program Deidre Dukes Reports focuses on a single topic each episode, whether it’s violence among young people or affordable housing. Also quarterly, The Next Atlanta, hosted by George Chidi, features “long-form conversations with community leaders and newsmakers,” said Schneider.
Portia is in the 1 p.m. slot on WAGA, which also does 41 hours of Atlanta Falcons programming per year.
Schneider grew up in the region. “My dad calls me to tell me what we do right and what we do wrong,” he said. “I’m lucky that way.”
Gray acquired Telemundo Atlanta last year. With local news at 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m., the station will offer 10 community events this year, designed to “educate and empower the Latino community in Georgia,” according to Maria Bastidas, WKTB VP and GM. That includes the “Todos Somos Heroes” event, which celebrates unheralded heroes in the market.
Ivan Shammas just reached his first anniversary as president and general manager of WUVG, in addition to a similar role in Raleigh. The station debuted weekly Contigo en la Communidad in August. Translating to “with you,” Contigo highlights individuals, businesses and services in the community. Adriana Andrade hosts and is the station’s community empowerment director.
Delta Airlines, UPS and Coca-Cola are among the massive corporations that call Atlanta home. It’s a trucking/transport hub with a growing technology sector, and a massive TV and film production base. Series shot in Atlanta include Loki, Stranger Things and The Walking Dead. Tyler Perry Studios is based here.
The metropolitan area continues to grow. The latest Nielsen DMA rankings has Atlanta at No. 6. “There’s construction everywhere you look. It’s absolutely incredible how much construction is going on in the city,” said Schneider.
New arrivals are drawn to a diverse community, pro sports teams, a lively restaurant scene and all four seasons, with a mostly mild winter. They also add to Atlanta’s notorious traffic.
Scott Stucky, WAGA VP/news director, said there’s never a slow news day in Atlanta. “At your editorial meetings, unless it’s Christmas day, you don’t sit around and stare at each other, wondering what you’re gonna do today,” he said.
Unlike some markets, when a job opening is listed in Atlanta, countless TV news professionals envision themselves in the ATL. “Atlanta is a city where you put the name on the job description,” said Schrader, “and you’re going to get a lot of interested people.” ■
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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.