Local News Close-Up: Lots of Upside in Upstate South Carolina

 Carol Clarke and Nigel Robertson anchor for Hearst TV's WYFF.
Carol Clarke and Nigel Robertson anchor for Hearst TV's WYFF. (Image credit: WYFF)

People in northern South Carolina were a bit anxious as Hurricane Ian bore down on the region, but were relieved to see a minimal impact on Greenville, Spartanburg and other cities in the area. The Upstate region has been on a hot streak, popping up on several best-places-to-live lists. CNN Travel, for one, included Greenville on a best-places-to-go-in-fall list, along with Madrid, Mexico City and Cape Town, among other far-flung locales. 

“It’s a great place to be right now — I think the secret’s out,” WSPA VP and general manager Kenny Lawrence said. “The market is becoming more and more metropolitan.”

The market is Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson, with Asheville located in North Carolina. Northeastern Georgia is part of the DMA too. Nielsen has it as market No. 38. It has the coast to the east and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north. 

WYFF and WHNS are licensed to Greenville, WLOS to Asheville and WSPA, as its call letters suggest, to Spartanburg. WYFF, a Hearst Television-owned NBC affiliate, is the market leader. Gray Television holds Fox affiliate WHNS, which goes by Fox Carolina. Sinclair Broadcast Group has ABC outlet WLOS and MyNetworkTV station WMYA. Nexstar Media Group owns CBS affiliate WSPA and The CW outlet WYCW. 

Also: Check Out Our Local News Close-Up Profiles on Dozens of U.S. Markets. 

Neither Univision nor Telemundo have stations in the market, but WYFF recently launched a weekly Spanish-language digital newscast called Aqui Para Ti

Spectrum is Greenville-Spartanburg’s primary cable operator. 

WYFF ran the table in the September sweeps. The station won the 6-7 a.m. race, in both households and the 25-to-54 demo, and the 5 and 6 p.m. contest too. At 11 p.m, WYFF posted a 3.1 household rating and 1.0 demo score. WLOS had a 2.0 and 0.3 and WSPA did a 1.9 and 0.5. WHNS, which also does 10-11 p.m. news, had a 1.2 and 0.3 in households and 25-to-54 at 11 p.m. 

WYFF stays strong thanks to stability, president/general manager John Humphries said, noting the recent ownership changes for stations around the market, including WSPA and WHNS. He mentioned a “significant investment” from Hearst TV. “As a privately held company, they operate differently,” Humphries said. “There’s a longer view. We’re not guided or mandated by the next market call.”

That investment includes Doppler radar for weather and the market’s only station helicopter. 

Stability also includes the established “Live, Local, Breaking News” brand and “Circle 4” logo. Humphries called Carol Clarke “the dean of anchors.”

This month, WYFF claimed a National Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Video. Employees see the phrase Commitment to Excellence when they walk into WYFF. “We don’t ever rest on our laurels — we’re constantly looking for ways to improve,” Humphries said. “We’re in everybody’s crosshairs. We’re the one everyone wants to take down.”

How to Take Down Top Dog

Indeed, the rivals are ramping up. Bryce Caldwell took over as WHNS VP/GM in December, when Gray acquired Fox Carolina. “It was very obvious there was a ton of unrealized potential for this station,” he said. 

Caldwell cited an investment of “hundreds of thousands of dollars right out of the gate,” including a head count increase of 10%. Fox Carolina boosted local programming by 35% this fall, according to the station. The 6 p.m. news went to an hour. The 10 a.m. lifestyle show Access Carolina debuted, as did Friday-night sports show Fox Carolina Tailgate. Marybeth Jacoby is news director at Fox Carolina. Looking ahead to January, an 11 a.m. news launches, with Hayley Spitler anchoring. When that happens, Fox Carolina will be local from 4:30 a.m. until noon. 

Fox Carolina weather billboard

WHNS, known as Fox Carolina, tracked Hurricane Ian as it approached South Carolina. (Image credit: WHNS)

“That will give us the opportunity to have another hour of news where we are unopposed by the big three competitors,” Caldwell said of the midday program. 

Fox Carolina’s meteorological team has the new branding First Alert Weather. 

WSPA, known as 7News, has full-service newsrooms in Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg. 7News has been in its location on the main drag in Greenville a little over a year. Lawrence described “a huge stage presence” for the studio, with walls of glass that give passers-by a peek at the newscast. 

Kyle Brinkman runs the newsroom and Susan Pascal is creative services director. Amy Wood is a well-established anchor at WSPA, with more than three decades at the station. 

WYCW has 7-9 a.m. news, and its 10 p.m. newscast went to an hour earlier this year.

Nexstar’s Big Bunch

WSPA’s Lawrence detailed the perks of being part of Nexstar, which has 200 stations in its portfolio. “We feed each other when relevant,” Lawrence said, mentioning Nexstar stations sharing hurricane coverage and planning to do so when Herschel Walker debates Sen. Raphael Warnock in Savannah October 14. 

WLOS debuted 30-minute Saturday Sports Night this fall, running after the ABC football game in prime and covering regional football. The station debuts a new set later this month. “This state-of-the-art set is impressive,” Courtney Youngblood, WLOS VP/general manager, said. “We simply can’t wait to share it with our loyal viewers.”

Amy Wood and Taylor Murray of WSPA

Amy Wood and Taylor Murray anchor for WSPA.  (Image credit: WSPA)

The market continues to grow. Nielsen had Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson picking up more than 150,000 homes from 2020 to 2021. Lawrence mentioned seeing four or five construction cranes out his office window.

Political spending has been disappointing but 2020 was “massive,” said Humphries, and 2024 “is gonna be historical,” said Lawrence. 

The market used to be a textile power, but has deftly shifted to high-tech and manufacturing, including major automotive outfits, such as a BMW Manufacturing facility in Spartanburg that employs 11,000. 

Residents describe the Upstate South Carolina market as a well-kept secret, but one that won’t remain a secret for much longer. “We just think we’ve got a real gem, a real jewel down here,” Humphries said. “It’s a great place to live and a great place to raise a family.” ■

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.