Local News Close-Up: South Florida Holds the Keys to Successful Local News

WSCV Miami News
Fausto Malave and Daisy Ballmajo anchor at Telemundo's WSCV. (Image credit: WSCV)

Hurricane season began June 1 and, right on schedule, Miami had a hearty blast of extreme weather when June arrived. Some 10 inches of rain fell in Miami across three days, causing serious flooding, and the winds topped out around 40 miles an hour. 

“It wasn’t officially a tropical storm,” Darryll Green, VP and general manager, WFOR-WBFS, said. “But it was very close.”

Tropical storms and worse are part of life in South Florida and Miami got a wakeup call. “I would say it was a dry run,” Jorge Carballo, president and general manager, WTVJ-WSCV, said. “But it was really more of a wet run.”

Weather aside, there is never a shortage of news in Miami-Fort Lauderdale. Sometimes, the market makes national news. It was a year ago that condominium Champlain Towers South collapsed, killing close to 100 people. Four years ago was the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, a little north of Fort Lauderdale.  

Also: Read More Local News Close-Up Coverage Here

DMA No. 18 is full of worthy entrants, in English and Spanish, in the news race. Sunbeam Television has Fox affiliate WSVN. NBCUniversal owns WTVJ-WSCV, an NBC-Telemundo pair. CBS News and Stations also has a duopoly, in WFOR-WBFS, the latter a MyNetworkTV affiliate. Berkshire Hathaway owns ABC outlet WPLG, the lone TV station in Warren Buffett’s vast and varied portfolio. Univision Communications has WLTV and E.W. Scripps owns The CW station WSFL. 

Comcast is the primary pay TV operator in Miami-Fort Lauderdale. 

The market fell from Nielsen’s No. 16 DMA to No. 18 from 2020 to 2021, despite gaining more than 51,000 homes. “I believe the market is being substantially undercounted,” Bert Medina, president and CEO of WPLG, said. 

Serious Players in News

The ratings race is a tight one and the Spanish-language players are super-strong competitors. In 6-7 a.m. ratings from January through May, WSCV won households and 25-54, with WPLG at No. 2 in households, and WSVN No. 2 in the demo. 

At 5 p.m., WSCV won households and 25-54, with WLTV in second in both. Among English-language stations, WPLG was tops in households and WSVN in 25-54. 

At 6 p.m., WSCV won households and 25-54, and WLTV was second in both. Among English-language players, WPLG took households and WSVN won the demo. 

At 11 p.m., WSCV won both categories with a 4.6 and 1.6. WLTV did a 3.1 and 1.3. WFOR had a 1.6 and 0.6 and WPLG posted a 1.6 and 0.5. WSVN had a 1.3 and 0.6, after a 1.8 and 0.9 at 10 p.m. 

WTVJ has improved its standing in Miami-Fort Lauderdale. Carballo, who had been general manager of WSCV, gained oversight of WTVJ in early 2020, following the retirement of general manager Larry Olevitch. “The fact that we are now two stations that are fully integrated has been very helpful in the last two years,” Carballo said. 

He spoke of a more focused and more aggressive newsroom. The station duo has nine meteorologists and, for the past year-plus, its own helicopter. WTVJ-WSCV’s contract in a helicopter share with the competition ended, and the NBCU duopoly now flies solo. NBCUniversal, Carballo said, “does not hesitate to spend the dollars when there’s value.”

WTVJ launched a 7 p.m. news during the pandemic. It was a temporary program that saw success and earned a permanent spot on the schedule. Carballo said giving each newscast a distinct identity has helped WTVJ, and WSCV, stand out in a crowded marketplace. 

Belkys Nerey and Craig Stevens on WSVN Miami.

Belkys Nerey and Craig Stevens share the anchor desk at Sunbeam’s WSVN.  (Image credit: WSVN)

WSVN added a Sunday 7-8 a.m. newscast last year, and runs 68 hours a week of local news. Anchor team Craig Stevens and Belkys Nerey have 19 years together, and it shows on the air. “They know the market inside and out and have a lot of loyalty and trust from viewers,” Paul Magnes, Sunbeam co-president and WSVN general manager, said. “They know each other so well they could easily finish each other’s sentences.”

WSVN reporters are quick to hop on a plane to cover a key story, such as the Miami Heat in Boston for the Eastern Conference finals. “We continue to be very aggressive on sports travel,” said Magnes. 

Two vital figures in the Sunbeam/WSVN universe died in recent years. Robert Leider, former WSVN general manager and executive VP, passed away in June 2019. He spent 40-plus years at Sunbeam. In July 2020, Ed Ansin, owner of Sunbeam Television, died at 84. Following his death, Ansin’s eldest son Andy became CEO, while his son James and Paul Magnes were named co-presidents. 

“Ed passed down all of his qualities — his knowledge, his character, his business sense — to his kids,” Magnes said. “That’s evident every day.”

CBS Stocking Up

Darryll Green took over as WFOR-WBFS general manager in March 2021, and is the first African-American station GM in Miami. WFOR has picked up points in late news. In March, it led the English-language pack at 11 p.m. with 39,800 viewers and 10,800 in the demo, ahead of WTVJ at 34,000 and 9,500. Green mentioned “newsroom voices from all the different communities that make Miami such a unique and great place to live. We’re working hard to reflect that.”

Thirteen to 15 new positions have been filled, Green added, primarily in news. “We’ve received a lot of support from corporate,” he said. 

Streaming channel CBS News Miami launched in January and Kerri Cavanaugh became WFOR-WBFS news director in June after a stint at Magid.

Reporters Alexis Frasier of WPLG Miami

Alexis Frazier on the scene for Berkshire Hathaway-owned ABC station WPLG. (Image credit: WPLG)

Berkshire Hathaway picked up WPLG from Post-Newsweek Stations (now Graham Media Group). Medina said the Berkshire philosophy is: “Buy a company. If you trust and believe the CEO and team, then basically let them do their thing.”

WPLG has a bureau in Washington, D.C., and another in Bogota, Colombia, while one in Havana was shut down amidst COVID-19. “We do plan to reopen as soon as they give us clearance,” said Medina, who describes WPLG as “a regional player.”

The general managers say the economy in Miami-Fort Lauderdale is relatively solid — it’s dealing with inflation and supply chain issues, like the rest of the country, but seeing tourism pick up following the pandemic funk. Automotive advertising is down amid the chip shortage, but the stations should start to see political spending for Florida’s governor and U.S. Senate races getting turned on in the coming weeks. “We expect a pretty competitive race in the back half of the year,” Magnes said. 

Station chiefs speak of a diverse marketplace, one where the weather is dandy for most of the year. There’s big-time sports, including the NBA’s Heat, Major League Baseball’s Marlins, the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the NFL’s Dolphins, scenic views in most every direction and a lively local news scene in two languages to keep viewers up to date. “The weather is amazing, the people are terrific, the culture is great,” Magnes said. “It’s an exciting place to live.” ▪️

For a look at Local News market profiles from the past couple of years, arranged on a map, click here.

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, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.