Local News: Pep Raleigh

News team from WRAL in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
The news team from Capitol Broadcasting's WRAL, an independent, locally owned CBS affiliate. (Image credit: WRAL)

The growth in Raleigh-Durham is undeniable. The market, which includes Fayetteville, North Carolina, shifted from Nielsen’s No. 27 DMA to No. 24 from 2020 to 2021, with people drawn to the well-established research base, a growing tech sector, favorable temperatures and attributes of cosmopolitan living without some of the downsides. 

One fairly recent arrival is Rob Elmore, WTVD president and general manager. Elmore was the station’s news director for close to 17 years, then was news director at KABC Los Angeles before shifting back to Raleigh-Durham to run WTVD, known as ABC11, last year. 

“What I love is how dynamic, how evolving the area is,” he said. “It’s getting younger, it’s getting more into tech, it’s become a financial hub. It’s one of the fastest-growing markets in the country.”

Akila Davis of ABC

Akila Davis of ABC (Image credit: WTVD)

ABC owns WTVD. Capitol Broadcasting holds NBC-Fox duo WRAL-WRAZ. Nexstar Media Group has CBS station WNCN. Sinclair Broadcast Group owns The CW affiliate WLFL. Univision Communications has WUVC and NBCUniversal acquired Telemundo station WRTD from ZGS in 2018. 

Spectrum is the major pay TV operator, and has Spectrum News 1 North Carolina

WRAL and WTVD have had some epic battles in local news. In September, WTVD had a 4.5 household rating at 6 a.m., and a 2.1 in viewers 25-54. The WRAL-WRAZ simulcast did a 4.4 and a 2.1 in those slots. At 5 p.m., WRAL won the close household and viewers 25-54 races, WTVD just behind, and at 6, WRAL won both by more comfortable margins. Late news was a toss-up. WRAL posted a 3.9 in households, ahead of WTVD’s 3.8 and WNCN’s 1.0. In the demo, WTVD scored a 1.5, just ahead of WRAL’s 1.4. WNCN posted a 0.3. 

WRAL morning team

WRAL morning team (Image credit: WRAL)

WRAL-WRAZ simulcasts local news from 4:30 to 7 a.m., and again at noon and 4 p.m. Capitol Broadcasting is the rare independent, locally based station owner. “It’s very helpful,” said Joel Davis, WRAL-WRAZ VP and general manager, who added that the stations are not for sale. “We don’t have to worry about our stock price. We can keep an eye on our goals long-term and we’re much more community focused.”

WTVD has significantly closed the ratings gap in Raleigh-Durham. As part of the ABC-owned group, the station deploys a data journalism team and race and culture reporter to dig deep on stories and provide a unique perspective. “ABC11 has done a terrific job during the pandemic of overserving the audience and better reflecting the audience, and reflecting what people really care about,” Elmore said. 

News director Bervette Carree said lessons learned during the pandemic, in terms of conveying an impactful message in a careful, meaningful way, have carried over to other stories. “The strategy to storytelling in regards to COVID, we use that same strategy to approach other stories and to create high-impact storytelling,” she said, summing up the strategy as “content that has context.”

News team from WTVD Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

ABC-owned WTVD has significantly closed the ratings gap with market leading WRAL.  (Image credit: WTVD)

All weekday ABC11 newscasts now originate from a street-level studio in downtown Raleigh, on Fayetteville Street. Elmore described the area as “where everything happens. It places us in the heart of the market.”

Capitol Broadcasting bought a low-power station in the market, and is converting the religious station to local sports channel WNGT. Capitol also owns the Durham Bulls, and will show those games on the new station. “We are all in on local and the local ownership allows us to do that,” said Davis. 

WNCN has been making its own strides. John Lewis was named general manager in April 2020, coming from Greenville. He said consistency has helped WNCN move ahead, following frequent updates to the brand and logo. “CBS 17 — Local News That Matters resonates extremely well,” he said. “We’re finding that consistency and seeing the growth we have from that, long-term, slow, steady upticks, it’s fun.”

Ed Trauschke runs the news department at WNCN. Lewis believes WNCN offers more local content in its newscasts than some of the competition. “You may not see a national story in our newscast,” he said. “You may see an entire newscast of local stories.”

Univision-owned WUVC airs local news, and Telemundo-owned WRGT does not. WUVC has 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts, and a newsmag in those slots on weekends. WUVC’s Contigo brand (With You) offers guidance on topics such as water safety. WUVC has a content-sharing arrangement with WTVD, and the pair produces a joint segment weekly. 

Hispanic Community Makes Gains

The demand for Spanish-language media is growing. Eddy Elguezabal, president and general manager, Univision Atlanta, Philadelphia and Raleigh, said the market’s Hispanic community saw major gains in the census, climbing from 10% to 13%. “The reality is, this market is growing tremendously,” he said. “There’s an amazing opportunity for our stations and our advertisers.”

All the stations are hustling to get ahead. WRAL-WRAZ has seven people in its meteorology department. WRAL added a 7 p.m. news last year. KGW Portland anchor Dan Haggerty comes on board at WRAL-WRAZ this month. He and GM Davis previously worked together in San Diego. “I found him to be one of the smartest, most curious journalists I’ve worked with,” said Davis. 

Don Schwenneker was named WTVD chief meteorologist in late May, after Chris Hohmann retired. Around the same time, Kweilyn Murphy arrived from WDSU New Orleans to take Schwenneker’s spot in the morning news. Elmore described a “positive impact” amidst the talent moves. 

WTVD delivered 450 meals, and about as many handmade cards from children, to healthcare workers. “That’s our secret sauce — community connection,” said Elmore. 

The market is home to the so-called Research Triangle, comprising Duke, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State. Residents believe Raleigh-Durham will continue to grow thanks to a diverse portfolio of businesses. On the tech side, Apple plans to invest over $1 billion on a new campus and engineering hub. 

“A lot of big companies are making a big bet on the area,” Elmore said, “and we love being in the middle of all that and reflecting that.”

The market’s growth is likely to continue. Marking a year at WTVD next month, News director Carree is from the market. It looks different from how it looked when she was growing up. “I’m just amazed at the growth,” she said. “I never had to use a GPS to get around, but I do need to do that now.”

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.