Looking to Dominate D.C. in Two Languages

WRC Washington has long been a local news dynamo in our nation’s capital, but parent NBCUniversal had major plans to extend its presence in the market and connect with a whole new batch of Beltway viewers. With Jackie Bradford as NBCU’s president and general manager in Washington, the group acquired Washington’s Telemundo affiliate, and launched Telemundo 44 on New Year’s Day 2018.

Jackie Bradford

Jackie Bradford

Relocated to the home base of WRC and NBC News’ Washington bureau, Telemundo 44 greeted viewers with a new set and additional newscasts.

While many staffers from the previously ZGS Communications-owned station stayed on board, Bradford oversaw the hiring of another 30 people for Telemundo 44 (call letters WZDC).

WRC and WZDC are co-located on Nebraska Avenue, sharing an assignment desk. WRC, of course, has a full lineup of local news that rules the D.C. races, starting the day at 4 a.m. WZDC has an hour-long news at 5 p.m., along with half-hours at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Eyeing more time slots for Telemundo 44, Bradford noted that its news output is greater than WFDC, the Univision incumbent’s.

“We have the No. 1 English-language station and the No. 1 Spanish-language station,” Bradford said, citing Nielsen ratings in the 25-54 age bracket for WRC and the 18-49 demo for WZDC. “That’s a wonderful proposition for advertisers.”

Surrounded by History

There’s a rich TV news history at 4001 Nebraska Ave. The walls feature framed photos of legends who worked in the building, including Tim Russert and Willard Scott. WRC offered a half-hour special, starting at 7:30 p.m., on Election Night. NBC’s politics whizzes complemented the coverage.

Bradford likened walking into 4001 Nebraska Ave. to entering Yankee Stadium, where the history and heritage seep into those who work/play there.

Those in the framed photos “brought their A game every day,” Bradford said, and current staffers know they are expected to as well.

A standout WRC talent may well move up to the network level, as Katie Couric, Savannah Guthrie and Craig Melvin have done. Or they may stay in local broadcast. “There’s a long line of people who learned a lot at the station and went on to great things at NBC News, or stayed here to do great things,” Bradford said.

WRC lost a local legend when Jim Vance, who joined the station in 1969, died of cancer in 2017. Bradford has rallied the troops to stay focused. “He’s the person who set the tone in the newsroom for 48 years,” said Bradford. “We want to make him proud.”

Valari Staab, president of NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, said WRC and WZDC consistently come up with enterprising stuff their rivals do not. She noted how frequently she’s compelled to turn up the volume on the screen showing WRC in her office. “It’s not just daybook stuff,” Staab said. “They really look for interesting stories.”

That includes a special on Amazon moving into the market. When the online retailer announced its plans to set up new secondary headquarters in Crystal City, Va., across the Potomac from Washington, on Nov. 13, WRC aired its special that night.

Staab describes the station as a “strong No. 1” that nonetheless plays like it’s looking to dethrone the top dog. Bradford keeps the staffers sufficiently hungry.

WRC and WZDC have both stepped up their investigative work. WRC’s “Slipping Through the Cracks” report focused on teachers who sexually assaulted students, yet still found work at public schools after the incidents happened. The report led to new laws in Virginia and Maryland. One news franchise at WRC, called “Changing Minds,” focuses on mental health. Another, “Safe at Home,” on domestic violence.

WZDC’s Responde and WRC’s NBC4 Responds both look to win back cash for viewers who’ve been ripped off. The station has retrieved more than $1.8 million in the past 18 months.

Bradford came to Washington in 2010, after holding down the general manager job at NBCU-owned KNSD San Diego. She previously had a finance position at WRC, as well as at Today and NBC Nightly News.

Brings Fun to Work

She brings a unique mix of financial savvy and fun to the position, according to Staab. While the WRC-WZDC staffers work their tails off, they unwind thanks to stationwide activities that range from ping-pong tournaments to haiku-writing contests. “She’s a fun general manager who genuinely cares about her staff,” Staab said. “This is television — there’s no reason not to want to come to work.”

The WRC branding is Working 4 You. Bradford said the station has focused intently on its message, and puts every story through the Working 4 You filter. She has also encouraged on-air talent to be their true selves on the air. “I know our people are unique in Washington,” Bradford said. “It just shows our people really are part of the community.”

Bradford has made WRC-WZDC’s digital products a major focus, which includes new apps NBC4 Washington and Telemundo 44, and a presence on Roku and Alexa. Coming soon is a YouTube channel.

Bradford said Telemundo 44 has surpassed Univision’s Washington station in terms of Facebook followers; it has more than 74,000. “We feel pretty good about that,” Bradford said.

While it is Bradford who gets the honors for major-market GM of the Year, she is quick to spread the acclaim. The key to WRC’s long-term success, and WZDC’s robust rookie year? “The obvious answer,” Bradford said, “is the people.”

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.