Market Eye: The Cleveland Shows

Click here to read more Market Eye articles

A bit of attitude works well on-air in Cleveland-Akron, Ohio. WOIO has taken steps forward in recent years by allowing talent to speak their minds on stories they’re reporting. WKYC threw its weight behind a school levy known as Issue 107, starting some six weeks out from the election, featuring a primetime special, a dedicated website section and community leaders and students alike appearing on the air to speak about education and the levy.

Brooke Spectorsky, president and general manager at WKYC, says such an active advocacy role was new ground for the station. “This was vital for the community,” Spectorsky said of Issue 107. “We pushed it on every data stream we have.”

WJW offers its own unique point of view, including quarterly specials from local comedian Mike Polk and a new weekly sports talk show. “We are ‘Cleveland’s Own’,” says Greg Easterly, WJW president and GM. “We hang our hat on local newscasts and local personalities.”

Local TV owns Fox affiliate WJW. Gannett has NBC station WKYC. Raycom has WOIOWUAB, a CBS-MyNetworkTV pair, while Scripps holds ABC outlet WEWS. Winston Broadcasting has CW affiliate WBNX and Univision owns WQHS. Time Warner Cable is the big subscription TV operator in DMA No. 18.

The news race is ultracompetitive. WEWS won the tight total-day household ratings race in the November sweeps, while WJW took the adults 25-54 competition. WJW wins morning news easily and was tops at 5 p.m. and in the 6 p.m. demo race. WEWS took the 6 p.m. household crown and rode a primetime win to the 11 p.m. title with a 6.2 household rating/11.9 share. (The Big Three network affiliates were nearly tied in the 25-54 demo at 11, with WOIO ahead by a sliver).

WKYC has a new news director in Brennan Donnellan, hired from within after an extensive search. “He knows Ohio and he’s been very involved in everything we do,” says Spectorsky.

Russ Mitchell left CBS News last year to anchor at WKYC. Spectorsky says Mitchell and partner Kris Pickel give the station a pair of lead talents who can thrive outside the studio. “It’s nice to have an anchor who can get into the community, is accepted by the community, and knows how to work there,” he says.

WOIO grabbed Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! from WEWS; last year, the station also picked up star anchor Romona Robinson from WKYC. Robinson is paired with Denisa Dufala at 6 and 11 p.m. VP/GM Bill Applegate says WOIO may be the only major-market station with two female anchors at 6 and 11. “They just really have ignited everything,” he says.

WJW has a mammoth local block in the morning: 4:30 to 10, then the talker New Day Cleveland from 10 to 11. The station also airs a 7 p.m. newscast and extended weekend-morning shows too. “Our company name is Local TV, and we try to live it every day,” says Easterly. “It’s a real simple formula: we are all about localism.”

WEWS VP/GM Sam Rosenwasser is on medical leave; Steve Thaxton is interim GM. The station, which claimed a prestigious Peabody award last year, features Scripps’ homegrown shows The List and Let’s Ask America from 7-8 p.m.

The Cleveland economy is struggling, local TV executives speak of positive indicators, such as the Horseshoe Casino that opened last year and the trend of young adults moving into downtown apartments. “There’s an awful lot of development in the downtown area, centered around the rental market,” Applegate says.

The four major stations have added Rentrak to their research mix, yet continue to claw for every Nielsen ratings point. “I do feel we are hitting on all cylinders,” says Easterly, “but we never take anything for granted. There are good stations here.”

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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.