Memphis is a hot news market, with lots of severe weather and a high crime rate. But it's certainly not all thunder and plunder in southwestern Tennessee. The city just wrapped its three-week Memphis in May International Festival, which attracts some 85,000 people to events like the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, generating $40 million in business.
WHBQ was all over the cook-off with “Smoke on the Water” specials. “We had a half-hour special each night and live coverage each morning,” says VP/General Manager John Koski.
The No. 48 DMA is home to corporate biggies like FedEx, International Paper and AutoZone; the latter sponsors the Sunset Symphony event that closed the festival. Still, Memphis has had its share of economic difficulties. “It's no different than other markets around the country,” says WMC VP/General Manager Lee Meredith. “But in an adverse economic climate, we're doing everything we can to turn up new sources of revenue.”
The ratings race is as hot as a Memphis dry rub. Broadcasting local news in HD, Raycom's NBC outlet WMC took morning and evening news titles in May. But with a lagging primetime, WMC passed the late news title to Local TV's CBS affiliate WREG, which posted a 13 household rating/20 share. Aided by monster American Idol ratings, Fox O&O WHBQ won primetime. It was helped by Memphis resident Lil Rounds making the final seven; the city saluted her with an event on Beale Street May 25.
Other players include Newport TV's trio: ABC affiliate WPTY, CW outlet WLMT and a Fox affiliate in Jackson, Tenn. Rene LaSpina recently relocated from Young's WTEN Albany, N.Y., to run the stations.
The pervasive crime issue influences local newsrooms. WMC has the “Taking Back Our Neighborhoods” franchise, where the anchors shine the spotlight on issues plaguing local neighborhoods, such as teen pregnancy, and tell the stories of those doing good things around town, such as a thriving after-school program. “It's a very personal project,” Meredith says. “We try to make a difference every week.”
WREG has Pass It On (Station to Station, May 18), which sees anchor Richard Ransom give $300 to a resident who has 60 minutes to pass it along to a needy colleague. President/General Manager Ronald Walter says the program will stay on after the economy picks up. “It's generated a lot of interest,” he says. “We plan to continue it well into next year.”
General managers are also quick to mention Memphis' diversity, history and musical heritage. “It's a very cool town,” says LaSpina, who just pulled in a few months ago. “There's something to do all the time.”
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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.
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