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Some markets have suffered from tornadoes in recent months, and some have had frightful flooding. Jackson has had both. Thankfully, the region seems to be getting back to normal, with the mighty Mississippi easing once again toward its natural level—just in time for hurricane season.
“People are back in their homes,” says Bob Romine, VP/general manager at WJTV. “They’re breathing a sigh of relief, saying, ‘Let’s settle down and relax a little bit.’”
There was no relaxing for the Jackson newsrooms while covering the natural disasters. WJTV, for one, borrowed a helicopter from Media General sibling WSPA Greenville-Spartanburg (S.C.). Leader WLBT actually has its own chopper—a rarity for a station in a market of Jackson’s size, which is DMA No. 90. “We may be the smallest-market station to have one,” says Dan Modisett, VP and general manager at the NBC affiliate. “I don’t know of anyone smaller.”
Then again, WLBT is, in many ways, playing at a higher level than the competition. The Raycom station won all the major news races in the February sweeps (Jackson is waiting for May results). WLBT posted a booming 14.8 household rating/27.8 share at 10 p.m., well ahead of CBS affiliate WJTV’s 10/18.8. Hearst TV’s ABC outlet WAPT is growing its market share and put up a solid 8.5/15.9 rating at 10. WJTV won primetime in total viewers, as most CBS affiliates do.
Modisett says WLBT thrives on extraordinarily rich market experience—both onair and in management. He has put in 27 years at the station; his sales manager has been there for 32, the news director 25 and the chief engineer 32 years. “It’s a very seasoned management stable,” says Modisett. “We really know the market well.”
Jackson is a quirky Deep South market. The Mississippi capital is the setting for bestselling book The Help, about black housekeepers in racially disharmonious Jackson in the early ’60s. Dreamworks’ film version, partially filmed in Jackson, is slated for an August premiere.
Nissan and Lockheed Martin have expanded their operations here, putting more Jackson residents on the payroll. A deeply Republican state, the government represents a third of what’s known as the local economic tripod, along with healthcare and education. Mississippi has an off-year election cycle; the state-level positions are up for grabs this year. “Everything from governor to dog catcher is up for reelection this year,” says Modisett.
Local stations brought in nearly $47 million last year, according to BIA/Kelsey, with WLBT leading the pack at $15.7 million. Fox affiliate WDBD rounds out the Big Four. That station has had an interesting recent history; Nexstar alum Marc Jaromin was brought in by the former owners to whip the station into shape. Jaromin made a bid on WDBD and ended up acquiring it; he’s currently the station’s president/GM and operating trustee at parent Roundtable Broadcasting. WDBD manages Vicksburg Broadcasting’s MyNetworkTV affiliate WUFX, while Roberts Broadcasting owns CW affiliate WRBJ.
The affable Jackson general managers believe the news stations punch well above their weight. “It’s better than No. 90 quality here,” says Stuart Kellogg, president and general manager at WAPT.
Stations are hitting hard to get ahead. Multiple GMs note the progress of WAPT. Kellogg says the key to moving toward No. 2 has been the support of parent Hearst TV, which he says invested when other groups cut back. He also cites what he calls a “key marketing change” about three years ago, when the station starting working the “Who’s Accountable?” brand into its news coverage.
In April, WAPT added four hours of news a week, at 6-7 and 8-9 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
WJTV won’t give up that No. 2 slot easily. The station recently launched a smartphone app (Romine acknowledges WJTV is playing catch-up with that development). It also plans to start installing HD gear in early July, with an eye on a third-quarter local HD launch. Romine says WJTV has three more on-air reporters than last year. “Other stations have been tightening their belts, but we’re trying to build on our momentum,” he says.
After launching 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. news two years ago, WDBD recently kicked off an offbeat morning show called Fox 40 and Friends, which airs 7-9 a.m. Jaromin calls the show “old school,” with lots of airtime for local personalities and persons of interest in Jackson. “It’s not morning news—it’s morning television, and people are loving it,” he says. “It’s young and energetic talent, and they’re just having fun.”
Jaromin is considering expanding local news either before or after Fox 40 and Friends, and is looking at weekends too.
WLBT moved into a new newsroom in January, and has no intentions on giving up its big lead in Jackson. Modisett says the news appetite in the market is substantial, and WLBT seems to know just how to fill it. “If you add up the total ratings points, it’s a very healthy news market,” he says. “We don’t have many dull news days—there’s always something happening here.”
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