Market Eye: Nashville Is in Tune With the Times

For a party town, Nashville sure wakes up early. The market has offered no fewer than three 4 a.m. newscasts for years, and the stations are setting their alarm clocks for ungodly hours on weekends now, too. WSMV kicked off 5 a.m. weekend news in January. WTVF followed in late February. On March 29, WKRN moves its weekend start time to 5 (from 6) as well.

Theories abound why so many Nashvillians are up so early, including long commutes. Others say residents simply have an intense relationship with local news— thanks to weather that’s more fickle than Nashville diva Juliette Barnes’ moods, and some pretty good local content. One out of four homes has the TV on from 4-5 a.m., says Mark Binda, WTVF programming director. “You don’t see that in a lot of markets,” he notes.

Doreen Wade, WSMV VP and general manager, has worked in several markets, but none with the allegiance to television that Nashville boasts. “I’ve never seen HUTs [Houses Using Television] in any market I’ve been in like I’ve seen in Nashville,” says Wade. “There’s a real good appetite for news programming, syndicated programming and network programming.”

The city’s lively music business is richly depicted in the ABC drama Nashville, and the scene—country, rock and, increasingly, a mash-up of the two—is as hot as it’s ever been. “Nashville has become an ‘It’ city, if you will,” says Dominic Mancuso, WZTV-WUXP GM.

Nashville’s many power couples—Nicole Kidman and American Idol judge Keith Urban, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw—are frequently seen around town, and by several accounts are largely left alone by residents and paparazzi alike. “They all seem to be really good and decent citizens,” says Stan Knott, WKRN general manager. “They get into the fabric of the city and just be normal, because you can be normal in Nashville.”

Nashville GMs are uncommonly adept at juggling multiple stations. Wade used to be Freedom Broadcasting president. Knott is also overseeing Media General’s KRON San Francisco as its general manager search continues. Debbie Turner, WTVF president and general manager, was named executive VP of television for Journal Broadcast Group in January; she describes her life these days as “planes, trains and automobiles.”

Besides Sinclair’s Fox-MyNetworkTV duo, Mancuso oversees Lambert Broadcasting-owned CW outlet WNAB. WZTV saw significant gains in the November sweeps after swapping in new a.m. anchors, and sister WUXP has expanded its Thursday Night Lights schoolboy football franchise to include basketball.

Journal acquired WTVF, a CBS affiliate, in 2012, and the station is a monster. It swept most races in November, including a 9.4 household rating/7.7 share in late news, ahead of Meredith-owned WSMV’s 7.7/13. WSMV won the 6 p.m. race. With the Winter Olympics bolstering WSMV’s ratings in February, the NBC station eked out a total-day ratings win by a tenth of a point and won 6 p.m. and primetime. Yet WTVF still prevailed in late news.

Station manager Lyn Plantinga handles the dayto- day with Turner in the corporate role. WTVF is focused on weather and breaking news—and delivering on all platforms, including gas pumps around town. “We try very hard to be innovative about the way we get our product out there,” says Plantinga.

Tennessee’s capital, Nashville is DMA No. 29. Comcast is the primary subscription TV operator. Young Broadcasting was based in the market prior to its merger with Media General. Knott likes being in a larger group with a regional stronghold. “We’re part of a deeper base of stations in the South and mid- South,” he says. “We think it’s a wonderful footprint.”

The market has gained nearly 30,000 TV homes over the past year, according to Nielsen, and the TV stations are eager to reach them. WKRN added an 11 a.m. news in September, and after the weekend morning expansions it will crank out 38 hours of local news a week. Playing up Meredith’s healthy living chops (its magazines include Eating Well and Fitness), WSMV debuted its Healthy 4 Life expo at the Music City Convention Center last October, with 20,000 people attending. The region’s significant health care business presence and issues with obesity made the event a good fit. “It was a perfect place for us to help middle Tennesseans focus on being healthier,” says Wade.

Questions about the local economy prompt a shrug in Nashville; BIA/Kelsey slots the market at a weak No. 38 in revenue. “It’s, uh, OK,” deadpans Mancuso.

But the music business, numerous colleges and universities, high-profile sports teams and the hot ABC drama have all given Nashville a certain “energy,” in the words of one GM.

The mojo is definitely reflected in the stations. “It’s a very competitive market, with very worthy competitors,” says Wade. “We’re all kind of frenemies here.”


WTVF’s Talk of the Town is in its 30th year, and the lifestyle program shows no signs of slowing down. The show, featuring fashion, consumer advice and lots and lots of cooking, debuted March 14, 1984, and has moved around the daytime dial: 10:30, 11, 12:30 and back to 11 a.m. in 2006. Known internally as TOTT, the program has won its time slot in 105 out of the last 107 sweeps, says Mark Binda, WTVF programming director, including the last 30 at 11. Consistency is key. “In the ‘80s, not a lot of stations were doing local programming,” he says. “It just became a tradition over the years.”

Meryll Rose and Lelan Statom host. WTVF plans to do something special to note Talk of the Town’s place in Nashville TV history, probably in May. “Since TOTT,” says Binda, “a lot of local shows have been added in this market.”

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.