Savvy Delmarva GM Jahelka Tips the Scales

Complete Coverage: Station Stars of 2017

Station groups are getting bigger every day. The thinking behind the consolidation craze is, a group needs serious scale to hold its own against networks and syndicators as those push for more favorable deals.

Yet one of the true market monsters is the lone station in its group. WBOC in Salisbury, Md., grabbed a frightful 53 share in July morning news, a 33 share at 6 p.m. and a 25 at 11 p.m.

“We’re one of those dinosaurs,” said Craig Jahelka, president of parent Draper Media and WBOC general manager.

WBOC punches way, way above its weight in DMA No. 143. It’s a CBS affiliate with Fox and Antenna TV as multicast signals. In October, Draper launched a Telemundo affiliate for the Delmarva region (parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia). WBOC hired two bilingual staffers.

“There’s quite a few Hispanics here,” said Jahelka, “and we want to be able to reach them.”

WBOC’s newsgathering might. Its 11,300-square-foot NewsPlex is more typical of a top 50 market station, and it’s one of the smallest market stations to send a helicopter up in the air. If Chopper 16 wasn’t enough, the station also shoots a half-dozen drones to the skies for “Skycam 16” stories. “That is all Craig,” news director John Dearing said.

WBOC has bureaus in Milton and Dover, Del., and Dover isn’t even in the DMA. “We ignore the geographic boundaries of the DMA,” Jahelka said. “We believe that everyone who lives on Delmarva is our viewer.”

In 6 a.m. news in July, WBOC put up an 11.0 household rating, way ahead of ABC affiliate WMDT’s 1.0. At 6 p.m., WBOC did a 14.0, ahead of WMDT’s 3.0. Its 7.0 at 11 p.m. beat WMDT’s 1.0. WBOC has the daily 5 p.m. show Delmarva Life and weekend program Outdoors Delmarva. “Not a lot of stations do that,” said Dearing.

The station sent reporters to Ecuador this fall when the Salisbury Zoo found a partner for a female bear in that country. “We got a ton of great stories out of it,” Jahelka said.

He admits greater scale would be nice. “We don’t have the leverage of a Sinclair or a Hearst or a Nexstar,” he said. “What we do have is our dominance in the market.” WBOC grabs around 60% of Salisbury’s TV revenue, per BIA/Kelsey.

The station went through a terrible tragedy in September when owner Thomas Draper was killed in a bicycle accident. He was 76.

Jahelka reassured shattered staffers, adding that the Draper family remains committed to WBOC. He keeps a photo of Draper on his desk to remind him to stay focused on local residents. “Tom said we have a moral obligation to serve the people of Delmarva,” said Jahelka.

Draper’s death remains a difficult topic for Jahelka to talk about. “What a legacy he left behind,” he said. “He was such a champion of localism.”

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.