Skip to main content

Southern Comfort

Knoxville is a sports town. Its sport of choice: University of Tennessee Volunteers football. And WVLT, whose call letters stand for "Vol Television," casts itself as the sports station in the football-hungry city. The Gray Television-owned CBS affiliate also produces the market's sole 7 p.m. newscast.

"We're the only station not in syndication at that time, which gives our local sales staff a chance to offer news product at a somewhat lower rate than at 5:30 or 6," says Sales Manager Tim Wagner. Plus, WVLT just picked up the market's UPN affiliation, which it will run on its digital channel.

Aside from its football fever, Knoxville, the 61st-largest TV market, is a placid media enclave.

WBIR, Gannett's NBC affiliate, dominates news ratings and takes the top spot in morning, prime time, late night and total day. In 2002, the station dropped The Oprah Winfrey Show
in favor of its own local lifestyle program Style, which pulls good viewer numbers. ABC affiliate WATE plays runner-up to WBIR in head-to-head news competition.

"They tend to be much softer and feature-oriented in their coverage," says WATE News Director Aaron Ramey. "We are 100% news." WATE produces a 10 p.m. newscast for Raycom's Fox affiliate, WTNZ. Neither The WB-affiliated WBXX nor WPXK, a Pax station, airs any local-news programming.

Recently licensed fully digital high-definition WMAK is scheduled to begin broadcasts by Sept. 1 on channel 7.

Ad revenue for the first half of the year ran slightly ahead of 2003, Wagner says, with both local and national categories gaining strength. The rest of the year, however, looks iffy. "Third quarter is a little softer than a lot of us anticipated," he says. "But it's too early to give up on it."

On the cable front, Charter, Comcast and Knology Holdings divvy up the market. Cable penetration runs about 66%. Both Dish Network and DirecTV offer local stations via satellite, a popular service in this hilly terrain. About one in four Knoxville TV households is tied to a satellite receiver, above the national average.

Life here is easy and cheap. The most recent version of Places Rated Almanac
ranked Knoxville, with the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as the nation's most livable city, with a population under 1 million.