Stabilizing After Ownership Changes


RECENT NEWS STORIES: Shootings downtown and other crime led to turnover in the Savannah city council and mayoral election last November; Presidential primaries in Georgia and South Carolina; February tornado in nearby Fort Stewart, Ga.

LOWDOWN: The Savannah market, a 20-county DMA, covers not only Georgia’s oldest city but also all of the coastal empire on the southeastern part of the state and the Low Country of southern South Carolina. South Carolina makes up about a quarter of the market, so stations have opened bureaus there. “It’s a diverse group of people,” says Deb Thompson, WSAV VP/GM. “One of the challenges is, people in South Carolina don’t necessarily relate to news of what’s happening in Georgia. There are different concerns for Georgia viewers.”

STATIONS (OWNERSHIP/AFFILIATION): WTOC Savannah (Raycom/CBS), WSAV Savannah (Media General/NBC), WJCL Savannah (Hearst/ABC), WTGS Hardeeville (Sinclair/Fox)


WHAT’S NEW: Larry Silbermann, who has been at station for 16 years, including 10 as news director, took over as VP/GM on Dec. 1, the station’s third GM in as many years. WTOC has also had an anchor and a meteorologist retire in the last year as well as the death of a longtime anchor the previous year. Despite the changes, WTOC remains the strong market leader. “We never take our market leadership for granted.” Silbermann says. “We’re always looking at things and ways to be better.” The station recently added a half-hour weekday news at 7 p.m. and launched an additional hour of morning news on its Bounce TV dot-2 subchannel.

DID YOU KNOW? The station is in the midst of an investigation into a local alderman’s activities with minors. A series of WTOC reports over the past few months, including interviews with alleged victims, parents and other witnesses, have brought the story to light, leading the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to launch its own investigation.


INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONT LINES: “I’m most proud of our team’s persistent commitment to getting the story and getting it right, not just getting it first,” says Deb Thompson, VP and general manager.

WHAT’S NEW: WSAV has dramatically increased its commitment to local news, entertainment and sports with the addition of several newscasts over the last couple of years. It moved the start time of morning show Coastal Sunrise to 4:30 a.m. last year, launched lifestyle and entertainment show Southern Scene to its weekday noon block and added two more hours of news on Saturdays and Sundays. WSAV also airs a 10 p.m. news on its dot-2 subchannel.


INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONT LINES: “Now with Hearst, we have a greater emphasis on high-quality newscasts. The focus has been on dramatically improving the quality and our coverage. Our newscasts are comprehensive and concise. A lot of it is fundamentals and executing it daily. We’re just getting started,” says Tim Morrissey, president/GM.

WHAT’S NEW: Since being acquired by Hearst, WJCL has hired 45 people, a 40% staff increase. Under Hearst, the station has updated technology, revamped its editorial process, switched its graphics and enhanced its set.


WHAT’S NEW: When Sinclair acquired WTGS in December 2014, the station had a shared services agreement through which WJCL produced its 10 p.m. news. Starting June 1, WTGS will begin to produce its own daily newscast from 10-11 p.m. “We felt that now was a good time to do it,” says Tim Walsh, who was upped to GM in January after serving as general sales manager since Sinclair took over. “Sinclair’s news operation runs very deep. With those assets in mind, we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to take it this year.” The station is staffing up, and will have a news department of 10 to 15 people.

WHO THEY ARE: WTGS has been creating a ground base for its news operation since the start of 2016, establishing a presence with municipalities, organizations and government in the market. “Anything new like that, every challenge has an opportunity for our reporters and multimedia journalists to come at it with a fresh set of eyes and a more progressive, unjaded viewpoint,” Walsh says. “It’s been a ton of fun. It’s not every day that a GM gets the opportunity to usher in a new news product to the marketplace.”


WSAV, which went live with its first broadcast in February 1956, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with special events and stories. For “Throwback Thursdays,” WSAV is asking viewers to send in photographs from the last 60 years, whether it be major events like the civil rights movement and the Olympics or something more personal.

In addition, the station is doing “On Your Side Days,” where staffers will go out into the community and give viewers anniversary gifts, from treating them to breakfast to offering them a free tank of gas to buying them groceries, all to show their appreciation for 60 years of viewership.

The station is also getting its own anniversary present. On Sept. 12, WSAV is launching The CW on its dot-2 subchannel, moving MeTV and MyTV to its dot-3. “We’ll have programming that will be geared toward anybody 16 to 60 and beyond,” says Deb Thompson, VP/GM.

WSAV will broadcast The CW in hi-def, as the station updated its dot-2 channel to HD more than a year ago. The upgrade to HD was attractive to The CW, Thompson says. “The community was looking for a station that could provide more consistency in the technical quality,” she says. “We were more than happy to provide that.”