Stations Doing Well by Doing Good

While every station is digging around for new revenue streams, KWQC Davenport, Iowa, may be the only one taking the concept literally.

The Young Broadcasting station kicks off a campaign this week that will enable residents along the Illinois and Iowa sides of the Mississippi River to plant gardens on fertile land that has been donated by home builders. Working with the Quad Cities Homebuilders Association and both states' departments of agriculture, KWQC is signing up aspiring gardeners on to commence planting on a couple of acres along the Mississippi.

Interim General Manager Mark Antonitis says the idea was hatched while he was jogging past a large site where home construction had been put on hold due to the economy. Fresh in his mind was an image of First Lady Michelle Obama planting on the South Lawn and encouraging the public to get their hands dirty. “A lot of people would love to plant a garden if they only had the land to do it,” he says.

According to Antonitis, the program, called Quad Cities Bounty, not only engenders good will and puts dormant land to good use, but also has some favorable revenue implications. The Homebuilders Association is sponsoring the venture; Antonitis says the association's financial participation is modest, but profit isn't really the point for such a project. “Home builders are one of our biggest categories,” he says. “There are opportunities for both the builders and the state extension services to get the word out.” (Extension services provide agriculture support in farming communities.)

The program starts with an acre apiece on the Illinois and Iowa sides of the river, with room to expand. The gardens are temporary—the builders plan to build on the sites once the demand for new housing heats up again.

“People can grow whatever they want,” says Antonitis, who spent 4½ years in San Francisco running KRON, “as long as it's legal.”

Local tv paying it forward

KWQC is not the only station learning that a unique community-outreach play can score with viewers as well as marketers. Various Local TV-owned stations are helping out viewers in need with their take on the Pay It Forward concept popularized in the 2000 film, which sees recipients of good will return the favor to an unsuspecting beneficiary. The first Local TV station to do it was WREG Memphis; News Director Bruce Moore says the idea came from corporate during a brainstorming session. “We wanted to come up with something positive yet meaningful,” he says.

WREG's campaign, called Pass It On, sees anchor Richard Ransom give $300 to a viewer, who has 60 minutes to pass it along to a truly needy colleague (it can't be a family member). Recipients have included a woman suffering from cancer and epilepsy whose husband recently left her, and another working two jobs while raising four children.

The bits, running around 3½ minutes, are full of emotion—lots of effusive hugs and, typically, abundant tears. The givers are selected from viewer e-mails and calls, and from people who approach Ransom on the street when he's walking around town with his handwritten Pass It On sign.

WREG runs the segments every Tuesday in late news. The station covers the $300 allotments, and Moore says the segments are sometimes sponsored. The program is both a response to the preponderance of grim stories in Memphis, he says, and the malaise residents are feeling due to the recession: “We wanted to offer something uplifting.”

Moore won't share ratings numbers, but says a look at the overnights each week shows a healthy bump in late news from Pass It On. “It's very competitive,” he says.

Other Local-owned stations are adding their own tweaks to the concept. WDAF Kansas City kicked off Pay It Forward on March 13, while WITI Milwaukee introduced its version earlier this month. Viewers appreciate a little happy news poking through the clouds; WDAF viewer La Veda Davis wrote on “I love this pay it forward thing; it really shows that there are some great people still in this world.”

WDAF News Director Bryan McGruder says Pay It Forward fits nicely with the station's Working for You branding, the viewer-advocate complement to its traffic and weather reports. “We're all about helping the viewer,” he says. “It seemed like a natural fit for us, and we've had a great viewer response to it.”

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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.