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Uniting and Conquering on the Georgia Border

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One of the great challenges for some admittedly lucky GMs is keeping a powerhouse station way ahead of the pack. Bill Stewart, VP/GM at Augusta (Ga.)’s WJBF and WAGT, offers a master class on it. Media General’s WJBF entered into a services agreement with Schurz’s WAGT in 2010. While the ABC and NBC stations are under one roof, Stewart pits them against each other.

“One news team likes to beat the other— that’s their marching orders,” says Stewart. “We don’t want a vanilla operation. We want them to be separate and competitive, because that’s when you maximize ratings and revenue.” The stations moved in together in 2011, fine-tuned their operation in ’12 and flexed their collective muscle in ’13. Energized by its younger sibling and Stewart’s stiff revenue goals, WJBF put more distance between itself and the competition. “This year was when everything really started to play out,” Stewart says.

Monster WJBF grabs nearly half the TV revenue in DMA No. 112. It and WAGT—whose news operation was bleeding money when the station came under Stewart’s watch—thrive on local programming: 66 hours per week, ranging from a 60-year-old gospel show to a 10 p.m. news on WJBF’s dot-two, cooking shows, a high school football banquet that airs in primetime and the Border Bowl, pitting the top local Georgia footballers against their South Carolina counterparts. Earlier this year, Stewart added weekend morning news to both stations.

The stations saw a gain in ad revenue after Stewart, who has spent his entire career in his home market, led an initiative to have Aiken, S.C., included by Nielsen as part of the DMA.

Last month, the GM opened the station’s doors for two days to mark WJBF’s 60th anniversary; 4,000 residents turned up. “It was a joy to go back and look at the history,” Stewart says, “and the people who played a part in it.”