WSAZ Ahead 'By a Mile' in West Virginia

Amidst all the economic turmoil around the country, business in the Charleston-Huntington market is actually holding up. The market has a rich history in coal and steel production, but is shifting to more of a medical and educational base. While the No. 65 DMA is hardly rolling in dough, general managers say the bottom has not dropped out either.

“West Virginia's never been on a big economic swing upward,” says WQCW General Manager Bill White. “Nor does it feel it as much when the country takes a hit.”

Gray's NBC affiliate WSAZ has had a stranglehold on the ratings and revenue crown in central West Virginia for decades. While it ranks just third in primetime, WSAZ's total day household ratings in November were double that of the nearest competitor. Evening news ratings were nearly triple those of runner-up WCHS, and it won late news with a 12 rating/22 share.

Being so far ahead might present a management challenge, but VP/General Manager Don Ray says his crew motivates itself. “There's always been a 'not on my watch' mentality here; we want to win everything by a mile,” he says. “It's an easy bunch to manage—they're all passionate about winning.”

The others are playing for second, and it's a good race. Sinclair's ABC outlet WCHS won primetime and was runner-up in total day and evenings. Cunningham's Fox affiliate WVAH, whose news is produced by WCHS, had the second-best late news with its 10 p.m. program. The market's other player is West Virginia Media-owned CBS affiliate WOWK, which GM John Fawcett says is focusing on its digital platforms and growing its 7 p.m. news.

WSAZ, which recently kicked off a local “Biggest Loser” weight-loss competition, turned off its analog signal on Feb. 17, as did WOWK. WCHS and WVAH make the switch in June.

General managers say Charleston-Huntington is primarily a four-station market; there's no Spanish-language voice, Lockwood's CW affiliate WQCW does not air local programming, and MyNetworkTV runs on WSAZ's digital channel. “We don't compete that much with CW and MyNetworkTV,” says WCHS General Manager Harold Cooper. “A little less competition certainly doesn't hurt us.”

Managers hope they can continue to keep the nation's economic virus at bay. The market was stung when Chesapeake Energy announced it was shutting down a large facility and leaving a skeleton crew in its place, and a shuttered aluminum plant took some 500 jobs with it.

Still, things could be worse. “The pros and the cons of the market are that it hasn't changed much,” Cooper says. “There's not a lot of growth, but it's not the horrific stories I hear from other markets.”

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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.