By P.J. Bednarski -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/4/2001 7:00:00 PM
When NYPD Blue in 1993 warned in promo ads that its premiere episode would include "partial nudity," a small handful of Chattanooga, Tenn., viewers picketed outside the studios of ABC affiliate WTVC(TV). It was a hot day, so the station served Coca-Cola to the protesters.
It's that kind of Southern hospitality that seems to permeate the nation's 86th-largest market. For example, on Oct. 22, the market's four stations with news departments jointly produced a half-hour special extolling the work of the Chattanooga United Way. Why? The charity and GMs were fearful that local residents were putting their dollars toward victims of the World Trade Center disaster, inadvertently slighting the needy in the area.
"I've never seen anything like that on television before," says Jerry Lingerfelt, general manager of Freedom Communications' WTVC. On the flip side, nor has he ever felt the kind of economic punch the Sept. 11 attacks inflicted on Chattanooga's television ad sales.
"We were just seeing some recovery starting to kick in," Lingerfelt notes. "I've seen downturns, but never like this when sales just fell off the cliff. But now it looks like those 0%-financing deals from automakers are becoming really helpful." He has left six positions unfilled at the station, though, and, for financial reasons, is not going to NATPE this January, "for the first time I can remember."
WTVC is the market leader ("barely," Lingerfelt insists) although it's a reasonably shared position with WRCB-TV, the Sarkes Tarzian NBC affiliate. "We're so close you could just throw a blanket over us," Lingerfelt says. His news usually dominates, he says, mainly because anchor Bob Johnson is in his 26th year and others there, including nine-year veteran news director Steve Hunsicker, have strong local ties. "They've been together since 1496," Lingerfelt jokes.
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