Market Eye: A Choice Address in Memphis

After harsh spring, River City finds inspiration from high-profile visitor

Why This Matters

What’s Working In Memphis

When the Mississippi River reached peak levels in May, WHBQ followed every ebb with an HD camera affixed to the top of the First Tennessee Bank Building in downtown Memphis. The Fox O&O relies on the camera frequently, typically for weather reports. “It helps you see exactly what the weather is doing,” says WHBQ John Koski, VP/general manager. “It really helps with the storytelling of our weathercasts.”

WHBQ embedded the live feed on its homepage May 9 so users in Memphis—and beyond—could track the flood threat in real time. The river cam was a big factor in setting records for hits (more than 2 million) and unique visitors (over 700,000) in May. “I can’t say it was the only reason people came to the site, because so many things happened in May,” says Koski. “But we did get a very healthy spike by having a camera up there.” —MM

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After a trying spring that involved tornadoes and flooding,
Memphis got a blast of positivity when President
Obama turned up May 16 to salute the seniors at Booker T. Washington High School. The president
selected the students’ video, explaining
why they deserved to have him speak
at their commencement ceremony.

The visit gave residents a respite from
the disasters and feuding between the
city and county over stewardship of
Memphis’ public schools. “It was something
that Memphis really needed,”
says John Koski, VP/general manager at
WHBQ. “Black and white, everyone rallied
around the school.”

It’s been a particularly lively time in
Memphis, with some political corruption
sprinkled in with the weather troubles
and presidential visit. “It’s one of the biggest
news periods in recent memory,” says
Ronald Walter, president/GM at WREG.

The ratings battle between Local TV’s
WREG, a CBS affiliate, and Raycom’s WMC,
affiliated with NBC, is hot as a July afternoon
on Beale Street. WREG posted a 4.2 rating/
8.6 share in total day household ratings in the
May sweeps, while WMC had a 4.1/8.3. WREG
and WMC were deadlocked at 10.3/15 in late
news. WREG won morning news and WMC
won early evenings. WREG and Fox-owned
WHBQ finished in a virtual tie in primetime.

“We’re two strong competitors, and I think
we respect each other,” says Lee Meredith, VP/
GM at WMC. “We’ll keep knocking heads.”

DMA No. 48 brought in $97.3 million in
revenue in 2010, according to BIA/Kelsey.
WREG was tops with $29.5 million, ahead of
WMC’s $24.9 million. Rounding out Memphis’
broadcast stations are Newport TV’s ABC
affiliate WPTY and CW outlet WLMT. Rene
LaSpina, VP/GM, says Newport has spent big
since acquiring the stations from Clear Channel.
“We’re thrilled that they’ve invested so
much,” LaSpina says. “We needed it.”

Comcast is the market’s major cable operator.
Memphis represents home base for Fed Ex
and AutoZone, while a new Electrolux plant
will bring an estimated 3,000 jobs to the region.
The Memphis in May gala recently concluded,
including the Beale Street Music Festival
and a giant barbecue. The NBA’s Grizzlies
won a postseason series for the first time—
giving locals another reason to celebrate.

Stations are working hard to outdo each
other. WHBQ is bullish on a 10 p.m. news
that debuted in August, in place of The Office. Ernie Freeman helms Fox 13 News, which
Koski describes as “different” and “edgy.”
Political discourse has become a trademark
of the 10 p.m. show. “Politicians have been
streaming into the studio,” says Koski.
“Our late news has become a destination.”

WMC will replace Oprah Winfrey with a
4 p.m. news. “It’s an important time period
and we want to have a really good show,”
says Meredith. “Oprah was a good show, so
the bar is pretty high.”

WREG touts strong weather coverage as
a cornerstone. “We provide viewers with
information that’s helpful to them as they
make decisions,” says Walter. “The weather
here is so changeable—it can be very, very
dramatic. May was no exception.”

Showing just how much a cultural institution
American Idol is, WREG—the CBS
affiliate—gives the Fox performance show its
own page on

Booker T. Washington High is an institution
as well. Memphians will hold onto President
Obama’s oratory for some time. The president
saluted the grads for succeeding amidst the
challenges of the inner city. “We are here today,”
he said, “because every single one of you
stood tall and said, ‘Yes, we can.’”

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