Market Eye: Coastal, But Not Coasting

Management changes abound in Mobile-Pensacola, and Gulf beaches are clean again following 2010 spill

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Mobile-Pensacola

Sinclair’s WFGX is a unique hybrid: MyNetworkTV and This TV share time on the main channel, and the music channel TheCoolTV occupies the .2. Terry Cole, general manager, says Sinclair upgraded the station to full power a few years ago, helping it reach the Mobile side of the market.

The station has partnered with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, a minor league ballclub affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, to air 21 games. It’s the Double-A team’s first season; the “Fish” are winning and fans enjoy having a team in Pensacola. “It’s something the community has gotten behind,” says Cole. “We’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

WFGX may add more local programming. “We’re contemplating some other additions,” says Cole. “It’s truly local TV.” —MM

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Mobile-Pensacola, with its rich military heritage, has always
been a somewhat transient market. In the last few years, the
general manager ranks at the stations have been as well. Mark Bunting, the former
general sales manager at
WKRG, was named general
manager in January,
following Joe Goleniowski’s
retirement. The local TV
ranks suffered a tragic blow
when Bob Dunn, GM of
WPMI, died at work Feb. 7.
Newport Television VP
of operations Michael
DiPasquale, called Dunn
“an absolute gentleman”;
no replacement has been named. And at
WALA-WFNA, Gary Yoder took over in May.

“I went from the junior general manager in
the market to the senior one in a little over three
years,” says Terry Cole, WEAR-WFGX general
manager. “All of a sudden, I’m the old guy.”

WEAR has momentum. The ABC affiliate
crept ahead of longtime market leader WALA,
LIN Media’s Fox affiliate, in revenue in 2010,
according to BIA/Kelsey. Cole says WEAR
thrives on a “ton of news” approach, which
includes an hour at 10 p.m., along with a
stable talent crew.

Sinclair owns WEAR and WFGX,
and the group has agreed to acquire NBC affiliate
WPMI and independent WJTC from Newport.
LIN has the market’s Fox and CW stations. Media
General owns CBS affiliate WKRG. Cox is the
main subscription TV operator.

WEAR took the late and early evening news
household ratings races in the May sweeps;
the station shared total-day ratings honors
with WKRG. WALA won mornings and WKRG
took primetime.

Some 60 miles separate Mobile, Ala., from
Pensacola, Fla., with Mobile Bay and part of the
Florida panhandle in between. WEAR is based
in Pensacola; the other major stations are in Mobile.
Florida is of course a key state during election
season, while Alabama is fully red. “We’re
fortunate to be on that side of the market” where
lots of political money is in play, says Cole.

The economy is holding up fairly well. The
local business community was delighted with
the recent announcement that Airbus plans to
build a manufacturing facility in Mobile. “The
economy is good, but could always be better,”
says Bunting. “Airbus will definitely help.”

Unemployment is a bit high, and crime is an
issue too. Mobile-Pensacola lamented the news
of ThyssenKrupp looking to sell its steel plant,
but lively commerce out of its port keeps the
economy steady. “Even during the worst part
of the recession, the market seemed to enjoy
good economic growth as a result of the port,”
says Sharon Tinsley, president of the Alabama
Broadcasters Association.

DMA No. 60 thrives on tourism; the famed
Blue Angels performed at the Pensacola Air
Show on July 14. Local TV chiefs say the
beaches are clean following the oil spill in the
Gulf of Mexico two years ago. “It’s absolutely
improved greatly,” says Cole. “People understand
that the Gulf is back to normal.”

The stations are innovating. WALA is pushing
its popular Fox10 iPad app. With Bunting’s
26 years at WKRG, and its well-tenured talent,
he says there’s a family-like atmosphere
at the station, which he believes resonates on
air. WKRG has revamped its news strategy,
with more investigative reporting and a higher
story count. “It’s a different approach to news,”
Bunting says. “We’re asking deeper questions.”

Cole says Sinclair’s Ring of Honor wrestling
program is picking up fans. “I love it. I’d like
to sell it better,” says Cole. “Every week, it
clicks a little more.”

The general managers say the quality level
runs high for local news in Mobile-Pensacola.
“It’s a very competitive market,” says Cole.
“The stations all do a nice job.”

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