Market Eye: Life is Grand in Myrtle Beach

Raycom and Sinclair hope to give Media General’s WBTW a run for its crown in northeast South Carolina

If Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C., keeps growing the way it has, it’s just a matter of time before the market cracks the top 100. Myrtle Beach gained around 6,500 TV homes in 2014, leaping ahead of Johnstown-Altoona-State College, Pa., to No. 102. Residents are drawn to the same things that 15 million tourists come to the so-called Grand Strand for—sea, sun, restaurants and R&R.

The rise is clearly in the coastal end of the market. WBTW, one of the true monster stations around the country, shifted its operation in 2007 from inland Florence to Myrtle Beach to better capture the population growth. But Randy Ingram, VP and general manager, says the Media General station takes considerable pride in covering both ends of the vast market—and a sliver of North Carolina too. “The other guys are pretty much focused on Horry County,” he says of the seaside half of the DMA. “We are balanced throughout the market.”

Key to the CBS affiliate’s eminence is consistency in the anchor ranks; Bob Juback and Nicole Boone have been working the WBTW anchor desk for over 20 years. While many reporters and anchors use markets this size as stepping-stones, Ingram says Myrtle Beach’s charms have kept the pair from moving on. “They’re so tied to the community—it’s part of their lives and their history,” he says.

WBTW ran the ratings table in May. It posted a 7 household rating/21 share at 11 p.m., ahead of ABC affiliate WPDE’s 4.5/14. But the competition is making moves. Sinclair acquired WPDE in its Barrington grab; it has oversight of closely aligned Howard Stirk Holdings’ CW affiliate WWMB. Raycom built a station from scratch six years ago: NBC affiliate WMBF, which launched August 8, 2008. Ted Fortenberry, VP and general manager, treated the staff to breakfast, lunch and dinner on its anniversary last month. “Nothing major,” he says. “We’re saving up for our 10th anniversary.”

Bahakel owns the Fox affiliate, WFXB, which gets morning and 10 p.m. news from WBTW. The primary subscription TV operators are Time Warner Cable and HTC.

The Myrtle Beach-Florence market used to be known as Florence-Myrtle Beach, prior to the beach area’s explosion. The news crews have had an exceptionally busy year, including an ice storm in February and fatal shootings at a motorcycle rally over Memorial Day. “That’s just unheard of in this area,” says Ingram of the triple homicide.

WPDE is unique with its 7 p.m. news, but the news battleground has spread to weekend mornings. WMBF was first up with Saturday- Sunday a.m. newscasts a few years back, and the competition followed.

A bunch of WMBF talent has moved on to Top 20 markets, including Alex Holley, who made the jump to the WTXF Philadelphia morning team in recent weeks. WMBF has Bounce TV and This TV on its multicast tier, and adds the new Katz Broadcasting channel Grit in 2016. WFXB has a one-of-a-kind local show in Not the News.

But it will be some time before anyone displaces WBTW atop the Myrtle Beach heap. July’s Rentrak numbers showed that the station had 299 of the top 300 local programs in terms of household ratings, notes Ingram; even the CBS morning and evening newscasts win their HH races. “It is a powerhouse station,” he says.

With tourists flocking to the region, residents get to enjoy the amenities of a larger market, including minor league baseball and world-class golf. “People pay a lot of money to spend a week here,” says Wilson. “We get to spend 52 of them.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN MYRTLE BEACH-FLORENCE: WFXB’S LOCAL SATIRE SHOW A WINNER

Instead of a news department, Fox affiliate WFXB has a not-the-news department. The four people in that division produce Not the News, which Rigby Wilson, VP and general manager, calls a cross between The Daily Show and Talk Soup.

Not the News airs at 10:35 p.m. and has been on for seven seasons. Typically pulling a 1-1.5 in the 25-54 demo, Not the News “does very well against the late-night competition,” says Wilson.

The show features “Man on the Strand” interviews, viral videos, musical performances and hosts Greg Rowles and Cyndi Wheeler jokingly tackling the issues of the day, along with the slogan “Less News, Less Often.”

“I don’t know of another show like this in the country,” says Wilson. “It’s different and viable and has stood the test of time.”