Market Eye: Looking for Volunteers

There’s a new UT football coach in Knoxville, and new relationships among TV stations as they fight for viewers

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Knoxville

WVLT has loaded up its MyNet sister MyVLT with sports, including the high school football series Rivalry Thursday. As with many major high school football markets, Knoxville features its big games on Friday nights in the fall. WVLT takes a choice matchup and moves it up to Thursday at 7 p.m. for a hi-def live broadcast, with the tailgating show starting at 6. “It’s a really nice-looking product,” says Chris Baker, WVLT GM. “Ratings have popped—10s and 12s [in households], depending on the game.”

MyVLT aired 12 regular-season and four postseason games last fall. Baker says the bigger matchups helped MyVLT at times finish behind only WVLT on a given Thursday.

Baker is considering growing the franchise to include schoolboy basketball next year. “We haven’t made a final decision,” he says. “But if we can make the numbers work, we’d like to expand this.” —MM

Click here to read more Market Eye articles

Counter to the old sports axiom, nice guys do, on occasion, finish first.
WBIR has been trumpeting its “Straight From the Heart” brand—a more
positive perspective on the market—in Knoxville, Tenn. for three decades,
and it seems a right fit for this genteel city. The Gannett station, featuring a bright red heart in its logo, is the undisputed ratings
leader. Jeff Lee, WBIR president and general manager,
describes the station’s mission as “serving the greater
good” in Knoxville. “It’s the way we conduct ourselves,
both internally and externally,” says Lee. “It’s not car
wrecks and body bags. Viewers don’t want that.”

The WBIR brand got a larger platform in 2011. The
station ceased producing news for
CW affiliate WBXX and started doing
so for Fox station WTNZ. WBIR is
also creating considerably more news
for its partner: a two-hour morning
show and an hour at 10 p.m. “It’s a
brand that everybody in the market
knows,” Kelvin Mize, VP and general
manager at Raycom’s WTNZ, says of
WBIR. “It’s great for us to use that
brand to our advantage.”

Young Broadcasting’s WATE now
produces the 10 p.m. news for
WBXX. Stan Knott, who oversees
WATE from Young’s WKRN Nashville, says he’s close
to hiring a GM. WATE this fall will add the syndicated
Live! With Kelly and Michael. “That will help us refocus
our efforts in mornings,” says Knott. “Then we’ll figure
out where to go, and what to grow, next.”

WBXX parent Lockwood Broadcasting acquired
Knoxville religious station WMAK and converted it to
independent WKNX in early March. “We’re very pleased
with the way Knoxville has treated us,” says Neal Davis,
WBXX general manager. “Therefore, we’re willing to
invest more in the market by buying another station.”

DMA No. 61 is in eastern Tennessee. WBIR is the NBC
affiliate and WATE airs ABC. Gray TV owns CBS-aligned
WVLT, which shows MyNetworkTV on its dot-two. The
main subscription TV operators are Comcast and Charter.

“It’s a very pleasant southern market,” says Chris
Baker, WVLT general manager and a Gray executive VP.

WVLT won primetime in the February sweeps,
while WBIR took the rest of the ratings races. WBIR’s
5.6 household rating/10.7 share at 11 p.m., ahead of
WVLT’s 5.1/9.7, significantly builds on its inauspicious
primetime rating of 4.2/6. Morning and early evening
races were decisive wins for WBIR.

WVLT has undergone a rebrand, breaking from its
sports-minded Volunteer TV News to Local 8 News.
“We’re trying to take as much of a local tack as we can,”
says Baker, who mentions more of a focus not only on
severe weather but “impactful” weather, too—the type
that can foul up your day if you’re not prepared.

Baker is playing up sports on the station’s MyVLT dottwo

Knoxville is mad for local University of Tennessee
football. The Volunteers have underperformed for
years, but optimism runs high with new coach Butch
Jones. (With a six-year, $18 million deal, Jones isn’t
exactly a volunteer.) The fate of the team is closely tied
to that of the market. “It seems that, as UT football
goes, so does the excitement level in the market,” says
Baker. “It’s one of those markets where people’s moods
are affected by the football team.”

The arrival of several national retailers has station
GMs optimistic as well. Publix, Sports Authority, Trader
Joe’s and Costco have all set up shop in the market in
recent years. “Those are good votes for the health of
Knoxville,” Lee says.

WBIR is spreading its Straight From the Heart message
on all available platforms, including 4½-minute newscasts
on gas pumps around town. “We like to make money
where we can,” Lee says. “But we want to make sure our
product is available wherever people might want it.”

E-mail comments to
and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone