Market Eye: Mountain State Monster

Every station talks about being hyper-local, but none do it quite like Charleston-Huntington’s WSAZ

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Charleston-Huntington (W. Va)


Don Ray stepped aside as WSAZ GM as of Aug. 1. On Aug. 7, Ray’s new Excalibur Co. agreed to purchase KJCT Grand Junction (Colo.) from News-Press & Gazette for $3 million. Excalibur will buy the license, and Gray TV will provide support services to Excalibur. Gray also agreed to buy the station’s non-license assets for $9 million.

“I’d really planned to do no broadcast work,” says Ray, 67. “I have three children, and we’d talked about getting in on something together. But this came along, and I think it’s a good deal for everyone.”

Gray Senior VP Bob Smith will have oversight of KJCT, an ABC affiliate.

Ray believes the acquisition, which awaits regulatory approval, sends a signal. “This shows Gray is in it for the long run,” he says, “and they do intend to be aggressive.” —MM | @BCMikeMalone

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Hyphenated markets often see one TV station dominate the submarket
in its backyard, with a second station strong over on the other side of the DMA. But WSAZ, the monster
of Charleston-Huntington, W. Va., rules all
corners of the region. The station is undergoing
major change: Don Ray, general manager
since 1989, retired at the end of July. In his place is Matt Jaquint, last seen
running KTVX-KUCW Salt Lake City.

Jaquint, WSAZ general sales manager from
2002-05, is pumped to run the show in DMA
No. 65, a rural locale about two hours east of
Lexington, Ky. “It’s good to be back,” he says.
“A lot of things are going on.”

Extraordinary tenure is key to WSAZ’s success,
which included a staggering 40 share at 6 p.m.
in the May sweeps. Anchor Tim Irr has 19 years
at the station and chief meteorologist Tony Cavalier
has 25. Jaquint estimates as much as 35%
of the staff has at least 20 years at WSAZ.

Also unique is WSAZ’s split-screen news. Irr
anchors from Huntington and Jessica Ralston
from Charleston. The news starts with marketwide
stories before Huntington and Charleston
get their own hyper-local reports. Jaquint says
the station is doing around 35 minutes of content
in a 22-minute newscast. “Being more localized
on each side of the market than anyone
else has helped us grow over the years,” he says.

WSAZ runs a MyNetworkTV-This TV hybrid
on its dot-two; Ralston anchors a 10 p.m. news
on the subchannel. Sinclair owns ABC affiliate
WCHS, while closely aligned Cunningham
Broadcasting owns Fox affiliate WVAH. West
Virginia Media has CBS outlet WOWK and
Lockwood Broadcasting holds WQCW. Suddenlink
is the primary subscription TV operator.

WSAZ dominates news, including 11 p.m.
with a 12.2 household rating/36 share in May;
runner-up WCHS posted a 2.3/7. WOWK won
primetime in HH by a tenth of a point, while
WSAZ took adults 25-54. Jaquint says dominant
stations typically see competitors nibble away at
their leads. That’s not the case in Charleston-
Huntington. Booking an estimated $29.6 million
last year according to BIA/Kelsey, the NBC
affiliate commanded 47.1% of the market’s revenue—
almost three points higher than in 2011.

Today show host Matt Lauer got his start at
WOWK; Bray Cary is the acting general manager.
WCHS has an “Eyewitness News” brand and
WVAH will add the syndicated show Arsenio
next month. General managers at WOWK
and WCHS-WVAH did not return calls.

About half of the market’s residents live in
West Virginia, with a quarter apiece in Ohio and
Kentucky. The local economy has its challenges;
BIA/Kelsey ranks it No. 78 in revenue, 13 spots
below its ranking by size. The healthcare industry
is growing locally, thanks mostly to an aging
population, and the stations benefit from
reaching three states where considerable money
is spent on candidates and issues. “Those three
like to fight,” says Jaquint. “It’s nice for us.”

Frank N. Magid has conducted research on
behalf of WSAZ in the past. Bob Crawford,
Magid VP of research, says weather coverage,
the tricky split-screen mastery and extraordinary
motivation help WSAZ continue to build
share. “They are just dominant—there’s no
other word for it,” Crawford says. “They don’t
take anything for granted, and they’re always
looking to make themselves better.”