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)

RAY’S RETIREMENT IS SHORT-LIVED; MOVES INTO OWNERSHIP

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

mmalone@nbmedia.com | @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 Hall 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.”