Market Eye: Toledo Wrangles With Unsettling News

Potential loss of iconic Jeep plant would be a blow to the local economy; news outlets cover latest developments

 The Jeep Wrangler is more than just a locally manufactured product in Toledo, Ohio—the sturdy vehicle, its roots in World War II, is a proudly displayed emblem of the economically challenged city. Parent Fiat-Chrysler has discussed moving its Jeep facility out of Toledo—talk that local residents do not take lightly. “The Wrangler is synonymous with Toledo—we build it here,” says Bob Chirdon, VP and general manager of WTOL. “The thought of not having the Wrangler produced here is pretty scary for the city.”

The stations are not just reporting on the story; in October, Chirdon took to the airwaves in an editorial stressing the gravity of the potential loss.

WTOL has sway. The Raycom CBS affiliate cranks out 56½ hours of news per week, on its air and on American Spirit Media’s Fox affiliate WUPW, with whom it has a shared services agreement. “It’s significantly more than anyone else,” says C.J. Hoyt, news director.

Chirdon speaks of a three-legged stool at WTOL: breaking news, weather and consumer advocacy. The first involves an aggressive multiplatform attack. The second sees WTOL bill itself as “Certified Most Accurate,” citing WeatheRate. Leg three involves the Call 11 For Action franchise (see sidebar).

0104_MarketEye_chart.jpgGray Television owns WTOL’s main rival, WTVG, which had a rocking November sweeps. The ABC affiliate took the total-day race, its 5.7 household rating/19.9 share ahead of WTOL’s 4.8/16.8. It won by a landslide in mornings, took closer early evening races, then posted a 7.8/25 at 11 p.m., to WTOL’s 6.7/21.5. WTVG also won primetime.

Gray Television acquired WTVG and WJRT Flint from SJL Holdings for $128 million last year. Sinclair has NBC outlet WNWO, which it picked up in the Barrington Broadcasting acquisition. General manager John Nizamis says Sinclair has invested heavily, in both equipment and personnel, including a half-dozen people in the newsroom, with a bunch more posts around the station yet to be filled. “We were not competing effectively as a news gathering operation,” he says. “We needed resources, and Sinclair is able to provide them to us.”

WNWO extended its 5 p.m. news to an hour last spring, and tacked on an 11:30 a.m. newscast late last year.

Novia Communications owns MyNetworkTV outlet WMNT. The CW began broadcasting on WTVG’s dot-two channel last Sept 1. Pay-television subscriptions are split between Buckeye Cable and Time Warner Cable, as well as the satellite TV players.

Toledo is market No. 76. BIA/Kelsey has it at a bleak No. 88 in revenue, but the general managers see bright spots. Moving to Toledo’s downtown warehouse district inside of a year ago, Nizamis offers a fresh perspective. “I see a lot of small businesses thriving,” he says. “I feel a sense of renewal.”

CALL 11 FOR ACTION GIVES VOICE TO THE LITTLE GUY

Call 11 for Action, WTOL’s popular consumer advocacy franchise, has recovered almost $11 million for aggrieved viewers, say general manager Bob Chirdon and news director C.J. Hoyt, since it launched a decade ago. The station does a couple such stories each week, going to bat for viewers who feel they are victims of “consumer scam, fraud, or rip-off,” as ToledoNewsNow.com says.

“We’re not just bringing attention to it,” says Chirdon. “We’re helping find a solution.”

Recent segments included viewers who’d been plowed in by snow removal trucks and a broken streetlight that the city dragged its feet in fixing. A counter on the station site tallies up cases closed (around 14,700) and money recovered ($10.64 million) in Call 11 for Action’s history. “When we get involved,” says Chirdon, “the roadblocks to solutions disappear.”