News Articles

A Mountainous Divide

Blue Ridge barrier bisects this market 7/08/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Hyphenated television markets are always challenging because stations have to cover news in two cities and serve different sets of advertisers. But the Roanoke-Lynchburg, Va., market, Nielsen's 67th- largest, presents more obstacles than usual. The cities are about 45 miles apart, separated by the high peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Demos
*Index is a measurement of consumer likelihood. An index of 100 indicates that the market is on par with the average of the 75 local markets.
Source: Scarborough Release 1 2004 75 Markets Report
Who Share of population Index*
White 84% 102
Black 14% 119
Hispanic 2% 15
Asian 0% 11

The range “serves as a physical, economic and social barrier,” says Randy Smith, president/general manager of ABC affiliate WSET. On the eastern slope, the Lynchburg area is more agricultural. To the west are Roanoke, the market's largest city and regional economic hub, and the New River Valley, a growing region with several universities.

CBS affiliate WDBJ, the market leader in overall ratings, and NBC affiliate WSLS are Roanoke-based and focus their newscasts there. WSET, headquartered in Lynchburg, puts its emphasis on its hometown. The Fox affiliate has towers in both cities and two sets of call letters, WFXR Roanoke and WJPR Lynchburg. Its 10 p.m. news spreads coverage to both cities.

Multiple cable operators serve the market. Cox operates in Roanoke and Adelphia in Lynchburg. In the New River Valley, Charter Communications is the provider.

All media in the area dote on the New River Valley region, home to Virginia Tech University and the growing community of Blacksburg, where the Big Three affiliates have all recently established bureaus.

WDBJ leads in the key early-evening and late news, a distinction it has held for more than 30 years. WSET turned in a second-placed performance in 6 p.m. news in May, helped by The Oprah Winfrey Show, airing at 5 as it has for years. The station offers only a half-hour newscast at 6. WSET also airs Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, but, come fall, the shows will move to WDBJ. WFXR's hour-long 10 p.m. news is produced through a joint news agreement with WSLS.

The Roanoke and Lynchburg economies show growth in the medical and high-tech sectors. Towns like Blacksburg are growing, but Danville and Martinsville have the highest unemployment in the state, about 10% in May, compared with a statewide average of 3.6%.

Local TV stations took in $50.7 million in 2004, up slightly from $49.1 million the year before. WDBJ tops all with $16.3 million in revenue last year.

Station executives fret over a loss of manufacturing jobs, including furniture and textiles. A positive sign, station managers say, is that automotive advertising, which is down in many markets, is holding up this year. “Tourism and the medical industry are big parts of our economy,” says WFXR Station Manager Dave Bunnell. Unfortunately, neither category advertises much locally.