The ownership upheaval in Mobile-Pensacola has been major. Two years ago, Sinclair acquired WPMI and WJTC from Newport Television and shifted the stations to closely aligned Stephen Mumblow. Meredith picked up WALA last August, while Media General has agreed to acquire The CW outlet WFNA.
The latter has yet to close, but Mark Bunting, VP and general manager of Media General’s local powerhouse WKRG, likes the idea of managing a duopoly. “We’ve never had a second station—it brings it to a whole other level,” he says. “It’s a blank canvas.”
Bunting stresses that nothing is a done deal until the FCC approves it. WKRG does not need much assistance in DMA No. 59. Thanks to deep experience at the anchor desk and its CBS affiliation, the station gobbles up ratings and revenue. Bunting estimates the main four anchors have in excess of 110 years of WKRG experience, with leading man Mel Showers spending over three decades at the station. “We’re a station people trust in and believe in and know is part of their family,” says Bunting.
Mobile-based WKRG has a whopping 175,000-plus Facebook fans, while Sinclair’s WEAR also outperforms the market norm with 171,000. WKRG won the household news races in last May’s sweeps, while splitting the 10 p.m. title with WEAR, both with a 7.2 rating and shares virtually tied at around 17. WKRG also won total-day households and prime. ABC affiliate WEAR is a game competitor, taking the adults 25-54 contest at 6 a.m. and 5 and 10 p.m.
WEAR is located in, and focuses on, the Pensacola end of the market. Sinclair also owns MyNetworkTV/This TV station WFGX. Mumblow holds NBC station WPMI and independent WJTC, which dedicate significant resources to high school football. Comcast is the market’s primary subscription TV operator.
LIN was compelled to sell Fox affiliate WALA due to its pending merger with Media General. Meredith grabbed WALA for $85 million. Meredith Local Media president Paul Karpowicz cited Mobile-Pensacola’s standing as a growth market. “Both Mobile and Pensacola are desirable destinations for tourism and relocation,” he says. “And we are excited about the political advertising dollars that flow into Florida every cycle.”
Gary Yoder manages WALA. In August, J.C. Lowe, former general manager of WTTO-WABM Birmingham (Ala.) shifted to the top spot at WEAR-WFGX.
BIA/Kelsey ranks the Mobile-Pensacola DMA No. 52 in terms of revenue, although Bunting suggests things are not quite as rosy along the Gulf Coast as the number might indicate. “It’s plodding along,” he says. “It’s good, but certainly could be better.”
Better days are ahead, he says. Airbus has a new facility in Mobile; aircraft assembly is to begin in 2015. “There are so many great things on the horizon,” Bunting says.
The horizon offered a unique sight in February 2013, when the broken-down Carnival cruise ship, full of unwashed and angry passengers, was towed into Mobile Bay. The news has been happier since then. After 28 years in Mobile, Bunting would rather be nowhere else. “I love the people, I love the history, the culture,” he says. “This is home.”
WHAT’S WORKING IN MOBILE, ALA. - PENSACOLA, FLA.: AT WKRG, MANAGEMENT STABILITY IS BOSS
WKRG is gearing up for its 60th anniversary, and Mark Bunting represents just the fourth general manager in station history. Bunting, former WKRG director of revenue/general sales manager, succeeded Joe Goleniowski, who ran the station from 1999-2012. Before that, D.H. “Buck” Long was atop WKRG from 1982-1998, and before that, it was C.P. Persons from 1955-1982.
“To know the three men before me is a pretty amazing thing,” says Bunting, who joined WKRG as a radio sales manager and account executive in 1986 and was promoted to national sales manager for the television station in 2001.
The Media General station is working on its milestone birthday next year. “We’ll make a big brouhaha out of it,” says Bunting. “It’s something worth celebrating.”