State College may be the third city cited in Johnstown-Altoona-State College, Pa., but the slice of the DMA dominates the local mindset—not just on fall Saturday afternoons, but yearround. Penn State—football, academics, the dreadful Jerry Sandusky scandal—rules the news cycle.
A substantial number of Nittany Lions fans stayed away in the wake of Sandusky’s molestation conviction, but they are back in 2014, with crowds at Beaver Stadium once again approaching the six figures. “The sanctions are lifted and things are very different in State College,” says Phil Dubrow, WTAJ VP and general manager.
WTAJ is the official station of the Nittany Lions. It had the misfortune of having its live truck trashed when students rioted following former coach Joe Paterno’s dismissal in 2011. The Nexstar station is also the official Steelers station in DMA No. 104; on Sept. 11, it covered the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Shanksville, Pa., then went on to Baltimore for the Steelers-Ravens Thursday-night encounter. “You have to have [substantial] resources to get to multiple places,” says Dubrow. “And we do.”
Johnstown-Altoona-State College is a two-horse race. General managers at WTAJ and WJAC both credit their parent companies for significant backing. When Jim Doty, WJAC general manager, approached Sinclair about getting $50,000 worth of gear for an on-the-road community spotlight called Your Town, the yes came back, he says, before the request was even finished. “My chief engineer’s mouth fell open,” says Doty.
NBC affiliate WJAC produces the 10 p.m. news for Fox outlet WWCP, and may not be done. “I’m looking to see how we can expand our news product,” says Doty. Palm Broadcasting holds ABC affiliate WATM, which operates Horseshoe Curveowned WWCP. The cable operators are Comcast and Atlantic Broadband, while around half the market’s TV subscribers are with satellite operators.
WTAJ bills itself “Your News Leader,” but it has to hustle to keep that title. WJAC won the total day household race in the May sweeps and took morning households, while WTAJ won adults 25-54. WJAC rules early evenings while WTAJ took prime. WJAC put up an 8.3 household rating/28 share at 11 p.m., ahead of WTAJ’s 7.8/27; WTAJ won big in adults 25-54.
Altoona-based WTAJ was a special acquisition for Nexstar founder Perry Sook, who grew up watching the station. The CBS affiliate went fully HD last year and has an invigorated social media strategy that saw it double its Facebook likes, to nearly 80,000, in the past year. “We continue to move forward and not rest,” says Dubrow.
Johnstown-based WJAC thrives on the deep tenure of its personnel and legacy status, with Doty pointing to its 65 years on the air. “We are ingrained in the fabric of the community,” he says. “Everywhere you go, people have our station on.”
The news race is as competitive as any action at Beaver Stadium. “Sinclair and Nexstar are both out to grow the stations’ news product,” says Doty. “The content does not look like market No. 104—it’s spectacular.”
WHAT’S WORKING IN JOHNSTOWN-ALTOONA- STATE COLLEGE: NOTHING BUT NITTANY FOR WTAJ SPORTS GUY
WTAJ has a dedicated “Nittany Nation reporter” in Jacob Kaucher—it even says so on his business card. Kaucher, 27, also pitches in on high school and minor league sports, but the bulk of his work takes place at the university. And it’s not just Nittany Lions football; after all, Penn State competes in over 30 sports. “If there’s a good story outside of football, I pick up on that too,” Kaucher says.
Kaucher’s reports air in other Nexstar markets in and near Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre and Erie. “It gets good coverage across the state,” says Phil Dubrow, VP and general manager.
Kaucher, who graduated from Northwestern University, didn’t grow up a Nittany Lions fan. But he still sees his gig as a dream one. “It’s market [No. 104], but you get to cover some pretty big sports,” he says.