You are hereMagazines 1980-1989 / TV Industry Stories (4)
TV Industry Stories (4)
JACKSONVI LLE, FLA.
Call it the tail wagging the dog or a helping hand from along-time partner. Or just call it a typical move for an atypical station: CBS-affiliate WJXT-TV Jacksonville, Fla., spent nearly 50 percent of its in-house promotion budget during last November, February and May's sweeps promoting CBS prime-time series Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing.
"We thought it was time to stop criticizing the network for things that weren't their fault;' explains VP and General Manager Gus Bailey Jr., citing the takeover bids and management turmoil that have plagued CBS. "That's affected their ratings and we thought we should do what we could to help them:'
Also, he admits, to help the station. Since it began broadcasting 39 years ago, WJXT has never ranked anything other than number one from sign-on to signoff. In fact, doing the unusuallike running such off-net hours as Hawaii Five-O in early fringehas become a trademark of the station. And CBS's prime-time schedule, often number three in the rest of the country, is number one on WJXT.
"Consistency;' says Bailey, is key to WJXT's success, "and a belief by the viewers that we care about them:' As evidence of the first factor, the general manager cites the station's stable personnel roster. WJXT weatherman George Winterling, for instance, has been with the station for 25 years. "We did a study;' Bailey notes, "and we found the average length of employment for full-time employees here was 11 years. That's a long time in this business. I'm only here seven years-I'm a newcomer."
In January WJXT added a more efficient computerized closedcaptioning system for its news programs. "Jacksonville has a much -larger- th an -ave rage hearing-impaired community," explains Bailey. "Sure [the rrew system is] expensive, but we felt it was important to service that group."
According to Bailey, WJXT also serves the community via tough investigative news reports and prime-time specials on topics of concern to the community, such as odor pollution, car tolls and the inmates of Florida's death row. "Some of the largest number of inmates are executed in Florida;' he says. "We wanted to look into that so we did a prime-time special, 'Death in the Sunshine: Most stations shy away from that kind of thing."
WJXT has been rewarded by impressive numbers for all of its news programs. Its noon news had a 64 share in the May Arbitrons (compared with a 17 share for NBC-affiliate WTLV-fV's ll:3O-am. news). At 6 p.m., WJXT pulled a 49 share (compared to a 22 for WTLV and a 7 for WJKS:rV, the ABC affiliate). At 11 p.m. WJXT had a 43 share, WTLV, a 20 and WJKS, a 9. From sign-on to signoff, WJXT averaged a 33 share in the six-station market. "In the May book;' claims Bailey, "we ranked second in the U.S. from sign-on to sign-off for five-station or lar~er markets."
WJXT has also been highly decorated for its news and journalistic achievements. The station won the du Pont award twice, as well as the Region 14 Award of the Radio:rV News Directors Association for best overall news reporting in a four-state area. Bailey says WJXT's parent corporation, PostNewsweek, has further rewarded
the station by agreeing to upgrade the station's facility. In 1990, operations move from a 28-yearold building into a completely new one.
Other changes are underway at WJXT-some of them as a result of the competition. WTLV, recently acquired by Gannett, is making an aggressive effort to be more competitive with WJXT. The NBC affil has scheduled some potential ratings damagers for the fall: The Cosby Show at 5 p.m. will lead in to the region's only 5:30 newscast, with Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy from 7-8. These last two shows were taken from WJXT.
Bailey is concerned but not worried, and is responding with a two-hour talkathon from 4-6 that pairs Oprah with Ceraldo (currently on WTLV). Says Bailey: "We hope to build up a good head of steam;' that hopefully will propel the station's 4-8-p.m. block past WTLV's schedule in the rating books.
As for the future, Bailey has noted that the NBC affiliate has had success-45 shares-with a pre-1Oday news show, so he plans to start his own 6-7-a.m. program in the fall. "Weve put it off, frankly, because of the turmoil with the CBS morning show. We felt we didn't have as strong a show to wraparound as Cood Morning America or 1Oday. But if an NBC station can do that well, we figured we might as well give ita shot:'
There has also been talk of network hopping. "NBC approached
[WJXT] some time ago about switching," says Nancy McAlister, TV critic for the Florida TimesUnion and Jacksonville Journal,"but they decided to stick with CBS. I think Bailey feels you can't jump ship when the network is down. Ratings are cyclical."
The bottom line for WJXT, however, seems to be a sense of responsibility. "We have an image oflong-time stability and of caring about the community. And once you get that image, you don't squander it, you build on it, constantly improving it and making it better," Bailey says. "You have to keep on refurbishing and renewing yourself. You owe that to the community. And, practically speaking, it's much harder to jump start a station if you let it go bad than if you keep it running well all along."
VIEW, AUGUST 15, 1988