Credit the new proprietor for speedy action.
Three months after taking over Charlotte’s public TV station, Central Piedmont Community College unveiled its vision this week to re-energize the fading WTVI (Channel 42). It returned prime-time to the primary PBS schedule of programs, including “NOVA,” “Nature” and “Downton Abbey.”
But the station, established in 1965 as an educational channel for the school system, still faces challenges.
First it must answer the core question: Why does Charlotte need a public TV outlet that duplicates so much of the quality programming available on the networks received here from Chapel Hill and Columbia?
In part, CPCC aims to offer more local programming. Thursdays will feature shows imported from the college’s cable channel on topics such as history and cooking.
On Friday nights, it has added “Off the Record,” a reporters’ roundtable moderated by former WBTV (Channel 3) reporter David Rhew modeled on the long-running “Final Edition” hosted by Jerry Hancock and canceled in 2009 in one of the station’s budget-slashing moves. It’s a frugal way to get WTVI back into public affairs with the kind of show that rarely gets smash ratings but brings in an influential and civically engaged audience.
In 2004, WTVI moved away from the prime PBS schedule, using alternative public TV shows. Ratings surged at first, but without marquee shows, viewers drifted off. As WTVI’s fortunes sank, so did programming, going from second-rate to virtually unwatchable.
By the time county commissioners agreed in March to cover $357,000 in CPCC’s takeover expenses, WTVI had run six-figure deficits for two years. Its membership had dwindled from 20,000 a decade ago to about 7,000. Fundraising failed to meet targets at a time when public radio stations were surpassing drive expectations.
College spokesman Jeff Lowrance said it is not known when WTVI will return to profitability – and CPCC intends to make it pay its way. Bringing more viewers should help, even though it will cost $200,000 annually for PBS’s top shows.
CPCC has impressive fund-raising acumen, and if it can’t make the money rain, nothing else will.
CPCC offers broadcasting and media courses, and the station will be a valuable laboratory to the college. Demand for media grads may rise if N.C.’s film incentive program, which offers rebates for movie and TV productions, continues to attract quality projects like “Homeland” and “Hunger Games” (or as long as Virginia doesn’t offer producers 26 percent).
If CPCC succeeds in getting WTVI in the black, it will need to address one of the station’s persistent problems on developing local shows. For more than a decade, independent producers pitching specials have been told to first find underwriting, a role the station has done little to facilitate. In a business town, that’s a job for the station’s leaders, not video artists.
Finally, CPCC needs to find a way to let people know that WTVI still exists. In a digital world, the station’s website – a portal that every successful media company obsesses about – seems distinctly analog. WTVI’s promotional efforts, if there are any, are creating a snore rather than a buzz.
Lowrance said this week the college wants to make WTVI the best public TV station in the country.
Credit the new proprietor with aiming high. Most people would be impressed if it were just the best public TV station in the city.
Joining WBTV (Channel 3) as reporter and anchor is Astrid Martinez, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Harlingen, Texas. … Guenn Peterson moves from mornings at WKQC-FM (“K” 104.7) to “Tanner in the Morning” at sister station WSOC-FM (103.7). Peterson, a Charlotte native and Providence High grad, had been co-host with Todd Baker at “K” since December. She replaces veteran Catherine Lane, thrilled to be off the 6 a.m. shift. Lane returns to focusing exclusively on her midday show at WSOC-FM. …
After a year at a Myrtle Beach station, former WBT-AM (1110) afternoon host Tara Servatius moves down the coast to host of the “Tara on TMA” morning show on WTMA-AM (1450) in Charleston. … Charlotte Checkers broadcasts will be carried by WZGV-AM (ESPN 730) this season with Jason Shaya. …
Another branding change at WCNC: It will now be known as NBC Charlotte. “Our thinking was based on the strong brands of NBC News and NBC through the years and felt that would be a logical extension,” says general manager Tim Morrissey. “If you look at all the channels people watch us on through every cable system and satellite, not a whole lot of people still watch us on Channel 36.” It also has better name recognition with newcomers, he says. Signs on vehicles and the building off Billy Graham Parkway will begin changing in the next few weeks. In 2008, the station became “Newschannel 36.” It has also been known over the years as “NBC6,” “WCNC – Carolinas News Connection” and “Carolina’s News Channel.” …
Co-hosting with Anderson Cooper on “Anderson Live” at 4 p.m. Monday, Fox Charlotte (Channel 18), will be Albermarle native Kellie Pickler. … Morgan Fogarty returns to Fox Charlotte’s 10 p.m. news after maternity leave following birth of her son Sawyer in July. …
Nominees for annual awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas include: At WCNC (Channel 36) Dan Robbins for photography and photographer of the year; Michelle Boudin and Robbins for feature; Dianne Gallagher and James Capozzi for general news; Stuart Watson, John Gray, Jeremy Markovich and Dave Wagner for documentary; Matt Hammond and Boudin for sports reporting. At News 14 Carolina, Heather Waliga and A.J. Chodora for heath-medicine; Mike Cartelli, Ben McNeely, Samantha Shepard, Joshua Kleinstreuer and Carly Swanson for website; Loretta Boniti for political. At Fox Charlotte, Israel Balderas for anchor of the year; Bruce Synder for sportscaster; and the news team for best series. CN2 in Rock Hill is nominated for special report and best newscast. In radio, Jeff Sonier of WBT-AM (1110) is nominated in seven categories: investigative, education, consumer, general news, political, series and for radio reporter of the year. Winners will be announced Oct. 20. …
“Radio 4 the Ages” with David Gwilt is moving from WBCN-AM (1160) to Rock Hill’s WRHI (1340 AM, 94.3 FM) starting 10 a.m. Oct. 13. Gwilt’s show examines issues of aging. … Charlotte’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, organized last year, wins the national organization’s award for outstanding professional-development programming.