Jim Babb was just coming in from the parking lot early Monday when the call came in, an ominous one.
Babb chief operating officer for Bahakel Communications, the parent company of Fox Charlotte (WCCB, Channel 18) learned from the Fox TV network that it was canceling its affiliation with the station.
WCCB has carried Fox since the networks launch April 5, 1987, and has been one of the strongest among its 175 affiliates, often honored among the top five in key demographics ratings performance. Babb was told that Fox would announce at noon Monday that it was buying two stations in Charlotte and would be moving its network programs to one of them.
It has been a good relationship, says Babb. Im not sure they didnt feel as bad about it as we did.
For WCCB, it was a stunning blow. It meant losing primetime programming and the potent Fox sports package that includes NASCAR, Major League Baseball and NFL football effective July 1. It meant no more Panthers games, by far the No. 1-rated programs weekly in autumn.
In a confidential agreement on Jan. 14, Fox had agreed to buy WJZY (Channel 46) and WMYT (Channel 55) for $18 million from Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting. That deal is expected to close June 1, pending FCC approval.
Details remain to be worked out, but here are the likelihoods based on conversations with people who have knowledge of the situation and with the industry.
Q: Will Fox Charlotte drop its newscasts?
This is the one certainty: No. WCCB has a sizable investment in its news operation and its high-definition studios at One Television Place beside Bojangles Coliseum. It programs four hours of news in the morning and an hour at night. It is a profit center.
Losing the newscasts would also be a loss to the city. Though it has the smallest TV news department in town, it provides a voice other stations dont match. It has never been big on illustrating the police scanner with video. Instead, it has police Chief Rodney Monroe come in to address viewer questions.
Its thoughtful Defend Charlotte series on the regions growth challenges and more recent Reboot Charlotte, focusing on the post-recession climate, have dug into issues that other stations ignore in favor of the latest wreck or robbery. Fox News Rising and the late night Fox News Edge are largely popcorn shows aimed at the young adult audience, but they too serve a niche.
Q: How long will it continue calling itself Fox Charlotte?
Probably at least a month. WCCB quit using its call letters a decade ago and branded its local news and sports programs with the Fox name. When it figures out what it is going to become and what it wants to be called, you can expect a big campaign.
WCCB also has the most clever promotions department in town, known for its out-of-left-field approach, such as dressing anchor Morgan Fogarty like June Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver in old-style black-and-white ads. It wouldnt be a surprise to see it count down the final weeks of the network affiliation as Un-Fox Charlotte or something equally as coy.
Q: Which station will pick up the Fox programs?
Likely WJZY (Channel 46). Fox networks already own the rerun program service carried on WMYT (Channel 55) and would probably leave it there.
Q: Will WCCB pick up the CW network carried now on WJZY?
Likely, but there could be other scenarios. Also, the CW contract with WJZY has more than two years left to run, and the network could require it to be carried there if it wanted to. But the CWs best hope would be to land at WCCB, whose viewers would remain somewhat loyal to the station, particularly if it continues its newscasts.
WCCB would probably leap to the top 10 in strength of local CW affiliates nationally, though the networks programs draw only a fraction of the ratings that Fox shows get.
Q: Will WJZY launch its own news department?
Almost certainly. Fox likes its affiliates to have strong local news, and as an owned-and-operated station, it would invest heavily. WBTV (Channel 3) now provides nightly 10 p.m. newscasts to WJZY and that contract runs through the summer, giving Fox time to build a team.
Adding a newsroom at WJZYs studios in south Mecklenburg would be a snug fit. Fox can be expected to consider moving its operations to University City, where it owns Speed channel and has room to grow.
At WBT-AM (1110), reporter Chris Miller moves up to managing editor, responsible for content of newscasts and assigning reporters under news director Jim Barroll. Miller, who grew up in Mount Holly, has been with WBT for 10 years.
Among local winners in regional Emmy Awards are David Barringer, Jeremy Williams, Robert Reichley, Alex Farmartino and Chris Duzan of Raycom Sports for the sports series Football Saturdays in the South and Reichley and Billy McCoy of Raycom for live coverage of ACC basketball; Fred Story of Concentrix Music and Sound Design for music for Rembrandt In America; Beverly Penninger of the Junior League of Charlotte for public affairs for From the Heart; Corrie Harding and the WCNC (Channel 36) news staff for continuing coverage of a tornado in York County; and Julie Szulczewski and the WSOC (Channel 9) news staff for evening newscast on tornadoes in Burke and Rutherford counties.
Former WBT-AM morning show host Stacey Simms will be featured on Health Crisis in Carolina, 1 p.m. Sunday, UNC-TV (Channel 58), a reality-style show about three families adopting healthy lifestyle habits. Funny to see this health show air on a day when most of us plan to sit on the couch eating wings and nachos all afternoon, says Simms, referring to Super Bowl Sunday.
Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt will be the subject of a documentary, The Education of Harvey Gantt, at 8 p.m. Thursday on SC ETV (Channel 30). It tells the story of Gantt breaking the segregation barrier at Clemson in 1963 to study architecture.