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ESPN, Finebaum ready to launch SEC Network from Charlotte

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.
    Jeff Siner -
    Paul Finebaum’s radio show, now on ESPN Radio, will also be on TV when the SEC Network launches on Thursday.
    Jeff Siner -
    Jeff Siner -
    Analyst Tim Tebow and reporter Kaylee Hartung sit on the set of SEC Nation at the ESPN studios in Charlotte on Wednesday, Au. 6, 2014. ESPN held a media open house for its new SEC Network which will be produced in its Ballantyne studios in Charlotte.
    Jeff Siner -
    SEC NOW studio at the ESPN studios in Charlotte on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. ESPN held a media open house for its new SEC Network, which will be produced in its Ballantyne studios in Charlotte.
    Jeff Siner -
    SEC NOW anchors, from left, Peter Burns, Maria Taylor and Dari Nowkhah, answer questions from the media with College Networks Vice President Stephanie Druley on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 in Charlotte. ESPN held a media open house for its new SEC Network, which will be produced in its Ballantyne studios in Charlotte.

More Information

  • SEC Network at ESPN studios in Charlotte
  • Radio rankings

    Here are the latest rankings of leading Charlotte-area radio stations by share of audience from Nielsen. Some stations, like WXRC-FM (“The Ride” 95.7) and WGIV-FM (103.3), do not subscribe to Nielsen and are not ranked.

    1. WKKT-FM Country, “Kat” 96.98.1%
    2. WRFX-FMRock, “Fox” 99.77.8%
    3. WSOC-FMCountry, 103.77.7%
    4. WLKO-FMHits, “Lake” 102.97.3%
    5. WPEG-FMUrban, “Power 98” 97.97.2%
    6. WOSF-FMUrban oldies, “Old school” 105.15.9%
    7. WBAV-FMUrban contemporary, “V” 101.95.7%
    8. WKQC-FMContemporary, “K” 104.75.4%
    9. WPZS-FMGospel, “Praise” 100.95.1%
    10. WNKS-FMPop, “Kiss” 95.14.0%
    11. WLNK-FMContemporary, “Link” 107.93.9%
    12. WHQC-FMPop, “Channel” 96.13.8%
    13. WRCM-FMChristian, “New Life” 91.92.8%
    14. WBT-AMNews/Talk, 1110 2.4%
    15. WEND-FMRock, “End” 106.5 2.2%
    15. WFAE-FMNPR, 90.7 2.2%
    17. WFNZ-AMSports talk, “Fan” 6101.0%
    18. WDAV-FMClassical, 89.90.8%
    19. WMIT-FMChristian, “Light” 106.90.7%
    20. WBCN-AMSports talk, 16600.3%

    Source: Nielsen

    WASHBURN’S ANALYSIS: While country stations often top the charts in Charlotte, it is rare to see a lineup like the overall August rankings in which WKKT-FM and WSOC-FM come out so far ahead of the city’s two urban powerhouses, WPEG-FM and WBAV-FM. Though the country stations have been near the top of the rankings and both have showed growth since the beginning of summer (WKKT-FM surged 37% and WSOC-FM was up 13%), urban music still dominated overall. By market share, the country stations had about 16% of the audience while urbans claimed about 19%. Christian and gospel formats attracted about 9%.

    Charlotte’s news stations lost listeners during the summer, as is common in the slower news cycle. WBT-AM is off 22% and WFAE-FM is down 19% since summer began. They tend to rebound in the fall each year, though WBT’s summer sag is bigger than normal. Radio One’s WOSF-FM and WPZS-FM land in the top 10 once again, continuing their strong showings since their parent company began providing them more resources.

    But it is Clear Channel’s WLKO-FM that is the big story on the dial since its format change last summer from adult contemporary (it used to be called “Lite”) to a “we play anything” rotation. It is No. 4 in town now and up 52% in share since the beginning of the summer. WLKO is the most successful launch of a Charlotte station in a quarter century – since the 1988 debut of WCKZ-FM, which was nicknamed “Kiss 102” (Yes, it was on the same lucky frequency and was the city’s original “Kiss”). It had an edgy blend of urban contemporary and top 40 that shot it near the top of the rankings. Old-timers will remember the morning team of Chuck “Boo” Baron and Mike Beach. Before that, you have to go back to the 1960s when “Big Ways” burst on the scene, which remains the most successful start-up station in Charlotte history since WBT-AM took to the airwaves in the 1920s.

  • Charlotte newscasts

    Estimated number of viewers reached by key weekday newscasts during the July sweeps and percentage change from last July as measured by Nielsen.

    6 A.M.
    6 P.M.
    10 P.M.
    11 P.M.

    *In July 2013, WJZY aired reruns of “Rules of Engagement” in this time period. It launched a newscast June 30, 2014.


    WASHBURN’S ANALYSIS: July sweeps are the least important of the year because networks are on reruns or summer programming and viewers are on vacation or otherwise taking advantage of the summer. But this year in Charlotte they are important for what they show at 10 p.m. in news viewing. We have the first full year of CW network programming on WCCB (Channel 18) and Fox programming on WJZY (Channel 46) after the affiliation swap last July and can examine news viewing exclusive of the change in lead-in shows. Overall, there is a 7% increase in the number of news viewers at 10 p.m. and again WAXN (Channel 64) far outpaces its rivals. But WCCB, which has lost about a third of its news audience after the affiliation switch, shows a 40% surge over last year, while the Fox-owned station, WJZY, lost half its news viewers over last year in the time slot, when it aired a newscast supplied by WBTV (Channel 3). In January, WJZY began producing its own 10 p.m. newscast, an experimental show that challenged the traditional news structure. So far it hasn’t found traction in the ratings. A key to judging its effectiveness will come after January 2015 when year-to-year results on the Fox newscast are available. In the advertiser-preferred age demographic of 25-54, WAXN dominates, followed by WCCB, then WJZY. At 10 p.m., WCCB doubles its audience from the CW prime-time lead-in for its newscast; WJZY loses two-thirds of its audience from the Fox prime-time. WAXN’s audience increases its audience by nearly three-fourths at 10 p.m.

Why Charlotte? That’s the question that Paul Finebaum gets all the time.

Finebaum, who is to media covering the Southeastern Conference what God is to religion, gets asked why ESPN’s new SEC Network is based in Charlotte, about 100 miles north of the nearest SEC beachhead in Columbia.

Finebaum’s reply: “Why not? It’s television. It doesn’t matter where you are.”

Actually, it matters a little. Last May, when ESPN announced its 20-year deal to run the SEC Network both on TV and through digital platforms, it said it would be based slightly beyond the conference footprint.

ESPN had plenty of room to expand at its Charlotte hub, where ESPNU is based (and where its NASCAR unit was once housed), and the two networks have lots of synergy. Plus, the cost of living and doing business is a fraction of what it is in Connecticut, where ESPN has its headquarters.

Both ESPNU and the SEC Network are nestled in the vast, monolithic office-park maze of Ballantyne. ESPN showed off their snazzy digs this week, and Finebaum was among the media celebrities provided for hobnob purposes.

Finebaum, a former newspaperman, made a name for himself as a sports radio host in Birmingham who got syndicated in SEC markets across the South. He’s been described by The Wall Street Journal as the “Oprah Winfrey of college football” and by the Huntsville (Ala.) Times as “the most influential sports-talk personality in the Southeast.” He’s from the love-’em-or-hate-’em school of broadcasting, perhaps best known for skillfully provoking fans perched on the rival axis between Auburn and Alabama.

Under his five-year contract, his radio show – now on ESPN Radio – has moved to TV, and when the SEC Network launches on Thursday, he’ll play the role of oracle and perhaps provocateur alongside other personalities on the network like Brent Musberger on play-by-play, analysts Tim Tebow and Marcus Spears and up-and-coming reporter Kaylee Hartung.

Though Finebaum is media royalty in the SEC, he admits he feels a little humbled here.

In Charlotte? Why Charlotte?

“It’s the first time I’ve ever lived in a pro-sports town,” he says. He found himself cheering for the Bobcats this year, like he’d just discovered the NBA. And he hopes to hit his first Panthers game some Sunday this fall.

That makes sense, though the NFL might seem a little tame after a career of watching SEC football.

In all, 21 sports, including volleyball, will be carried by the SEC Network on TV or on its Internet site. HD-capable fiber lines have been laid from the control room in Charlotte to all 14 campuses to ensure the signal is network quality. Robotic cameras, controlled from Ballantyne, have been installed in every SEC athletic department for remote interviews. Finally, a real Charlotte’s web.

Media Movers

After five years, Tenikka Smith departs from WSOC (Channel 9) where she was reporter and anchor to a Cox sister station in Jacksonville, Fla., where she will be evening anchor. … Brian Christiansen joins WJZY (Channel 46) as a junior digital journalist. Erick Weber, anchor at New England Cable News, is joining WJZY’s soon-to-be-launched morning show. …

Anniversary of note: Tammy Woehler Lowry, national sales manager at Greater Media Charlotte, marks 15 years at WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9) and WBT-AM (1110). … Reid Spivey leaves WHQC-FM (“Channel” 96.1) to join a sister Clear Channel station in Savannah, Ga., where he’ll do evenings and be program director. …

A woman who lashed out Monday at journalists outside the Catawba County Courthouse in Newton has been charged with assault. Darlene Odom was leaving the arraignment of her son, Sharman, accused in the strangulation of a high school counselor, when Channel 9 reporter Sarah Rosario pointed a microphone at her and asked, “Do you have anything to say about the charges?” She batted Rosario’s microphone away, saying “Get out of my face!” Then she smacked the lens of a Channel 9 camera held by Andrew Perdue, then smacked the camera being held by WBTV’s (Channel 3) Steve Ohnesorge. Perdue wasn’t hurt but Ohnesorge suffered a cut to his eye socket. Ohnesorge has been on five tours of combat zones during his 38-year career at WBTV. “And never a scratch,” he says.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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