Fox and CW networks switch stations in Charlotte starting Monday

Monday is moving day for “The Simpsons” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

In the first TV affiliation switch in Charlotte since 1978, Fox network shows are heading to WJZY (Channel 46) and CW network shows are going to WCCB (Channel 18).

For viewers, the biggest impact is looking for favorite shows on a different channel. But for the business of broadcasting, it is a huge shift in fortunes for Charlotte stations, one expected to play out for a long time.

“This is such an important place for Fox,” said Shepard Smith, a Fox News Channel personality who visited Charlotte on Thursday for a WJZY party celebrating the switch. “It’s sort of at the heart of Fox country.”

He was referring not only to the success of the Fox News Channel in the region, where it leads CNN and MSNBC in ratings, but to the power of Fox’s sports contracts, including the NFL Carolina Panthers games and NASCAR racing.

Fox announced in January it was buying WJZY and sister station WMYT (Channel 55) from Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting in an $18 million deal that included the stations’ property, assessed at $1.4 million, on Performance Drive off Interstate 85 in west Charlotte.

Being a network-owned station means having deep-pocket owners who are able to invest aggressively, particularly in local news shows that are highly profitable because of the regional advertising they can reap. Charlotte is the nation’s 25th-largest television market, with 1.1 million households. Local stations bill an estimated $170 million in advertising.

Leading the Fox push

Karen Adams is now the most prominent woman in Charlotte broadcasting (and the only female general manager of a commercial TV station here). Adams, who oversaw Greensboro’s WGHP (Channel 8) during the 12 years it was owned by Fox, was chosen by the network to run its new Charlotte stations.

Adams started at WGHP while a student at High Point College in the mid-’70s, operating a studio camera.

“That very first night, the broadcasting bug bit me,” she said. “I was standing behind camera No. 2 and I thought, ‘If I cough, everyone will hear me.’ Then at the end, the credits rolled and it would say, ‘Camera 2, Karen Adams.’ That’s a thrill that has never left me.”

Adams, 59, worked up through the station’s ranks, and, as general manager under Fox ownership, led it to No. 1 in Greensboro in ratings and market share.

“It was an unusual situation at WGHP,” said Smith, the Fox News anchor who has known Adams for years. “Everybody seemed to like working for her.”

Adams said she is proud of the community work WGHP did in the Triad, including coat drives. An initiative she started 25 years ago with the Salvation Army has collected gifts for 22,000 children through the years. Annual Christmas concerts sponsored by the station have collected 800,000 food items for the needy.

“Kids, coats, concerts,” Adams said. “I fully intend to replicate that here.”

In January, WJZY is expected to launch its own news department. Until then, it will carry a 10 p.m. newscast produced by WBTV (Channel 3) and anchored by Molly Grantham.

Starting local news

Heading the news unit will be Geoff Roth from the Fox-owned Houston station. Roth, who starts July 8, has launched one other newsroom, in San Diego in 2000.

“You pretty much work at it 24/7, designing the newsroom, then hiring staff,” Roth said. WJZY will renovate its west Charlotte building and expand studio space to accommodate the news and business operations.

Roth has worked at stations in Washington, Miami, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Denver, Colo., and Richmond, Va. He also taught journalism at Hofstra University.

WJZY’s Sunday night public affairs program for the last six years, “Charlotte Now with Mike Collins,” will air its last episode this weekend, Adams said.

Preparing for Monday’s switch, WJZY has launched a marketing campaign that includes billboards and bus ads. This weekend a truck giving out free ice cream will prowl Charlotte to advertise its new brand, “Fox 46 Carolinas.”

Fox’s former home

WCCB (Channel 18), owned by Charlotte-based Bahakel Communications, had been the city’s Fox affiliate since the network was launched in 1989. It will now carry programming from the CW network, which runs a distant fifth among the nation’s broadcast networks and targets its programming toward women ages 18-34.

Losing the Fox affiliation, and the ratings the network brings, could cost WCCB millions in ad revenue.

With Fox programming, WCCB ranked third among the seven local stations in the key advertising demographic of viewers ages 25-54 during May’s sweeps. WJZY, which carried the CW network, ranked last.

General manager Jim White has said WCCB will remain committed to local news and a small set is being added in the newsroom for stand-up reports. It has been a turbulent year in the station’s newsroom. Key anchor Israel Balderas departed in May and co-anchor Morgan Fogarty has announced she will leave at the end of July for an undisclosed job.

WCCB is doing little promotion for the affiliation switch next week. Jim Babb, a veteran Charlotte broadcaster and vice president of television for Bahakel, said Friday the holiday week isn’t the best time for getting people’s attention.

But he said the station would announce something about its future at 4 p.m. Monday on the air. He wouldn’t say what it would be.

He would say WCCB’s personality would be a bit zanier than before, strong words from a station that once had a singing meteorologist, Mark Mathis. “We have been far too conservative,” Babb said with a chuckle.

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