Airtime Tallahassee

Getting Networked

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Tallahassee may not be the biggest media market in the state (Nielson ranks it 135th in the nation), but it still has a variety of radio and TV stations to entertain and inform its residents. There are public radio and TV, an expanding cable system and, in the immediate listening area, nine commercial radio stations. And with the arrival of long-awaited WTWC Channel 40, all three major TV networks are now represented locally.

This is also a time of growth, change and vigorous competition. The biggest news is the sign-on of television Channel 40. It will, at first, show mostly NBC network and syndicated shows. With new staff and equipment, general manager Bill Fouch says it may take a little while to work all the bugs out, so that’s why he’ll wait a few months before premiering a local news show.

“We only have one chance to make a good impression,” he says. “We want to control the situation, not have the situation control us.”

And he’s ready to compete with the two existing local stations, WCTV and WECA. Noting that the area is economically sound and has a population of desirable income and age, he says it can only continue to grow. That makes it ripe for a new station.

“We very much want to be a part of this market,” Fouch says.

Top-rated WCTV Channel 6, on the air since 1955, has always had a firm lock on the market, ratings-wise. Program director Jerry Williams is not worried that the new station might take a part of that market away.

‘‘We’ll hold our own,” he says. Referring to Channel 40, he says, “I don’t know that there’ll be that much new offered.” He refers, of course, to the fact that cable TV viewers have been able to watch NBC stations from Albany and Panama City. He also feels Channel 6 will continue to lead the ratings with its local news.

News anchor Frank Ranicky has been on the air for 10 years and likes it here.

“This town is big enough yet small enough to get involved in the community as well as report on it,” Ranicky says. “I identify really strongly with this area.”

Two other well-known Channel 6 personalities extend their talents beyond that station alone. Weatherman Mike Rucker also does call-in forecasts for several radio stations, and sportscaster Gene Deckerhoff is featured on WGLF-FM radio. But Deckerhoff is best known for his play-by-play work with the FSU Seminoles.

Williams is proud of the news overall, saying, “I think we’re presenting it the way people want to see it.” He also notes the popularity of the Farm Report, “Good Morning Show” and “Midday” for providing a local touch.

The third station, WECA Channel 27, has consistently trailed Channel 6 in the ratings, but that, says general manager Jim Matthews, is partly because the geographical area in which the stations are measured is defined by the Channel 6 viewing area, which extends in a 100-mile radius.

“We can’t beat them in their own territory,” he says. Instead, WECA emphasizes its identity as a Florida-licensed station.

“News is extremely important to us,” he adds.

The news show is currently anchored by former radio man Jim Knight and former WFSU-TV reporter Beverly Rogers. The co-anchor approach gives a more varied look on the air, Matthews says, and lets the “unique personality of either person be applied to the story.” The sports desk is manned by Ned Smith (formerly “Sandy Beach,” a longtime disc jockey on Gulf 104), and Beth Campbell handles the weather.

“In Person,” another of Channel 27’s locally produced shows, has a new look. Neddy Sumners, who, in her time on the air, has already become an institution, is now co-host of “AM Tallahassee.” She and TV veteran Jack Ridner use the revamped half-hour to, as Matthews describes it, give better advice on how to make the quality of life a little better.

“I hope it catches on,” he says.

Public television station WFSU-TV is feeling the pinch of hard economic times. Its summer fundraising drive came in several thousand dollars below its goal, but still, it collected more money than ever before in its history.

In October, the “Imagination Station” moved into its new headquarters on Pottsdammer Street, even as finishing touches were put on the main production studio. But the move was generally smooth, and most staff members seem pleased with the abundance of space, compared to the old quarters in Dodd Hall on the FSU campus.

For those who have difficulty receiving stations without cable, pressure from residents has prompted local government to look at services provided by Group W, currently the only cable TV provider. There has been talk of adding several new channels for a higher monthly fee, but attorney Steve Slepin of Citizens for Better Cable said he didn’t think much of the change, as he feels increased services should be available for what is now the basic charge.

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