tampabay.com

Exec says local TV station is not moving

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published November 5, 2006


It's a jolting rumor: Longtime Tampa Bay area station WTOG-Ch. 44 will soon transfer most of its operations to a sister station in Norfolk, Va., exporting most of the 38-year-old outlet's jobs and ending its status as a major local institution.

But even as some employees say they have been told that the move to WGNF is a done deal, executives at WTOG owner CBS Television Stations Group insist that will not occur.

The execs are developing a plan to share some operations among WTOG, WGNF and WUPA in Atlanta. But they say they are aware of the St. Petersburg station's history and don't plan to turn it into a thinly staffed shell.

"We're not looking to downsize the entire building in any sense," said Tom Kane, president and CEO of CBS Television Stations Group. "Ch. 44 has some history and a legacy in that town. You still need real people with their feet on the ground in Tampa to have a local feel and presence. We're not going to just have a token sales staff there, as some stations do it."

Kane referred to a cost-saving practice known as "hubbing," in which the operations for several stations are moved into a single headquarters, centralizing business operations, master control, graphics creation and more, and beaming the content to distant stations with skeleton staffs.

When a number of Web sites began discussing rumors of a WTOG move, they described a classic hubbing operation. Christopher Blanton, Webmaster of the Florida News Center site, said that someone claiming to be a WTOG employee told him the station's broadcast operations would be moved by December.

The move would have been unexpected for an outlet once regarded as one of the most profitable independent stations in the country, with its own news department and competitive newscasts.

Then-owners Paramount closed WTOG's news department in 1998 after 16 years, displacing up to 50 employees. Now an affiliate of the new CW network, the station has retained strong ratings with syndicated reruns of series such as The Simpsons, That '70s Show and Friends.

WTOG general manager Frank DeTillio declined to comment on the issue, hanging up the phone during a call from the St. Petersburg Times.

But Kane, who visited WTOG on Oct. 24 with other CBS officials, said the company hoped to inform employees in the next couple of weeks about the specifics of their plan, which will not include gutting the station's staff.

"That's the one bad thing about the Internet and blogs. ... Rumors start there and tend to feed on themselves," he said "It would be irresponsible for us not to take advantage of the technology to save money. But more people are going to be working at Ch. 44 than not working there when this is all done."