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WFLA news spreading to Pax station

The live, half-hour segments on WXPX will air at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. weekdays.

By ERIC DEGGANS

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


WFLA-Ch. 8 next week will begin producing half-hour newscasts for Pax TV affiliate WXPX-Ch. 66, a move WFLA officials say could become a national template for how NBC and Pax affiliates develop newscasts together.

WFLA anchors Keith Cate and Stacie Schaible will host the live shows, dubbed NewsChannel 8 on PAX at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. weekdays. They will feature stories culled from the NBC affiliate's 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, presented on the same set used for WFLA's programs.

Scheduled to debut Tuesday, the programs will mark the first time an NBC affiliate has produced a live newscast for a Pax station.

WFLA officials have wanted for years to spread their brand to another spot on the TV dial. And ever since NBC bought a one-third stake in Pax TV last year, WFLA had hoped to strike this deal with the West Palm Beach-based network owned by Home Shopping Network co-founder Lowell "Bud" Paxson.

"These will be very utilitarian newscasts . . . solid, basic reporting in a fast-paced, Headline News kind of style . . . with no sports," said Dan Bradley, vice president of news for Media General Broadcast Group, which owns WFLA.

"Their redeeming value is in the convenience factor," adds Bradley, who once planned to develop a 10 p.m. show for WTOG-Ch. 44 in 1988, when the UPN affiliate disbanded its news department. "People watching news at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. may not be able to see it at other times." WFLA hopes to expand the shows to weekends eventually.

The advantage for low-rated WXPX is also clear, since much of a local station's identity springs from its local news operation. Getting a newscast developed by and promoted on the area's highest-rated local station could bring new visibility and viewership.

"Looking at the numbers, we think there's room for another 10 p.m. newscast in the market," says Douglas Barker, senior vice president of affiliate relations at Pax TV -- which initially balked at pushing back its highest-rated show, reruns of Diagnosis Murder, from 10 p.m.

Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 and Time Warner's cable news channel Bay News 9 both offer newscasts at 10 p.m. During November's "sweeps" ratings period, WTVT drew a higher viewership in its first half-hour at 10 p.m. than any 11 p.m. newscast, WFLA included.

Last month, "only 36 percent of the audience was watching 11 p.m. news shows . . . (so) it's not unexpected that we'd get some competition," says Robert Linger, general manager at WTVT. "We're an established product, so I'm not worried."

These newscasts follow the announcement last month of a joint sales agreement partnership that will see nearly all of WXPX's staffers move into WFLA's sprawling Tampa headquarters. WXPX will also move its transmitter to help improve a weak local UHF signal, Bradley said.

WFLA viewers can expect to see lots of commercials notifying them of the new broadcasts.

"We wanted this program," says Bradley. "We're going to do everything we can to make it a success."

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