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WBBM zooms in on local programming

Nov 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Chicago’s WBBM-TV, a CBS owned-and-operated station, has created a local programming department as part of a station overhaul that is designed to help it out of the ratings cellar.
The department is responsible for developing and covering local events, like parades, festivals, special events and lifestyle and entertainment issues, said Fran Preston, VP, station manager and program director. She joined WBBM three months ago after spending the past 24 years with Chicago ABC affiliate WLS-TV, she said.
“Much of what I did there was develop and produce local programming, which is really the key to serving the community,” she said. “I think we need to do that here. One of my goals [when joining WBBM] was to rebuild the programming department.”
The local programming department was formed in late August when Jay Foot came on board as executive producer of WBBM’s programming department. He was formerly the executive producer of the WLS magazine show “190 North.”
New hires announced last week for the WBBM unit include producers Phil Wolf and Cathleen Karp, who move over from WBBM’s sales and news divisions, respectively. Chris Cangilla, a photographer/editor, is joining the group from the sales department.
Local programming is a vital part of WBBM’s rebuilding process, Ms. Preston said. The first local broadcast was a September parade for Hispanic Heritage Month, which was followed by the Columbus Day Parade in October. “Chicago is a big parade town with a lot of ethnic communities,” she said.
The four-person team will continue to cover local politics and community issues and will appear in public service announcements. Some programming will be regularly scheduled and some will be special events.
Local programming isn’t necessary for every market, but it is important in a place like Chicago, whose residents have a strong loyalty to their city, said Jim Lichtenstein, founder of Assignmenteditor.com and a consultant to local TV stations. He has worked at both WBBM and WLS. “If a station has a big commitment to the local community, they need local programming,” he said.
WBBM unveiled a redesigned look, featuring a simpler set and logo, at the start of November. The newscast open now showcases the anchors poised in front of a new graphic of Chicago.
Graphics as a whole are brighter, clearer and crisper, Ms. Preston said. “We cleaned up the set. It was a little busy. There were lots of graphic elements that distracted from the storytelling,” she said.
In August, WBBM hired Joe Ahern as president and general manager, who then hired Ms. Preston. Mr. Ahern most recently served as president and GM for ABC O&O KGO-TV in San Francisco and has worked with WLS. In September, WBBM replaced news director Crag Hume with Carol Fowler from WGN-TV.
While CBS O&Os are free to implement their own local strategies, the rebuilding effort at WBBM fits in well with CBS parent company Viacom’s national strategy to improve its station group performance.
Fred Reynolds, president of Viacom Television Stations Group, and Dennis Swanson, executive VP and chief operating officer of the group, have sharpened the focus of the CBS O&Os during the past several months, said CBS spokesman Dana McClintock.
“This is the time we have to capitalize on increasingly good prime-time lead-ins [such as “CSI”] to local news,” Mr. McClintock said. The addition of “Dr. Phil” to afternoon schedules in many markets has also buoyed the overall slate for CBS stations.