WEEK: 25 Years Atop the Ratings

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

WEEK-TV plays in Peoria.
The Granite Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate in East Peoria, Ill., reached the peak of news success 25 years ago and has remained at the summit since then. WEEK has been rated No. 1 in nearly every newscast for 25 years, except for its noon news and morning news, news director Jim Garrott said.
Those programs are comparatively young but arrived on the scene robust and ready to take over their time slots. The morning newscast has been tops since its inception 13 years ago, while the noon news took first place two years ago after debuting eight years ago, he said.
The 10 p.m. news last lost in July 1991, when ABC affiliate WHOI-TV won the crown.
WEEK was the first to sign on in market 117 in 1953 and also the first commercial station there to transmit a full-powered high-definition signal earlier this year.
As a small-market station, however, WEEK has seen its share of talent come and go. Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn started at the station, as did Mary Ann Ahern, now with Chicago NBC owned-and-operated station WMAQ-TV; Becky Oliver of Dallas Fox O&O KDFW-TV; and Anna Werner of Belo-owned CBS affiliate KHOU-TV.
Even so, WEEK has managed to hold on to a fair share of its talent, and each newscast boasts an anchor who has been on at the station for at least 10 years or since the inception of the show. “That’s highly unusual for a market this small,” Mr. Garrott said. “People have made a decision that this is a place to sit down and raise a family.”
The stability of talent is helpful in a town like East Peoria, where local employer Caterpillar has cut its work force by 50 percent over the past 20 years, he said. Mr. Garrott said 85 percent of the staff is from East Peoria or has lived there for more than five years.
“We do pay a lot and pay our main anchors more than the running share,” he said.
WEEK has also made an active commitment to be involved in the community. It covers events such as the first televised baseball game in April 2002 for the Peoria Chiefs, the Class A St. Louis Cardinals affiliate, and the St. Jude telethon benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Through the telethon in early August, WEEK raised $3.2 million for childhood cancer.
Mr. Garrott joined the station in 1983 as an intern and worked at Gannett Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate KARE-TV in Minneapolis for five years before returning to WEEK as news director six years ago. His task is simple.
“My job is to make sure I don’t mess it up and knock it out of first,” he said.
When he has made changes, he has made them incrementally. The look of the newscast has evolved over the past few years through graphical changes and set updates.
He has also modified the story selection process from having reporters cover every meeting under the sun to a focus on pertinent issues.
For instance, WEEK was the first station to report on the town’s efforts to abate noise pollution from motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.
“We stepped back and said, `This is a hot-button issue,”’ Mr. Garrott said. “It’s easy enough to say there is a budget problem; everyone is going to cover that. Everyone is going to cover a cop-killing murder trial,” he said.
At 6:30 a.m. the station captured a 6 rating/33 share in May 2003, well ahead of its nearest competitor, Nexstar-owned CBS affiliate WMBD-TV, with a 2/11. At 5 p.m. the station snagged an 8/26 in May compared with a 4/13 at WMBD. The 6 p.m. news garnered a 9/22, compared with WMBD’s 7/16.
In late local news WEEK scored a 14/30, compared with WMBD’s 8/18.