WMC Focuses on Hard News

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Raycom Media-owned NBC affiliate WMC-TV in Memphis signed on in 1948 as the first station in Tennessee, and it has been No. 1 for most of its 55 years.
Its 5 p.m. news has claimed victory in every book since May 1998. But when news director Peggy Phillip joined in 1998, she saw an opportunity to make the broadcaster even stronger.
At that time, the station was tops at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., second in mornings and third or fourth at noon.
New Sense of Urgency
“My goal was to win all the newscasts, sign-on to sign-off,” she said. “There wasn’t anything really broken with WMC, but the one thing I think I did do was re-inject some urgency into a newsroom that had been so successful for so long.”
The first task was to tackle the morning show, where she canned the long-form interviews and lighter fare and focused firmly on news, weather and traffic to better serve commuters and parents getting the kids ready for school. The long, rambling live shots were axed. “We reformatted the show and made it a lot harder,” she said.
She beefed up the staff, too, adding a producer, associate producer, editor and reporter. Just a year later, WMC began winning 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. This past May, the station scored a 7 rating/21 share during that time period, with New York Times Co.-owned CBS affiliate WREG-TV second at 4.7/14. Since Memphis is a shift town, WMC added another half-hour in January and now starts its morning news at 4:30 a.m.
The station expanded its noon news to an hour in 2000 and now is second behind WREG in that news race.
“Our philosophy is to be right and be first and be the station people depend on Monday through Sunday. We stick with the big story and don’t try to manufacture stuff,” Ms. Phillip said. That means that the station will do whatever it takes to be first on the air. “If it’s happening now, I want to see it on the air. We’ll blow out whatever we have to blow out,” she said.
Experience Counts
Also critical to the success of the station is the stability of the front-line talent. Main anchor Joe Birch, who leads the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news, has been with the station for 25 years, weatherman Dave Brown for 26 and sports anchor Jarvis Greer for 24. Kym Clark anchors the 5 p.m. and noon news and has been with the station for 15 years. “It’s like the shoes in your closet,” Ms. Phillip said of the tenured team. “You’re going to put on the ones that fit your feet and are comfortable to walk in.”
Experience helps, and so does community involvement. Ms. Clark is involved with Friends for Life and Race for the Cure. Anchor Donna Davis is the spokesperson for the American Heart Association and Mr. Birch, in addition to his Rotary Club duties, chairs and spearheads fund-raising activities for the local Alzheimer’s group as well as the St. Patrick Center, which serves some of the neediest neighborhood children in Memphis. Ms. Phillip is on the board of the Greater Memphis YWCA.
“It helps manifest stories and connect with the community,” Ms. Phillip said.