Nicole Pence, morning co-anchor for NBC affiliate WLEX (Channel 18), is leaving the station later this month to take a job in Indianapolis.
Pence joined the station in 2008 as a reporter and was promoted to morning anchor a little more than a year later after Dia Davidson switched to a different schedule when she returned from maternity leave.
Pence is taking a weekend morning anchor position at the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis and will report three days a week.
"WTHR ... has been my dream television station since I was a young girl growing up in Columbus, Ind.," Pence said. "I attended DePauw University and always had a goal of coming back home.
"I didn't believe it would be this soon."
A national search is under way for Pence's replacement, though multiple internal candidates are being considered, said WLEX news director Bruce Carter.
"While we will miss her greatly, it's a great career opportunity for her," he said.
Pence and co-anchor Chris Goodman have helped grow the morning newscast's viewership to the point that WLEX recently expanded the 5 to 7 a.m. time slot to include 4:30 to 5 a.m.
During the February ratings period, the station's morning newscasts far outpaced its closest competitor, CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27).
"The morning show was just a huge win," Carter said.
And he doesn't expect that to change even with Pence's departure.
"You hate to lose an anchor as popular as Nicole, but in the past, we've had a number of anchors leave that show and the ratings haven't moved an inch," he said. "It's all about the presentation and content and style of news.
"We'll find someone very talented who viewers will get used to and like just as much."
WLEX wins news ratings
WLEX's morning news highlighted another victory for the NBC affiliate in the local newscast ratings.
The NBC affiliate won five of the eight competitive newscast time slots in household ratings, dropping only noon and 12:30 p.m. to WKYT. The stations tied in household ratings at 11 p.m., though WLEX outpaced WKYT in advertiser-favored demographics.
"It was a big win for us," Carter said, adding the 11 p.m. results came "despite the fact that NBC has abysmal prime-time ratings."
"We hope their new programming will help us in the fall," he said.
The February ratings also included a big jump for PBS member station KET, which said it saw a record viewership increase of 33 percent compared to February 2011.
Craig Cornwell, KET's director of programming, said in a statement that viewership typically fluctuates only 2 percent to 3 percent.
"However, this year, viewership was up significantly every night of the week," Cornwell said. "With the increased popularity of Downton Abbey, we're seeing new viewers come and sample KET's many other programs, from Frontline to Movie Classics."
WKYT, WUKY win awards
WKYT and public radio station WUKY-FM (91.3) each recently received a pair of Edward R. Murrow regional awards.
WKYT won awards for hard news reporting for a piece by Gabriel Roxas and Bart Bill titled "Wounded Warriors" and sports reporting for a story by Brian Milam and John Wilson titled "Vintage Baseball."
WUKY won for audio investigative reporting for a piece about how the military handles death benefits and for use of sound in a piece on trainers and jockeys reflecting on Keeneland.
The stations competed in the small market category against others in Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
The awards are given by the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and regional winners are eligible for the national competition.
NPR testing shows in area
National Public Radio is testing three pilot programs on Richmond's WEKU-88.9 FM this summer.
At 2 p.m. Saturdays, the station is airing Ask Me Another, a show featuring puzzles, word games and trivia played in front of an audience.
At 3 p.m. Saturdays, the station airs TED Radio Hour. WUKY also airs the program at 8 p.m. Sundays. Hosted by journalist Alison Stewart, the show presents ideas about modern life from some of today's most fascinating thinkers, according to a statement from WUKY.
In July, WEKU will begin airing the variety show Cabinet of Wonders in the 3 p.m. Saturday time slot after TED runs through its 10 programs.
Kentucky.com ranks high in study
Kentucky.com, the Lexington Herald-Leader's Web site, ranked 21st nationally in a study measuring the local reach of newspaper and television stations' online operations.
The findings came from a study conducted in more than 100 markets by The Media Audit, a communications research firm. The report found nearly 40 percent of Lexington adults visit Kentucky.com at least once during a 30-day period.
The top local media Web site was that of KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, which attracted nearly two-thirds of Salt Lake City adults during a 30-day period.
Kentucky.com was the only Kentucky Web site listed in the top 45 disclosed in the report.
Comings and goings
■ WTVQ reporter Jacqueline Sprague has left the station for a job in Dayton, Ohio, said general manager Chris Aldridge.
■ WLEX weekend sports anchor Brent Carney has left the station to take a position in Austin, Texas. The station has hired Kyle Scott, who last worked in the Huntington, W.Va., market, as his replacement.
■ ABC affiliate WTVQ (Channel 36) has hired Steve France as news director, replacing Doug Hogan, who recently left to work for the The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky in Louisville.
France comes to the station from WUPW, the Fox affiliate in Toledo, Ohio, where he served as news director for eight years.
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.