ABC affiliate to drop 5 p.m. TV newscast

Lexington ABC affiliate WTVQ-36 is canceling its 5 p.m. newscast and considering changing its “Action News 36” slogan as it continues making broad changes to its news operation.

Station management told the staff at a Thursday meeting that the 5 p.m. news would be replaced by an episode of the syndicated Judge Judy beginning in September. It has no plans to cut other newscasts.

“If you're doing 30 minutes less news programming a day, it means you can put more resources into the time periods when you are doing news,” said General Manager Chris Aldridge.

Aldridge said that in 2002, the station was counter-programming rival newscasts at 5 p.m. with Judge Judy and led NBC affiliate WLEX-18 in household ratings while trailing WKYT-27.

He said the 5:30 p.m. news at that time also was boosted by the strong lead-in.

Rivals criticized the move.

“I think it's unfortunate for the market,” said WLEX News Director Bruce Carter. “The more competition you have, you keep on your toes, and you make sure your product is the best it can be.”

Robert Thomas, news director at WKYT, said it surprised him because third-place stations in other markets sometimes re-energize their news by moving to off-times such as 4 or 7 p.m.

“They're just eliminating some news,” he said.

The move won't save the third-place station any money, Aldridge said, though it is absorbing the loss of a producer who “decided to leave to pursue other things.” Also, executive producer Tom Baumann said he was terminated Wednesday. He declined to say why. The station also declined to comment, saying only that it has not yet decided whether to fill that job.

Baumann said that when he started at WTVQ in January, the station's news director, who has since been fired, was discussing adding a 7 p.m. newscast.

“At this time, there are no discussions regarding adding any additional newscasts to our lineup,” Aldridge said.

He said WTVQ homed in on cutting the 5 p.m. news because of its past success with Judge Judy and the fact that fewer people watch television at 5 p.m. than at 5:30 or 6 p.m., Aldridge said.

WTVQ also is considering whether to change the “Action News 36” brand name and “Dedicated, determined, dependable” slogan.

Next week, the station will begin auditioning replacements for evening co-anchor Megan Newquist, whose last newscast was Friday after she was unable to reach a new contract with the station.

Michelle Rauch will audition first. Other candidates include Kristi Runyon, Carla Wade, Megan Skaggs and Kellie Wilson. No external candidates are being considered, Aldridge said.

The change is just one of several after the station's sale earlier this year to Morris Multimedia. Evening anchor Don Hudson will leave at the end of October, as the station has chosen to not renew his contract. It fired News Director Tai Takahashi earlier this month, choosing to replace him with Doug Hogan, a former official with Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration.