WLEX makes big investment in extra local newscasts

How much local news is too much local news? It's a question that some have been asking since Lexington's NBC affiliate, WLEX (Channel 18), announced recently that it would add half-hour newscasts at 4 and 7 p.m.

The answer is simple, WLEX news director Bruce Carter said: The viewers wanted it.

Recent research conducted by the station suggested that viewers wanted newscasts at 4 and 7 p.m. "as more become busier in their lives with the varying times and schedules they work."

It's a big bet for the station, which is generally neck and neck with CBS affiliate WKYT (Channel 27) in newscast household ratings but leads in advertiser-favored demographics. The station is hiring nine people, including an anchor and a meteorologist, to help staff the two new half-hour productions.

"That's going to provide us a tremendous amount of resources to put content into all those newscasts we're going to be doing," Carter said.

The two added newscasts will have WLEX producing six hours of local news a day. WKYT already produces seven hours of televised local news daily, but two of those hours are for Fox affiliate WDKY (Channel 56). WKYT also has an online-only 15-minute newscast at 4 p.m. that has aired since 2007.

"I think they'll realize a lot of the challenges that we face in doing the amount of news we do," WKYT's news director, Robert Thomas, said of WLEX. "If you try to differentiate that newscast, it requires you to be smart about what you cover.

"One of the things we do is we like our newscasts to be different from one another."

WLEX's Carter is already planning a different style of newscast at 4 p.m., which begins Sept. 7. To be hosted by weekend anchor Kristen Pflum and new arrival Devon Patton, the show will include news segments anchored by Dia Davidson and taped reports from morning personality Lee Cruse.

"It'll be lighter in nature," Carter said. "There will still be a news block getting people caught up with all the news from noon to 4 p.m., but there will also be more stuff that people home during that time period will be interested in, including consumer news."

A 4 p.m. newscast in a market the size of Lexington is not unprecedented. Such a newscast exists in nearby Knoxville, which is just slightly larger than Lexington as measured by Nielsen.

The newscast also is a major bet for WLEX because the station already performs well at that time slot with the syndicated Ellen DeGeneres Show. Her show has tied or beaten the rival Oprah Winfrey Show in months past.

WLEX will move DeGeneres' show to 2 p.m. and move back The Rachael Ray Show from that slot to 11 a.m. The station had been running infomercials recently during the 11 a.m. slot until these changes could be made. DeGeneres' talk show had provided a strong segue for WLEX's early-evening newscast at 5 p.m., a lead-in that will now be Inside Edition, which was displaced by the recent launch of the 7 p.m. newscast.

WLEX's news launch at 4 p.m. might not be the last in the market. Thomas said WKYT is in early discussions about what kind of programming will replace Winfrey once her show, which airs at 4 p.m., ends in 2011. "Those conversations and discussions have just begun," he said.

Thomas said he suspects that many stations nationwide that air Winfrey at 4 p.m. will opt for local newscasts.

After all, as Carter said in explaining the 4 p.m. newscast, "there's not a lot of syndicated content out there to buy, and the fact is it's all nationally produced."

"Rather than have something done from out of state, why not provide local content?"