This week, WGCL announced a partnership with WQXI / 790 “The Zone” to provide sports coverage for the television station. WGCL news director Steve Schwaid answered some e-mailed questions about it below. First, this excerpt from a WGCL news release:
“This is a successful partnership for Atlanta sports fans and WGCL-TV,” said Kirk Black, Senior Vice President and General Manager of WGCL-TV. “The experience and personality of Atlanta’s premiere sports talk radio station will add valuable resources to CBS Atlanta News.”
“For the last 13 years, 790 The Zone has been the brand for sports in Atlanta and we could not be more excited about this partnership with CBS Atlanta and their core sports properties including the NFL, S.E.C Football, March Madness and the Masters. This dynamic alliance will only stengthen our ability to connect to the Atlanta sports fan”, said Andrew Saltzman, President of Sports Radio 790 The Zone.
“This new relationship will make CBS Atlanta and Sports Radio 790 “The Zone” Atlanta’s best source for sports information,” said Steve Schwaid, News Director of WGCL-TV. “It will allow CBS Atlanta to answer our viewers’ Tough Questions and deliver on our promise of providing the very latest news and information every night.”
In an e-mail to LAF, Schwaid adds the following:
We have NOT gotten rid of our sports department. We still have people who will shoot sports and we still have our sports producer who produces our specials, weekly shows and sports programming.
I started looking at this option months ago. It’s an issue of resources. If I can give viewers a strong sports source, take the resources I put into sports and repurpose them for our news gathering then it’s truly a win-win. Personally this was hard because I really like working with Mark [Harmon] and Gil [Tyree] and have great respect for them. But we’ve seen a decreased appetite for local sports. In fact, [that's] the reason stations place sports where they do in their newscasts, [which] is after the click.
Much like ABC got rid of their sports department and now buys services from ESPN, this allows us to take a sports organization that reports on sports 24/7/365 and now have them as a resource for us. In effect we now have more folks working on sports than any TV station in the market.
And this realignment of resources means we’re adding jobs: two reporters, two photogs, one producer, one assignment editor.
Unlike stations that have to cut people or furlough people, Meredith has given us the ok to shift the resources so we can focus on our mission: Tonight’s Top Stories, Tomorrow Morning’s Forecast in the First 5 minutes and pursuing the Tough Questions.
Speaking of questions:
LAF: How many WGCL sports employees were released? Any thoughts about their departure?
Steve Schwaid: Mark and Gil will be leaving us. Personally this was a tough decision because I have enjoyed working with them and truly respect them.
LAF: Does WGCL lose any significant identity by parting with them?
SS: Sorry to say no. Unfortunately TV stations are really not defined by their sports folks, no matter what we like to think. Every bit of research shows that local sports coverage is NOT a high priority to local viewers. ESPN, Fox Sports, the web and mobile have radically changed how people get their sports info. The majority of weekday newscasts are nothing more than locker-room sound bites or highlights – the same stuff you will see on ESPN, but with much more context and analysis.
LAF: Does this signal a diminished commitment to sports on the part of WGCL?
SS: I think this shows actually a larger commitment. We have the resources of the entire Sports Zone, 790 Team. The station lives and breathes sports. And they have been part of our Saturday Sports Line shows for years and also part of our Friday SEC show.
LAF: Does this market (or local news generally) demand local sports like it once did?
SS: Unfortunately not. There are so many places for sports fans to get their info in real time. Why wait till 11 pm for the scores when I can get it right now on the web, on sports channels and my iPhone.
LAF: Is there anything counterintuitive about using radio guys to produce TV sports?
SS: I would say it’s innovative, especially since they program for sports 24/7/365.
LAF: How will this “dynamic alliance” work on a day-to-day basis? If you get a sports scoop, do you simply call those guys and tell them to cover it for you? Or do they tell you what’s getting covered?
SS: We’ve worked with 790 for years. Nick has done stories for us, he appears weekly in our sports line and dawg shows and he has also filled in for Mark and Gil during vacations. I think it will be seamless to the viewer.
Honestly, I will lay odds that the sports radio guys break more stories than any of the TV sports guys in the market. They’re at more games, more events, more stories and have more contacts – they talk sports on the radio for hours and hours a day instead of the two or three minutes TV stations do on a daily basis.
LAF: Is there another major market TV station in America that’s using a sports radio station to handle its TV sports?
SS: I believe Kansas City. But more importantly there are more and more stations dropping or cutting back sports.