Category Archives: WNEG

White elephant

"We Never Earned Greenbacks" - WNEG

The shiny new television station installed this year at the University of Georgia has been a spectacular commercial failure.  The Red and Black reports that WNEG, which moved its operations from Toccoa to a new studio at the Grady College of Journalism, may have to pull the plug on all its operations by September.

From the Red and Black:

Following months of declining revenue and a growing deficit, the station faces the real possibility of being taken off the air mere months after it started programming from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. WNEG has already burned through most of a five-year, $5 million grant and could “hit the brick wall” by September if woeful economic trends continue.

“It all depends on what happens in between now and then,” said Michael Castengera, manager of the station now housed on the bottom floor of Grady College. “Then we’ll have to decide the next steps.”

“We’ve been in Athens effectively since January 1, and it takes time to reorient,” said Culpepper “Cully” Clark, dean of Grady College. “With all the factors, the cash has burned much quicker than we thought.”

With a fiscal year 2010 operating expense of $1.8 million and a projected annual revenue of $800,000 — which merely covers the $786,000 in staffing salaries — the station will incur a deficit of $1 million. The deficit will be drawn from what’s left of the grant.

The Red and Black reports that WNEG’s financial woes are rooted in poor advertising sales.  The TV station is based in a tiny market in Northeast Georgia, whose major cities are Athens, Gainesville and Toccoa.  WNEG also lacks affiliation with any major TV network.

WNEG has a small full-time staff to produce UGA-based newscasts.  Grady students also produced content for the newscasts, making UGA one of three universities in America with a commercial TV station at its disposal for journalism students.  For students seeking careers in TV news, work at a “real” TV station is a big plus on the resume.

The Red and Black reports that WNEG had hoped to land programming contracts with the UGA athletic department to broadcast sports like gymnastics.  But in 2009, the Athletic department signed a big contract with another provider.

In the same issue, the Red and Black’s editorial board calls for the University to shut down WNEG.  Which would be a damned shame.


Sports guy Cody Chaffins with Ray Metoyer, WNEG

TV news students at UGA’s Grady College  of Journalism have a cool new tool on which to regularly ply their nascent trade:  An actual TV station.

The University of Georgia purchased Toccoa-based WNEG-TV months ago.  In November, it began doing its newscasts from a new studio at Grady.  Monday, it added an all-student, Athens-oriented newscast to the program schedule.  The cable-only newscast once known as “NewsSource 15” is now “UGA NewsSource.”  It’s produced live-to-tape at 5pm weekdays, and is transmitted over actual airwaves at 7:30pm following WNEG’s regular local half-hour newscast (which airs at 6 and repeats at 7).

Now, the entire TV station runs from the Grady College.  “The last show [from Toccoa], fittingly, was the Billy Dilworth show,” says General Manager Michael Castengera.  (Dilworth hosted a local country music variety show on WNEG for a bunch of years.  Regrettably, a search of Youtube yields none of Dilworth’s work.)

WNEG has three full-time reporters who function as one-woman bands.  It also has full-time anchor talent including Ray Metoyer, late of WGCL (its news director is ex-WSB radio reporter Jeff Dantre).  The full time staff provide content for the 6/7pm news; the station will use UGA students to supplement that content.  Students will fully drive the “UGA NewsSource” half hour.

Castengera agreed to answer a few questions for LAF.

– How much of your news content will be day-of, and how much will be project based?

Most of the news will be day-of, developing news stories just like any other other news operation.  We will be working on features and ‘sweeps specials.’  A group of graduate students recently produced a series of reports dealing with how locally grown food affects health.  It was called “harvesting health.

What’s your live remote capability?

We have a microwave truck with fairly significant coverage range.  In addition, we have a unique system of live capable positions spread around the campus, using the backhaul of the local cable service.
How rare is it for universities to have broadcast TV stations at their disposal?

There are only three university-owned commercial television stations in the country — us at WNEG, WVUA at the University of Alabama and KOMU at the University of Missouri.  There are a number of universities that have cable-delivered newscasts and a couple, like the University of Florida, that have a news relationship with their local PBS station.

NewsSource 15 was a cable newscast.   Why is it an upgrade to put it on a TV station?

We’ve always pushed the idea at Grady that all material needs to be a professional standard.  That applied when it was a cable only newscast and maybe even more so now that it is a over-the-air TVv station.  The cable channel ‘only’ reached about 60,000 households.  The TV station has the potential of reaching seven or eight times that number, upwards of 1.2 million viewers,  from Athens to Gainesville to Toccoa as well as parts of South Carolina.  That makes it even more “real” for the students [and for the news directors who might hire them after they graduate].  The cable only was distributed in about three counties.
Given the contraction of traditional media, does it make sense to devote this resource to TV news?

The intent all along was for the content delivery to be agnostic, or if you prefer, multi-platform.  Part of it is because of the reality of what you say, that there is a movement to new media, and we as a commercial station have to do that, and students have to learn that.  But at the same time, television will remain a core component of that delivery system.  As you probably know, even with all the hoopla about new media, television is still far and away the dominant media across all demographics.  TV viewing in fact is up year to year.  So it will remain a strong component for the foreseeable future.

View from a control room

From Newsource 15's web site

Newsource 15's control room. Photo from UGA's web site.

A fringe benefit of working at a TV station is the opportunity to invite yourself into the control room during a live broadcast.  The draw is the madcap entertainment.  Sometimes it’s sheer bedlam. More often than not, the show behind the scenes is far superior to the one being produced for TV.  Last week we visited the control room of “Newsource 15,” the Athens cable channel newscast produced by UGA students.  Here are some sights and sounds, with a name changed to protect the innocent and impressionable:

“Get that crap off the wall!  It looks awful!” Uttered by a faculty adviser after a student delivered a package intro from the newsroom.  The adviser was distressed by some paper that had been sloppily taped to a wall near the assignment board.

“Take a step to the right.”  (Student moves the wrong way.)  “Camera right!”  (Student looks puzzled.)  “Your left!” The same faculty adviser, via earpiece, to a student in the studio.

“We’re gonna have to cut commercials.” The student producer in the control room, realizing her newscast was going too long.

“No!  You cannot cut commercials.  You can’t cut commercials.” The faculty adviser, schooling the producer.

“Ohhhh- [Pat’s] making faces!” A director, talking about the weathercaster during a three-shot with the other studio talent.  The weathercaster had been told to abbreviate the segment due to lack of time, then got an early wrap.  The remark occurred after the weathercaster finished.

“Say goodbye!” The faculty adviser, via earpiece, to one of the anchors as time ran out.  “Hope y’all join us tomorrow,” the student concluded as the picture went to black.

“Views expressed do not represent the administration, the Board of Regents or the University of Georgia.” Audio disclaimer played at the end of every newscast.

Item: Of the six students who appeared in the half-hour newscast, five were women.

Item: UGA now feeds its choicest student packages to WNEG-TV Toccoa, which re-broadcasts them in a newscast fronted by former WAGA and WXIA anchor Chuck Moore.

Item: UGA now owns WNEG, and is looking for a news director.  Salary:  $45,000 or so.  Seriously.  And you re-locate to Toccoa.

Neonatal newsgatherers

This week the University of Georgia’s Grady school of journalism took over a real-life on-air TV station.   Used to be that UGA’s J-school kids had committed acts of television for a cable-only station in Athens.  Now they have an actual FCC-licensed TV station.  This means TV viewers in northeast Georgia will be subject to an ongoing TV news experiment.  It should be horrifying, amusing and potentially exhilarating.

WNEG’s transmitter is in Toccoa.  Occasionally, Channel 32’s news crews would overlap into territory covered by the Atlanta media.  The Toccoa station was staffed by youngsters fresh out of places like UGA.  Its owner, Media General, sold the station to UGA.  Technically, this appears to make WNEG an outlet of state government.  This will be an interesting circumstance for the liberal-media-conspiracy set, given the state’s Republican bent.

UGA says the station’s news division will continue its focus on northeast Georgia, basing its operations in Athens and Toccoa.

This has precedent.  The Board of Curators of the University of Missouri owns the license to KOMU, a network affiliate that is the training ground for wannabe TV reporters at MU’s J-School.  That station is managed by professionals.  Its news managers also double as college professors.  With the exception of some on-air talent —  Paul Pepper is still there? — the news product is produced and reported by students.  It’ll likely be much the same for WNEG.

The Red and Black has more details. The move is a good one for UGA’s J-school, which is now churning out legions of youngsters who want to forge careers in the news biz (most of whom appear to be women who aspire to become CNN anchors).  By having a commercial station at their disposal, it raises the stakes and throws the students into a professional environment.  Once they graduate, that makes them more attractive to station managers in cities like Savannah and Albany, whose low-salary starter shops receive truckloads of resumes from kids straight out of colleges across America.

In honor of this development, tomorrow we may post the worst TV story ever. Yeah, a college student did it.