Eye on news: CBS affiliate coming to town

For years, the big competition for NBC 29's news team has been static channel after channel of it. But come August, local TV news viewers who have depended on Norm Sprouse, Dave Cupp, and the rest of the news team at WVIR will have a brand new option: Channel 19, a CBS affiliate owned and operated by Atlanta-based Gray Television Inc. Gray also owns the Harrisonburg-based ABC affiliate, WHSV Channel 3.

Citing the 70,000 television-viewing households in the Charlottesville market, plus the nearly 20,000 students enrolled at UVA, Gray regional VP Tracey Jones says her company believes there's room for two.

"We think there's strong demand for local news," says Jones.

While Channel 29 covers news in Charlottesville and the Valley, Jones says Gray Television will discourage news sharing between its two central Virginia stations: Channel 19 will focus specifically on Charlottesville and the immediate vicinity, while Channel 3 will remain dedicated to Valley coverage.

"We think Charlottesville is interested in its own news," says Jones. A general manager has been hired for the station, but no other news positions have yet been filled.

How does Channel 29 feel about the competition?

Harold Wright, station manager for NBC29, did not return calls by press time.

But George Loper, a media watcher who runs the website loper.org, says he thinks both stations can do well and that competition can be positive. "It keeps people more honest, makes people better, and makes things more creative," he explains.

Mike Friend, station manager of WNRN radio, says he'll be watching the situation closely.

"There aren't many markets this size," he says, "that have two television stations going head to head."

The fact that the new station will stress local news, says Friend, is key.

"It's the most expensive programming to produce," he explains, "but it's the most lucrative."

While non-cable households may notice the addition of Channel 19 the most (since it increases their local news viewing options by 100 percent), households with cable or satellite television will also be affected, though to a lesser degree.

Adelphia customers have long been able to enjoy CBS programming on the Richmond affiliate WTVR, which airs on Channel 6, and on the Washington affiliate WUSA, Channel 18.

That option will likely continue.

"We have not been approached with a request," says Adelphia spokesman Lon Carruth. If CBS 19 comes to Adelphia with a Federal "must carry" order, says Carruth, Adelphia would probably drop one of its other two CBS stations.

"We would not likely broadcast three CBS stations," he explains.

DirecTV customers may not notice the new arrival. Existing DirecTV customers who have been receiving a distant CBS network signal from New York or Los Angeles will continue to get it, says DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer. DirecTV is under no obligation to carry the local signals.

Though Channel 19 has not yet been assigned call letters, Jones says the station is on track to air by mid-August.

The signal will be broadcast from Carter Mountain, also the site of the WHSV tower, and Jones says the new CBS signal will be powerful enough for all area homes to pick up.

In addition to the expanded local news option, that means one other thing to local viewers: You'll never have an excuse to miss Survivor!

WVIR will soon have some competition.