Young TV: The WB wants your local dollars

Into the suddenly saturated Charlottesville television market steps another contender. The WB, the network that brought us Dawson's Creek, is opening an office for WBC, the network's local arm, to scoop up advertising dollars.

Cable viewers have been able to tune in the WB on Adelphia Channel 33 since 2001. But now "WBC," headed by former tennis pro David Huffman, is ready to sell air time to local advertisers who want a piece of Smallville, Reba, and Charmed audiences.

"The WB is number one in the 16-to-34 age group across the nation," says Gary Ratcliff, president of Pioneer Media Alliance, which owns the WB's stations in Charlottesville (WBC) and Harrisonburg (WBHA).

"Remember how Fox grew?" asks Ratcliff. "The WB is on the same path. Warner Brothers is one of the biggest media companies in the world."

Ratcliff is unfazed that two new stations– WCAV-CBS and WVAW-ABC– are already broadcasting, and a third– the "all Charlottesville, all the time" WCVL– is on the horizon.

"We have our own niche," says Ratcliff, "and smaller markets grow into bigger ones."

Gray Television owns the new ABC and CBS affiliates, and over in Harrisonburg, Gray regional vice president Tracey Jones doesn't quite buy Ratcliff's Fox analogy.

"If you look at the timeline for Fox to become viable, [WB] has been there long enough," says Jones.

As for demographics, "I would say the WB does skew much younger toward a teenage audience," she concedes. But the new WB office here doesn't concern her. "It's something to keep your eye on," she says, "nothing more."

The WB's parent company, Pioneer Media Alliance, may be worth keeping an eye on as well. The Staunton-based firm, which calls itself "the state's largest media group," also owns radio stations STAR 94.3 FM and ESPN 1240 AM, as well as the local franchise for Val-Pak direct mail coupons– plus an advertising agency, All-Star Media Services.

"Nobody I know in the state has it all under one roof," boasts Ratcliff. "It's one-stop shopping."

And he plans to launch a weekly newspaper– the Star Advocate– in the Shenandoah Valley in November. "We're going to mail it to everybody free," he says.

Ratcliff doesn't think the WB's appeal is limited to teenagers. He expects to draw even younger viewers to the cartoon-laden Kids' WB! "Before long," he predicts, "the big networks will be dropping cartoons."

And Ratcliff's favorite WB show? "My wife and I never miss Smallville," he says.

David Huffman, former tennis pro at Keswick and Glenmore country clubs, heads up the WB's local office, which hopes to dominate the teenybopper–and younger– demographic.