Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

WJXT's Decline in 2003 Not Expected; the Washington Post Co. Didn't Expect Operating Performance to Be So Weak

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

WJXT's Decline in 2003 Not Expected; the Washington Post Co. Didn't Expect Operating Performance to Be So Weak

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Basch, Times-Union staff writer

WJXT TV-4's operating performance was weaker than its parent company expected in 2003, after the Jacksonville station dropped its CBS affiliation and became independent. But The Washington Post Co. is expecting WJXT to get back to its pre-independent operating levels by 2006.

Speaking Wednesday at a media conference in New York that was broadcast over the Internet, Washington Post Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Donald Graham said the company was not prepared for the "magnitude of the changes" when the company's Jacksonville station dropped its network affiliation in mid-2002.

"This led to a disastrous first half of 2003 in ad sales and to a decline in operating income far greater than we had expected," Graham said.

But he said Alan Frank, the head of the Washington Post's group of six television stations, and Larry Blackerby, who was brought in as general manager of WJXT in September 2003, worked to strengthen primetime programming and improve the sales department. Because of that, Washington Post officials are confident that 2006 operating results will rebound to 2001 levels, the station's last full year as a CBS affiliate.

"Such as result would be extremely satisfying, although a year later than we expected and with a much greater interim drop in the station's earnings," Graham said.

After a 53-year partnership with CBS, WJXT dropped its network affiliation in July 2002 after its parent company balked at CBS's contract renewal terms.

"CBS offered no compensation, asked the station to pay a charge for NFL programming and implied other charges would be coming," said Graham, who also said he made the decision to decline CBS's contract and go independent.

He said when WJXT made the switch, its overall ratings held up well for some parts of the day, particularly for news, but "the demographics were poor." That hurt ad sales while the station's expenses rose, as it increased its news staff and acquired new programming.

"The transition was a challenge that probably none of us anticipated," said Sherry Burns, who was WJXT's general manager when the switch was made. …

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