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WIS and WFXT Move News to 4:30 a.m.

MULTIPLE CITIES: Two more morning news teams get to set back their clocks. WIS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, S.C., and WFXT-TV, the Fox O&O in Boston, are the latest in a string of TV stations across the country moving the morning news start time to 4:30 a.m.

WFXT launched “Fox25 Morning News” at 4:30 a.m. yesterday, adding 30 minutes to the front end and another hour to the back, so the telecast ends at 10 a.m. WFXT becomes the fourth Boston station doing news at the early hour. WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate; WBZ-TV, the CBS; and NECN, a regional Comcast news network all start news at 4:30 a.m.

Raycom’s WIS-TV said it will start news at 4:30 a.m. as of Monday, Sept. 27. The “WIS News 10 Sunrise” broadcast is being expanded to two-and-a-half hours from two.

“Sunrise is the first local morning newscast in the Midlands to go on the air at the earlier time of 4:30 a.m.,” the station’s Web site states. The telecast pulled in 50,000 households on average from 5 to 6 a.m. during the May sweeps, according to the station. The second hour pulled in an average of 91,000 homes a week.

WIS started news at 5:30 until April of 2001, when it went to 5 a.m. The audience for the 5 a.m. half-hour has quadrupled, WIS said.

Getting up long before roosters is the latest trend in TV newsrooms. WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., launched 4:30 a.m. news Aug. 30. It followed CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, Fox’s WTTG-TV and NBC’s WRC-TV.

Johnny Diaz of The Boston Globeestimates that two dozen stations nationwide have launched early-morning newscasts in the last year. There may be more. At least five stations in the last couple of months announced plans to push local news to 4:30 a.m., including WTOL-TV and WTVG-TV in Toledo, Ohio; WABC-TV in New York; WFLA-TV in Tampa, Fla.; and WGN-TV of Chicago.

The trend is predicated on the assumption that people are getting up earlier in the morning. (To which TVB can personally attest.) However, some fifth graders in Grapevine, Texas continue to keep their wits about them. Students at each of the 11 elementary schools in the Grapevine-Colleyville district produce a newscast, one of which airs at 8 a.m. Others record it after school for the next day, The Houston Chronicle reports.

Meanwhile, over in Houston, Tribune CW affiliate KIAH-TV is revamping its evening news into its experimental NewsFix format. Tribune announced the new anchor-free approach in July. KIAH will be the first station to go anchor-free come October.

Varietydescribed the format: “As if the viewer were surfing the Internet, with voice-over narration of a rapid-fire series of pre-taped stories, vidclips and images. In addition to jettisoning the anchor desk, there are no traditional reports from on-air correspondents, though Tribune execs said the format was flexible to allow for live news coverage if warranted.”

Ken Hoffman of the Chronicle says the KIAH telecast is becoming “peculiarer and peculiarer,” especially with the hiring of local news blogger Mike McGuff.

“I’ve been blogging about the TV news media so much lately that Channel 39 probably figured I would shut up and leave all the stations alone if they gave me a job,” McGuff told the Chronicle.

NewsFix will debut on KIAH’s 5 and 9 p.m. telecasts some time next month.
-- Deborah D. McAdams