Traffic reporter Alicia Roberts to leave WFLA-Ch. 8 as station begins 4:30 a.m. newscast
Roberts, who has worked at WFLA since 2006, said she will be leaving the station Sept. 30 to pursue new career opportunities. The station decided to scale back the traffic reporting position to a part-time job and she was reaching the end of a one-year deal, so the timing worked for all involved, Roberts added.
Her departure will come just after the planned Sept. 20 start of a new 4:30 a.m. newscast, featuring anchor Rod Carter and forecaster Leigh Spann. WFLA will push the Early Today show up to 4 a.m., dropping the syndicated program 1st Business.
The station also hopes to hire a second anchor to team with Carter from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.; Roberts didn't know if she would appear on the new show in her final days at the station.
Rival WTVT-Ch. 13 began a 4:30 a.m. newscast in April 2009, echoing a trend around the country. Morning hours have become the most competitive newscasts in local television, as later working hours and expanding media habits have chipped away at the audience for evening broadcasts.
"Lifestyles are changing and it seems the audience may be moving to earlier hours," said WFLA news director Don North. "When advertisers are beating down our door for that audience, I want to be able to say we're there, and have been there a while."
WFLA, once one of the area's most stable stations, has seen a number of changes come to its morning show in recent years, from the departure of longtime anchor Bill Ratliff in June 2009 to the departure of Ratliff's longtime partner Gayle Guyardo (left) in February and the hiring of former WFLA reporter Carter as her successor. In May's sweeps ratings period, WTVT beat WFLA in morning hours among key viewers.
"Morning is a very habit-driven time period," said North, acknowledging that the loss of longtime anchors has hurt ratings a bit. "We had to go through that, and our ambition is to build our strength now."
North now has two jobs to fill, a secondary anchor slot in morning and Roberts' job as traffic anchor. Though she reported feature stories and occasionally filled in as an anchor for Guyardo, Roberts actually was an employee of Traffic.com, the same service which provides traffic reporters to rival WTSP-Ch. 10.
Seeking to expand her career beyond traffic, Roberts hopes to announce a new venture soon.