More changes are coming to morning broadcasts at NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8, which will say goodbye to morning traffic reporter Alicia Roberts just days after starting a new, 4:30 a.m. newscast.
Roberts, who has worked at WFLA since 2006, will leave the station Sept. 30.
WFLA scaled back the traffic reporting job to a part-time position and she was reaching the end of a one-year deal, so the timing worked for all involved, Roberts added.
Her departure comes 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 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. 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. "Our ambition is to build our strength now."
North does not expect to hire a new anchor and replace Roberts by mid September, though he hopes to have both jobs filled by November. Seeking to expand her career beyond traffic, Roberts hopes to announce a new venture soon.
Top WTVT executive heading to Atlanta
Tampa Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 will see a changing of its executive guard later this month, as a new general manager takes the helm and its current top executive heads to Atlanta.
Bill Schneider will leave his job as general manager at WTVT and start work Aug. 23 in that capacity for WAGA-TV, the Fox-owned affiliate in Atlanta.
On the same day Schneider starts in Atlanta, WTVT's current ad sales chief Jeff Maloney rises up to replace him in Tampa — completing one of the most seamless top executive transitions the local market has seen in quite a while.
"I grew up (in Atlanta), so it's a nice transition," said Schneider, noting that Atlanta is also a bigger TV market than the Tampa area. "Everyone at WTVT already knows Jeff, so they're delighted, too."