Story by Chris Graham
The Harrisonburg television market is starting to get crowded.
“This is a big step forward for us,” said Tracey Jones, the general manager of the Harrisonburg-based WHSV-TV3 and a regional vice president for the Atlanta-based Gray Television, which announced earlier this month that it is adding a Fox affiliate to the local station lineup.
The station will be broadcast digitally and will be available at the outset to Adelphia Cable customers who subscribe to the service provider’s digital tier, Jones said.
The affiliate is scheduled to be up and running by the first of September, Jones told The Augusta Free Press.
The addition of the local Fox channel will bring the total of commercial stations in the Harrisonburg market – ranked 181st among the 210 television markets tracked by Nielsen Media Research with 86,000 TV homes – to two.
The nearby Charlottesville market – ranked 186th by Nielsen with 70,000 TV homes – has been a relative hotbed of activity with the addition of three stations to mainstay WVIR-TV29 in the past 18 months.
“It would be surprising to see this growth in the Harrisonburg market if the population of the region was not growing like it is. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that we hadn’t seen something like this happen sooner,” said Rustin Greene, a professor in School of Media Arts and Design at James Madison University.
“What this says is that they see the potential in the local market for revenues to grow – enough to justify the investment that they’re making in the technological upgrades needed to make this possible,” Greene told the AFP.
Gray is investing $2 million in upgrades to its Harrisonburg facility related to the addition of the Fox station, Jones said.
“Obviously, we would not try to do something like this if we didn’t feel that there wouldn’t be an advantage to having a locally branded, local-feel Fox station in this market,” Jones said.
“Fox programming reaches out to a different demographic. We’re going to be reaching out more and more to that demographic with companion programming and our local news product as well,” Jones said.
The station will initially use news programming originating on WHSV, Jones said. Down the road, Jones envisions the development of an independent news operation for the Fox channel.
“I can certainly see us taking advantage of the ability to offer a 10 o’clock prime-time newscast at some point in the future,” Jones said.