More affiliation musicial chairs: WNCN snatches CBS affiliation from WRAL in Raleigh-Durham


Another long-term affiliation relationship has bit the dust.

This time, it’s Raleigh-Durham, N.C., known as “The Triangle” as the relationship between WRAL (Channel 5) and CBS is ending after 30 years after the network struck a long-term affiliation deal with crosstown rival WNCN (Channel 17), an NBC affiliate owned by Media General.

WRAL turned around and quickly signed a deal with NBC.

The decision for the WRAL/CBS dissolution doesn’t make sense on the surface – WRAL is the top-rated station in the market and is one of the top-rated CBS affiliates in the country. But these days, financial considerations are a part of any deal and outweigh any ratings success –  and both parties couldn’t come to an agreement on how much “reverse compensation” WRAL should pay to CBS.

The issue is one of the items holding up a renewal deal between The CW and Tribune Broadcasting.

So effective February 29, CBS is taking its programming – including highly popular network programming such as NCIS and The Big Bang Theory and sporting events such as the NFL and NCAA Basketball, to WNCN.

While WNCN ranks third in the market, there is precedent of CBS turning around a station: when Louisville’s WHAS dropped CBS in 1990, former ABC affiliate WLKY picked up the Tiffany network and shot to number one in the market. CBS programming is very popular in southern markets.

“CBS’s business model and our business model are not compatible with one another,” WRAL VP and GM Steve Hammel told TVNewscheck. “We needed to make a decision to go with a long-term partner that saw the value in a community-oriented broadcaster.”

WRAL is owned by Capitol Broadcasting, who at one time owned WJZY in Charlotte and WTTV in Indianapolis who ironically, switched to CBS last year under the same circumstances. Capitol also owns Fox affiliate WRAZ (Channel 50) in a duopoly.

As for programming, it is unclear if The Young and the Restless, airing at 4 p.m. on WRAL since 1993, would run in the same time slot on WNCN. CBS usually schedules Y&R either at noon or 12:30 p.m. (ET). The only other station to delay the soap is KOIN-TV in Portland, Ore. (KMOV in St. Louis recently moved Y&R back to 11 a.m. from 4 p.m.)

This move adds to the dizzying number of affiliation swaps and switches over the years in Raleigh-Durham. The NBC deal for WRAL was one the network pursued for decades – for years, the network was stuck on the higher end of the channel universe – affiliating with perennial low-rated loser WRDU/WPTF/WRDC (Channel 28, now a My Network TV affiliate), before affiliating with and later buying WNCN. In 2006, NBC sold the station to Media General.

WRAL signed on as an NBC affiliate in 1956, but switched to ABC in 1962 -considered a huge win for the network at the time since it did not have the same number of affiliates CBS and NBC had. NBC was forced to share an affiliation with CBS over WTVD until it moved its affiliation to WRDU in 1968 (and even then NBC let WTVD pick the best programs from the network.) WRAL and WTVD traded affiliations on August 4, 1985, months after WTVD owner Capital Cities merged with ABC.

In 1998, WLFL and Fox abruptly ended their relationship, signing with the newly-launched WRAZ. WLFL is now a CW affiliate and was a former WB affiliate.

A historic station in every way, WRAL was the first to receive an experiential high-definition license in the U.S. in 1996 and was the first in the country to air a HD signal. The station also was the first to air a live sporting event and a newscast in HD, and the first to stream a live signal to mobile phones in 2007.

Ranked as the 25th-largest television market, Raleigh-Durham is home to three prominent universities: Duke in Durham; North Carolina State in Raleigh; and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. College basketball is hugely popular in the region – especially with the schools yours truly just mentioned. The NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes also play here; the Raleigh-based team won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

The “Triangle” name refers to the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville area, but also the numerous high-tech research and development facilities known as Research Triangle Park.

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