BANGOR, Maine — Historically regarded as the runt of Bangor’s television station litter, WVII is in the midst of a growth spurt.
While most television stations have been cutting back on their news budgets and staff the last couple of years, Channel 7 and sister station WFVX (Fox 22) of Bangor have been holding the line.
The stations are investing in new equipment, adding staff and expanding its news programming to include two morning news shows beginning in September.
“We’re pretty excited,” said news director Cindy Michaels, now in her fifth year with the stations. “Things kind of got complacent to where nothing really changed and just kind of stayed the same. Now we have a new approach and it’s energizing for everyone.”
Mike Palmer, vice president and general manager of Fox 22 and ABC 7, said he has been actively working to change the stations’ image since WVII started up WFVX in April 2003.
“While everyone else has been cutting back on staff the last few years, we didn’t and we made do, and now we’re going against that trend by investing and growing our product,” said Palmer. “We started kicking the ball around on this about 18 months ago.”
The stations have added four full-time and two part-time employees to the staff.
“We’re trying to be proactive. We’re paying six figures for all-new equipment in terms of electronic infrastructure,” Palmer said. “It’s been the most we’ve done in more than a decade.”
Among the new full-time faces are Illinois native and Indiana University alumnus Clay Gordon, who comes to Bangor from public TV station WTIU in Bloomington, Ind. He’s teaming up with Newton, Mass., native Nicole Gerber, to host the 6:30 a.m. weekday newscast on WVII and WFVX’s new morning show from 7 to 8 a.m., both of which will begin on Sept. 7.
“It’s not going to be just a read-the-news show. We’re going to have more spontaneity and unscripted chat about stories and current events,” said Gerber, who has been a reporter at the station for a year. “We want to play off the hot topic and off each other as well with more banter. … We want to come across as friendly and real, sort of on the same idea as Regis and Kelly.”
“What I’m trying to incorporate is more of an interactive approach with the anchors as well as the audience,” said Michaels, who was named news director in January and anchors the 6 p.m. newscast with four-year co-anchor Tony Consiglio. “They’ll have laptops on the news desk and be able to react more to viewers’ email and Twitter comments.”
WVII has consistently ranked last among news shows in the Bangor market. In the most recent Nielsen TV ratings for the Bangor Designated Marketing Area, WVII ranked third in advertisers’ most desirable demographic: adult viewers ages 25-54.
In the May sweeps period, Bangor’s WABI-TV, Channel 5, ranked first in each weekday news time slot, followed by WLBZ and then WVII.
In the 6 a.m. time slot, WABI received 8,600 average viewers, followed by 6,700 for WLBZ and 600 for WVII. In the 6 p.m. time slot, WABI received an average of 13,600 viewers, followed by 8,600 for WLBZ and 1,600 for WVII.
An informal survey of staffing at local stations suggests WABI employs about 35 full-time positions for its news and weather reporting, while WLBZ has 15 full-time and two part-time staffers in its news department. WVII has 13 full-time staffers and seven part-timers with the new hires.
Other full-time hires include a producer, reporter and technician-board operator. The part-time hires are a studio cameraman and master control board operator.
“We even expanded and paved our parking lot because we needed more spaces with the hires,” said Palmer, referring to the station’s location at 371 Target Industrial Circle in Bangor.
Technical improvements, specifically with master control electronics and a digital switcher, will allow both WVII and WFVX to air commercials and other locally produced programs and materials in high definition. Also, the 10 p.m. newscast on Fox 22 will be live, and no longer taped.