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TV Viewers Confused as Florida Stations Switch Network Affiliations

December 30, 1988

MIAMI (AP) _ Television viewers are ready with remote control channel changers and ″TV Guides″ to find their favorite shows as five stations in south Florida switch network affiliations Sunday and a sixth makes its debut.

″This is about as confused as a market can get,″ said Allen Shaklan, a CBS television vice president of programming sent from New York to run Miami’s WCIX, an independent station becoming a CBS affiliate.

The swaps have created enough mind-boggling situations to fill a made-for- television movie.

For instance, standing amid the holiday decorations in the lobby of television station WTVJ, a CBS network affiliate since 1949, is a life-size cardboard cutout of Bill Cosby, the star of NBC’s programming lineup.

Meanwhile, WPEC, an ABC affiliate, has rented billboards promoting Bob Newhart, a CBS star.

Just before the opening sequence of ″LA Law,″ the popular NBC show beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday, Miami station WSVN urges viewers to start watching the news - at 10 p.m.

Confused? Just stay tuned.

Industry veterans say this Sunday’s network swaps are the biggest affiliation switch in history.

″It’s absolutely incredible,″ said Robert Ware, vice president and general manager of Palm Beach Gardens station WPBF, which goes on the air Sunday morning.

The changes in the Miami metropolitan television area, the nation’s 14th largest with 1.26 million homes with televisions, and West Palm Beach, the 50th largest with 490,100 TV households, affects more than the millions of viewers.

The two large stations keeping the same network affiliations are trying to capitalize on viewer confusion; independents are planning improved programming to lure channel-switching viewers; and cable companies are adding stations to make sure their subscribers have all of the networks.

Making the new TV picture even fuzzier is the signal delivery problem for the new Miami CBS affiliate WCIX and the overlap of the two markets.

Miami television station WPLG, keeping its ABC affiliation, may pick up viewers in Palm Beach County where it can be viewed in many homes, for example, while West Palm Beach’s WPEC, changing from ABC to CBS, is stepping up the battle for the 522,000 TV households in Broward County. Broward lies between Palm Beach and Dade counties and is counted as part of the Miami market.

The announcement in January 1987 of the $275 million purchase of WTVJ from private owners by NBC’s parent corporation, General Electric, set corporate wheels turning and the affiliation dominoes clicking.

″That set the ball rolling. This gives us the opportunity to do some of the things we always wanted to do,″ said Alex Dryfoos Jr., owner-president of WPEC in West Palm Beach.

The moves after the NBC purchase of CBS’ WTVJ in Miami were:

- Miami’s WSVN, the NBC affiliate, couldn’t work out a deal with CBS and became independent.

- CBS instead bought WCIX, the leading Miami independent, for $59 million.

- WPEC, the Palm Beach area ABC affiliate, decided to switch to CBS so it could expand south into Broward, where new WCIX has the signal problems.

- WTVX, a Fort Pierce-based CBS affiliate, becomes independent.

- New station WPBF took the unusual step, in an industry in which the networks court affiliates to carry their programs, of going to ABC and paying it a reported $1 million to become an ABC affiliate.

After gaining ABC programs, the new station delayed plans to begin last Oct. 1 as an independent.

Unchanged are the respective local-news rating leaders, ABC’s WPLG in Miami and NBC’s WPTV in West Palm Beach.

The stations are taking different promotional approaches.

Miami’s WTVJ, which for the past year has been in the odd position of running CBS programs while being part of the NBC ownership family, is most active with what promotions director Linda Button calls ″a saturation campaign″ built around the theme of ″Don’t Worry, Be Happy.″

The ″Operation Peacock″ campaign, costing at least an estimated $3 million, has NBC stars cavorting with WTVJ’s news team to Bobby McFerrin’s special revision of his pop hit tune ″Don’t Worry, Be Happy.″ WTVJ has a toll-free viewer information line and ran a half-hour phone-in special Thursday night.

But television executives acknowledge programming confusion will scramble the television picture for many viewers, at least for awhile.

″The reality is we have a long, hard road,″ said CBS’ Shaklan. ″But we’re going to make it work. It’s all going to shake itself out.″

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