WMAR-TV (Channel 2) Monday became Baltimore's first TV station to expand its local news to 4:30 a.m.
"WMAR was the first station on the air in Maryland," Bill Hooper, the station's general manager, said in a release. "Now it's the first station to serve our viewers in the morning with earlier news than any other station in the local market."
In a January story I did on the trend to earlier news in Baltimore that was published here and in the Sun, Hooper said management at WMAR (Channel 2), was "having discussions" at that time about starting its morning news at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. as its three competitors do at WBFF, WBAL and WJZ. (Read that story here.)
"It would not be hard for us to go at 4:30 because we have so many people in [the newsroom] already [at that hour]," said Hooper, whose station finishes in fourth-place station in the morning news ratings race. "I honestly think all of us [station managers in Baltimore] are kind of staring at each other, waiting for one person to pull the trigger, and then everyone will scramble once that happens."
The 4:30 start has been embraced by stations coast to coast, according to Bob Papper, Hofstra University professor and author of an annual study on trends in TV newsrooms.
"You could say 2010 has been the year of the 4:30 newscast," Papper said in my January report. "We came into 2010 with maybe 16 stations running news at 4:30 in the morning, and now we have dozens and dozens and dozens."
(Pictured above WMAR morning co-host Megan Pringle)
As my January report at Z on TV noted, TV news has mostly been defined by downward trends the past decade. Shrinking audience. Aging audience. Fragmented audience.
But there's been one very bright spot amid the economic and ratings gloom for stations in Baltimore and across the country — the morning news. Mirroring the success of network shows like "The Today Show," and "Good Morning America," local morning news programs are steadily expanding airtime, staff and revenue.
Now, some local morning news shows are bringing in more money than the late newscasts — once the cash cows for stations. And whereas morning on-air teams were once thought of as the third-string behind late and early evening anchor teams, morning hosts and anchors who prove they can attract an audience are among TV's hottest properties.
The earlier news, analysts say, is a direct reaction to Americans getting up earlier and earlier to work longer hours and having longer commutes to get there.
"It's exciting to be the first Baltimore news team on at 4:30 am," Kelly Groft, WMAR's news director saaid in the station's release. "People are waking up earlier to get to work and to get their families going, and we'll be there first thing in the morning to help them start their day off right!"
"The 4:30 am start time will focus on news that has happened overnight, a forecast of the day's news ahead, plus current weather and traffic conditions. ... ," WMAR said in its statement Monday.