You Need A line-Up Card to Watch Cleveland Newscasts

When it comes to stable on air talent in a market, Cleveland used to be near the top of the least.

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Year after year it was the same faces anchoring the same newscasts.

Not anymore.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that nobody realized it at the time, but when Robin Swoboda jumped from WJW Channel 8 to WKYC Channel 3 in early 2011, it sparked a year of unprecedented volatility in the Cleveland television market.

Since that move, changes have kept coming at a dizzying pace.

Indeed, there were more major anchor changes during that one-year span than during the previous 15 years. Perhaps the biggest was when Romona Robinson ended her 15-year association with Channel 3 in late 2011, moving over to Channel 19 as the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. co-anchor.

And there's more on the way. Wilma Smith announced two weeks ago that she'd be wrapping up a 35-year Cleveland television career, retiring from Channel 8 in May.

Last week, Channel 8 announced it would be adding a 4 p.m. newscast this fall, rehiring meteorologist Melissa Mack, who left in 2009 for Boston's WBZ Channel 4. The dominoes clearly haven't stopped falling.

But the dust has settled a bit after all the seismic shifts that rocked the Cleveland stations between the February sweeps period of 2011 and 2012. Those strategic times are when ratings determine how much stations can charge for advertising.

So with this year's February sweeps in the rearview mirror, who benefited from this ongoing game of musical anchor chairs? Data provided by the Nielsen Co. suggest traditional Cleveland news champ Channel 8 remains strong in most of the time periods in which it schedules news, and hard-charging WOIO Channel 19 is winning the noon and 11 p.m. news races with the demographic most prized by advertisers, viewers 25 to 54.

That means Channel 3 and WEWS Channel 5 are the stations left playing some catch-up within that primary demographic. They are, for the most part, but the news isn't all bad for their newscasts.

Channel 3 is a solid second in the 25-to-54 demographic at 6 p.m., and if you look at total households, Channel 5 actually wins at noon and 11 p.m.

"It's an extremely competitive landscape," said Jill Manuel, news director at Channel 5. "And at the same time, it's a market where familiarity is important. Viewers don't like change, and they're comfortable with people they know. So it's important to remain consistent and patient. Stick with the plan. We have some new people in place, and viewers are getting to know them and like them."

It's also a world where a year and a few ratings points can make all the difference. But now, Channel 8 and Channel 19 are happiest with the February numbers being reported by Nielsen, and that's because it's a world driven by that 25-to-54 group.

For those requiring a refresher course on all those anchor changes, here's a recap: Channel 3 hired CBS News veteran Russ Mitchell to replace Robinson, later bringing in Sacramento newscaster Kris Pickel as co-anchor.

After a 13-year gig at Channel 8, 10 p.m. co-anchor Stacey Bell left in November 2011 to join her husband, New York Jets running backs coach Anthony Lynn, in New Jersey. She was replaced by Channel 8 morning anchor Tracy McCool. Channel 8 has yet to name Lou Maglio's new co-anchor, replacing Smith, on the 6 p.m. newscast.

Channels 3 and 5 have replaced morning anchor teams. At Channel 3, Swoboda first was teamed with Chris Tye on the 7 p.m. newscast, but when Mark Nolan decided to leave the Gannett-owned Cleveland NBC affiliate after 18 years, Tye replaced him as morning news co-anchor. Tye was partnered with new hire Erin Kennedy, and sports anchor Jim Donovan replaced Tye at 7 p.m.

At Channel 5, morning anchors Kimberly Gill and Pete Kenworthy did not have contracts renewed. They were replaced by Macie McInnis Jepson and Mike Dunston. Chris Flanagan became the Scripps-owned ABC affiliate's 11 p.m. co-anchor in November 2011.

With the arrival of Robinson, Channel 19 also reshuffled its anchor teams. A recent addition, ESPN reporter George Smith, became Danielle Serino's 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. co-anchor this year.

Robinson and Denise Dufala co-anchor the 6 and 11 newscasts, a move that is paying off handsomely for Channel 19.

Comparing February 2011 to this February, Channel 19's Monday-Friday ratings average is up 38 percent at 6 p.m. in the 25-to-54 demographic and a whopping 93 percent at 11.

Read the rest of the story from the Plain Dealer