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Orlando Sentinel

Station Speaks To Viewers

By Christopher Boyd

May 13, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.




When Hurricane Floyd threatened Central Florida two summers ago, Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez gave press briefings in both English and Spanish. But when Martinez switched to Spanish, most of the local broadcast media cut the lights.

WVEN-Channel 26 News Director Jorge Friguls said that will never happen at his station.

Two weeks ago, WVEN launched a five-day-a-week, half-hour evening news show in Spanish. The program is aimed squarely at Central Florida's exploding Hispanic population, with daily reports from Puerto Rico and a story mix that gives big play to some news that English-language stations might ignore.

"We're speaking to a market that has been neglected until now," said Friguls, who worked 21 years in the news division of WFTV-Channel 9 before joining WVEN last year. "Since the first night, the response has been incredible -- our audience in that time slot has quadrupled."

WVEN, an affiliate of the Univision network, scored a major coup last year when it bought Channel 26, a more powerful station with a nine-county reach. The purchase allowed the station, which previously reached a tiny market on Channel 63, a regional presence that Friguls hopes to exploit.

"We're a local news show that reports from a Hispanic angle," Friguls said. "Gas prices are up, so we go out and see how the increases are affecting the Hispanic community."

The fledgling news show, which airs at 6 p.m. and is repeated at 11, is the Lilliputian of the local market. For now, it has one reporter, two anchors and a weather person. But Friguls said it is compensating with feeds from Univision and Tele-Once, a San Juan, Puerto Rico, station.

Puerto Rican news is very important, Friguls said. About half of Central Florida's Hispanics have roots on the island, and WVEN plays to their interest with a nightly news digest called Today in Puerto Rico.

But Friguls said the show's central mission is local news presented in a lineup that viewers expect. The top of the report usually contains the biggest local stories of the day, followed by human-interest features, weather and sports. The newcast's stories are longer than the quick hits typically broadcast on Orlando's major network affiliates.

Friguls said his team -- the four on-air people and seven others -- will go into overdrive when events dictate.

"If the governor of Puerto Rico comes to town, we would cover it like the president coming," he said. "The other local stations might not find this as interesting as we do."

During its first week on the air, WVEN news staff pulled together special coverage of a federal program to temporarily ease the rules illegal aliens must follow to file for residence. The station assembled a phone bank of legal experts to help answer questions, and news anchor Myrna Ortega did special reports.

To compensate for its small staff, WVEN has a sharing agreement with WESH-Channel 2. The NBC affiliate provides WVEN with videotape of local news; WVEN plans to pay back with coverage of events of special interest to Hispanics.

"We have a loose relationship," WESH General Manager Bill Bauman said. "We'll probably cooperate on a number of things." Bauman said the agreement works because the two newscasts aren't direct competitors -- at least not yet.

"The broadcast industry is fragmenting, and they have staked out a part of the audience that is one of the fastest-growing segments," Bauman said. "I think the place they occupy is a wonderful place to be."

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