Building a Telemundo affiliate from scratch

A new Cleveland station will serve a growing Latino market

Buenos días! Buenas noches! If WOIO-TV has its way, Northeast Ohio Hispanic residents will wake up and go to bed watching the region’s first Telemundo station. Starting in January, owner Gray is launching a sister station, WTCL, and offering local news in Spanish, starting with newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. Univision has owned a station in the market for 20 years, but it doesn’t produce any local news broadcasts.

WOIO’s move is part of a growing trend: stations finding creative ways to expand their broadcast footprint in search of new audiences. “This is something completely different,” WOIO marketing director Rob Boenau said. “This is completely new from the ground up for us, so it’s going to be really exciting.”

Gray identified and purchased two low-powered transmitters that weren’t utilized often. Now, it is maximizing their potential by placing them in locations that will provide broad coverage and a stronger signal in the market. “We wanted to improve our signal on WOIO, and we wanted more outlets for broadcast undertakings like Telemundo,” WOIO general manager Erik Schrader said.

Unlike other stations that start from scratch, WTCL has an established foundation. Almost three years ago, WOIO started a digital Spanish language newscast called Al Día that covered issues in Cleveland on WOIO’s website, Facebook, and OTT services.

Caption: Screenshot from Al Día

While Al Día is on the shelf due to the pandemic, it tapped into a growing Hispanic audience in the region that wants local news and content and helped spur WOIO’s expansion into Spanish-language broadcasting. WTCL’s signal will reach as many as four million people in Northeast Ohio, nearly 180,000 of whom are Hispanic.

WTCL plans to hire at least two bilingual journalists for its news operation but will also lean on coverage from two Spanish-speaking WOIO reporters, both of whom worked on Al Día. “We’re blessed in that we have a full-blown, full-fledged news gathering team in place every day,” WOIO news director Ian Rubin said. The whole news team will be encouraged to gather elements in both English and Spanish whenever possible, for the benefit of both stations. “It is a goal of ours to be more inclusive and to display more diversity in our news gathering process, the content we select, [and] the way we go about producing our content,” Rubin said.

Schrader and Rubin are hoping their new hires will have an immediate impact. “We want them to either already be ingrained in the Cleveland Latino community or quickly learn it,” Schrader said. “There’s no shortage of stories because there is no broadcast television Spanish language [local] news right now.” WOIO is also exploring ways to collaborate with Spanish-language radio broadcasters in the market, but it’s too early to say how that might work.

WOIO has created an advisory committee of Hispanic community leaders to provide feedback and suggest issues for the new station to cover. “This is not just holding up a mirror to the community and saying, ‘Look at the challenges that it may face,’” Rubin said. “We want to be active participants in trying to fix those problems.” Among topics on the station’s radar: criminal justice reform, domestic violence, and evictions, along with local politics.

Station executives hope that Telemundo’s promotional power and national programming will give the new station a fast start — national programming like Super Bowl LVI, which airs on NBC and Telemundo in February. “We’re pairing up with a solid network that’s been around for years,” Boenau said. “Telemundo has great shows, great sports, great dramas, [and] great news.”

WTCL expects to air its first local news broadcast on Monday, January 3 at 6 p.m. “We want to be the go-to destination for the Hispanic community,” Schrader said. “They need something that is giving them daily news, and we hope to fulfill that.” “It’s a big project,” Rubin said. “But it would be even more challenging if we didn’t have the foundation of a great news gathering apparatus.”

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