When Bill Christian and Mike Reed were setting up a television station in Jackson, Tenn., in 2015, they decided to look further west to Jonesboro to see if the town merited a second affiliate.
KAIT, an ABC affiliate in the Craighead County seat, signed on the air in 1963 and had no local competition for half a century.
Christian and Reed were busy in Jackson, so they sent Christian’s father to “do reconnaissance” in Jonesboro.
“He went to look at Jonesboro and drove around,” Christian said of his father’s venture. “He visited the chamber of commerce and Arkansas State University and some of the businesses.”
They later met in Memphis, the halfway point between Jackson, Tenn., and Jonesboro.
“He said, ‘Compared to Jackson, you’ve not seen anything yet,’” Christian said of his father’s assessment of Jonesboro.
The die was cast, and in June 2015, KJNB began as a dual FOX/CBS-affiliate station featuring the slogan, “This is Home,” airing advertisements promoting the station as the hometown choice and running weekly community calendar spots.
In 2017, the station launched nightly news reports with a slant toward more good news.
But don’t be fooled by the quaint, folksy charm of happy news and dad reports. Christian and Reed have built several stations from scratch, using their personalized approach to broadcasting to create their savvy media empire.
Recently, the two announced the sale of their Waypoint Media, which includes stations in Jonesboro; Lafayette, Ind.; and Jackson, to Standard Media for $39.9 million. The deal should close by the end of the year, Christian said.
“This is a bittersweet moment,” Reed said in a news release announcing the sale. “I love this business that has been so much fun and so kind over a lifetime career in television.”
He added that he and Christian feel they are turning their stations over to a company that will “continue to expand on our mission to serve our local communities by paying it forward while providing a great environment for our dedicated staff.”
At a time when most media outlets are owned by large conglomerates, Christian and Reed have seen success in their privately owned business.
Christian, 61, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, Fla., started his television career at 16 at television station WYOU in Scranton, Pa.
“I was a janitor, cameraman and producer there,” he said.
He also did freelance work for Major League Baseball and served as the technical director for the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, and a director for the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, both for NBC. He’s won four Emmy Awards during his television career.
Reed has 35 years of television and media experience. He’s served as the chief revenue and promotion officer for Communications Corporation of America and as vice president and general manager of KEYE in Austin, Texas.
“I’ve done television in big markets and small markets,” Christian said. “I like the small-town thing because we get a feel for the community.”
When Christian and Reed began KJNB in Jonesboro, they set up an endowment with ASU to create internships for broadcast journalism students.
Like Christian’s father, they also visited the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“They welcomed us with open arms,” he said.
KJNB’s FOX affiliate signed on the air June 1, 2015. Prior to that, northeast Arkansas television viewers could only access FOX programming from WHBQ-TV in Memphis. On Aug. 1, 2015, KJNB signed on with its CBS channel. KTHV-TV in Little Rock and WREG-TV in Memphis were the only previous CBS providers to viewers in the northeast corner of the state.
Waypoint Media also operates the Jonesboro market’s MeTV affiliate and carries programming from MyNetworkTV, both available on cable and from off-air antennas.
Two years after signing on, KJNB launched its news operations, presenting newscasts under the name of Northeast Arkansas News.
The newscast features local news but is produced in Waypoint Media’s Little Rock studio. The studio also does newscasts for its stations in Tennessee and Louisiana. It’s a unique concept: Local reporters send their video feeds to the studio where anchors run them in a 30-minute broadcast. The anchors there produce several nightly newscasts, tailoring each one to their specific stations.
It’s a way to hire more experienced on-air talent, Christian said.
Anchors Anne Imanuel and Scott Beadle are from Florida and Montana, respectively. Meteorologist Kris Sommers hails from Iowa.
“We’ve got big-time talent who’ve had experience in markets like Atlanta and Dallas,” Christian said. “You can’t get talent like that in small towns. The small market talents are bad in the beginning, and if they get better, boom, they’re gone to bigger markets.”
The newscasts present local news, sent in by reporters who live in the towns they cover. But they also air syndicated national stories with a more “positive” slant, Christian said.
“We are aware of the fact that there’s too much bad news,” he said. “We do air important stories, but we also want to have some uplifting stories too. Bigger corporations that own big stations have a hard time worrying what is aired at each of their stations. With our stations, if that concept fails, we fail.”
Christian said the sale of his stations should close in December.
“We started all these from scratch,” he said of his stations. “[Standard Media] has every intention to increase what we’ve done here.”