Gray’s seizure of WAGT inevitably damaged WRDW beyond repair and damaged the TV market as a whole. Though WAGT was a distant 3rd for years, it was an alternative to WJBF and WRDW. When WJBF took over, MG put in much needed upgrades and provided a lot of things then-owner Schurz didn’t want to provide to WAGT (the ability to air HD programming being one of those things). They did however maintain separate news departments and it wasn’t until towards the end of the partnership did WAGT start airing reporter packages from WJBF reporters.
The feud between Media General and Gray had viewers take sides, with most of them siding with Media General and blaming Gray for putting a lot of people out of work which had an effect on WRDW’s performance as a whole but particularly with WAGT. The original plans called for WAGT staff to move into WRDW’s already cramped and old Georgia Avenue studios and they were going to make a “set” for them in a tiny little warehouse off the main studio. When Gray found they weren’t getting WAGT on-air people out of their contracts with Media General, they fought but ultimately lost. It put WAGT in a limbo for a time and finally Gray got the network, the programming, the transmitter, and the sales staff but nothing else. I also believe Gray incurred a lot of legal fees that were subtracted from WRDW’s budget but don’t have confirmation of that.
Here is the one pro of the Gray-Schurz merger and WAGT coming under ownership of WRDW, it made WFXG finally put forth effort into creating a local news department (though it took years) with one of WAGT’s Meteorologists as Chief. It was a good move and made Augusta a 3-station market again.
Outside of that, everything else has been a nightmare since day 1. WRDW tried to do the separate newscasts on WAGT to pretend like they were different but everyone could see right through it, especially since they used a part of the set that had giant “12” duratrans from a graphics package three graphics packages ago. Eventually WRDW realized that by co-branding and providing separate newscasts on WAGT, the numbers were being diluted and they were competing against themselves. So they dropped the clunky “News 12 NBC 26” branding for just “News 12”. They still (though I don’t know why) produce a couple of separate “NBC26” branded newscasts. Overall though, viewership is at an all time low for both stations and made WRDW a very distant 2, sometimes 3 behind WFXG. Some of the WAGT on-air people have resurfaced in freelance roles on WRDW like Paige Tucker (for different promotions) and Chief Meteorologist Chris Still has filled-in on weather. Outside of that, the news director has been vocal in stating her disapproval of hiring any of them permanently out of fear it will further damage WRDW and the stations as a whole.
The final death nail for WAGT was Gray selling the far-superior digital signal and transmitter facilities of WAGT in the spectrum auction with plans to shoehorn WAGT onto a subchannel of WRDW. As it was explained to me by the chief engineer at the time, CBS would not allow WRDW to do this per their affiliate agreement so they bought a small independent low-power station that was a YooToo America (successor to America One) affiliate to put WAGT on. WAGT signed off for good, its long-troubled history over, and now what is being promoted (or lack-thereof) as WAGT is a tiny shadow of its former self on a very weak signal that everyone complains about not being able to pickup alongside WRDW’s equally bad VHF digital signal nobody can pick up.
Gray is to blame for the misfortunes of both stations. Gray is also to blame for keeping current management in tact for so many years at WRDW that it has basically collapsed into a giant dumpster fire that even college students are catching wind to avoid working for. That station and WAGT will never recover from the merger, and will never recover from the years of bad decisions made. WFXG has a real shot at overtaking WRDW for good if Lockwood continues to invest in it and tries hard to do so.
It’s very telling that Gray has all but halted construction on the partially-completed multimillion dollar new studio facilities of WRDW/WAGT, whether it be because of the Raycom merger or because of both stations performance. The facility is partially built and standing but weeds have grown up and metallic siding on the exterior facade has been weathered and is starting to peel off. It hasn’t been touched in many months.
The only reason WRDW/WAGT is still number 2 is because it’s a small three-station market, it’s not because their news product is good. They’re trailing far behind WJBF and will never be number 1. WJBF has and always will outshine whatever WRDW puts out because they have a formula that works and they don’t try so damn hard to be the best.