The news not out of Topeka
KTKA-TV latest to drop local news; lower comp from ABC cited among the reasons
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/21/2002 8:00:00 PM
KTKA-TV Topeka, Kan., last week became the latest casualty of the economic downturn and changes in the affiliate relationship that have knocked several news departments off the air.
The DMA No. 138 station, owned by Brechner Management, scheduled its final newscast for last Friday and will fill its three vacant time slots with a combination of syndication and alternative forms of local programming.
The station did its best to spin the story positively. On its Web-site statement, under the headline "49 Reinvents Local Television," it said it was replacing traditional newscasts "with a daily locally produced program featuring community information, entertainment, local business, sports, interviews and news/weather updates."
At the bottom, the statement mentions the nine full- and 17 part-time staffers who will lose their jobs in the reinvention.
The station, though always third of the market's three stations, had a strong 2000 with revenues approaching $4 million. But drops of nearly 25% in 2001 and further drops in the first quarter of 2002 put the cost of mounting a newscast, estimated in the high six-figure range, at risk. With its news department, the station had been operating at a substantial loss, executives said.
Consistent with other stations that have dropped local news, KTKA-TV newscasts' ratings regularly trailed those of competitors WIBW-TV and KSNT(TV)—which just added a newscast at 5 p.m. Sources at KTKA-TV said staffers were understandably disappointed, but not especially surprised, and that word had been leaking out before the actual announcement.
Station owner Berl Brechner, who was at the station for the announcement, said the decision to end the newscasts was the result of ad declines, the increasing expenses of digital conversion, as well as network costs, including contributions for ABC's Monday Night Football and reductions in network compensation.
The developing format will not be as "news-intense," said Brechner. It may include live remotes from business locations, community events, paid segments and high-school sports, along with news and weather updates. Local broadcast personality Betty Lou Pardue will host.
In recent months, several lcoal newscasts have folded. Att least four were ABC affils—most notably Sinclair's KDNL-TV in No. 22 DMA St. Louis. The shift in the economic relationship between stations and networks has been cited.
John Rouse, ABC's vice president for affiliate relations, expressed regret that the station had dropped news, which, he said, "creates a solid bond with viewers, and complements the network offerings." But Rouse said the loss of affiliate newscasts has not affected network ratings in those markets.
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