OK City GM Envisions Success 'Sooner' Rather Than Later

Serial entrepreneur Vince Orza trying to make local TV thunder in heartland

Local TV executives frequently talk about increasing a station’s local presence. But for most, that translates to tacking on another halfhour of news every now and then. For KSBI Oklahoma City, and its supercharged general manager, however, it’s nothing short of a full-scale commitment to homegrown programming up and down a schedule that includes live music, quiz shows, dog shows, hunting and fishing programs and a daily sports wrap-up.

After a colorful career that includes founding and running a restaurant company, overseeing a business school, running for governor of Oklahoma (twice) and serving as a local news anchor, entrepreneur Vince Orza is up for another major challenge—bringing a flat-lining TV station back to life. “In a 5-6-7 station market, KSBI was No. 10,” he says. “My charge from the owners was, build a station we can be proud of.”

Orza has built things in the past, including Eateries Inc., which includes the Garfield’s restaurant chain and which he describes as a $100 million company with 3,000 employees. He was dean of the Oklahoma City University business school, where he got to know prominent local business figures, including energy tycoons Aubrey McClendon and Tom L. Ward, who—outside of their oil concerns—are owners of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and long struggling independent station KSBI.

Orza and Jerry Hart, a pal from their time together at KOCO Oklahoma City decades before, were approached about turning the station around. After submitting a proposal, Orza was named president and CEO in late 2010, and Hart became KSBI’s vice president and operations manager.

One of the first things Orza did was scrap local news, while playing up entertainment and sports. “We didn’t need to be in the fire and murder business,” he says.

With Oklahoma City undergoing a revival—the market hopped from DMA No. 44 to No. 41 in the most recent Nielsen rankings— KSBI chose to focus on the positive.

The station’s Oklahoma Live set is a testament to Orza’s entrepreneurial bent. Bob Mills Furniture outfitted the set, and Oklahoma Natural Gas built the kitchen for the weekday entertainment show.

Orza has a long way to go to get people to watch, but he says KSBI should break even in six to 12 months. “We had no ratings to begin with,” he says. “But we’ve established ourselves, and now have numbers throughout the day.”

In a year’s time, KSBI can pull in 5%-7% of the market’s revenue, he estimates—as much as $7 million a year.

The other Oklahoma City stations do not see KSBI as competition. Local TV executives say Orza is a savvy businessman, but stress that he inherited some seriously damaged goods. “He’s trying something different, but what I look at is ratings,” says John Rossi, KOKHKOCW general manager. “When KSBI’s ratings start to move, we’ll evaluate what they do.”

Orza is unbowed. He’s seeking a national sponsor for the Mind Games quiz show, has added SEC football, aligned with MyNetworkTV and features This TV on KSBI’s dot-two. “The station has come a very long way,” he says, “in a short period of time.”

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