Market Eye: KWCH Looks Good on Paper

Dominant Wichita CBS station tries its hand at a new medium

When station executives talk about being multimedia companies more than simply local broadcasters, they’re usually speaking about their digital initiatives. While KWCH Wichita (Kan.) has the digital side well covered, it is also branching out into a unique format for TV people: print. Joan Barrett, president and general manager of KWCH, has enjoyed learning the intricacies of the publishing world, such as word counts and ad rates, as she preps the launch of the quarterly CatchItKansas—The Magazine.

The magazine is an extension of KWCH’s decade-old CatchItKansas.com, which is all things high school sports, and a Friday night sports show on a sister CW station. “It’s a way to take content that we have a ton of and leverage it across another medium,” says Barrett. “It’s been fun, and I think it will be a huge success.”

KWCH is targeting late August for launch, just ahead of the high schools’ pep rallies, and then football season. While football and basketball are huge in Wichita, CatchitKansas covers just about all sports; Barrett mentions intense devotion, from the station and viewers, to less celebrated sports such as track and softball.

0604_MarketEyeChart_Wichita.jpgThe magazine is emblematic of how KWCH stands apart in the Wichita-Hutchinson DMA—the CBS affiliate is innovative, and always focused on super-serving local consumers. But the competition is innovating plenty too. KSNW, which went HD at the beginning of 2014—“the whole shebang,” says Erik Schrader, VP and general manager—has a new brand, and a unique one at that. The NBC affiliate goes with the tag line “We’ve Got Your Back,” a switch from the former “Voice of the People.” Schrader says research indicated real opportunity in the consumer advocacy space. “We’ve all heard the same five brands,” he says, citing “Live, Local, Late-Breaking” and others. “It has shown a lot of momentum.”

Schrader notes that he’s the second senior general manager in the market, behind Barrett. Brad Moses came on board atop ABC affiliate KAKE in late January, and did a bit of rebranding himself. The station had been pushing a “Tracking, Alerting and Protecting” brand, but now uses that solely for weather. It’s gone back to the “On Your Side” tag that KAKE had given up years ago. Moses noted how viewers had continued to associate KAKE with On Your Side, and vice-versa.

He’s also playing up KAKE’s call letters more. “We’re taking advantage of the history of the station,” he says. “There’s such great brand equity in terms of KAKE’s history and its service to the community.

The Fox affiliate too has new leadership, with Chuck Reid upped from general sales manager at both KSAS and KMTW in April. At the time, Steve Pruett, co-chief operating officer at Sinclair’s television group, credited Reid for “enhancing operational efficiencies and profitability” during his stint as sales chief. While Sinclair operates KMTW, the MyNetworkTV station is owned by Mercury Broadcasting. Schurz Communications subsidiary Sunflower Broadcasting owns KWCH and CW affiliate KSCW, and operates Entravision’s Univision outlet KDCU through a joint sales/shared services agreement. KDCU airs a Spanish-language 10 p.m. news nightly. Media General has NBC affiliate KSNW and Gray owns KAKE. Cox is the dominant subscription TV operator in DMA No. 65.

Schrader, a former news director, is pleased to report that some investigative work at KSNW got a law changed; a lawmaker cited KSNW when a bill that would allow parents to be anonymous when they drop off a newborn baby under Safe Haven was signed into law. “It’s a reminder that the stories you do have an impact,” he says.

CBS affiliate KWCH is set to open up the “Schurz Family Room,” a new addition to its station facility. The room seats 130 and will be used for staff meetings and community events.

Over at KAKE, a double run of Modern Family 4-5 p.m. has been broken up to insert The Insider at 4:30; Moses says Insider creates a better flow out of and into news.

KWCH ran the table in the May sweeps, including a 12 household rating/31 share at 10 p.m., ahead of KSNW’s 6/14. KSNW and KAKE were runners-up in the other key races. Barrett lends serious local know-how to the clicking KWCH operation. “I am a Kansas girl,” she says. “I love being able to live in my home state and work at the station I watched growing up. It doesn’t get better than that.”

THEIR HEARTS ARE IN THE HEARTLAND

With new arrivals in the GM chairs around town, there are fresh perspectives on the Wichita market. Brad Moses, former WFLA Tampa VP/general manager, is pleased to be back in the heartland, at KAKE; he grew up outside Toledo, Ohio. “This feels like home,” he says.

Moses can confirm that rumors of heartland denizens possessing much of the nation’s collective niceness is, in fact, true. Moses notes that, while the competition is hard-nosed, the rival GMs reached out upon his arrival in Wichita to welcome him to the market. “There’s a professional courtesy here that I haven’t seen in other markets,” he says.

Erik Schrader, VP and general manager of KSNW, is enjoying his first GM job after a long career in news, including stints running the newsroom at WTNH-WCTX Hartford-New Haven (Conn.) and WNEP Wilkes Barre-Scranton (Pa.). He likes the natural beauty of the market, the lack of traffic and the amount of house one’s dollar buys. For those considering a move to Wichita-Hutchinson, he has some simple advice. “Get them on a plane,” he says. “Get them to Wichita. When they see how beautiful it is, it’s a pretty easy sell from there.”