Pittsburgh may be the toughest TV market in the nation, with three highly worthy competitors duking it out. But the inspired leadership of Chris Pike keeps KDKA a step ahead. Pike pulls off the deft task of reinventing local TV for the rapidly changing market, while still producing the timeless local programming that has long held wide appeal to Pittsburghers.
The homegrown stuff is something of a nod to television’s golden era. Pittsburgh Today Live is a dynamic talk show. Your Pittsburgh details new facets of the city. Pittsburgh’s Hidden Treasures unearths its quirky gems, and Hometown High-Q keeps the high school kids guessing with its quiz format. There are Steelers programs, a nightly live sports call-in show on sister WPCW and three Sunday public affairs programs too. “The amount of local programming we do daily goes way beyond what most stations do,” says Pike, who in 2014 marked his tenth year atop KDKA-WPCW.
That programming includes 7½ hours of local news a day under an “Expect More” brand, and seasonal specials dedicated to December’s festive Light Up Night, the Pittsburgh Marathon and Fashion Week. Such a community focus may seem like the game plan of a family-owned station in a smaller DMA; in fact, it’s a CBSowned station in a Top 25 market.
The local shows are more than just programming geared toward different segments of the community. They are also a source for news tips and a relationship-builder with the market’s newsmakers and business leaders. And they lead to even more community events.
With so much news, KDKA can go deep on government, health and other public interest beats that often get short shrift. Facing serious competition from blue-chip stations owned by Cox and Hearst Television, Pike pushes the KDKA staff daily to innovate and execute. While deep staffer tenure and a station’s legacy status are enviable attributes, Pike acknowledges that both can let complacency sneak in. He challenges staffers to do sweeps-worthy work each day. There’s no escaping the ratings, which used to be a bit of an afterthought for some, but now are posted in the newsroom and distributed via email.
“People were less aware of the competition, of where we were in the market,” Pike says. “Now, everyone is very aware of how we did yesterday.”
Pike’s believes good story ideas come from all corners of the station. The GM’s office is no exception. “I can’t think of a day when he hasn’t sent me a story idea he came across,” says Anne Linaberger, news director. “Some of the best stories we’ve done have been generated by people in other departments.”
Pike has gotten CBS’ local TV and radio properties to better cross-pollinate. TV anchors host radio shows, and one, Marty Griffin, helms a popular new TV news segment called “Get Marty,” with Griffin hustling to help aggrieved viewers.
What Pike calls the “knowledge” economy has largely supplanted Pittsburgh’s steel mills. With the new arrivals, KDKA’s reputation must be earned daily, and Pike is all over town, working the communities. “KDKA is a legacy station that is constantly reinventing itself to serve the Pittsburgh market,” says Peter Dunn, CBS Television Stations president. “Much of its success during the past decade is due to the hard work of Chris and his team.”
It goes way beyond programming. KDKA’s Turkey Fund initiative raised $600,000-plus last month. Its 61st annual Children’s Hospital telethon aired Dec. 18, raising millions for kids needing medical care. “Everything we do,” Pike says, “is uniquely Pittsburgh.”