The tornadoes that swept across Kansas City, Mo., on May 4 also swept KCTV(TV) upward in the ratings. Meredith-owned KCTV was the only station to pull its entire prime time schedule that Sunday night, even though the storms were at their most dangerous earlier in the day. Viewership continued to build; at 8:45 p.m., the households-using-television (HUT) level rose to 81%, and KCTV's 29 share was larger than all its competitors put together.
"It wasn't a difficult decision, and we'd rather err on the side of being too aggressive in helping viewers out than not," says News Director Regent Ducas.
Unexpectedly, the move has paid off in improved ratings.
General Manager Kirk Black says the station scored a 19.4 share in the 8-10 p.m. period, tops in the market. (Fox's WDAF-TV was next with a 16.7 share). More important, he says, the station has seen an uptick in ratings for its morning, 4:30 and 10 p.m. news in the days following the preemption.
"We're outperforming our sweeps forecast by 23% at 10 p.m.," says Black. "Hopefully, that will continue."
Tornadoes in the Midwest in May aren't a surprise, but the ferocity of the May 4 storms were. Some 90 twisters touched down, setting a single-day record. Nine tornadoes struck Kansas City, damaging more than 1,900 structures and causing more than $125 million in damage. Two of the tornadoes were F4 in strength, the second-highest rating.
Only one Kansas City resident was killed despite the massive damage. Overall, the storms killed 40 people across Arkansas, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Tennessee.
After KCTV's prime time run, KMBC-TV resumed its No. 1 news position at 10 p.m., pulling a 19.4/28 share.
Kansas City stations certainly made viewers aware of the impending danger and may have helped save lives, says KMBC-TV General Manager C. Wayne Godsey. "I really credit the Kansas City broadcasters with getting the word out accurately and on time with allowing people to take shelter."
One of those people was KMBC-TV anchor Kris Katz. His family was having a birthday party when the storm hit. The family took shelter, but the home was destroyed.
He says his station made the decision to run the two-hour season finale of Alias
(which pulled in a 10 rating/13 share) at 8 p.m. to give the news team a chance to prepare for the 10 p.m. newscast. The station had done four hours of post-storm reports.
His station's helicopter managed to capture some of the most compelling video, including shots of an F4 tornado touching down in Parkville.
According to Ducas, KCTV-TV also grabbed shots of the twister, because cameramen Mike Horine lived in Parkville. With the help of his wife, who handled the driving, he was able to follow and get shots of the twister that were shown across the country on CNN.
This isn't the first time a station has kept its storm coverage going while others folded. Most notably, in the summer of 1998, WEWS(TV) Cleveland preempted its ABC prime time lineup to give wall-to-wall coverage of a severe storm, and, while some rival stations accused the station of overkill, it was a Nielsen and public-relations triumph for the station.