While Joplin, Mo., residents would do just about anything to undo the terrifying tornado that leveled the city in 2011, killing 162, some good came after the destruction. Local TV stations benefited from people needing new automobiles, homes and furnishings, and from marketers eager to reach them. Flattened schools and hospitals have been rebuilt into dazzling facilities. “There’s a new emphasis on people and companies looking to relocate to Joplin,” says John Hoffman, VP and general manager of KSNF. “The medical and educational facilities are as good as anywhere.”
KOAM is a power in Joplin-Pittsburg, DMA No. 152. Saga Communications’ CBS affiliate swept the major ratings races in the May sweeps. It posted a whopping 34 household share at 6 p.m., and its 12.8 rating/29 share at 10 p.m. was miles ahead of KODE’s 4.8/11. Danny Thomas, KOAM president/GM, proudly notes NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams spent time at KOAM (where he once worked) when he was in town covering the tornado.
“We stick to the fundamental principles,” Thomas says. “Localism and news—real news.”
Thomas suggests the competition at times has blurred the line between sales and news, citing KSNF’s 4 p.m. news and lifestyle program. Hoffman says no one pays to get into the program’s rundown, while those who sponsor two-minute “Business Showcase” segments are clearly labeled as such. Hoffman adds “all content is generated by the news department” on the 4 p.m. show.
“When you make the commitment to do local news, we believe you should do more of it than anyone else in the market,” Hoffman says. “And we do.”
Nexstar’s KSNF has a joint sales agreement with Mission Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate, KODE. KOAM has a shared services agreement with Surtsey-owned Fox affiliate KFJX.
Dish Network is Joplin-Pittsburg’s primary subscription TV operator, while the cable players include Cable One and Cox. Broadcast TV plays an outsize role in the market, even more so since the tornado. “In a market this size, the presence of the stations is huge,” says Darren Dishman, general manager and program director at KFJX. “There’s a big opportunity to have a positive impact on the community—we all take that seriously.”
Joplin-Pittsburg lost three spots in the 2013- 14 Nielsen rankings. The market is ranked No. 139 in revenue, says BIA/Kelsey, but that reflects its size several years ago. When a key Arkansas county shifted to the Fort Smith-Fayetteville DMA, Joplin tumbled dozens of spots.
Yet it continues to play at a higher level, say the GMs. “We never quit acting like we [are]market [No.] 100,” says Thomas.
The tornado has had a lasting impression on stations and residents. Reporters cover stories with less “distant objectivity,” says one market veteran. The residents regard severe weather reports with much greater intensity. “We don’t live in fear as much as we have learned to respect, and not take for granted, when severe weather hits,” says Hoffman. “Since 2011, we take that stuff more seriously.”
WHAT’S WORKING IN JOPLIN-PITTSBURG
KOAM-KFJX LEADS INTO LATE NEWS WITH LATE NEWS
While KOAM was celebrating its 60th anniversary recently, KFJX was marking its 10th. The two share a building, but maintain different news anchors and sets. The Fox affiliate expanded its 9 p.m. news to an hour a few years ago, which gives a shot of localism to the lineup. “Local news does really well here,” says Darren Dishman, KFJX general manager and program director. “We’ve found a niche.”
KFJX’s newscast averaged a solid 6 household rating/11 share in the May sweeps and a 4.3/12 in the 25-54 demo. Its 9 p.m. and KOAM’s 10 p.m. programs are “significantly different newscasts,” says Danny Thomas, KOAM president/GM, designed to be watched back-to-back.
“The Fox [news] is younger, hipper and a little more Shepard Smith-like— a solo anchor standing up, more chat, anchors commenting on the story,” Thomas says. “It’s different.”