Friday, July 31, 2009

More Than a "Beer Summit"

Let’s Talk About Race

“Blah, blah, blah, blah,” said President Barack Obama for 55 minutes. What was being said were important answers to questions about the need for health care reform, but all the reporters and viewers seemed to hear was, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then, the president took one more question. Forget the past 55 minutes. Even if he had not used the adverb “stupidly”, it still would have been the headline. Why? It was about race. Race is always better than “blah, blah, blah, blah” where the media is concerned. Commentators and reporters went nuts. Headline writers had a field day.

Further it was something new. The old saw says there are several things one shouldn’t watch while they are being made. Among them are laws and news. The health care debate is a process, not easily understood while watching and reporting. This confrontation between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley was already national news. The president admitted that he fanned the flames with his comments. The story grew legs.

The media, however, for the most part missed the point. The question posed the president probably would not have been asked to an Anglo president. If it had been asked to an Anglo president, it would have been brushed aside. Some say Obama should have done just that, but Obama does not run from the tough stuff. It was really remarkable that an African-American sitting president would weigh-in on what would seem to be a local issue involving a police officer who conducts classes on racial profiling and a scholarly professor who has researched and written extensively on the subject of being black in America. They may be the right people for what the president called a "Teachable Moment".

The media even coined the name of the afternoon meeting between the sergeant, the professor, the vice president, and the president, calling it the “Beer Summit” at the White House, something Obama attempted to dismiss. Once again, the media missed the point. No other president, except one who is African-American and also a former member of academe, would have set up such a gathering.

After the early evening meeting Thursday, July 30, 2009, the media set about to make something out of what beer was ordered by each one present, as if it somehow mattered. (Notably, Vice President Biden ordered a non-alcoholic beverage.) The Austin American-Statesman tease on the Friday front page asked, “With the suds, was there substance?” Good question. It comes closer to getting at the truth. The page A2 story taken from the New York Times, while short, reported the good news that there was “thoughtful conversation.”

Why is this Cambridge Mass./Beltway story worth discussing in Austin, Texas? The issue of race divides us here, just as it does in Cambridge and the rest of the country, and the media may be feeding the flames with less-than thoughtful, sound-bite reporting. And the viewers, readers, users of the media respond in kind.

American-Statesman readers took a dim view of Thursday’s “happy hour”. “Wow! Now this is something in which the president of the United States really needs to involve himself,” one reader wrote in the online comments. “My wife and I had a disagreement several days ago. Should the president invite us to the rose garden for a beer and reconciliation?” Another said, “Obama is the one who acted ‘stupidly’, and this is his way of sloughing it off on his friend in a media ploy. "Agree to disagree" is just another formidable way of saying the race card still gets played in [sic] Amerika.”

Who is playing the race card? I am afraid we all still do in one way or another. An African-American friend, a former news photographer, and a native Austinite worked the morning show at one of Austin’s TV stations. He’d ride his bicycle or walk to work in the early morning hours around 4 a.m. He would tell me wearily, “It happened again.” Even though he walked the same route every morning, police would stop and “ID” him every few months, asking him why he was out that time of the morning. One day, I felt compelled to day, “I’m sorry” because nobody else would.

Race is still a wedge, and there are those who would use it to divide us. Rush Limbaugh is on the air here on KLBJ-AM (Fox Radio). Tell me he does not fuel the furnace. The president with no apologies had the will to take on this all-too-familiar issue, talk about it public instead of whispers, and attempt to address it on the front page or as the lead story in national and local media.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reports:

Based on what people have heard about the incident
in Cambridge, 27% of blame Gates, 25% fault the police officer, 13% volunteer both or neither, and 36% offer no opinion. However, more people disapprove (41%) than approve (29%) of the president’s handling of the situation. And by a margin
of about two-to-one, more whites disapprove (45%) than approve (22%).

Yet Obama is widely liked by the public on a more personal level, with close to three-quarters (74%) saying they like the kind of person he is and the way he leads his life. Asked why, among the most frequent responses offered are impressions that he is honest, has integrity, is a good father and is intelligent.

Looking through different lenses, racism may be a bigger issue in many ways than “blah, blah, blah, blah” (Health Care Reform). Both issues need serious, transparent attention. Much of the media wouldn’t/couldn’t focus on the most pervasive part of the story. It was not a “beer summit”, but it might be a new beginning.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Unreported Stories



One of the better reporters in Austin asked me, what are some of the under reported stories in Austin? Under reported in Austin? I'm shaking my head. Staffs have been cut, and the "beat" system may be dying in all media. KXAN TV (NBC), News 8, and KVUE TV (ABC) seem to have a beat system still. It takes a budget commitment. I'm a great believer in the beat system. Yeah, it's "old school", but it still works. It works if the report is on the right beat. Sometimes, management will think it is filling that slot only to find out that the reporter really wanted to do features.

Jim Swift (KXAN) is one of the last feature reporters standing. It's a dying breed nationwide. Make no mistake; however, Jim can cover hard news.

There is only one (1) health reporter in traditional media to my knowledge. She's at the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. What is, perhaps, the most reported issue at the national level right now? Health Care. Further, I'm aware of several health developments in Austin, but it is reporting via news release. That's not even a niche beat. Health used to be far more important. Perhaps it doesn't research well right now, but Austin never conforms to research elsewhere.

There are few, true education reporters. If a medium wants to grow an audience, produce compelling content about schools, not just the obvious ones like the closure of Pearce Middle School. There are few better pictures on TV than those of little kids. People always ask, why don't you show us some good news? There are many of these "good news" stories.

This leads me to say again and again that it IS legal to take pictures of students in the course of telling a story related to education. It's state law. SB 521 took effect more than a decade ago with the 1997-98 school year. It was signed into law by then governor George Bush. According to the bill, school districts are not required to get written parental consent before recording video or pictures, including a student's voice, if the recording is to be used only for media coverage of the school. If there are children in custody battles, etc., they can be identified easily, and removed from the setting.

The law allows wiggle-room for individual districts and campuses. Some, such as Eanes ISD, deny access to students. That means that Eanes does not the coverage that it once did. One thing I do find interesting--Eanes student athletes seem to get on TV a lot. Do we have our priorities right.

Another sadly under reported area is as they used to say “Under the Dome”. There are fewer and fewer members of the Capitol Press Corps. This is another area where, for many, is journalism by news release. Again, KXAN and KVUE have capitol reporters. This deserves more than a paragraph in a future post.

I'm a former crime reporter, and I think there is FAR too much crime coverage. We get enough violence in prime time. At one time KXAN did VO/Bites (voice-over/sound bites) on the crime and PKGs on some more meaty, related issue.

Under reported? Why does TV news leave it to the printed media to cover the music and entertainment industry in Austin. The moniker "Live Music Capital of the World" is wearing a little thin. City Hall reporters have done stories on the noise ordinance enforcement, most recently at the Unplugged at Shady Grove series. There have been other stories about a city Music Office. There are other under reported stories. Right now during the national debate about health care, maybe it's time for another story about health care for musicians? The minimum wage rose this past week as Austin musicians and singer/songwriters try to scratch out an existence. There isn't a reporter on that beat, and management apparently doesn't see it as an ongoing source of stories. It is, but, of course, I'm prejudiced.

Whenever someone moves on in a newsroom, that reporter's knowledge, contacts, and goodwill go too. Ideally, those beat positions should be filled with some overlapping allowing the new reporter a chance for some introductions.

Sure, there may be under reported niches. I think the media is straining to cover the basics right now.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Facebook, Cong. John Carter, and Cognitive Dissonance




“Unfriend” or “de-friend”. Verbs (neither in Used in social media as a verb meaning to disassociate one’s self with another inside of that social medium’s framework. “Unfriend” is actually in as a noun, a synonym of “enemy”. So, why am I looking up these terms? I am witnessing an interesting dynamic in social media.

It is very similar to the detached tirades people may launch in email. As you know people will say things to other people, particularly if they don’t know them or don’t know them well, in email that they would never say to their faces. One person asserts an opinion diametrically opposed to yours, and you respond. It goes back to one of those things my mother taught me, and I am sure that her mother taught to her: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Recently on my favorite social medium, a “friend” was threatening to “unfriend” someone else because of a political position taken in one of the medium’s constant “polls”. My friend no longer felt friendship with that person not just because of the position taken, I don’t think, but by the way it was written.

My friend along with others began discussing the purpose of the social medium, Facebook. Wasn’t it supposed to be a fun, safe place where folks could reconnect, catch-up, and converse? Why, all of a sudden, did Facebook start including political issues that would enflame someone one the other side of the issue? Would you vote for Sarah Palin? Would you vote for Obama again? “Are you in favor of a Government run healthcare system” is the current question. [At the risk of being unfriended, my answer, were I to participate in these polls which I do not, would be “Yes”. Why? If you needed health insurance, and you had a pre-existing condition, you’d know.]

I suppose these questions give FB a new edginess. Certainly, I have learned new things about some of my friends because of these polls. Some of their responses have surprised me. Since these people are really friends, not just virtual friends, I discovered new information about them. If nothing else, I learned never to discuss (Blank) with them when we are socializing or at family gatherings. Further, I like knowing points of view that might challenge my own. It keeps me thinking.

Rather than a “social” medium, however, Facebook can become an “anti-social” medium. Yes, I have “unfriended” a few people who were not personal friends either because they went on and on and on about everything in their lives—everything. Or, I finally decided, after reading responses, I didn’t want to see that sort of response any more. Toss in some touchy political issues and this “unfriending” action leads toward polarization.

I fervently believed that the election of Barack Obama would knit the nation closer together. No. It has created a new and more frightening polarization, and the media is re-enforcing it. These annoying FB polls are part of it, forcing people to choose publically “Yes” or “No” on a potentially polarizing issue. At least the voting booth is still a private sanctuary. Why do people take these polls? Probably because they are ardent supporters of one side or the other. We choose up sides.

Further, this past week, first on the cable news networks and then in the mainstream, there was renewed reporting of the incredible question of whether Barack Obama is a natural born citizen of this country as the Constitution requires. I thought that this was settled months long ago. Reasonably rational people came out of nowhere at community town halls and otherwise to claim he is not. Irrational people like Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy was given a moment in the sunshine to raise these questions once again.

Even Central Texas Congressman and former district judge John Carter is a support of something called HR (House Resolution) 1503. HR 1503 would “… amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee's statement of organization a copy of the candidate's birth certificate, together with such other documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility to the Office of President under the Constitution.”

Do we need this? Qualifications for President are already practically etched in stone.

Before this hit the spotlight of the evening news this week, I discovered Congressman Carter’s support. I, by the way, know Congressman Carter and consider him a friend or at least an acquaintance. When I saw his endorsement of this resolution, I learned something new, and it is something that Central Texas voters should know.

I passed it along to at least five colleagues working in area newsrooms. None of them have approached Congressman Carter asking why he is supporting HR 1503. I don't know why. Doesn’t Congress have something better to do? I don't know why someone in the mainstream, local news media doesn't pursue this.

This resolution is simply a distraction to the work at hand—healthcare reform.

The “friendship” and possible polarization inside social media may be related to politics, and it all can be explained by the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance explained by Leon Festinger. If your “friend” believes (blank) and you believe (blank) then you can be friends. If your “friend” who believed (blank) and you are very opposed to (blank), either you must reduce dissonance or cease to be friends.

“Any time a person has information or an opinion which considered by itself would lead him not to engage in some action, then this information or opinion is dissonant with having engaged in the action. When such dissonance exists, the person will try to reduce it either by changing his actions or by changing his believes and opinions.” (Leon Festinger, The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, “The Science of Human Communication” edited by Wilbur Schramm. p. 17. Basic Books. 1963). There is much more for perhaps another time.

One way to reduce dissonance is simple in social media: Be anti-social and unfriend. Problem solved. Polarization spreads.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Top Ten Things Your Weather Forecaster Won't Tell You

The Austin Forecast

The August issue of “Smart Money” magazine includes a short piece on “The 10 Things Your Weather Forecaster Won’t Tell You.” As we bake in the oven of the hottest summer on record, whenever the weather forecasters speak, we listen.

I’ve written it before, and I’ll write again: Weather is the ratings driver. Living here in Central Texas, otherwise known (at least before this past year or two) as “Flash Flood Alley”, we know what a spring or summer storm can do. At the very least, it will drive viewers to their TV sets. Nowadays, the lack of rain is still makes weather worth watching while wishing for a rain shower on the radar.

Certainly, I won’t rip off Jim Rendon’s story in the magazine. That wouldn’t be right. He lists his “Top 10” and follows with reasons why. I’m going to take his “Top 10” and put the Central Texas spin on it.

#1 “Long Term Forecast” – Your guess is a good as ours. Forecasters can nail the next two or three days, but those seven day forecasts may be problematic. Actually, this time of the year in Austin, almost any long-time resident can predict the weather: “Late night and early morning cloudiness, then partly cloudy with a high in the upper 90s and lows in the upper 70s or lower ‘80s. Winds 5 to 10 miles per hour. Chances for precipitation—20-30-percent. That chance for precipitation is a best guess just in case there is enough available moisture and enough daytime heating for a pop-up shower. This forecast is generally good until late September. Yet, we still watch and hope.

#2 “We’re Pretty Accurate, As Long As the Sun Is Shining.” (See above.)

#3 “We’re Often More Show Biz Than Science” – Yeah, presentation makes somewhat of a difference, but Austin is lucky. In an earlier post I listed the professional qualifications of our television weather personalities. They’re personalities, but they have proven that they know what they’re doing with basic education and continuing education, plus certifications in most cases.

#4 “Our High Tech Gizmos Do Everything But Predict the Weather” – Well, yes and no. It goes back to #3. Some doing TV weather are better at playing with the toys than others. Further, as I’ve said before, some stations have better computer software than others. In my opinion, KEYE TV (CBS) and KXAN TV (NBC) have the best weather graphics.

#5 “Want the Temperature? Don’t Ask the National Weather Service” – We all know that the thermometer at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport doesn’t represent the temperature where most of us live. No surprise here.

#6 “Weather Is Big Business” – Yeah. That’s why they have a story in “Smart Money”.

#7 “Bad Weather Means Big Ratings” – See #6 and #1.

#8 “And It’s Always Bad During Sweeps Week” – Not lately. Austin stations wish it were so. May is historically Austin’s wettest month. May, 2008 had one bad day, May 15th. That was it. May, 2009, zero. Life is hard.

#9 “Accuracy? Who Cares?” – True nobody is keeping score, but I think that viewers to develop beliefs about who has the best forecast. See all of the numbers above.

#10 “Weather Is Recession Proof” – That’s pretty much true, but TV is a tough, competitive business. While there hasn’t been much change in the weather staffs here, other parts of the country have seen weather consolidated, staffed out of one studio for several stations. It saves money. I doubt it saves much more.

We’ll never see that here in Central Texas. “We're really a mixing pot of all possible air masses,” says Troy Kimmel, KEYE TV meteorologist. One of them is the so-called “Marfa Dry Line”. “The dry line is the forward boundary of the continental tropical air mass,” Kimmel said. All of this makes it more difficult to predict weather in Central Texas weather.

Lately, forecasters have been including that 20 or 30-percent chance for rain. KXAN TV’s Jim Spencer calls it “bad luck”. He details several other possible reasons in his weather blog. ( If you’re a weather geek like me, it’s a good read.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

KXAN TV Weekend News Anchor Arrested for DWI


David Scott

Alleged DWI

City of Lakeway Police late Friday night (July 17, 2009) arrested 56-year-old David Michael Torbi, also known as KXAN TV (NBC) Weekend anchor and reporter David Scott, on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

At 11:51 Friday night a Lakeway officer noticed Scott’s vehicle stuck in the drainage ditch on the left side of the road in the 500 block of Lakeway Drive. It was facing perpendicular to the roadway, the officer said in his report.

The officer noted in his report that Mr. Scott’s were watery and glassy. He was swaying, staggering, and stumbling. There was, according to the report, a strong odor of alcohol. The officer said that he also saw a “mixed drink” in the vehicle. Mr. Scott refused sobriety tests at the scene, but according to the offence report he told the arresting officer, “I am really f**ked up. I drank way too much.”

The Lakeway officer indicated that Scott mumbled, he slurred his speech, and he was “mush-mouthed”, according to the offence report. Further, he used profanity and fought with the arresting officer. The officer went on to say that Scott was uncooperative, cocky, and combative.

Scott was taken to the Travis County Jail where he was booked for Driving While Intoxicated, a Class B misdemeanor.

KXAN TV reported the arrest without comment, and the emails from newsmcnabb have not yet been answered.

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Scott was KXAN’s main news anchor in the late 1980s and early 1990s before moving to a larger market. He returned to broadcast news in Austin about a year and a half ago. He is a Lakeway resident.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

KEYE TV Cancels Its 5 O'clock Newscast

The Eye Blinked

The upbeat news release this week touts KEYE-TV’s planned new, one-hour 4 O’clock starting September 15th. What was not said blew right by many people, including me. KEYE is pulling the plug on its 5 p.m. news. The 5 O’clock news broadcast never achieved traction in this fickle market. Not even well-known and liked anchors Judy Maggio and Ron Oliveira now joined by meteorologist Troy Kimmel have been able to drag the show out of the ratings basement. In “the business” when an audience is too insignificant for measurement it gets “hash” marks (///). Hash often has been KEYE’s daily diet during some quarter hours.

Admittedly I was flustered with other items the day of the announcement (That was the day I posted about KLBJ AM’s racist gaffe during the “Don and Todd Show”. ), and I just said, “That’s interesting.” I attempted to get more information from management, but they said details of the announced newscast were still being formulated. I said, OK, and I posted the KEYE news release verbatim with a post script that KXAN TV (NBC) had tried doing news at 4 p.m. for a while and abandoned it.

Today (Friday, July 17th), I took another look at the new late afternoon schedule starting September 15th:

3:00pm Dr Phil4:00pm KEYE 4pm News
5:00pm The Insider
5:30pm CBS Evening News
6:00pm KEYE News at 6pm

An alternative to local news will air in the 5 p.m. slot, “The Insider”.
The national television industry web site “TV Spy Water Cooler” sizzled with comments, some obviously from local people familiar with the Austin market. This comment capsules the conversation:

“KEYE is the bottom feeder. Previous posters are correct, KXAN tried and failed with a 4PM. HUT [Households Using Television] levels are ridiculously low at 4 PM because Austin has such great weather and such a young and active population.

“What wouldn't surprise me in Sept 2010 would be to see KEYE put 2 & 1/2 Men at 6PM to go against FOX and KNVA, then air a newscast 6:30-7pm.”

Another writer suggested a 6:30-7 news cast. Sandwiched in the middle is CBS News with Katie Couric at 5:30 p.m. CBS has made some ratings gains in recent months. Further, it won the Edward R. Murrow award for “Best Network New Cast”, while NBC won the national Murrow for overall excellence. In any event, KEYE is taking a different strategy in September, giving it time to perhaps grow an early local news audience before the November ratings.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Media News Round Up: News on the News

News News

Two quick items of interest from Austin media:

KEYE TV (CBS) announces without comment a new one-hour news broadcast beginning in September:

KEYE-TV Adds New, Local, One Hour Newscast

KEYE TV is pleased to announce a one hour, locally produced newscast to air weekdays at 4pm starting September 15, 2009. The show will focus on all things Central Texas, highlighting local events, places, news, weather and interesting people in and around Austin. “Ron Oliveira and Judy Maggio are Austin’s most
experienced journalists. They know Austin so well,” says President and General Manager Amy Villarreal, “and each show will highlight their great storytelling and love of Central Texans.”The show is still in development and further announcements will be made closer to the launch date.

KEYE TV Program schedule starting Sept 15th:

3:00pm Dr Phil

4:00pm KEYE 4pm News

5:00pm The Insider

5:30pm CBS Evening News

6:00pm KEYE News at 6pm

KXAN TV (NBC) experimented with a 4 O’clock broadcast for about one year before abandoning it.


Cox Enterprises is in an agreement to sell three of its newspapers, including the Waco Tribune-Herald. Robinson Media Company will purchase the Tribune-Herald:

"The Waco Tribune-Herald and its employees have made significant contributions to our company," said Doug Franklin, executive vice president, Cox Newspapers.
"Under Robinson Media Company's ownership, the Tribune-Herald will continue to excel in journalism and serving advertisers, as well as remain an integral part of the community."

It is anticipated that virtually all employees will be retained under the new ownership. Belinda Gaudet, current publisher of
the Tribune-Herald, will be retiring, and Dan Savage will serve as the interim publisher. The Tribune-Herald, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1994 for its investigative reporting, dates back to the 19th

"I've spent my life in Waco and recognize the importance of the Waco Tribune-Herald," said Clifton Robinson, chairman and CEO of Robinson Media Company. "The paper is vital to this community, and I'm thrilled to be part of such an important organization. I look forward to meeting and working with the employees who make the paper the success it is today and will continue to be in the future."

Robinson is said to have close ties to Baylor University. NewsMcNabb recently reported that The Austin American-Statesman will be printing the Waco Tribune-Herald. There is no word about any deal to sell the Austin American-Statesman, also owned by Cox.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Silence. Try It. You Might Like It!

The “Off” Button

Every radio I have ever seen comes equipped with an “Off” button. The off button is especially useful on the AM frequencies, although you and your children’s ears may not be entirely safe in the FM spectrum either.

If one wants to hear many sides to a story, that listener often says that they listen to AM radio. Some critics call AM radio—talk radio—the pulse of the nation. That frightens and even offends me. The blather one hears spewing from talk show hosts, local and nationally syndicated, I sincerely hope does not have the rhythm of the heart beat of this city, this state, and this nation. Too often, however, when hosts decide that they know more than their prospective audience, they utter the most awful things.

Local radio should, indeed, reflect the community it serves, but its standards should be high. Broadcasting on KLBJ hit a new low with the “Todd and Don” show. Co-host Todd Jefferies should know better as the radio station’s news director. Journalists should do more than Mr. Jeffries did in trying to throttle Don Pryor’s recent racial slurs on the air. I do hope that the two will learn something during their reported two-week suspension without pay announced today (Wednesday, July 15, 2009). Too bad they cannot connect with the past.

KLBJ AM’s standards are historically high. I know. I was KLBJ AM & FM’s first news director after the Johnson family sold KTBC TV to the Los Angeles Times Mirror Corporation in the early 1970’s. Lady Bird Johnson was still very much in the picture. General Manager J.C. Kellam, for whom the administration building at Texas State University is named, demanded the very best. I remember sitting in Mr. Kellam’s office as a 24-year-old news director, learning from the very best. Mr. Kellam and Mrs. Johnson would have been outraged with this kind of talk on their air. Apparently, current owners, Emmis feels much the same, having slapped the talk show hosts with unpaid suspensions.

True, broadcasting has changed in these past 35 or so years. Deregulation under Ronald Reagan resulted in fewer and fewer stations doing serious radio news. Many stations turned to talk formats. Music had moved to the FM dial, and talk was cheap. Talk was cheap, but it didn’t and doesn’t mean that talk is good. During these 35 years, another kind of broadcaster came along both at the local and national level, one who could create conflict and controversy, one who didn’t care about ethics or good taste so long as it created an audience. This broadcaster has no roots, no depth, no perspective. Just chatter. This broadcaster sickens me.

It is time to use the “off” button. Deprive them of the audience, and they will go away. KUT-FM is a good alternative.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

We're #3!!! We're #3!!! We're #3

I’m OK With That

It was so-called “new media” against the traditional media on a traditional medium’s cyber playing field. Late last week, as I’m sure that many of you know by now, I found out from a former colleague that this blog had been included in the Austin American-Statesman’s entertainment web site’s weekly poll,’s “A List”. It was a poll of “media newcomers”.

I looked at the competition. It was formidable. Several of the newcomers were from traditional mass media, broadcast TV. The Austin360 staff picked powerful contenders, including Terri Gruca, one of the main anchors from Austin’s #1 TV station, KVUE (ABC). Other nominees included Katherine Stolp, an Austin native and KEYE TV (CBS) reporter, Natalie Stoll who does weekend weather and reporting for KXAN TV (NBC), and Adam Krueger of News 8. My most furious competition as it turned out was Matt Reilly from KUT (Public Radio). The competition also included Austin Post, and I’m a contributor to Austin Post ( creating a curious competition against myself in the blogosphere.

If you’re going to be in journalism, you must be a competitor. Sizing up the lay of the land, I knew that I couldn’t draw on supporters from local traditional media since they would be supporting their colleagues. I might be a friend, but I’m an old friend. Besides, all of them are in the traditional media. My only means of competing, therefore, was to use email groups and new media, specifically social media and my “friends” on Facebook.

One of my longtime friends who is also a Facebook friend, Diane Holloway, chided me saying that I as a journalist should have dignity. “OK, Jim. Stop begging! Remember, you're a journalist, not a panhandler. You don't have to beg. A little dignity PLEASE,” Diane protested. “I know about self-promotion. I have to do it for my TV “Worth Watching” columns ... but I try not to do it a dozen times a day, dude!!” Diane is dignified and her “Worth Watching” posts are well worth reading (

I have never approached dignity, although I have a good model in my dad. Neither have been particularly politically correct, whatever that is. I pressed on pulling all of the strings I could and watching the ticker.

I used this blog email notification list and my music lists for email promotion. Both generated votes and encouragement. My son promoted me in his Austin office, and my niece also exhorted Facebook friends. My wife and my sister joined in the fray too. Tuesday night, one of my FB friends, whom I have not physically seen in decades although she lives here in Austin posted much appreciated and needed support in the final hours. “Jim McNabb is a good guy who continues to promote credibility and accountability in local news reporting,” she wrote. “I appreciate his effort in putting up this blog and hope you will consider casting a vote for him so that he might at least place third in this survey (and we can all get some peace!! :) ).” I loved it.

And, I should say that I know of some friends in the traditional media who backed NewsMcNabb as the clock ticked toward 11 p.m., their colleagues’ places were pretty much locked. Thank you.

What does all of this mean? Does it mean that the McNabb in NewsMcNabb is a nut case? Well, maybe. I don’t, however, think it is about me. It isn’t about NewsMcNabb. It is about subtle shifts in media. intentionally sprinkled in all sorts of media.

“When we consider the Your A-List polls each week, we work hard to pick a good mix of contenders that represent the diverse interests of visitors to our site,” says Gary Dinges of

“As you can see, the list has a little something for just about everyone,” Dinges says. No blogs were included in this category last year. For some perspective, however, some nominees have done it the very old fashioned way. “Successful write-in campaigns have been waged numerous times,” Dinges says. Dinges says they do have a “best blog” category. It will be sometime later.

Bottom line: I think coming in third in this odd little competition says more about the power of social media and networking via email than it does about NewsMcNabb. Certainly, last year’s presidential campaign proved that it works, and now the loyal opposition is trying to emulate it. Like Diane Holloway said at one point, it is an honor to be nominated. I am humbled. I am also rather amazed that it is possible over the course of five days to pull up in third place behind the mass media using only networking and new media. So, when someone puts down Facebook and Twitter, they may not realize the power in these so-called “social media”.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Second or Third Return of Troy Kimmel



I saw it coming. Six weeks ago when I wrote about veteran meteorologist Troy Kimmel returning to KEYE TV (CBS) to cover weekends and vacations, I sensed that he wasn’t leaving. I’ve known Troy for 35 years or so. With all of his notoriety in Austin working for KVUE TV (ABC), KTBC TV (CBS and then Fox), KEYE TV, and Clear Channel Radio, plus his teaching load at The University of Texas at Austin as an Aggie, I knew two years ago that he was drawn to return to TV. He was last on the air full time at KEYE TV six years ago.

As I said, I like to be ahead of the curve, but this announcement came by news release. All of it is true. The full KEYE-TV news release follows:


July 10, 2009
For Immediate Release:

Troy Kimmel named Meteorologist at KEYE TV

Thirty-four years after starting his career in Central Texas, Troy Kimmel is back on television and back on KEYE-TV. “Troy’s style is comfortable and personable without being alarmist or preachy,” says President and General Manager Amy Villarreal. “His wealth of Central Texas weather knowledge and love for the weather is evident on-air.”

Mr. Kimmel’s impressive range of experience includes serving as Chief Meteorologist for Lower Colorado River Authority, he’s taught for over 21 years, including at UT and worked at several TV and radio stations in Austin (including KEYE from 1998-1999).

Twenty-six years ago Troy received his National Weather Association Television Seal of Approval and the American Meteorological Society Television Seal of Approval two years later in 1985. He was awarded the American Meteorological Society Certified Broadcast Meteorologist in May 2005. Troy has won numerous awards, published papers and even continues to take courses and workshops. "I've worked with Ron and Judy before and look forward to being a part of this team again, they are the best!" said Mr. Kimmel.

“Troy is the real deal. He knows Texas and the Austin-area, in particular, and we are proud to have him back at KEYE.” said News Director Suzanne Black.

Troy can be seen weeknights at 5, 6 and 10pm on CBS 42 KEYE starting July 13, 2009. And you can still hear Troy on KASE, KVET and KFMK Clear Channel radio stations in the morning.


Indeed, KVET-FM (Clear Channel) listeners will still hear him live on the air each morning. “I want to stick with Bucky and Bob,” Troy told me. He will continue. He doesn’t have to make the trek to the KVET studios in South Austin. Kimmel has a weather station, forecasting tools, and broadcast quality equipment at his home in north Austin. He’s not actually standing next to Bucky and Bob, but he doesn’t need to stand next to them.

Further, he will continue teaching at The University of Texas at Austin. Classes are already set at UT, and he will show up and teach. “I will ultimately cut back,” Kimmel said.

Kimmel did the weather at KEYE TV some six years ago and left. Why did he come back? It was a good opportunity, Kimmel says. He cited change over the years since he left. “I have the greatest respect for Amy (Amy Villarreal, general manager) and Suzanne (Suzanne Black, news director).”

Susan Vessell had been the chief meteorologist handling the evening newscasts since Byron Webre was sacked in 2008. She did high quality work in the past year, upgrading the station’s use of the weather graphics package. Her calm, precise presence has been an asset. Vessel is still shown on the KEYE TV web site. Kimmel was added tonight (July 10, 2009). Also shown is Kelly Sifka, the morning meteorologist for the past several months.

However, Vessell’s time at KEYE TV ends September 8th. She is gone. Vessell told me tonight, “It will all work out.” Just like a meteorologist to see a silver lining on the clouds.

It’s a tough business.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

I'm Flattered

Media Newcomer?

I’m flattered and humbled. Really. I just found out this afternoon that the has NewsMcNabb included in “Your A List”: “City Life/Media Newcomer”. Here’s the link:

Strangely, I was in the process of writing a new post taking stock of NewsMcNabb. A reporter for the Daily Texan had contacted me regarding an article she is writing about bloggers in Austin. Leigh Patterson had asked for my perspective having transition from day-to-day journalism to a journalism/media criticism blog. I read what I wrote to her, and I decided that it was a good way of taking stock of NewsMcNabb and other media at this moment in time.

After retiring from TV news, I was convinced more than ever that there was a void. In this market nobody was writing critically about media and journalism.

On a sporadic basis, someone at the Austin Chronicle would write a piece about something they’d seen or read. Frankly, I didn’t find much of what the Chronicle wrote about the media helpful in that it seemed as one-sided or biased as they claimed my TV station at the time, KXAN TV, was. More recently, Kevin Brass has written a few stories about trends in Austin journalism for the Chronicle. Brass is quite qualified and much of what he writes is spot-on, but Brass has several irons in the fire, and journalism/media criticism isn’t his sole focus.

I saw that nobody was writing about the newspapers—good, bad, or ugly. Somebody should since there is so much change, stories weren’t being told. Further, I knew from the inside-out all of the almost desperate changes that were going on in TV stations and their newsrooms. All, print and broadcast, are doing more with less. Staff members are cross-training on posting stories, pictures, and video to the web.

A byproduct of doing more with less is that the overall product was and is often suffering. If the Fourth Estate is a pillar of democracy (and I believe it is—check out Iran news) then, someone needs to explain what’s going on and how means of finding information essential to our community is changing.

Of course, all of this is facilitated by the Internet. The good thing is that the Internet has leveled the playing field allowing ordinary citizens to have a voice. Anyone can get a blogspot or Wordpress blog. If you can write and if you can develop a following, you can have your own medium for free. Since the juice of journalism still flowed fast in my veins, one fall afternoon, I suddenly slammed an unwitting email list with notification of my blog NewsMcNabb. I have added many, many more since then.


What is true for any successful communications medium is true for a blog: Content is king. Without compelling content that interests or affects people, no medium will succeed for long.

That is one of the things killing newspapers. Many newspapers across the country and here in Austin are buying-out or laying-off longtime reporters. These seasoned reporters commanded a higher salary and benefits, but the newspaper lost their contacts, knowledge, and goodwill. When those newspapers with smaller staffs start using more and more Associated Press or New York Times syndicated stories and fewer strong local stories, the readers notice and move on. The same can be said of television stations and blogs.

If a blog doesn’t deliver focused hyper-local content, it will wither and die. So, I approach almost every post as a news story containing the same elements needed in all news stories—facts, quotes, attribution, organic unity, and precision. Sure, every now and then, I’ll post a screed, but I always warn readers that something has torqued me off, and today’s post may be considered a diatribe. Even a screed should be at the very least entertaining.

The Austin Post (, of course, should speak for itself, but I decided to be a contributor to see first-hand if their concept would work. The goal is to have 100 contributors producing content. If all are writing about something different, the news will be covered. I personally believe there must be some direction to make sure the important stories of the day are covered. I also believe that there must be professional writers and editors who understand journalistic ethics and law. The folks at the Austin Post assured me that the site would be evolving, and what it looks like right now might not be the same Austin Post by the end of the year. They can do this because they are not for profit.

As an independent contributor, I’ll be watching. I can see throwing in my own two cents in future posts. There are other Austin-based, for-profit sites, such as The Austinist, an Austin version of similar sites around the country. They’re sort of the Craig’s list of news blogs. I’ll be watching them too. What am I watching for? I’m watching for high quality content loaded with facts and light on bias. If any such site slings about opinion and nothing else with few facts to back them up, we all should be looking at them critically.

What’s in this for me? Very little so far. I have Google Ads on my site, but I have yet to see any money. Austin Post gives my voice a bigger presence, reaching people who aren’t on my email list and readers who don’t see my notices of posts on Facebook or Twitter. Certainly, I’d like to monetize my blog, but money from any media is not great nowadays.

Once upon a time traditional media were money-making-machines. Now, many media stocks are a fraction of what they once were. I’ve written about that. And “they” say the audience will not pay for content. I believe readers will pay for access to content that they value. Recently, I wrote that people who claim that they won’t pay for content are already paying for content every time they download a song or something from iTunes. Web-only blog sites will face the same financial struggles as the traditional media.

While newspapers have been around for centuries, even newspapers changed over the years. Each new innovation was adopted and adapted by the media users/audience. Now, with the Internet, users have even more agency. They will use those media that fit their own ethos. It’s the new “local”. It makes demonstrations in Iran “local”. One can almost see why the Iranian government thinks that we have interfered with their “election”; there is such a free-flow of information over the Internet.

Local, Austin/Travis County or regional bloggers must fit into this new “local”. Most will not survive over the long term.

So, what have I said? The Internet leveled the playing field. Professional journalists are still going to be necessary for legal and ethical reasons, if nothing else. The Internet is creating a new meaning for “local” which is more of an ethos that a geographic place. The media must be monetized or it cannot continue for very long.

So, is my content making the cut? We’ll see how NewsMcNabb fares in the final voting for the Austin360 A-List. (Shamelessness follows.) Here’s that link again. Here’s the link: I’m told by a former colleague that folks can vote once an hour. You bet I’m smiling!

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Professional Journalists Populate Austin PR

Get Me



Word that former Austin American-Statesman editor Rich Oppel is now working for Public Strategies prompts me to proceed with a post that I’ve had in the making for a few weeks. Public Strategies “ … helps forward-thinking organizations assess public opinion and risk, and develops strategies for managing corporate reputation and uncertainty. Much of its practice involves managing high-stakes campaigns for corporate clients, anticipating and responding to crises,” according to its web site. It’s a high falutin’ way of saying “public relations”. (It also may signal that Oppel’s group of investors is out of the running to purchase the Austin American-Statesman where he was editor from 1995-2008.)

Oppel joins a legion of professional journalists who came to Austin, flourished, and stayed. Last February I posted a piece talking about the useful role that public relations people and publicists play in the news business. It would be truly amazing if a newsroom knew of everything going on and what it all means because their reporters are so good. The truth is that there is a steady flow of news releases into Austin’s newsrooms crafted by the very people who used to write the news.

Once again, being the 49th market, Austin is a destination, but that has always been the case for people in all sorts of professions including journalists. True, some do move on to other markets, following a dream. Others find their dreams here. Oppel is just the latest, high-profile Austin journalist to make the leap to the so-called “dark side”.

Others from the American-Statesman include Mike Cox who worked for the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Transportation. Bill Collier worked for Bob Bullock when Bullock was Comptroller. He returned to the newspaper briefly before signing on with Freeport McMoRan. David Matusik has worked for the City of Austin public information office for years after covering city hall. Similarly, Roxanne Evans covered education before moving to Washington D.C. She returned to Austin and is working in the public information office at AISD. David Frink covered business; now he is in business, working for Dell.

KXAN TV (NBC) seems to have contributed the most members of the PR, publicity, communications community. Rich Parsons covered the legislature. He’s press secretary for the Lt. Governor’s Office. R.J. DeSilva crossed over to the Comptroller’s office about the same time. Veronica Obregon left the Hill Country beat to work for Austin Community College communications. Now, she is at the state Department of Agriculture. Cathy Conley and Larry Brill who anchored “Firstcast” for years are both self-employed handling communications accounts. Susan Risdon was a reporter here and in Dallas/Fort Worth before returning to Austin where she set up a PR business. Kaye Beneke is an early KXAN/KTVV TV reporter who is now handling publishing for the Texas Medicaid & Healthcare Partnership
. Also from that early era, Larry Todd was news director. Later, like many of us, moved back and forth in and out of journalism, but notably worked for the Department of Public Safety and for Bob Bullock when Bullock was Lt. Governor. Another early news director, Doug Matthews, went into PR here after leaving broadcasting. Bage Anderson was a photojournalist who moved up to CNN in Dallas before opening a PR shop in Waco with his wife (only a hundred miles from Austin). Nefty Gonzalez was chief photographer. He now works for the Attorney General’s office here. Gray Moore was sports photographer. Now, he is shooting sports for the glory of the The University of Texas and loving it. Julie Shields was an award-winning education reporter who is now a lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards. Both Russ Rhea (Weatherman and Anchor) and former capitol reporter Gene Acuna now work for one of Austin’s top agencies, Tate-Austin. Acuna also was a spokesman in the Governor’s office and City of Austin Public Information Officer. Pam Jackson Crowther, former Hill Country reporter, and Matilda Sanchez-Vichique, former producer, work for the Seton Family of Hospitals.

KVUE TV also is sending several in the PR ranks over the years. Larry BeSaw, former assignments manager, and Brent Annear, former photojournalist both work for the Texas Medical Association. BeSaw was an award-winning reporter and columnist for the Austin American-Statesman before jumping to broadcast journalism in the early 1980s. Also from that era, former news director and executive producer Bob Buckalew is still in Austin operating his own communications business. Anne Wentworth, former reporter and producer, worked with Buckalew for a while. She went to UT and got her teaching certificate. Anne is teaching elementary school now. Gail Granberry, the station’s first news director, now works for the Seton Family of Hospitals while her husband continues to work in “the business”. Former reporter Andy Saenz is now director of communications at the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality. County and court reporter Karen Sonleitner became a county commissioner. Travis County has no PIO. The last I heard, former anchor Shari “Kathleen” Campbell was producing video for the Texas Department of Health. Keith Elkins, who also worked for KTBC, KEYE TV, and the Texas Lottery as PIO is now Executive director for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas which relocated to Austin. Gail Phillips, deceased, was a reporter who later became public information officer for the Austin Police Department. Michelle Middlebrook Gonzalez left KVUE to work in the City of Austin Public Information Office, rising to be its chief before moving to the Seton Family of Hospitals. Craig Bean worked in news in Waco before handling public affairs for KVUE. He has been with the Texas Association of Broadcasters for several years.

KEYE TV has contributed fewer. Mike Schneider handled assignments for both KTBC and KEYE TV. He is also with the Texas Association of Broadcasters. Neil Spelce was first known best for his award-winning reporting of the Texas Tower sniper in 1966 for KTBC AM and TV later opened his own public relations business. He eventually returned to the anchor desk at KEYE TV in its early days. His daughter, Cile Spelce, also was an anchor and capitol reporter for KEYE before going to work for The University of Texas System offices here in Austin. Alexis Patterson recently began work in the Austin Community College communications office.

KTBC was the starting point for many of us. Dick Ellis who started there in May, 1970, left to work for the City of Austin public information office. He later returned to the business at KVUE. Now he is the public information officer for the Leander School District. Kevin Buchman ran the assignments desk at KTBC before taking over the public information office for the Austin Police Department. He is now PIO at the City of Austin Water Utility. Capitol Reporter Mike Rosen is now handling public information for U.S. Congressman Michael McCaul. And, yeah, I started at KTBC AM in June, 1970. I was selling time, but a year or so later, I was back in news on KTBC TV. I left to work for the State Bar of Texas and the Comptroller’s office. I returned to broadcast news in the late ‘80s first for KVUE and then as managing editor at KXAN. After finishing my master’s, I did a short stint (Long enough to renew old friendships and make new ones) at KEYE TV. Now, I’m doing PR and publicity on my own again.

And there are others. Terry Young wrote for United Press International before a long career with Read-Poland. He’s still at it with PeopleStuff Communications along side Larry Brill’s wife. Ann Arnold, executive director of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, was a capital reporter for United Press International and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before becoming the first female press secretary to a Texas Governor, Mark White. Kathy Walt wrote for the Houston Chronicle in the capitol bureau before going to work for the Governor’s Office. She is now deputy chief of staff. Andy Welch, the communications chief for the Austin Independent School District, had his own radio news feed network in the state capitol. Elizabeth Christian worked for the Los Angeles Times and co-owned a weekly newspaper in California before returning home to Austin to run her future husband’s (Bruce Todd) mayoral campaign and then form her own agency. Oh yeah, her father was George Christian, one of Austin’s most revered advisors to United States presidents and others. Christian started his career as a sports writer for the Temple Telegram and political correspondent for the International News Service. He later was press secretary for Governors Price Daniel and John Connally before being wooed away by President Lyndon Johnson. After the Johnson presidency, Christian returned to Austin and opened his own agency.

Whew. I am confident that I have left out somebody. Feel free to add to the list by commenting. The premise is clear, however. Scores of us came to Austin, succeeded in journalism in Austin, put down roots in Austin, and stayed in Austin. If they weren’t here, they got back here as quickly as they could.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cox Consolidation Costs Waco Paper Union Jobs


to Print

Waco Paper

[This story has new and additional information for correction and clarity -- Jim McNabb, 7-7-09]

Recently, I ticked off a long list of publications printed by the Austin American-Statesman. Add one more, a big one.

“I can confirm that we will be printing and packaging the Waco Tribune-Herald beginning July 13,” says Michael Vivio, American-Statesman publisher “The Tribune-Herald's circulation is approximately 41,000 on Sunday and approximately 35,000 Monday through Saturday.” Both newspapers are owned by Cox Enterprises.

Losing their jobs in Waco are 25 full-time workers and 18 part-time employees, according to Belinda Gaudet, Tribune-Herald publisher. The Waco print shop is union. The Austin print shop is not union. Of the 43 workers laid-off, approximately half are union members, according to Michael Vivio, Austin American-Statesman publisher. No additional jobs will be added in Austin. "We will transfer/promote three into the pressroom from within our production department. We are trying to not add to our headcount preferring to retrain workers and shift whenever possible," Vivio said.

“Our decision reflects a growing trend throughout the newspaper industry,” Gaudet said. “We believe this change will create significant cost efficiencies and will better position us for success moving forward.”

“The newspaper will continue to be designed in Waco, then sent electronically to the Austin plant, which has a faster and more modern production process. The papers will be packaged with advertising circulars in Austin, then trucked back to Waco and delivered as usual,” Tribune-Herald staff writer J.B. Smith reported in its June 30, 2009 edition.

The Tribune-Herald will offer severance packages for the affected print and packaging workers, continuing base pay and benefits for eight to 26 weeks, depending on longevity, Gaudet said in the June 30th story.

She also said the decision to let go of longtime employees was painful but necessary, given the financial challenges in the newspaper business.
“We realize the impact it has on people’s lives,” she said. “It’s not a decision we make lightly.”

Cox Enterprises is offering both the Tribune-Herald and the Statesman for sale, but that process should not affect the printing contract, Gaudet said. The Tribune-Herald, like the American-Statesman also prints numerous publications in the Waco area, including the Baylor University student newspaper, The Lariat. The newspaper hopes to retain those contracts.

Waco is afloat with rumors of a pending deal to sell the Tribune-Herald. Nothing has been announced yet. Efforts to get comment from Cox Enterprises regarding the sale of the American-Statesman have gone unheeded.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where In the World Is George Howell???


George Howell, native Austinite and Texas ex, was the crime reporter at KXAN TV (NBC) who blossomed into a go-to anchor from January, 2001 through July, 2004. Then, he headed to the northwest and disappeared from Austin screens, but not out of mind. Some at the TV station joked that George was McNabb’s other son. I considered that a nice compliment. I think my son did too.

In Seattle Howell’s life took several turns. He married and settled some. He was a reporter/anchor for KOMO TV (ABC), and later did freelance work for KIRO TV and KCTS TV (PBS). He also started George Howell Media. Where’s George Howell now? Not in Seattle.

About three weeks ago He and wife Khristian climbed in the car and drove diagonally across the country where Howell had accepted a position at Atlanta powerhouse WSB-TV (ABC) doing day-to-day big market news again. “We are really excited about being in Atlanta; we've been here for about two weeks now,” Howell said.

“I started work this week,” he continued. “I am absolutely loving WSB!” Knowing George I easily see why he loves the station. “The station is great! WSB remains the 800 pound gorilla of the Atlanta market, and I believe it's because the people here know what they're all about. The focus is on 'hard news', and enterprise stories - no gimmicks, or self-promotional stunts masqueraded as news, like some other places. Hard news, plain and simple, and that's what I'm all about!”

It’s exciting to know that there are still stations still doing “Big J” journalism—hard news and enterprise stories. And, yes, that’s Howell’s profile.

“Hot-lanta” is a good fit for another reason other than TV too. It is Howell’s spouse Khristian’s home town. One aspect, however, is taking some getting used to. “We're still getting used to the weather... as you can imagine, Atlanta is a bit warmer than Seattle! We're really happy about the move!” I asked George what was the temperature in Atlanta at that moment? “About 90,” he said.

It was 103-degrees here, but as the American-Statesman’s John Kelso said in the Sunday (July 5th) newspaper, “100 is the new 90.”

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The July TV Sweeps

The July sweeps (July 2-29) are seen by many as meaningless. With Daylight Saving Time, sun worshipers are still by the pool or at the lake when the early newscasts come on. Those loyal viewers may be away from their TVs on vacation. I used to call it “the stupid sweeps”. Frank Volpicella, KVUE TV (ABC) news director seems to see the July sweeps the same way.

“Sweeps? Huh?” responded Volpicella when I asked him for his thoughts about the July sweeps. “July? What? HUT (Households Using TV) levels are too low, for anyone to make a prediction about July. I can’t. It’s summer and people are enjoying the season. Why July anyway?” KVUE TV dominated the ratings in May.

Why July? Well, it’s because it’s always been that way. The industry always has sweeps or official ratings four times a year in February (except this year because of the original DTV switch date), May, July, and November. Always. Nowadays, the months that really matter are November and February, but we still have May and July anyway.

No station puts much stock in July, but one could argue that this July is a little different. It is the first sweeps month since the transition to digital TV (DTV). That doesn’t wash with Suzanne Black, KEYE (CBS) news director. “Transition or no transition, we all know viewer patterns are off in the summer. We’ll continue to put on the best news we can for those viewers who are watching,” Black said. KEYE switched to digital in February.

It was thought that for the first time, all Austin stations would be on a level playing field. For decades, KTBC (Fox) had the upper hand with the strongest signal broadcasting on Channel 7 in the Very High Frequency spectrum (VHF) while all of the other stations in the market were in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum. It took a much more powerful transmitter to push a UHF signal. KXAN TV (NBC) has numerous low power stations to supply cable systems in Central Texas plus full-power sister station KXAM TV in Llano to make up the difference.

“The digital transition was a historic milestone, but it doesn’t change our approach or our commitment,” said KXAN in a prepared statement. “The Austin News brand is focused on providing the most relevant local news and weather content to our viewers/users.”

The tables are turned on KTBC now, however. KTBC and other Austin stations joined KEYE in broadcasting digitally June 12, but KTBC is using a temporary transmitter close to the ground.

“With the analog signals now off, we have heard from some viewers who can't see us,” says the KTBC TV Fox 7 web site. “During the short term we're currently running on reduced power while we upgrade to a new digital antenna, but long term we plan on installing our new digital antenna that will better serve our viewers with a stronger digital signal.”

A KTBC TV Fox 7 spokesperson says the station will be at full power soon, but they won’t make it in time for the start of sweeps. “We expect to have the work completed by the end of next week (around July 10), and well be up and running,” she says. There is one possible issue for KTBC viewers who don’t buy cable service. “KTBC’s new digital signal is VHF,” their web site says. “If you have an indoor antenna that has ‘rabbit ears’, it’s probably VHF. Some compact indoor digital antennas are UHF only, and won’t get our signal. So please check your antenna specifications.”

It is true that since Austin is one of the most cabled cities in the country, KTBC’s antenna issues may not make any difference to many viewers. The ones who care are those who live out in the country using antennas and DTV boxes for reception.

Bottom line: The TV playing field is still not level.

Jim McNabb, 2009