Monday, May 31, 2010

McHenry--The New KXAN TV Weekend Morning Anchor

Welcome Back

Catenya McHenry is now KXAN TV’s (NBC) new weekend morning anchor. She blurted out the announcement this past weekend on her Facebook page. “I’m so excited and thrilled to say I’m the new weekend morning anchor. I’m ecstatic about the opportunity!” She replaces Jenny Hoff who was awarded a fellowship to study in Germany.

For months, Ms. McHenry has been on the air at KTBC as a reporter. No one would say anything about her presence or future. Management described her status as “temporary”. Her picture and bio were not included on the staff page with all of the rest of newsroom, but McHenry is a familiar face. She reported on KXAN in the late 1990s.

Then, she stepped away from broadcast news for several years. Here, she worked for a while in the public information office of the Austin Independent School District. She was also a TV reporter in Universal Pictures “Miss Congeniality” starring Sandra Bullock. While dabbling in acting, she did freelance work.

Now, she’s back where she belongs: Austin TV news. When Catenya McHenry smiles, you know she’s happy, and she’s smiling most of the time.

There is another familiar face back on the air in Austin. Chris Coffey is reporting for KEYE TV (CBS). Coffey was the award-winning investigative reporter for “7 On Your Side” on KTBC TV (Fox) from 2004 through mid-summer 2009 when Fox failed to renew his contract. Coffey was laid-off with six other news employees in a cost-cutting move. Coffey went to work for KEYE in March. (I’m just catching up.)

KXAN wins the award for the most new reporters, in addition to Ms. McHenry.

Jerrod Wise started work May 12th as a “multi-platform journalist” (AKA “one-man-band”). He’s in constant fear: He’s an University of Oklahoma Sooner and a native of Oklahoma.

Chris Sadeghi is a native Texan and a Longhorn. He joined KXAN in April, 2010.

Jacqueline Ingles is a native of Chicago covering “The Hill Country” for KXAN. She been on board since last November, but it’s worth noting that she graduated summa cum laude from Loyola before earning her master’s at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern.

KXAN reporter Josh Hinkle also has a MA. His master’s is from Missouri. His undergraduate degree is from Oklahoma State.

It appears that the staffs at KVUE, KTBC, and News 8 have been rather stable—very little change lately. It comes in cycles, however once one gets to Austin, they often stay even if they leave the news business. If they do leave, they often come back. Funny how that works out.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Something's Changed

The Ethos

of the

Kerrville Folk Festival

This week I’d be into heavy packing and meticulous planning for the Kerrville Folk Festival if I were going this year. The 39th annual Kerrville Folk Festival starts its three-weekend, two-week run May 27th, but I won’t be there.

In years past, I’d start thinking about going not long after the first of the year. In a “Kerrville State of Mind” I’d smile at the thought of sitting on the side of a hill with my guitar and a new song. I’d drool and almost smell the delicious fare we’d cook at the camp site, but I’m not going this year.

The sign at the front gate of the Quiet Valley Ranch still says, “Welcome Home”, but the ethos has changed. That’s one of the reasons I won’t be there this year.

In the 1970s, we’d crawl up rutted roads with little bunny trails leading in to the bushes to find a flat spot for my pick up and a canopy. Over time, we settled on a triangular space about half of the way up the hill, close enough to the concert area that you could still hear the music. It was our spot for years.

I was there, sitting on a bench in a rain suit, water dripping off of my hat during a deluge while Riders in Sky played “Ghost Riders In The Sky” when a monstrous bolt of lightning stopped the show. (Memorial Day, 1981). I’ve sat in the sizzling heat listening to the New Folk sets, before they moved them to the now covered Threadgill Theater.

I’ve been there when the violent storm bent the canopy poles and sent them crashing on our site. My elementary school-aged son slept through it all while other children wailed.

Before cell phones, there was one pay phone (Remember pay telephones?) on the premises. Only one. There was always a quarter on top so you could drop it in the slot and make a collect call. When you’d hang up, you would always return the quarter to the top of the phone.

I’ve been there as a reporter in the early ’80s waiting for the KVUE TV helicopter to land with a photographer on board. We’d shoot stories for several days. I’ve just been there alone, alone on purpose for the purpose of contemplation. I wrote a song trying to capture the essence of the place as I tried to decide whether to go back for a second weekend. The lyrics of “I’m Going Back Again” are found on

Some of the best times were and are between the weekends when the scene becomes peaceful again. I enjoyed three songwriters school over the years, spending one-on-one time with folks from Boston’s Berklee College of music and successful singer-songwriters.

On the weekend I’ve heard incredible music from acts I’d never heard of, acts who became stars, and others who were stars: Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Robert Earl Keen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Bob Gibson, Carolyn Hester, Small Potatoes, Uncle Walt’s Band, Eaglebone Whistle, Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Eliza Gilkyson, The Limelighters, The Kingston Trio, Glenn Yarbrough, Steve Fromholz, Asleep at the Wheel, Guy Clark—the list is long. Of course, these are just a few from 30 or so years of evening concerts.

The music lineup is great again this year featuring Indigo Girls, the Austin Lounge Lizards, Sara Hickman, The Burns Sisters, Brave Combo, Trout Fishing in America, Shake Russell and dozens of others, but I won’t hear them.

I just couldn’t get excited this year. This malaise has been growing for the past two or three years, and finally it caused a change in my behavior and a decision to avoid “Big Folk” in 2010.

Sure, 30 years ago, I could tolerate the conditions better. So, some of my problem this year is me, but not all of it.

Nowadays, the air is different at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Just a few years ago when we all set up the same kind of camps with canopies and tents, there were no chalk-line boundaries for camping space. We shared the space. Now, RVs rule the hill and tent campers must hike elsewhere. Our little triangle was long ago carved away to create an RV hook-up. Nowadays, people seem to keep to themselves more.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for improvements. The arrival of electricity was a welcomed change. Fans could create a breeze when there was none.

Yes, the KFF experience may still be the same down in the valley where people never sleep. I sampled the valley area a few times, each time coming away saying, “I must return to the hill!”

I will not, however, be returning to the hill in the spring of 2010 to push the limits of the chalk line and intrude on the RV campers’ cliques. Maybe I need an RV too. First, I’d need money.

The sign at the gate where you exit Quiet Valley Ranch says, “It Can Always Be This Way”. I love the sentiment, but while the Kerrville Folk Festival has matured and continued growing, some of the ambience, the ethos, the KFF experience has been lost as campers become faces in the crowd.

I’m not ruling out a trip to “Little Folk” (the Kerrville Wine and Music Festival, formerly the Kerrville Blue Grass Festival) this Labor Day. Yes, it’s often hot, but the crowds are smaller, the RVs are fewer, and it feels more like the festival that I’ve loved for more than 30 years.

© Jim McNabb
(Photos by Wade McNabb, KFF 2009)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This is a Big Deal

The Cactus Café and KUT Sound

Like Austin

The Cactus Café now is a KUT FM venue just as “Austin City Limits” belongs to KLRU-TV. Lots of people are recognizing what radio station really sounds like Austin—KUT FM.

A furor over that claim began after the first of the year when KGSR FM dropped the “Sounds like Austin” and “Where the music comes first” catch-phrases and started trying to lure a wider audience with a different kind of play list. All of this came, of course, after music director Susan Castle was shown the door, and program director Jody Denberg hung it up. The “I want the Old KGSR Back” Facebook page is still getting new posts from people ranting.

KGSR program director Chris Edge then defended his station and its direction: “We are the most Austin Centric station there is,” Edge says. “Nobody else plays the music that we do.” Edge challenges listeners to name another station that plays the following artist in regular rotation: Spoon, Lyle Lovett, Iron + Wine, Willie Nelson, Ryan Bingham, and Bob Schneider to name a few.”

Jeff McCord, music director at KUT FM, contradicted Edge’s analysis. “KUT features every one of these artists very frequently (and many, many more Austin artists that KGSR does not play), and we played all of them long before KGSR ever did (or in the case of Lyle and Willie, before they were even on air). Though I’m glad they are now supporting these artists, KGSR was quite late to the party with Spoon, Ryan Bingham and Iron & Wine,” McCord said.

It should be pointed out that KUT is not just a music station. It has many audiences because of its news and other “block programming”. It is an umbrella for everything from “All Things Considered” to “Folkways.”

“KUT can be different things to different people,” McCord said. “It is difficult for a news and music station to coexist. But over the years, we have worked to strengthen our KUT sound on both the news and music side, and establish a musical identity by emphasizing original unique programming that could only emerge from one place – Austin.

“We spent a lot of time earlier in the last decade thinking about this, polling our listeners – and we came up with an ‘identity statement’: “KUT plays music that matters to Austin – music that is hand-picked for qualities of substance and integrity – music that is as innovative, authentic, and passionate as the city itself.” We try to live by this,” McCord said.

“Over time, we have learned what our listeners are responding to, and this has meant less in terms of ‘specialty shows’, though there are still several very successful ones on air – Twine Time, our world music programming, Blue Monday – and more of what we consider to be our KUT sound, what you refer to as an ‘umbrella’ identity – eclectic, original, homegrown programming with a strong Austin emphasis,” McCord said.

Listeners are noticing, judging from recent posts on the “I want the Old KGSR Back” Facebook page just since the first of May, 2010:

“KUT used to be too alternative for me. Now, it sounds just right. The new KGSR blows most of the time. Very sad.”

“To hear the old KGSR listen to KUT Folkways on Saturday and then for the old Folkways listen to KUT Sunday Folkways.”

“Tonight I was at a music show where the artist (who shall remain nameless) talked about great radio stations "like KUT." It was noticeable that he did not mention KGSR. I clapped and cheered. KGSR has gotten even worse lately. Even my daughter mentioned how much it has changed and sounds like so many other stations.”

Now, with KUT’s alliance with the UT Student Union to keep the doors open and the music flowing from the Cactus Café, the station has deepened its roots in the Austin music scene.

Several years ago in my master’s paper I wrote the obvious: For a terrestrial, traditional radio station to be successful in the digital age, it must by hyper-local. Even at that time while Jody Denberg was still at KGSR, the play list was expanding, including more country/western music to attract a wider audience. The station languished at #14 in the Austin market.

The digital age now offers new possibilities. “There may be a need for a new method of [audience] measurement, because the Internet seems to be dictating a different meaning for the term ‘local’,” I wrote. “Local in the digital age is attached to ethos rather than place. Like-minded listeners/users/consumers of programming are carving out their own niches, cultures, and virtual spaces through the Internet. The listeners now have agency as a part of what is coming to be known as the ‘active audience’.”

The Cactus Café gives KUT that chance. Just like “Austin City Limits” long ago went nationwide, KUT can too via the Internet. Further, the new Belo Center for New Media now under construction on The University of Texas at Austin campus includes an intimate studio and an outdoor venue for live performances that can be broadcast or transmitted to a wider audience beyond Austin’s city limits.

KUT FM sounds like Austin.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice

"LiveStrike" Won't Live

“LiveStrike” is arguably the coolest visual depiction of actual bolts of lightning striking the earth. It is also a useful tool because the lightning strikes are geographically exact and fixed in time. Reporters use it to pinpoint the actual bolt that burned down a house during a violent storm.

“LiveStrike” is an invention of Austin morning weatherman Shawn Rutherford (KXAN TV, NBC). It is one of a kind, and now it is going away.

“Well... it's been 10 years now and "LiveStrike" has come to the end of its contract,” Rutherford recently wrote on his Facebook page. “A product that I scribbled down on the back of some scratch paper back in 1999 and became the world's first live, 3d weather display product comes quietly to its end.”

Why, you may ask. The ten-year maintenance agreement between Rutherford and LIN TV [KXAN’s owner] is expired and not renewed.

Rutherford came to KXAN with a computer software background as well as TV weather reporting experience. Although he wasn’t really into video games, he was entranced by the technology. The games’ 3D depictions were high definition before HDTV. Rutherford ruminated and wondered if he could convert the concepts into programs he could use on the air showing weather features in motion.

The $100,000 cost for securing the rights to use specific game maker’s “engine” could have put an end to the project, but Rutherford was undaunted. “We checked our pocket change and realized were about $99,980 short. We were discouraged but not defeated, Rutherford says.

It took a literal lightning bolt to generate what eventually became “LiveStrike”.

One morning during a violent thunderstorm, there was an almost surreal moment when the KXAN TV newsroom glowed with an eerie, blue light for an instant followed by a deafening crash and darkness. The studios were took a direct hit. It barely made the newspapers, but the bolt did tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the TV station’s computers and electronics. It was one of those amazing moments I shall never forget.

It was also an amazing moment for Shawn Rutherford.

“I was walking from the weather office and halfway through our KNVA studio when it hit, and I saw the flash of electricity in the studio and hit the ground... the sound of the thunder was deafening. We picked ourselves up, evaluated the chaos of blown equipment and began the process of fixing or replacing all the broken gear,” Rutherford says.

“We had a lightning data display on our radar but since all of that had been burned up in the lightning strike, I couldn't show it... and that's when it hit me... let's start with something that NOBODY was doing... showing lightning in 3D.”

Development proceeded quickly despite push-back from businesses already in the weather graphics business. Right before Christmas, 1999, Rutherford made his presentation to KXAN.

“I contacted the management of KXAN and requested a demo. [See the demo at] I had shown a few people but really wanted to impress them, so we turned down the lights, brought “LiveStrike” up on a big screen TV and gave them the show. At the end of the demo, then news director Bruce Whitaker [The forward-thinking news director at the time] turned to me and said ‘How much?’

“The rest was history.” Now, it is history. “
Everything has its lifespan, Rutherford says. “LiveStrike” will slowly fade away without new data and maintenance.

The problem is that there is nothing nearly as good to take its place. Nothing. And the viewers are the losers.

What we need is a venture capitalist and a lawyer to back “LiveStrike” and reward Rutherford for his genius.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

TWC's News 8 Becomes YNN

Time Warner’s News 8-

Part of a Nationwide Network

As cable TV giant Comcast and NBC Universal push for approval of their merger, the number two national cable communications company, Time Warner Cable (TWC) appears to be assembling a state-by-state news network that will result in the rebranding of Austin’s 24-hour cable news channel News 8. In fact, Austin’s News 8 will be the first TWC newsroom to make the shifts west of the Mississippi, according to Kevin Benz, News 8 news director. [TWC is the dominate cable television provider in Central Texas.]

Sometime in the last quarter of 2010, News 8 will become “Your News Now”, a change that is already well underway in New York State. Why do you here in Central Texas care about what’s happening in New York? TWC will become part of a locally-based network of stations spanning the nation, once they are finished. “We are now a national station group with 12 stations in 25 markets. We needed to find a common name. We’ll still all have local people, but it will be a common brand.” Benz says.

Austin’s TWC news already covers Austin, Temple, and Waco. What if news operations created in other TWC markets in Texas all went by the moniker “Your News Now”? That means that news stories and graphics from Dallas, San Antonio, the Valley, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, and El Paso could be shared easily anywhere in the state or in the nation.

It’s already happening in New York State. “When you look at New York, it’s not a big leap to say ‘How cool would that be in Texas?’” said Benz.

“A consistent name lets the company save money on graphics and marketing. It encourages more statewide advertising sales. And it fosters more sharing of news coverage. ‘When they say, “I’m John Smith for Your News Now,” that can play anywhere,”’ said Steve Paulus who oversees TWC local news division in a recent New York Times story.

The New York Times, however, missed the real story. Beyond Texas and New York, TWC is thinking how cool it would be to have stations in every major market possible across the country sharing the same look and stories.

One might argue that the News 8 brand is well established after a decade in the Austin market. It is, but it is no longer applicable when looking through the lens of HDTV and mobile media. “Our brand has never been about our channel,” Benz says. It was, perhaps, when they flipped the switch some ten years ago in the days of analog TV. Nowadays News 8 occupies at least four channels, three of which are not channel 8.

Austin News 8 facility is now embarking on a multimillion dollar remake of their studios and production facilities just north of the capitol in Downtown Austin. “We will not launch “YNN” [“Your News Now”] until we get that done,” says Benz. So, you won’t see “Your News Now” will be some unspecified time in the fourth quarter of 2010. Benz emphasizes that nothing but the name will change. “We’ll have the same people, the same content, and a fresh, clean look,” Benz says.

Actually, as time goes on and the TWC “network” comes together, there should much more content delivered by reporters from across the country.

Other changes are ongoing. News 8 went live with a redo of their website, a month ago.

News 8 or “Your News Now” is a 24-hour news operation which is only available on Time Warner Cable. It is a not broadcast station one can receive over the air with an antenna or via satellite.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In Front of the Camera

John Salazar,
Reporter, News 8

KEYE TV (CBS) Chief Photographer John Salazar today became the ex-chief photographer and the newest star reporter for News 8 (TWC). Salazar told his 756 friends the news on Facebook:
“I am proud to announce I have accepted a Reporter/VJ [video journalist] position with News 8 Austin,” Salazar said. “Gone are the days of news gathering from behind the camera. I will now use all my talent, to the best of my ability, to deliver responsible broadcast journalism, in front of the camera. Wish me good luck.” Scores of people immediately responded.
“I will miss KEYE,” Salazar says. “I’m glad for all of the opportunities they gave me.”

Salazar was a bundle of creative energy from the moment he hit Austin a decade or so ago at KXAN TV (NBC) after a short stint as an editor at KTBC (Fox). Then, he took his talents to KEYE TV (CBS) in 2006 as the photographer for the investigative unit and finally chief photographer. His knowledge of Austin news is deep and his contacts are many.

In this space in the past six months, I’ve written three times about Salazar’s obvious talents beyond photography. First, at the grueling and gruesome shootings at Fort Hood last November 5th:

“The best live shot I saw the evening of the shootings, however, was by a chief photographer for an Austin station here. He was calm, succinct, cogent, and informative. He also has more experienced than most of the reporters.” – newsmcnabb, November 10, 2009.

“As I posted before, the best live shot the evening of the shootings was by an experienced journalist who is usually behind the camera, KEYE TV (CBS) chief photographer John Salazar was succinct, accurate, and informative.” – newsmcnabb, November, 16, 2009.

Again, in the flux of reporting the suicide by plane into a North Austin office building used by the Internal Revenue Service I wrote, “Another multifaceted pro, mentioned here before, is KEYE-TV’s (CBS) chief photographer John Salazar. Once again, Salazar, gathering in all of the information and images in his mind, several times delivered the most complete, concise, and cogent descriptions of the events ON CAMERA. No telling what he was doing with his camera when he wasn’t live. Salazar’s live reports were better than any reporter. Once, the station pitched to him just as a news conference was beginning. KEYE did not have a live camera at that location, but, Salazar pushed his cell phone into the news conference as the TV station used other images.” – newsmcnabb, February 8, 2010.

Salazar says his negotiations with News 8 began in December, 2009 resulting in a three-year contract approved by Time Warner corporate offices in New York. His contract has a “top 20 market out”, meaning that if he were offered a position in a top 20 market, he could get out of his contract, but Salazar says he intends to stay in Central Texas.

“My passion is deep. And thankfully my maturity is carrying me forward,” Salazar says. “On bigger stories, (and I will try to pull that off daily), I will have an assigned a photog. I was told I may work alone give or take, half the time or less.” From its inception, a News 8’s staff has worked alone as “one-man-bands”. “Now it is time for me to push the envelope,” Salazar continues. “I’ve chosen to go to News 8 to begin to focus on being a complete broadcast journalist. It was time for me to move to the next level.”

Salazar learned the basics of broadcast journalism at South Plains College in Lubbock and attended Texas Tech University. He brought his talents to Austin from the ABC station in Lubbock. He is a native of Levelland.

With two weeks left in the May sweeps, it will be a blow to KEYE. When someone signs with another station or news department in the same market, the protocol is for that person to leave the station immediately. There was no immediate comment from either KEYE or News 8.

As a side note, according to the New York Times, News 8 will soon be changing its branding. No longer will the station use “News 8”. Rather, they will become “Your News Now”, similar to KEYE’s branding, “We are Austin”.

© Jim McNabb, 2010