Saturday, April 14, 2012

New Faces

Austin TV Turnover

[For a while this post was deleted from Austin Culture Map, apparently because I made a correction (I referred to Leslie Rhode as Leslie Cook, her name when we worked together years ago.) It is back on Culture Map:]

While KXAN TV (NBC) is winning in the ratings, the newsroom staff is getting smaller and smaller.

It’s beginning to show on the air.

Friday, evening (April 6, 2012) Sports anchor Brian Sanders co-anchored the news with Leslie Rhode and returned to handle the sports. Saturday, (April 7, 2012) found “hard news” reporter Chris Sadeghi anchoring sports. Why? Sanders was anchoring the weekend morning news. Associated Press Broadcaster’s “Best Reporter” award Josh Hinkle anchored Sunday (April 8, 2012) instead of David Scott. Sadeghi came in as a reporter. He usually works weekdays.

It may have been a holiday schedule, but staffing options are fewer and fewer.

For months, weekend meteorologist Natalie Stoll has been working the morning broadcast after the station let go 16-year KXAN morning fixture Shawn Rutherford. I’m told that she’s dying to return to her previous shift.

Further, where are the reporters, the heart of the newsroom, providing the day-to-day content? Go on the staff page of and see that there are several faces missing.

Newsroom morale began to slip with the sudden disappearance of weekend morning anchor and gifted reporter Catenya McHenry. True, McHenry was making personal plans, but she wasn’t planning to leave so soon.

Then, Rutherford was shown the door. The mood of the room dipped again.

Reagan Hacklemann and Dustin Blanchard are no longer on the personnel page. Recently, high-profile reporter Doug Shupe went on vacation and never came back after accepting reportedly accepting a public relations position. A little over a week ago, Jarrod Wise submitted his resignation. He’s still on the site, but will be leaving “the business,” sources say.

Reporter Jacqueline Ingles is the latest pending departure. She handed in her resignation Friday, April 13.

The sports department is down one since Leila Rahimi landed a new job with Fox Sports in San Diego. Word is that Brian Sanders wants to move from sports to news. He’s made a bid to be the weekend morning show, and it was Sanders reporting from the recent rash of tornados in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Others on and off-the-air are said to be looking.

True, the station still has some strong staff members, including political reporter Hinkle. Sadeghi is solid as are anchors Shannon Wolfson and David Scott. Erin Cargile continues growing having started as the Hill Country reporter, an apparent opening now as Jacqueline Ingles is needed in town. Of course, veteran Jim Swift can cover any story if needed; he’s not just for features.

The KXAN web site lists only two newsroom positions, but depending on how and whether management chooses to fill the holes, there may be as many as eight. Also, there may have been some hires, but the station seldom comments on personnel matters.

Until now, the personnel shortage has been covered up well by resourceful producers and photographers behind the scenes, but when shifts are covered by staff not normally seen, it becomes obvious that something is going on in the newsroom.

In all fairness there are many new people reporting at all of the Austin stations.

KVUE TV (ABC ) lists three news openings on its site with five or six rather recent new reporters on the air. KEYE TV (CBS) just hired staff for its new morning show, and they’re looking for a couple more, plus a weekend meteorologist. Fred Cantu is now listed as a reporter. He and Lisa Leigh Kelly are the most recognizable names on the staff. KTBC TV (Fox) is looking for three or four news staffers too. Noelle Newton made a move KTBC from KVUE earlier this year. Except for a few anchors, there seems to be constant turnover at YNN (formerly News 8).

It wasn’t very long ago that Austin, the 47th ranked market was what I called a “destination market”, a place where broadcast journalists came and stayed for years. Austin, you know, is a magnet. Now, it seems the stations are just stepping stones.

© Jim McNabb, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

LA LA Land

Michelle Valles hits the "Big Time"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

KEYE Comes to Play

Morning Show Wars

The battle for Austin eye balls in the AM is getting hotter as KEYE-TV (CBS) rolls out much more than a token morning show with a full staff.

New owner Sinclair Broadcasting Group seems serious in this attempt to compete in the morning time slot.

KEYE TV Morning News expanded to six on air staff: Anchors Hunter Ellis and Mileka Lincoln, Meteorologist Allison Miller, Traffic Reporter Erica Harpold, and Field Reporter Adam Bennett. Former Morning anchor Fred Cantu will appear as a feature reporter. Allison Miller had been the weekend meteorologist.

KEYE had been getting by with solo anchor Fred Cantu for several months. Cantu had been cut during an odd and short-lived attempt to attract an audience by ditching morning news and mounting cameras around the “JB and Sandy Show on Mix 94.7” in late 2009 and 2010. Meteorologist Kelly Sifka handled weather cut-ins.

Sifka remained when the station pulled the plug on radio-on-TV, and Cantu returned, working part time at KEYE in the mornings and at Home Depot the rest of the day. Finally, the station put Cantu back on the payroll full time. Cantu has a loyal and loving audience, but he never attracted the numbers that would make him a player against powerhouses KXAN TV (NBC) and KVUE TV (ABC).

The February ratings had KVUE winning at 4:30 and 5 a.m. KXAN won at 6 a.m.

Now, Cantu is out of the anchor chair, and reportedly Sifka has left the station. No, Cantu is not going back to Home Depot.

“Fred will have more time now to do what he does best, telling Austin’s stories,” says Suzanne Black, KEYE TV News Director. The station is adding a new segment “Friday’s With Uncle Fred,” in addition to reinstating his weekly “Gadget Guy” reports.

“Viewers always ask us, ‘What’s going to happen to Fred?’ We are so glad we have him as a part of our team,” commented Amy Villarreal, Vice-President and General Manager of KEYE TV.

So, where did this new KEYE new morning crew come from?

Hunter Ellis, a former fighter pilot and a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, was most recently the roving reporter for KEYE TV’s 4p.m. show We Are Austin Live. His broadcast experience includes the History Channel, KCBS and KCAL TV in Los Angeles.

A native of Hawaii, Mileka Lincoln comes from KEYE’s sister station, KABB in San Antonio where she was the weekend anchor. Prior to that, she was a morning anchor in Laredo.

Erica Harpold is a long-time Austinite, having graduated from Austin High School and Texas State University. Erica was an anchor and reporter for KCEN in Waco and KAUZ in Wichita Falls.

Adam Bennett was weekend anchor in Amarillo at KAMR/KCIT before coming to KEYE last month. Adam is a native Texan and a proud graduate of The University of Texas.

Some KEYE views objected to the changes on Cantu’s Facebook page saying, “I am sad about the morning news change. I really enjoyed waking up and watching/listening to you and Kelly each day. I went to a different station the last time they took you off and I will be doing the same thing this time. You will be missed.”

“Give it a chance. I'm grateful to still be a part,” Cantu countered with class.

All of this is happening in a cauldron of change in the morning shows. First, former KVUE sports anchor/reporter Brian Mays moved to the news department to co-anchor KVUE News Daybreak and Midday with Melissa Gale.

Next, while sharing the morning ratings with KVUE, KXAN let go 16-year veteran weatherman Shawn Rutherford and eventually replaced anchor Chris Willis with Robert Maxwell to co-anchor with Sally Hernandez. Willis is now heading the station’s investigative team.

Even with all of those changes, KXAN eked out a win at 6 a.m. Now, KEYE is poised to make a serious run for the ratings.

KEYE came close to claiming #1 at 10 p.m. from KVUE in February. Many believe that the station that wins at 10 p.m. has a leg-up on the competition for morning ratings, because viewers may not change the channel. They simply turn the TV off.

Although stations are rated daily, the next Neilson “sweep” month runs from April 26 to May 23, 2012.

© Jim McNabb, 2012

The Home Team

Rangers or Astros on TV, But Where?

Are you at home with the Texas Rangers, or are you at home with the Houston Astros. According to Fox Sports or Major League Baseball, in Austin and Central Texas we are at home with the Astros.

But, you say, the Round Rock Express is the AAA club for last year’s American League champions, the Texas Rangers. Doesn’t that make a difference?

Further, we know the Texas Rangers stars—Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Michael Young to name three. Can you name three Astros “stars”? Who knows? By the time they play 162 games these Astros may indeed be legitimate stars. Stranger things have happened in baseball.

We also know names of several of the Round Rock Express. Some of them have been up to the “show” with the big club, particularly at the end of the season. I particularly like yeoman player Matt Kata; he’s capable of being spectacular. Also, center fielder Julio Borbon started last year in the Major League.

These are familiar names, but they aren’t part of the “home market” team. The home market team for Austin and Central Texas is the Houston Astros.

Therefore, when you tune in Fox Southwest during baseball season within the next few days, more than likely you’ll see the Houston Astros, even though we know only a few of their names (Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, and Chris Johnson). You’ll have to look elsewhere for the Rangers.

“The Austin area is considered a home market for the Astros but when those games are on Fox SW and the Rangers are playing at the same time, then the Rangers game will be on Channel 77 there in Austin,” says Melissa Sorola, regional communications director for Time Warner Cable.

One notable problem is that Channel 77 is digital, meaning a viewer must have a cable box to view it. Secondly, it is not a High Definition (HD) telecast. It is available, however.

Now, there is a third option for 25 of the Ranger’s regular season games. KBVO, another digital channel, will broadcast 25 Texas Rangers baseball games live in HD beginning Friday night, April 13th through September 28th. “Every Friday night KBVO will bring the excitement and tradition of the reigning American League Champs into the homes of Central Texas,” their news release says.

LIN Media is trying to position KBVO as a regional sports channel. “KBVO brings Austin viewers local and regional sports such as San Antonio Spurs, Houston Texans pre-season football, Big 12 college basketball including the University of Texas Longhorns and live broadcasts of local high school football and basketball,” according to the news release. Other than these Friday night Rangers games, the sports programming on KBVO is rather sporadic however.

A complete listing of all Texas Rangers games airing on KBVO is available at

[To clear up possible confusion: KBVO used to be the call letters for what is now KEYE TV when it was an independent, non-network station. When the station became a CBS affiliate, the call letters were changed to KEYE, and KBVO was dropped, making them available to some other station. The current KBVO used to be full-power hill country station broadcasting from a tower in Llano called KXAM TV, it repeated the programming of KXAN TV to a wider audience in the Hill Country, referred to in the Neilson Ratings as KXAN +. When LIN management decided to reprogram the station, the changed the call letters to KBVO. Clear?]

© Jim McNabb, 2012