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

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