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Local News Close-Up: Omaha Stakes

Andy Kendeigh, Rob McCartney, Julie Cornell and Bill Randby are in the leading KETV news team in Omaha.
Andy Kendeigh, Rob McCartney, Julie Cornell and Bill Randby are on the leading KETV news team in Omaha. (Image credit: KETV)

Omaha residents say the friendly market always welcomes new arrivals, and that’s a good thing for the station general managers. All the Big Four affiliate GMs in town have turned up in the last two years. 

Franco Gentile, who is approaching his one-year anniversary as VP and general manager of KPTM, describes the populace of Nebraska’s largest city as “tight-knit, wonderful people. They’re very accepting of people who are not from here.” 

Yet another new general manager will arrive soon. Scripps recently announced that Lisa Volenec will become KMTV general manager August 22. 

Omaha sits on the eastern border of Nebraska, alongside Iowa. The Missouri River flows through DMA No. 72, and separates the states. 

The College World Series was held in Omaha, as it has been for decades. “It’s a wonderful event where we get to showcase Omaha,” said Shawn Oswald, president and general manager of KETV, calling the event a $100 million driver for the market. 

Hearst Television owns market leader KETV, an ABC affiliate. Gray Television holds NBC outlet WOWT, the runner-up. Sinclair Broadcast Group owns Fox outlet KPTM, and operates CW affiliate KXVO, owned by Mitts Telecasting, through an LMA. MyNetworkTV and DABL share KPTM’s dot-three channel. Scripps has CBS affiliate KMTV. Flood Communications owns Telemundo-affiliated KOHA and News Channel Nebraska, through which the company’s TV and radio properties provide news, weather and sports across the state. 

Cox Communications is Omaha’s primary pay TV operator. 

KETV’s weather team includes (l-r) Sean Everson, Anthony Copeland, Bill Randby and Caitlin Harvey.

KETV’s weather team includes (l. to r.) Sean Everson, Anthony Copeland, Bill Randby and Caitlin Harvey. (Image credit: KETV)

KETV has a commanding lead in Omaha. In May, KETV averaged 22,700 total viewers at 6 a.m., per Nielsen, ahead of WOWT’s 8,400, and 7,600 viewers ages 25-54 to WOWT’s 2,400. At 5 p.m., KETV averaged 27,800 total viewers, ahead of WOWT’s 20,600, and 5,600 aged 25-54 to WOWT’s 3,100. KETV averaged 38,300 total viewers at 6 p.m., and WOWT had 17,900, while KETV scored 10,100 in the demo and WOWT had 3,500. 

In late news, KETV averaged 52,200 total viewers in May while WOWT had 27,000, KMTV had 10,100 and KPTM averaged 7,000. In 25-54, KETV had 11,300, WOWT 5,500, KPTM 1,800 and KMTV 1,700. 

KETV thrives thanks to a team, on both sides of the camera, that has worked together for a long time. “We have the most tenured talent of anybody in the market,” Oswald said. “They know the market well, which is a huge benefit, and the market knows them. It’s like inviting somebody you know very well into your house every night — there’s a sense of comfort and trust.”

Also: Omaha Stations Start Switch to NextGen TV Broadcasting

Knicely Done

The stations are trying new things. WOWT moves into a new building July 22. A $22 million investment that measures 29,000 square feet, it features much more modern technology, including the studio and master control. “Like a lot of TV stations built in the ’50s, we were in need of some updates,” Jim McKernan, VP and general manager, said. “And we certainly got them.”

The new set at WOWT.

The new set at WOWT. (Image credit: WOWT)

Gray TV’s Local News Live digital network, which provides national news to the Gray group of stations, is in the new building, as is Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. “Nice neighbors to have!” said McKernan, who came on board in December. 

WOWT adds a 3 p.m. newscast in September. Anchor John Knicely recently marked 30 years on the air at WOWT. “A market icon,” per McKernan. 

KETV moved into the Burlington train station facility seven years ago, which Oswald calls a “spectacularly renovated place to work. It’s as beautiful as it was on the first day.”

KPTM has local news at 9 p.m., and Sinclair’s daily newscast The National Desk as well. The lone local newscast is anchored in Fresno, California, but gives the station an Omaha identity, Franco said. “We’re able to produce a nice looking, locally flavored, profitable newscast,” he said. 

Radio host Tom Becka offers his perspective in the newscast in “Becka’s Beat.” 

Another way Sinclair gets local in Omaha is Thursday Night Lights, the high-school football broadcast starting August 25 on KXVO and going for nine weeks. “Nebraska loves high school football,” Gentile said. “It really comes with a lineage of its own, where schools beg us to be featured.”

KOHA has news at 5 and 10 p.m. weekdays, a joint effort with Spanish-language radio stations in the market. Andy Ruback, CEO of parent Flood Communications, said morning news is being considered. “We’ve made a very, very large investment in the Hispanic population in Nebraska,” he said.

Years before he hosted The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson hosted The Squirrel's Nest on WOWT.

Years before he hosted ‘The Tonight Show,’ Johnny Carson hosted ‘The Squirrel’s Nest’ on WOWT. (Image credit: WOWT)

Ruback likens News Channel Nebraska to a broadcast version of Spectrum News on cable. 

Over at KMTV, incoming GM Volenec is an Omaha native who has been regional business development director for Scripps’s local media division. Years ago, she was an anchor at KPTM. Volenec replaces Dave German atop KMTV, with German shifting to the Scripps stations in Waco. 

Johnny Carson got his start at WOWT, hosting a show called The Squirrel’s Nest in 1952. He will appear in a mural depicting the history of the station. “His comedic talent was always on display,” McKernan said. “Johnny Carson never forgot his roots.”

Gov Love

As with any market, automotive spending is soft, but Omaha enjoyed a robust GOP primary for the governor’s office. “Three candidates ran a very tight race,” McKernan said. “The spending was very strong.”

The stations even get a taste of political spending in Iowa. 

The region’s primary industries are food processing and agriculture. Nebraska unemployment stands at 1.9%. With the state population not quite 2 million, “that’s not a lot of people that don’t have jobs,” Gentile said. 

The College World Series ended June 27, with Ole Miss crowned champ. It was many attendees’ first visit to Omaha. Noted Oswald, “People always walk away with a feeling of, ’Wow, that was a lot nicer than I thought it would be.‘ ” ▪️

Check out dozens of Local News market profiles at https://www.nexttv.com/features/local-news-close-up.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.