Local News Close-Up: Stations Battle for Booming Houston’s New Arrivals

Rita Garcia, Jacob Rascon, Elita Loresca and Samica Knight deliver the news for ABC-owned KTRK.
Rita Garcia, Jacob Rascon, Elita Loresca and Samica Knight deliver the news for ABC-owned KTRK. (Image credit: KTRK/ABC13)

The Big Freeze, as it is known, took over in Texas just over a year ago. Severe storms caused a massive grid failure, knocking out power for millions of homes. The temps got downright cold again in early February 2022 in Houston, and many lost power. 

But things were nowhere near as frightful as they were a year ago. 

“Everybody’s sensitivity level is so high,” Wendy Granato, KTRK president and general manager, said. “Folks have been through so much. Add it to the list — hurricanes, tornadoes, crazy crime and now we get freezes.”

To be sure, Houston is in a good place these days. The oil industry that fuels the local economy is on solid footing and the region for years has worked to diversify its business portfolio, with the likes of health care, aerospace and the legal profession growing. “There’s such an influx of companies coming into Houston,” John Hannon, KXLN president and general manager, said. “Oil and gas used to drive 100% of the economy, and now it’s a smaller percentage.”

ABC owns KTRK and Graham Media Group has NBC affiliate KPRC. Fox owns KRIV-KTXH, and Tegna has CBS outlet KHOU. Univision owns KXLN and Telemundo holds KTMD. 

Also: 10 Stations Coordinate in Houston To Launch NextGen TV

Comcast is the primary pay TV operator in DMA No. 8. 

Robust Competition

KTRK, which uses an Eyewitness News branding, rules the English-language stations and KXLN does so on the Spanish-language side — often winning the overall ratings races. Everyone competes; one GM notes how the ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations all occupied the top spot at 10 p.m. for a period last year. 

In January, KTRK won 6-7 a.m. in households, and it and KRIV took the viewers 25-54 derby. At 5 and 6 p.m., it was KTRK again in households and KXLN in the demo. (KXLN offers network news at 5:30 and network entertainment programming at 6.) At 10 p.m. in January, KXLN posted a 3.2 in households, and KTRK got a 3.1. KPRC got a 2.8 and KHOU a 2.7, while KRIV scored a 1.8 and KTMD a 1.5. In the late-news demo in January, KXLN ran away with it, posting a 2.7, with KTMD at 0.8, KPRC, KTRK and KRIV at 0.7 and KHOU at 0.5. 

All Spanish-Language Sports Talk, All the Time

Univision’s five radio stations in Houston include music, talk and a new sports-talk station. In the fall of 2021, Univision launched TUDN 93.3–Your Station of Champions. John Hannon, Univision’s president/general manager in Houston, believes KQBU, formerly a music station, may be the only Spanish-language FM sports-talk station in the nation.

When he arrived in the market in 2019, he mentioned going after every single Spanish-language sports contract in Houston. The station has Astros, Rockets and Dynamo (MLS) games. KQBU did not land the Houston Texans, but did ink an NFL contract that gives the station weekly NFL games, including Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football, the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

Hispanic consumers adore soccer, of course, but their sporting taste has moved well beyond that. “Everyone knows soccer and expects soccer, but all these sports cross all the different languages,” said Hannon. 

TUDN 93.3, a mix of network and local programming, offers college action too, such as Texas A&M football. 

Hannon calls the Cesar Procel-hosted program Encanchados “a foundational piece of local programming to build the station around.” The show airs Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon. “It’s not just soccer; it’s a blend of everything,” Hannon said. 

Your Station of Champions also features programs from Univision’s TUDN sports network, including Buenos Dias America and Contacto Deportivo

Listeners can also access it via the Uforia app

The station is off to a strong start, Hannon said, with a couple of rights deals close to being announced. “It’s doing better than we ever could’ve expected,” he noted. — MM

KTRK is a power thanks to a bullish digital strategy, signature long-form reporting and its own helicopter, among other attributes, with the competition sharing a chopper. The station is ramping up Spanish-speaking personnel on both sides of the camera. “If you don’t serve the Hispanic audience in the Houston area, you will not be Houston’s news leader for very long,” Granato said. 

KXLN knows all about serving the Hispanic audience, with morning news, an 11:30 newscast, and news at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. KXLN introduced a new news set in early February. Its 11:30 a.m. news, Edicion Digital, has a digital focus, as the name suggests. “It’s not your hard and fast like you see at 5 and 11,” Hannon said. “It’s shorter clips and stories where you want to go online and explore it deeper.”

Fully 45% of the city population is Hispanic, according to Census.gov. Asked what they like about Houston, every general manager who responded for this story mentioned the diversity. As one put it, in other multicultural cities, one goes out to a restaurant and sees a variety of ethnicities around them. In Houston, the range of ethnicities is in your dinner party. 

“The sheer diversity of the city is such an asset,” Robert Springer, KHOU president and general manager, said. “There’s a real sense of community, and people are proud to be from Houston.”

Houston gained nearly 240,000 homes from 2020 to 2021, per Nielsen, and the stations are working hard to turn the new arrivals into viewers. Morning news is a giant business, with plenty of shift workers in the health care and energy fields. KHOU revamped its a.m. program amidst the pandemic, slowing things down a bit. “Not everybody is trying to race out the door first thing in the morning,” Springer said. “We’re not in as much of a rush as we were before, so we added more context.”

KPRC has an Insider program, where users sign up to receive exclusive content and giveaways. The real membership push began late summer, said Jerry Martin, KPRC VP/general manager, and numbers are over 100,000. “It’s in the beginning stages, and we keep tailoring it,” he said.

Lots of Local Innovations 

KPRC has Houston Life at 3 p.m. Martin calls it a “nontraditional lifestyle show” with “very, very few sales elements.” The plan is to expand the program to two hours next year. “It won’t be news, but it won’t be all cooking, recipes and restaurant openings either,” he said. “It’s information that can make your life better.”

KRIV, known as Fox 26, has signature news segments such as “Breaking Bond,” about felons released on their own recognizance who commit violent crimes after their release, andThe Missing,” about missing persons in the area. 

“We don’t just shine a light on the issue, we cause people to take action,” D’Artagnan Bebel, senior VP and general manager, said. 

Fox 26 offerings include Sunday political show What’s Your Point, which Bebel said is “not your father’s political show,” and the live-streamed Lunch for the Soul, hosted by anchor Melissa Wilson. “People are hungry for stories of faith and personal success and how do you create an environment of hope and happiness,” Susan Schiller, KRIV VP and news director, said.

KTRK introduced a live 24/7 streaming channel, along with the rest of the ABC group, on the last day of January. It adds 17 hours a week of live news on the platform, streaming from 4:30 to 9 a.m. weekdays, with the premiere of Eyewitness News at 8:00 A.M. with Jonathan Bruce. “It won’t be long before we launch a 9 a.m., a 10 a.m.,” said Granato. 

KXLN anchor Raul Peimbert

KXLN anchor Raul Peimbert (Image credit: KXLN/Univision 45)

Univision has a substantial stash of media in Houston. Besides KXLN, there’s a UniMas station and five radio outlets. 

Keaton Fuchs became KTRK news director in July following roles as digital producer, investigative producer and head of content and data strategy for the station. “He’s done just about everything you can do in the newsroom,” Granato said. “Keaton is a data geek who’s obsessed with what the data can tell us about what the audience wants.”

Two years ago, Tegna acquired KTBU Houston, and airs its Quest programming. 

The station execs in Houston mention a big-city market full of worthy news outlets covering local stories that often go national. “It’s just a go-go market,” Springer said. “It takes a lot of resilience to work in Houston. The pace here is just so intense.”

Bring your A-game every day, they say, or you’ll lose your perch. “Let your guard down for one day in Houston, and you’ll get your butt beat,” Granato said. “I love that and would not have it any other way.” ■

Michael Malone

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.