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Local News Close-Up: What Happens in Vegas? A Lot

KVVU’s Nkiruka Azuka reports from Las Vegas Raiders headquarters.
KVVU’s Nkiruka Azuka reports from Las Vegas Raiders headquarters. (Image credit: KVVU)

To look at the Las Vegas Strip today, crawling with tourists en route to the next casino, restaurant or show, it is hard to imagine that the thoroughfare was closed for some three months in COVID-19’s heyday. More high-end hotels are launching, including the Fontainebleau late in 2023 and Dream Las Vegas a year later. 

“Visitation and tourism are back to pre-pandemic levels, which is very encouraging,” said Larry Strumwasser, VP and general manager of KSNV, KVCW and KVMY. “People are coming out here to Las Vegas.”

DMA No. 40 has succeeded in its game plan to become a big-league sports town. The Golden Knights joined the NHL in 2017, and the Oakland Raiders shifted to Vegas in 2020. “The dream of this market was to become a sports market, and that has happened,” said Michael Korr, VP and general manager of KVVU. “And there’s still potential for more growth.”

That may include a potential MLB or NBA franchise. 

Super Bowl LVIII, to take place in 2024, will be in Vegas. CBS has the game. 

In addition to the major-league franchises, Vegas also boasts of a bunch of minor league teams, including indoor football and lacrosse. 

TV is a hard-hitting game as well. Gray Television closed on its acquisition of market leader KVVU, a Fox affiliate, late last year. Sinclair Broadcast Group owns KSNV-KVCW-KVMY, an NBC-The CW-MyNetworkTV trio. Nexstar Media Group has CBS affiliate KLAS and Scripps owns ABC outlet KTNV. Telemundo has KBLR and Entravision owns Univision station KINC. Estrella TV airs on Sinclair’s KSNV dot-two channel.

Cox Communications is the market’s primary pay TV operator. 

KVVU had the best 6 to 7 a.m household rating in July, per Nielsen, while KTNV won the 25-54 race. KTNV won both races at 5 p.m., the demo contest a tight win over KVVU. At 6 p.m., KTNV won the households and KVVU the demo. Moving on to 11 p.m., and KLAS had 14,569 households, ahead of KVVU’s 12,232, KTNV’s 10,561 and KSNV’s 10,555. KVVU had 5,102 viewers in 25-54 at 11 p.m., while KTNV had 4,292, KLAS had 3,437 and KSNV drew 2,502. 

KVVU wins with stability in the on-air team, including long-running anchor John Huck, and in providing news when the other stations have not. “I think the biggest thing is, we are always there,” Korr said. 

A Fox5 7 p.m. newscast launched August 1, and a 2 p.m. news arrives September 5, in place of Ellen. That will give KVVU 15½ hours a day of local content. “When you need local news, we are the station you turn to,” Korr said. 

Rivals Respond

The other stations are hustling to win over viewers. Jay Howell took over the top spot at KLAS in February and Dan Salamone was named 8 News Now news director in December, shifting from a corporate post at Nexstar, where he focused on local content development. 

KLAS is making a big bet on investigative, including the work of chief investigative reporter George Knapp. One recent story detailed wild horses dying while being kept at government holding pens, and another reported on a Black man who spent six days in jail when police mistook him for a white man with the same name. 

All the stations cover crime and weather and local business, Howell said, but “you make your mark with unique investigative content.”

Howell praises parent Nexstar, mentioning the Washington, D.C., bureau that supplies the stations and groupwide program NewsNation. KLAS at times shares special programming with sister Nexstar stations when a big event is in Vegas, such as the Grammys or the NFL draft. “The thing about Vegas, there’s always an event here,” Howell said. 

Brian Loftus and Denise Valdez keep Vegas viewers up to date at KLAS.

Brian Loftus and Denise Valdez keep Vegas viewers up to date at KLAS. (Image credit: KLAS)

Jeff Kiernan started as KTNV VP and general manager on July 25, after being news director at Scripps stations WXYZ Detroit and WTMJ Milwaukee. Jessie Williams, formerly of WSYM Lansing, is on board as news director. Willie Garrett is the new creative services director, shifting from KSNV. 

Kiernan vowed to “serve Las Vegas with the best journalism, serve clients with the best solutions on our various platforms, and serve our communities with the stories we tell.”

Kiernan noted the “meaningful investigations” at KTNV, and growing OTT presence. 

An expansion of local news could happen at 13 Action News. “We’re always evaluating that,” Kiernan said. “There’s an appetite for news in this market.”

KSNV juxtaposes its News 3 local product with Sinclair program The National Desk. The station has an initiative focused on mental health that runs in newscasts and specials. “We’re trying to build the exposure in the marketplace when it comes to mental health,” said Strumwasser. “It is all hands on deck.”

KBLR has a lively Spanish-language news lineup that includes two-minute briefs at 7:25, 8:25 and 9:25 a.m., noon news, then 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. The station also features a five- to seven-minute digital newscast called Dale Play that can be found on Roku, Apple TV, TelemundoLasVegas.com and the station app. 

“Telemundo Las Vegas is the only Spanish-language TV broadcaster in the market that produces live local news here in Las Vegas,” Ramiro Lopez, president and general manager, said. “Our facilities are here, our talent is here and we are proud to serve southern Nevada’s Spanish-speaking community.”

Lake Mead, about 25 miles from Vegas, is a constant source of news for the stations. As the lake dries up, disposed bodies are found with frightening frequency. “It’s the biggest concern and the biggest story,” Korr said. 

Political Payday

Political spending is through the roof, with governor, Senate and House hopefuls all shoveling cash at TV. “We usually see a break between the primary and general elections,” Strumwasser said. “But with aggressive, tight races, the spending hasn’t stopped.”

Multiple House races are, in Howell’s words, “toss-ups.” 

While tourists favor the Strip, Vegas residents are more focused on the communities they live in. Multiple general managers described the market as “a big small town” — loads to see and do, but also a place where one often bumps into friends and colleagues, especially away from the Strip. “It’s got a small-town feel for a big city,” Korr noted. 

With tourism going strong, the Vegas economy is on solid footing. “Except for inflation impacting the cost of goods, we feel like our economy is moving in the right direction,” said Lopez.

Residents cite the restaurants and nightlife, pro sports, short commutes, outdoor activity options and the access to other states, including California and Arizona, as key attributes to Las Vegas life. “There is so much happening here,” new arrival Kiernan said. “The excitement in Vegas is on the Strip and beyond the Strip.” ■

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.