Local News Close-Up: Winter in Oklahoma City Means Ice, Wind … and Thunder
Weather drives ratings in increasingly lively Oklahoma capital
Weather is always a major story in Oklahoma City, whether it’s tornadoes, ice or the “Siberian bomb cyclone,” as one general manager put it, that rolled in just before Christmas. That meant snow and ice, brutal winds and extreme cold.
The Oklahoma City stations were all over it. When the extreme weather turns up, “it’s showtime for our meteorologists,” said Rob Krier, president of Griffin Media, which owns KWTV.
Griffin holds KWTV, a CBS affiliate and a ratings beast, and MyNetworkTV station KSBI. Nexstar Media Group has NBC outlet KFOR and independent KAUT. Hearst Television owns ABC affiliate KOCO. Sinclair Broadcast Group has KOKH-KOCB, a Fox-The CW pair.
Cox is the primary cable operator in DMA No. 46.
Oklahoma City is the state capital. The market’s economy was long driven by energy, defense and agriculture but it has diversified, including a growing biotech sector. “Oklahoma City has been able to grow its economy past agriculture and oil and defense,” Brent Hensley, KOCO president and general manager, said.
Oklahoma City offers an array of entertainment options, including theater, live music, an array of upscale restaurants and breweries and Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball.
“A lot of people think of Oklahoma as a flyover state, but there’s a little bit of something for everyone,” KWTV VP of marketing Houston Hunt said. “You’re going to find what you’re looking for in Oklahoma City, and you’re not gonna pay through the nose for it.”
Also: Check Out Our Local News Close-Up Profiles on Dozens of U.S. Markets
KWTV devours ratings points. In 2022, the station won the 6 a.m. battle, in households and viewers 25-54, handily. KWTV won 5 and 6 p.m. in both races, and tallied a 6.5 household score at 10 p.m., ahead of KFOR’s 3.7, KOCO’s 3.1 and KOKH’s 0.6. In the 25-54 derby for late news, KWTV had a 1.9, KOCO a 0.9, KFOR a 0.8 and KOKH a 0.3.
KWTV thrives on local ownership, well-established on-air talent, and a trusted weather team. “We hang our hat on weather,” said Krier. “We probably have the largest weather center in the country.”
KWTV moved into a new downtown facility in November, departing the northeast side of the city, where the other stations are located, and where KWTV spent close to seven decades. The new site is a couple of blocks from City Hall, and one block from the convention center. “It’s a completely different vibe,” said Krier, noting how, among other advantages, employees can walk down the street for dozens of restaurant options.
Griffin donated the old KWTV building to Langston University, an HBCU that will use it for its aspiring journalists.
Griffin owns six stations in Oklahoma, including KOTV. “The Griffins continue to be incredibly invested in Oklahoma,” said Krier.
Abigail Ogle anchors the 4 p.m. KOCO news that launched in August, while also anchoring at 6 and 10 p.m. Helming the news in Oklahoma City is a family tradition for the Ogles. Abigail’s grandfather, Jack, anchored at KOCO, and her father, Kevin, is on at KFOR. Uncle Kent and sister Katelyn are at KFOR too, and her uncle Kelly used to anchor at KWTV.
Abigail loves working in her home market. “My second-grade teacher watches every night, my grandparents watch every night,” Ogle said. “I’m serving these people who helped shape me.”
She called it a “blessing” to work in Oklahoma City. “People I’ve known for decades, I’m informing them about COVID or severe weather,” she said. “These can be life-changing stories.”
Growing up, she recalls dinner table conversations about current events and politics. She frequently visited KFOR with her father. “I was kind of a station rat,” Ogle said. “How everything came together, how the news got from the station to your living room, I thought it was fascinating.”
Abigail Ogle is proud to say her name each day on the news. “It represents the decades of commitment that have come before me,” she said. “It represents dedication and fairness and accuracy. I am a journalist first and foremost, but I am also an Ogle journalist and I want to make that name proud.” — MM
KWTV’s rivals are hustling to pick up ratings points. KOCO debuted a 4 p.m. newscast in August, replacing The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Zach Rael and Abigail Ogle anchor. The Ogle name is extraordinarily represented in Oklahoma City TV (see sidebar).
“It has done really well,” Hensley said of the newscast.
Hensley is bullish on Hearst Television’s Very Local app, which sees the group’s stations share content nationwide. “It’s catching on,” he said. “We’re really encouraged by it.”
KOCO has five meteorologists, with Damon Lane the chief.
KFOR’s Sunday morning public-affairs program Flashpoint (opens in new tab) is approaching 30 years on the air. Kevin Ogle hosts, with Michael Turpen representing Democrats and Todd Lamb speaking out for Republicans. Turpen ran for governor in 1986 while Lamb ran for the same post in 2018. Wes Milbourn, KFOR-KAUT VP and general manager, quipped that “you have to run for a major office and lose before becoming co-host.”
Milbourn boasts of talent with deep roots in the market at Oklahoma’s News 4, including Ogle and chief meteorologist Mike Morgan, both with three decades at the station. “They are friends to viewers as they welcome our talent into their homes every night,” said Milbourn.
The Nexstar stations produce 54½ hours of news a week. On KAUT, known as Freedom 43, Rise and Shine is on 7-9 a.m. (opens in new tab) “It tries to be a little more entertaining in that particular hour of the day,” Milbourn said.
KAUT has 9 p.m. weekday news too.
Diana Wilkin took over as VP and general manager of KOKH-KOCB in late July. Unlike the other Oklahoma City stations, the pair does not have a helicopter. Wilkin said she’s revamping programming and making some management changes. “There’s an opportunity to position ourselves in a stronger way in the market,” she said.
Jack Gerfen joined as Fox 25 chief meteorologist in August. Shelby Love departed the station last summer when she married, and returned to the anchor desk, hosting mornings, in January. “She brings a renewed energy to our mornings,” said Wilkin.
KOCB has high school football on Fridays in the fall when Friday Night Rivals airs (opens in new tab). Wilkin called it “a great community service project.”
She mentioned Sinclair’s “digital-first” approach, and said it is paying off in Oklahoma City.
The market’s newly diverse economy is holding up well. The city continues to grow, and the stations are seeing solid returns. “We saw nice momentum from local advertisers in the market through 2022 and despite all the talk of recession, the advertisers I talk to are optimistic about what 2023 holds,” Hensley said.
Hensley has been the KOCO GM since 1999. The city has “changed immensely” during his time in Oklahoma City, he said. “In my young adult life, downtown Oklahoma City was not someplace you frequented,” he added. “Now it’s a vibrant downtown. There are things to do, places to live, restaurants and activities that were not available before.”
Local TV insiders mentioned vigorous news players in the market. “I’ll put my newscast — any of the market’s newscasts — up against the major market newscast,” Milbourn said. “We can compete with the larger markets in terms of quality of news and quality of anchors.” ▪️
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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.