Local News: Denver Stations Show Mile-High Growth

KUSA Denver photojournalists
The 9News photojournalists are ready for action outside of KUSA Denver headquarters. (Image credit: Tegna)

Denver hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game July 13, with the game’s best showing their stuff at Coors Field. It was also a chance for Denver to show its stuff to the rest of America. “This year especially, it was a coming out party for Colorado,” said KCNC VP and general manager Walt DeHaven, “as we come out of the pandemic.”

The All-Star game was shifted from Atlanta to Denver as a response to new voting laws in Georgia that many voting rights activists oppose. The game “was a big deal for the city, a big deal for the market, and a big deal for Fox, because it aired on our channel,” said Byron Grandy, VP/general manager, KDVR-KWGN. 

The American League dominates the annual mid-summer showdown, and KUSA dominates the news battles in DMA No. 16. Tegna owns NBC affiliate KUSA and MyNetworkTV station KTVD. CBS holds KCNC. Scripps owns ABC outlet KMGH and independent KCDO and Nexstar has Fox affiliate KDVR and CW outlet KWGN. Telemundo station KDEN is part of NBCUniversal Local and Entravision-owned KCEC carries Univision. 

Comcast is the major pay TV operator in Denver. 

KUSA easily won the 6-7 a.m. race in households and viewers 25-54 from January through July 19, and took 5 and 6 p.m. news by a comfortable margin. At 10 p.m., KUSA averaged a 4.45 in households from January to July 19, ahead of KCNC’s 3.13, KMGH’s 2.23, KDVR’s 1.92, KCEC’s 1.15 and KDEN’s 0.57. In the late news demo race, KUSA scored a 1.81, KCEC a 1.03, KDVR a 1.00, KCNC a 0.86, KMGH a 0.63 and KDEN a 0.44. 

Mark Cornetta, president and general manager of KUSA-KTVD, said strong competition keeps 9News staffers hustling. “It’s a pretty high bar in Denver for producing local news,” he said. “It keeps everyone on their toes. We’re not one to sit back and rest on our legacy and assume we’ll be the top station moving forward. We always try to come at it like, we have to work harder because we have such good competitors.”

Cornetta also oversees Tegna stations in Little Rock, Portland and Sacramento. 

In February, KUSA launched 9News En Español, hiring a bilingual digital producer and meteorologist for Spanish-language news on KUSA’s streaming platform. “The growing number of Latino and Latina viewers is not something to ignore,” Cornetta said. 

On the Spanish-language side, KDEN has launched a daily midday newscast, accessible on the station’s digital platforms as well as on Apple TV and Roku. “We are meeting consumers on their preferred platforms and can accompany them anywhere they go, at any time of day,” said Tatiana Arguello, president and general manager of Telemundo Denver. 

KMGH acquired independent KCDO for around $9 million last year, then launched morning, 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. daily newscasts on the indie. The station is branded Local 3. “It has kept us busy, but it’s been a great addition to our portfolio,” Dean Littleton, KMGH-KCDO VP and general manager, said. 

KCDO represents yet another news player in Denver. “When you include our independent and the Spanish-language stations, nine stations are doing news,” said Littleton. “That’s quite a bit of competition, which is good for viewers.”

With additional hiring on the KCDO side, Scripps is looking for a new Denver headquarters for the two stations. 

DeHaven retired July 30. With previous stints at CBS properties in Boston and Chicago, he described Denver as “the best TV community I ever worked in.”

KCNC launched CBSN Denver in February 2020, right before the pandemic became major news. The streaming platform features anchored programming, coverage of live breaking news and a library of local news content that is available on demand. “Sadly, it couldn’t have happened at a better time,” said DeHaven. “People were craving the information and we were able to offer it in that way.”

KDVR added a 10:30 p.m. nightly news, now going 9 to 11 p.m. with local product. KWGN has a 4:30 to 9 a.m. newscast, another at 4 p.m. and an hour at 7 p.m. “There’s just a good appetite in this market for local news,” said Grandy. 

Denver moved from DMA No. 17 to 16 in the past year. Littleton worked in sales at KUSA in 2008 and 2009 before coming on board as KMGH general manager early in 2017. Upon his return, he was struck by the growth in Denver. These days, he notes cranes tickling the sky in every direction. “It’s amazing how much the city has grown in a short period of time,” he said. 

The stations are eager to connect with the new arrivals. KCDO debuted talk show The Kathie J Show Aug. 2. Littleton described the program, hosted by a local radio personality, as “an energetic sort of show focused on local issues,” with “positive, inspiring stories.”

DeHaven said more news may be coming to KCNC in the fall, with a focus on weekends. 

When you include our independent and the Spanish-language stations, nine stations are doing news. That’s quite a bit of competition, which is good.

— Dean Littleton, KMGH-KCDO

KDVR connects with users on the move through streaming platform Fox31 Now. 

KDEN redesigned its app recently for iPhone and Android users, offering real-time weather alerts in Spanish. KDEN launched its news out of KUSA’s facility years ago, but has since moved out. The stations still share what Cornetta called “an editorial relationship.”

KUSA has a new content initiative called Voices of Change, which seeks out the stories of the underserved members of the community. “We decided to invite voices from the community in,” said Cornetta. “That’s what Voices of Change is all about.”

Denver’s many new arrivals are drawn to the market’s physical beauty, which includes easy access to the Rockies, and a wide range of cultural offerings, including live music and a dynamic restaurant scene. “It’s really outdoorsy and there’s lots of stuff to do,” Littleton said. “The city has a lot going for it. I can see why so many people move here.”

Cornetta described Denver as “a big city with a small-town feel” — a cosmopolitan vibe, but a place where residents are eager to help their neighbor. He added, “It’s a city where people are involved and engaged.” 

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.