Local News: Pittsburgh Stations Find New Battleground

Lindsay Ward and Scott Danka of KDKA Pittsburgh
Reporter Lindsay Ward and photographer Scott Danka of CBS-owned KDKA Pittsburgh. (Image credit: KDKA)

Pittsburgh is known as one of the truly competitive TV markets in the nation, and a new battleground has emerged in the 4 p.m. hour. KDKA has run 4 p.m. news since 2002, while WTAE debuted an hour-long program in July and WPXI did so in mid-September. 

“There’s been a pretty good shift in the market at 4 p.m.,” said Kevin Hayes, VP and general manager, WPXI. 

Cox Media Group owns NBC affiliate WPXI. Hearst Television holds ABC outlet WTAE. CBS owns KDKA and WPCW, a CBS-The CW duopoly. Sinclair Broadcast Group has the Fox affiliate, WPGH.

Comcast is the primary pay TV operator in DMA No. 26. 

KDKA is the station to beat. It premiered a 7:30 p.m. newscast in summer 2020 that focuses on positive stories. Chris Cotugno, KDKA-WPCW VP/general manager, mentioned a real appetite for good news in Pittsburgh. “It’s doing phenomenally well in the ratings,” he said. “The news of the day, when something happens, we have to tell it. But we try to focus on all positive stories.”

KDKA has a similar philosophy for morning newscast Your Day Pittsburgh. “We want to solve people’s problems,” Cotugno said. “We want to be partners in the community, not just tell them the news.”

WTAE won the 6 a.m. battle in household ratings in September, and WPXI was tops in the 25-54 demo. KDKA won the 5 p.m. races in households and the demo. WTAE won 6 p.m. households, while KDKA took the demo. At 11 p.m., KDKA averaged a 5.7 in households, WPXI a 5.2 and WTAE a 4.3. WPXI posted a 2.5 in the 11 p.m. demo, KDKA a 2.3 and WTAE a 1.3. 

Sheldon Ingram of WTAE Pittsburgh

Sheldon Ingram reports for WTAE, the Hearst-owned ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh. (Image credit: WTAE)

WPGH and WPCW do 10 p.m. news. 

KDKA lost its grip on the market leader title a few years ago, but it’s headed in the right direction. “We have it back,” Cotugno said. “We got our mojo back.”

WTAE uses Action News branding. Chuck Wolfertz, WTAE president and general manager, mentions “fast-paced, high-information newscasts” on the station’s air. 

WTAE hired its fifth meteorologist earlier this month in Penn State grad Kasey Reigner. “We have the largest [weather] crew in the market,” Wolfertz said. 

Pittsburgh has plenty of winter weather news. Asked what he likes about the market, Hayes commented, “I love the weather in the spring, summer and fall.”

As the cold weather approaches, WTAE is hustling to provide coats, hats, mittens and boots for those in need through Project Bundle Up, a long-term partnership with the Salvation Army. KDKA is working on its Turkey Fund, providing Thanksgiving meals to the needy. That initiative, a partnership with PNC Bank and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, is in its 40th year. 

Big in Health Care, Higher Ed

Pittsburgh dropped from DMA No. 24 to No. 26 in the Nielsen rankings from 2020 to 2021. The market was, of course, known for steel production, but so-called “eds and meds” — colleges and hospitals — have emerged as a giant economic driver. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Allegheny Health Network are big health players in Western Pennsylvania. “It’s a town that has reinvented itself,” Cotugno said. 

The local economy is finding its way out of the pandemic malaise. “It’s better in a sense that everything is open,” said Hayes, “but business has not returned to retailers the way it was.”

When Hayes came to Pittsburgh four years ago, he was told repeatedly to prepare for an intensely competitive market. Pittsburgh has proven to be that. Broadcast viewing is high in the region, thanks to an aging populace and concerns about the day’s weather, and stations are trying everything to hook in viewers. “It makes it a fun market to work in,” said Hayes. 

It’s a town that has reinvented itself.

Chris Cotugno, VP/GM, KDKA-WPCW

KDKA has a team of five working on digital news platform CBSN Pittsburgh. WPCW does weekday news from 7 to 9 a.m. WTAE airs quarterly specials for local newsmag Chronicle, including a recent one commemorating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Susan Koeppen, who worked at both WTAE and KDKA, anchors the new 4 p.m. news on WPXI, which goes with Channel 11 News branding. 

Residents speak of big-league sports in Pittsburgh, including the beloved Steelers, world-class arts, and more down-to-earth people than you’d ever hope to find in a market. “Very friendly, very welcoming,” said Wolfertz. 

Cotugno called it “the best place to raise a family.”

“It’s a great place to live, not that expensive, three major sports teams, Broadway, concerts,” he added. “Everything comes through here.”

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.