Local News: Austin Still Weird, Booming

KXAN Austin
KXAN meteorologist Kristen Currie gives a weather update from downtown Austin. (Image credit: Nexstar Media )

It’s been a challenging year-plus, to say the least, but things are slowly getting back to normal in the Texas capital. Besides the pandemic, Austin was hit with a snowstorm in February that knocked power out and shut off the water for many residents. But the fair weather is here and Austin’s many attributes, including live music along Sixth Street and lots of outdoor activity, are approaching full swing. 

“The market is as hot as it’s ever been,” said Michael Lewis, KTBC senior VP and general manager. “Sixth Street is not as alive as it was, but it’s getting there.”

Also Read: Austin CW Affiliate KNVA Makes News Push

Fox owns KTBC. Nexstar Media Group has NBC affiliate KXAN, MyNetworkTV- aligned KBVO and manages The CW outlet KNVA. Sinclair Broadcast Group has CBS station KEYE and runs Telemundo on a dot-two channel. Tegna owmABC affiliate KVUE. Univision owns KAKW and UniMás station KTFO.

Spectrum is the primary pay TV operator. The market jumped from Nielsen’s No. 40 to No. 38 in 2021. Austin adds around 169 residents a day. The city finally has a professional sports team, as Austin FC joined Major League Soccer. The Nexstar stations own the English-language game rights, with most matches on KNVA. Things kicked off with an April 24 win over Colorado. 

“It’s got this huge, positive enthusiasm and buzz,” said Eric Lassberg, VP and general manager of KXAN-KNVA-KBVO. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Everyone is just fired up.”

Univision Austin has the Spanish-language rights to Austin FC, with games on KTFO. “It’s a big deal because we have so much soccer passion in the market,” Christine Escobar, KAKW-KTFO president and general manager, said. 

KXAN is a ratings beast. In March, KXAN won the 6 a.m. households race, while KTBC was tops in the 25-54 demo. The stations split the 5 p.m. battle, and KXAN won households and 25-54 at 6 p.m. At 10 p.m., KXAN scored a 4.3 in households, ahead of KVUE’s and KEYE’s 2.7, KTBC’s 2.2, KAKW’s 1.3 and the local Telemundo’s 0.8. In the 10 p.m. demo, KXAN earned a 1.8, KVUE a 1.6, KTBC a 1.4, KAKW a 1.2 and KEYE and Telemundo 0.8 apiece. 

Station Goes ‘In-Depth’

KXAN has “In-Depth Investigation” as its branding and reminds viewers of it often. “Every single promo you see, we pound it into the minds of viewers,” Lassberg said. 

KXAN won two National Murrow Awards last year, an extraordinary accomplishment for a station. Jim Spencer, chief meteorologist, shifted to semi-retirement after 31 years at the station. David Yeomans became KXAN chief meteorologist in March. 

KTBC offers a relentless local news approach, cranking out 53 hours a week. A 6 p.m. newscast came on board in 2019, often giving the full 30 minutes to a specific topic, whether it’s homelessness, COVID or a transportation bill. “We do it when the topic says we should,” said Lewis. “It’s dictated by the news of the day.”

Shannon Ryan of KTBC Austin

Shannon Ryan  covered Austin’s dangerous winter storms for Fox station KTBC.  (Image credit: KTBC Fox 7)

Lewis mentioned that President Lyndon B. Johnson and wife Lady Bird once owned the station. “The spirit of service and giving back to our community is still alive and well,” he said. 

Escobar oversees the Univision and UniMás stations as well as a pair of radio outlets. Staffers from TV and radio are “cross-trained,” as Escobar puts it, to work in both. Radio hosts, for instance, provide entertainment highlights for Austin viewers on Fridays. “We’re all Swiss Army knives here,” said Escobar. 

KAKW has two hours of morning news, a midday newscast, and 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. news. Saturdays are being considered for expansion. “News is what drives the ratings and the revenue,” said Escobar. “It’s alway something we’re looking to expand on.”

Streaming local news on a mobile app has expanded the consumer base for Univision Austin content. 

Weathering Snowmageddon

The stations had their hands full when the snow hit in mid February. Referred to as Snowmaggedon, the issue wasn’t so much the snow, but the havoc that followed, including power outages. Escobar called the storm a once in a lifetime event, and hopes it stays that way. “Nobody wants to go back to that period,” she said. (An Austin native, Escobar named her son Austin.)

Austin’s mix of hot companies, including Tesla and Apple, an influx of new residents and a burgeoning music scene keeps the market on its toes. Slogan “Keep Austin Weird” reflects the independent mindset here. 

“There’s such a large diversity of cultures,” said Escobar. “With the music and food scene, Austin never gets boring.” 

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.