Brian Bracco's face in the Kansas City TV scene is eminently familiar, though his role—and his employer, for that matter—have changed fairly dramatically. Jumping from a big corporate news job at Hearst TV, his employer since joining KMBC Kansas City 25 years before, Bracco now runs the underperforming Scripps station KSHB—and is focused on taking down the station where he made his name.
K.C. television watchers are eager to see if a local news titan can truly shake things up. “He’ll find talent and do all the little things right, and make the calls on breaking news that make a difference,” Aaron Barnhart, who was TV critic at the Kansas City Star for 15 years, says of Bracco. “He’s got the potential to make Channel 41 [KSHB] the undisputed No. 2 station in Kansas City and do what everyone before him has tried to do for years: take on Channel 9 [KMBC].”
Bracco, 61, would not speak on the record. He joined Hearst Corp. in 1987 as news director at KMBC, following local TV news roles that included anchor and producer. With his rock-solid news chops, he played a large part in guiding KMBC from, as one longtime Kansas City TV veteran puts it, “worst to first.”
Spending 13 years as news director at KMBC, Bracco expressed interest in being general manager, but was denied the job. He did earn a significant promotion at Hearst TV— corporate-level oversight for news in 2000, and later a VP of news title—all while working out of KMBC, as opposed to Hearst headquarters in New York.
After Wayne Godsey announced his retirement as KMBC’s GM in 2011, Sarah Smith, a well-regarded GM within the Hearst TV group, was named his successor. While other Hearst TV general managers such as Jeff Bartlett and Kyle Grimes have come from news, it’s much more typical for a general manager to have big-time sales experience. Plus, Bracco was deemed too valuable in his corporate role to have him relinquish that post, multiple company insiders say.
Elsewhere in DMA No. 31, Mike Vrabac announced his retirement as KSHB GM last July; news director Peggy Phillip departed a month later. In November, Scripps announced that Bracco would head up KSHB as well as KMCI in Lawrence, Kan. Bracco, fiercely loyal by nature, was saddened to leave Hearst, but eager to fulfill a longtime career goal. The parting with Hearst TV was said to be amicable.
Brian Lawlor, senior VP at Scripps, calls Bracco “one of the great news minds” in local television. “He really understands audience consumption,” Lawlor says. “He knows how to engage consumers not just as a station, but as a local news and information brand.”
One former Bracco colleague says he was shocked—but also not shocked—by the news. “We weren’t shocked that he became a GM,” says the onetime colleague. “We were shocked that he went across the street.”
An NBC affiliate, KSHB has some serious catching up to do. BIA-Kelsey ranked the station in a distant fourth place in terms of revenue in 2011, the most recent year for which it offers figures. ABC affiliate KMBC’s estimated $35.5 million in revenue was almost double KSHB’s $20.2 million.
That may change. One could look long and hard for a Bracco detractor in Kansas City and still come up empty. He inspires uncommon loyalty in staffers through tireless cheerleading and a uniquely personable nature. Bracco’s news instincts are unquestioned and, like all accomplished news veterans, he’s intensely competitive. “He’s a great people person and he’s got the ability to oversee every function of a TV station,” Barnhart says. “He’s going to do everything he can to make the station rock solid and make it as good a place to work as [KMBC].”
Among Bracco’s first orders of business at KSHB are finding a news director and sales director and ! xing a morning show that is, by several accounts, one sick pup. Early-evening news is in better shape, and late news is picking up, thanks in part to NBC’s primetime resurgence.
The competition is on its toes. “I’ve heard a number of people say this, but if anyone can turn it around there, it’s Brian Bracco,” says one veteran at a rival station. “If anyone thinks Scripps is not interested in winning in Kansas City, think again. Talk about a shot across the bow.”
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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.