Cooking With Gas

In a town known for rodeo, Houston broadcasters are engaged in a pretty good tussle. Longtime leader KTRK, an ABC owned-and-operated station, is warding off surging CBS affiliate KHOU, while NBC affiliate KPRC is overhauling its news in a bid for a larger audience share.

The latest May sweeps provide perspective: KHOU won prime time, but KTRK was No. 1 in total day. Late news was almost too close to call. On a Monday-Sunday basis, KTRK was top-rated at 10 p.m., but KHOU won weeknights. Early mornings belong to KTRK, which often gets an 8 rating at 6 a.m. KHOU, with top-rated syndicated fare like The Oprah Winfrey Show and Jeopardy!, wins early-evening news.

“This has been a slow build,” says KHOU General Manager Peter Diaz. “We have a strong commitment to local news, strong CBS product and top syndication.”

The rivals are focused on developing local products. KTRK will soon launch a 24-hour weather network on one of its digital broadcast channels; the station already airs local specials on a second channel. In January, KHOU will debut a 9 a.m. local talk show, Great Day Houston, with opportunities to integrate local advertisers.

KPRC is in the midst of retooling its talent lineup; longtime main anchor Linda Lorelle, for instance, was moved to lower-profile 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. newscasts. “We're trying to bring up the numbers and find better content,” says General Manager Jim Joslyn. The station is a close third at 10 p.m. but lags in early-evening news and prime time. Fox-owned KRIV and Tribune's The WB station KHWB air 9 p.m. newscasts.

Stations are coming off a dramatic news period, which included the hurricanes and the Astros in their first World Series. “We've been on an incredible news roll for the last couple of months,” says KTRK General Manager Henry Florsheim.

As many as 150,000 storm evacuees fled to Houston, and 30,000 are expected to stay. That has been a boon to entertainment and travel. Some insurance agents and oil companies stepped up TV advertising, but most of the spending went to local radio and print.

While soaring energy prices have hurt much of the country, an increase in demand has boosted the Houston economy, broadcasters say, where energy accounts for a third of area jobs. Houston is home to several Fortune 500 companies—including Continental Airlines, Kroeger and Sysco Food—that diversify the economy. “Oil is booming, and it is fueling secondary jobs,” says Florsheim. “The economy is heating up again.”

Houston ranks as the country's fourth-largest Hispanic market, with 31% of the population claiming Latin blood. The Asian population stands at about 5% but—like much of Houston—is on a rapid rise.