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Let 'Freedom' Ring

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KFOR has made big strides in Oklahoma City, especially after Nielsen ironed out a ratings glitch a few years back. And the NBC affiliate’s MyNetworkTV sister outlet hopes to increase its footprint, too. On April 11, KAUT OK43 relaunched as Freedom 43 TV, with a special focus on the region’s substantial military presence and the issues of interest to that group.

Jim Boyer, president and general manager of the Local TV-owned duopoly, says DMA No. 45 is every bit as red as the red state that surrounds it. The station will offer straight news at the top of the newscast, followed by stories targeted to military personnel and families. “KAUT has struggled with its identity forever,” says Boyer. “We thought, what can we do to light up a station that’s No. 6 in a seven-station market? If we continued to do what we’re doing, nothing would change.”

Sibling outlet KFOR has not had similar identity problems. Despite getting little help from primetime, where it is running fourth in the market, KFOR won the morning and earlyevening news household ratings races in February and took a super-close late news contest, with its 12.5 rating/19 share at 10 p.m. ahead of CBS affiliate KWTV’s 11.9/18. Total day ratings were extremely close too, with KFOR on top and KOCO and KWTV within a few tenths of a ratings point.

KWTV, owned by Griffin, won primetime easily in February, ahead of Hearst TV’s ABC outlet KOCO and Sinclair’s Fox affiliate, KOKH.

Boyer says KFOR is tops in the country in late news among NBC affiliates in metered markets. The station thrives on a well-established corps of anchors, he says, along with a full-court press approach to weather, which goes over well along Tornado Alley. “We dominate weather coverage,” says Boyer. “In Oklahoma, that’s a really important attribute.”

Local TV and Sinclair (the latter with a Fox-CW pair) own duopolies in Oklahoma City, while Tyler Media Corp. has two Spanish-language stations in Telemundo outlet KTUZ and Univision affiliate KUOK. Family Broadcasting owns the independent KSBI.

The Oklahoma City economy is holding up well, with unemployment levels relatively low. Station general managers say the market traditionally stays pretty level. “It’s never been a market of wide swings,” says Brent Hensley, president/GM of KOCO. “When everything went south around the rest of the country, it didn’t drop as precipitously here.”

As Boyer notes, the military has a major presence in Oklahoma City, including Tinker Air Force Base. The state government and the oil industry are major—not to mention stable—employers as well. “Between the energy companies and the state capital, it makes it a pretty darn good place to live,” says John Rossi, GM at KOKH-KOCB.

In addition to KAUT, other stations are trying new things to shake up the pecking order. Perhaps none has been more dramatic than little KSBI: In November, the station’s new management scrapped news, weather, sports, and the large majority of its paid programming. The indie now features an all-entertainment lineup, including live talk shows and programs dedicated to everything from dogs to music to rodeo. “It’s anything and everything that goes on in Oklahoma and Oklahoma City,” says Vince Orza, KSBI president/CEO. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but going from 0 ratings to 2s and 3s, we feel like we’re on the right track.”

KOKH is one of the rare stations around the U.S. to offer live news to users’ mobile phones, part of a Sinclair- driven initiative. The station has been simulcasting all of its newscasts to equipped smartphones for about a year. “We don’t have a helicopter, so it gives us something else to differentiate ourselves,” says Rossi, “and get our news into people’s hands.”

Hensley raves about adding the entertainment digi-net This TV to KOCO’s digital tier, in place of Accuweather, in January; he calls it a “huge product improvement.” The station has also expanded news in several slots, including kicking off a daily 4:30 a.m., an 8 a.m. hour on Saturdays and Sundays, and a 5 p.m. program on Saturdays. One slot where KOCO isn’t looking to add news is 4 p.m. after Oprah Winfrey leaves its air in September; Hensley plans to slot in a syndicated show—perhaps Dr. Oz or Anderson Cooper’s rookie show. “We try to find those areas that are underserved,” Hensley says, “rather than jumping in areas that are overpopulated.”

KWTV is run by Rob Krier, who is also COO and VP of parent Griffin Communications. Besides its main Website, KWTV offers online sports page

Local TV’s local chapter features no less than four online destinations: the KFOR and KAUT sites, a lifestyle site, and the weather-centric With Oklahoma City’s economy humming along, Boyer thinks it may be time for his Freedom station to fly. “Oklahoma came out of the recession pretty well, relatively speaking,” he says. “The local business has really bounced back.”

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