Local News Close-Up: L.A. News Battle Begins Before Sunrise

KTLA’s morning news team (from l.): Mark Kriski, Jessica Holmes, Frank Buckley and Sam Rubin.
KTLA’s morning news team (from l.): Mark Kriski, Jessica Holmes, Frank Buckley and Sam Rubin. (Image credit: KTLA)

Mornings are a massive priority in the Los Angeles TV scene. In January, KCAL launched a 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. monster block, matching the hours KTTV is live on weekday mornings. KTLA does them one better, or perhaps two, with the 4-11 a.m. block and local news continuing until 2 p.m. 

The 2 p.m. slot has Off the Clock, which Janene Drafs, KTLA VP and general manager, called “a localized version of The View.” Then it’s local news from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

“We’ve run out of time periods to expand to,” Drafs said. “There’s just no place left to go.”

Also Read: Check Out Our Local News Close-Up Profiles on Dozens of U.S. Markets

The morning program is such a focus at KCBS-KCAL that the stations hired a second news director, Matt Goldberg, just to manage that daypart. “It’s a new structure,” Joel Vilmenay, KCBS-KCAL president and general manager, said. “I don’t know if there’s one like it anywhere else in the country.”

Nielsen’s No. 2 DMA features ABC-owned KABC, CBS-owned KCBS-KCAL, NBCUniversal-owned KNBC and Telemundo station KVEA, Fox-owned KTTV and KCOP, Nexstar Media Group’s The CW station KTLA, and Univision’s KMEX, KFTR and three radio stations. 

The market’s primary pay TV operator is Spectrum. 

The writers and actors strikes are over, which means many of the businesses that support TV and film production, including restaurants, hotels and dry cleaners, are seeing business on the uptick. The I-10 freeway reopened much earlier than expected after the horrific blazes that struck it November 11. 

Still, the general managers said the local economy is, like Los Angeles’s infamous traffic, stop and start. “It’s hard to tell what the new normal is,” Drafs said. 

In November, KTLA won the 6 a.m. races in both households and viewers 25-54, per Nielsen, with KABC in second in both and KMEX in third. KABC, known as ABC7, won 5 p.m. households and KVEA won the demo race. KMEX took both titles at 6 p.m. KCAL won both 10 p.m. contests, with KTLA in second and KTTV in third. 

At 11 p.m., KABC won households with 100,300, while KMEX scored 91,300, KNBC 58,000, KVEA 55,000, KCBS 51,500 and KTLA at 35,300. In the 11 p.m. demo, KMEX had 70,200, KVEA 34,700, KABC 26,800, KTLA 17,500, KNBC at 13,500 and KCBS at 12,200, according to a station source familiar with the numbers. 

Cheryl Kunin Fair is ABC7 president/general manager and Pam Chen is VP/news director. “In front of and behind the camera, we have stability,” Chen said. “We are experienced in this market, and we reflect the audiences we serve.”

GMs on the Move

Steve Carlston became senior VP and general manager at KTTV-KCOP (known as Fox 11 and Fox 11 Plus, respectively) just over a year ago, after 11 years running KNBC. Carlston referred to “a big palette to paint on” in terms of the Fox stations’ local presence. 

Bobbi Gearhart joined as VP/news director in June. She said her top priority as she joined the station was Good Day LA. “We have incredibly authentic anchors that are super-relatable,” she said. “We set them up to be themselves.”

Earlier this year, Brooke Thomas and Bob DeCastro began anchoring Good Day LA from 4 to 6 a.m., Melvin Robert and Jennifer Lahmers from 6 to 9 a.m. and Araksya Karapetyan and Sandra Endo are on 9-11 a.m. 

“It’s a great place to wake up, shake up the day, and get things going in a positive way,” Carlston said. 

He mentioned a new lineup coming to KCOP in the new year, and KTTV doing a fully local version of the 11 p.m. West Coast Wrap show it currently shares with KTVU San Francisco. 

‘FAST’ Forward

Todd Mokhtari took over as KNBC-KVEA president/general manager in 2022. He’d been news director there from 2012 to 2019. A major focus is FAST channels, one for KNBC and a regional one for Telemundo in California. There are unique newscasts in the 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. slots on KNBC’s channel. “Expect us to start doing more,” Mokhtari said. 

KNBC debuted a 3 p.m. news last year, when The Ellen DeGeneres Show went off the air. Annabelle Sedano anchors. The station has the live feed of NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt at 3:30 p.m. and on delay at 6:30 p.m. 

In May, Marina Perelman was named KNBC VP of news, and Miguel Gaytán took on the role at KVEA. 

Mokhtari spoke of the combo “taking advantage of what no one else can do — attract a Hispanic and English-speaking audience. When you combine the two stations into one, you really see the power of it.”

Rudabeh Shahbazi and Jamie Yuccas (r.) anchor KCAL News Mornings from 7 to 10 a.m.

Rudabeh Shahbazi and Jamie Yuccas (r.) anchor KCAL News Mornings from 7 to 10 a.m. (Image credit: KCAL)

Vilmenay started at KCBS-KCAL in October 2021. Mike Dello Stritto was named VP/news director in 2022, and Matt Goldberg started as VP/news director, with oversight of the morning show, in September. 

Dello Stritto incorporated the assignment desk editors into newscasts. Mark Liu appears in the morning show and Mike Rogers in the evenings, discussing stories with anchors. Vilmenay mentioned their “depth of knowledge and ability to report and convey information on the air.”

Fully 33 staffers have been hired at KCBS-KCAL over the past year, the bulk of them on the morning show. That includes Jamie Yuccas and Rudabeh Shahbazi, who anchor 7-10 a.m. 

KCAL also brought back NHL action, with a half-dozen Los Angeles Kings games on its air for the first time in 24 years. “It’s exciting for our team,” Vilmenay said. 

KTLA is local from 4 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. weekdays, those hours stocked with local news, except the 2-3 p.m. Off the Clock, hosted by Megan Henderson, Chris Schauble and Henry DiCarlo, and 7 p.m. show L.A. Unscripted. “It’s a show about what makes Los Angeles, Los Angeles,” said Drafs. “If you live in Los Angeles and want to know everything that’s great and cool, that’s what L.A. Unscripted should do for you.”

Erica Hill-Rodriguez came on as KTLA news director in May. 

Syndication finally appears on the station when Two and a Half Men rolls at 7:30 p.m. 

Diverse Audiences

In October, KMEX brought back the Posible L.A. Entrepreneurship Summit for the first time since the pandemic. “We provided tools and resources for Latinos to succeed as entrepreneurs, either starting a new business or growing existing ones,” said Veronika Moroian, president/general manager, Univision Los Angeles.

Pam Chen is VP/news director at KABC Los Angeles, a local news force in Nielsen’s No. 2 DMA.

Pam Chen is VP/news director at KABC Los Angeles, a local news force in Nielsen’s No. 2 DMA. (Image credit: KABC)

KABC contributed to the ABC group’s Our America: Unforgettable project on Alzheimer’s disease, and launched abc7.com/espanol to better connect with the diverse population in Los Angeles. Chen called it “an example of how ABC7 is evolving in spaces where our audiences are.”

That diversity is what the general managers mention when asked what they like most about Los Angeles. “It’s a melting pot of people you just don’t get anywhere else in the world,” Carlston said. 

The sunny skies come in second. “The weather makes up for everything,” Vilmenay said. “It even makes up for the traffic.”

They also like the frenetic pace of the news game in town, and how local news often becomes national news. “You’re competing with the best in the business when you are here,” said Drafs. “And when you compete against the best, you get better.”   

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.