Local News Close-Up: New Mexico Stations Try New Things

KOAT Albuquerque reporter Angel Salcedo
KOAT reporter Angel Salcedo covers the news in Albuquerque. (Image credit: KOAT)

A couple of Albuquerque stations are coming up on significant milestones and will be celebrating in due course. Next year, KOAT turns 70, while KOB reaches 75 years on the air. 

“November 29, 2023,” said Michelle Donaldson, KOB VP/general manager. “We’ll definitely have some historic look-backs. We will celebrate it all year.”

Speaking of anniversaries, and celebrations, for that matter, KOAT is marking 110 years of New Mexico’s statehood with a Celebrate New Mexico initiative (opens in new tab), featuring segments and stories toasting the state’s beauty, history and people. “We spend time in the community and talk to people to get a sense of what makes it special,” Lori Waldon, president and general manager, said. “We remind them that we’re a state with beauty and a lot of potential.”

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

Hearst Television owns KOAT, an ABC affiliate. Hubbard Broadcasting has NBC outlet KOB. Nexstar Media Group owns KRQE, and operates Mission Broadcasting’s KWBQ (The CW) and KASY (MyNetworkTV) through a joint sales agreement. KRQE is a CBS affiliate, and its channel 13.2 is the Fox affiliate. NBCUniversal Local holds Telemundo station KASA and TelevisaUnivision has KLUZ. 

Comcast is the primary pay TV operator. 

DMA No. 48 is a rare Nielsen market that covers its entire state. Salt Lake City is another. Large, powerful owners make for strong stations and good competition, but KOAT is a ratings powerhouse. The station won the 6 a.m. news battle, in both households and viewers 25-54, in September, and won the 5 and 6 p.m. derbies too, with KOB the runner-up. At 10 p.m., KRQE had the top household score, at 3.7, ahead of KOB’s 3.1 and KOAT’s 2.9, while KASA and KLUZ both had a 0.4. KOAT had the top demo score at 10, its 1.2 just ahead of KRQE at 1.1. KOB scored a 0.8, KLUZ a 0.3 and KASA a 0.1. 

KOAT has well-established anchors and keeps its helicopter on a helipad outside the station, while the competitors’ are over at the airport. (A helicopter is essential in vast Albuquerque-Santa Fe.) 

KOAT launched an 11 a.m. newscast on August 22. The news game is a two-way street for the station. “We try really hard to listen to our viewers,” Waldon said. “It’s not just what we think are the important stories of the day and it’s not just the cavalcade of what happened. It’s, here’s what happened, and here’s why it matters.”

KOAT did not have a sports department when Waldon arrived in 2019. She built one from the ground up. New Mexico may not have professional sports, she said, but it has plenty of sports fans. 

Ron Burke is the sports director. “We went from zero to 65 real fast,” Waldon said. “It’s had an amazing response from viewers.”

Also for sports fans, KOB has launched Football Night in New Mexico, running before NBC’s Football Night in America on Sundays. The Cowboys, Broncos, Cardinals and Raiders all have fans in New Mexico. 

KRQE has a lively lineup of news, along with daily morning lifestyle show New Mexico Living, which is on 9 a.m. on the Fox station and 10 a.m. on The CW one. “On any given morning, you’ll find six or eight or ten community members,” said Bill Anderson, VP and general manager. “Local business leaders, local charity leaders, local government, lined up in our green room, ready to appear.” 

The show also has sponsored segments. 

Anderson credited KRQE’s owner for investing in the station. “When you work for Nexstar, you need to have passion, and an inclination toward producing local programming,” he said. “Maybe even more than ever, due to the dearth of syndication.”

KOB Albuquerque chief meteorologist Eddie Garcia

KOB chief meteorologist Eddie Garcia shares weather with Albuquerque viewers.  (Image credit: KOB)

Donaldson took over KOB in late 2017, after a four-year run as news director. She mentioned the station’s active role in community business, including a task force that outlines what business leaders’ priorities were in a given week, amidst the pandemic, and what they wished to share with the public. “Now, in the new normal, we continue to work together,” Donaldson said. 

KOB also has had what Donaldson called a “dedicated message campaign” about getting the latest COVID booster. A little before the pandemic, it relaunched late news as The NightBeat (opens in new tab), offering a more conversational format, and a variety of angles on a lone story when the news calls for it. 

“It was built for that moment,” Donaldson said. “It was the right approach at the right time.”

KOB recently opened a bureau in Rio Rancho. 

New Owner, New News

NBCUniversal Local acquired KASA in October 2021, and relaunched it as Telemundo Nuevo Mexico. A news team was assembled, including journalist Mayra Aguilar, and local news debuted that same month, running on same day delay at 5 and 10 p.m. 

In January 2022, the newscasts went live. 

“It’s the only live, locally produced, Spanish-language news in New Mexico,” said Tony Canales, KASA president/general manager. “It was an important market for us to pick up. This underserved Hispanic market needed, and needs, live local news in their marketplace.”

KASA is housed out of KOB. Canales splits his time between KASA and KTMD Houston (Telemundo Houston). 

In September, a 4 p.m. hour of news, from Telemundo El Paso, premiered on KASA. Canales called it more of a regional newscast than an El Paso-specific one. (El Paso is around 260 miles south of Albuquerque.) 

Tons of Sun

Meteorologist Yoselyn Castellanos joined Telemundo New Mexico in mid October. There’s no shortage of weather in Albuquerque-Santa Fe, between wildfires, monsoons and whatever else Mother Nature cooks up. 

But there’s also pretty terrific weather. Residents appreciate all four seasons, and multiple general managers cited the region’s 300 days of sunshine a year. “From sunrise to sunset, the weather is gorgeous,” Waldon said. 

New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti

Former KRQE meteorologist Mark Ronchetti is the Republican candidate for New Mexico governor.  (Image credit: MarkRonchetti.com)

The economy, not so much. Businesses were quick to shut down during COVID and some have been slow to reopen. Federal outfits such as Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Lab give the economy some stability, and TV and film production, including Better Call Saul, are picking up. “You can’t drive through Albuquerque without finding a major film production,” Anderson said. 

Political spending has helped offset softness from traditional TV advertisers. Some is coming from former KRQE chief meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, running for governor against incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham. Retired KRQE anchor Dick Knipfing appears in spots, in support of his former news colleague. “The whole thing looks like an old KRQE promo,” Anderson quipped.

KOAT’s Celebrate New Mexico campaign will continue after 2022 comes to an end. Said Waldon, “There’s a lot to celebrate in New Mexico.” ■

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.