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Markete Eye: Storm Troopers

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The stormy season has kicked off in central Texas, and Waco–Temple–Bryan got a frightful taste of nature’s fury April 26. Most of the stations went wallto- wall with tornado coverage, bumping primetime to inform and instruct viewers on how best to survive the twisters. It’s part of life this time of year in DMA No. 89. “Every portion of the country has got their thing, and tornadoes seem to be ours,” says Bob Bunch, VP and general manager at KWTX, who described the station’s presentation that night as “calm, confident and professional.”

Stations here spend a lot of time thinking about tornadoes. ABC affiliate KXXV, for one, has a souped-up Chrysler minivan that it uses to track the progress of storms up close. “Our meteorologists actively storm-chase,” says Mike Lee, VP and general manager at the Drewry Communications- owned station.

Bunch says KWTX, a Gray Television- owned CBS affiliate, had been drilling its four-page emergency plan just before the storms hit. “We’d had dry runs the past couple weeks that served us very, very well,” he says. “Planning works.”

Everything seems to work for KWTX. Gray owns CBS affiliates on both sides of the DMA in Waco’s KWTX and Bryan-College Station’s KBTX, located about 90 miles south. Bunch and KBTX boss Mike Wright report to a regional VP and at times share resources, but both stations produce their own news. “I like to say we’re two distinct markets, but we share the same DMA boundaries,” says Wright.

KWTX won all the major races in the February sweep, and took late news with an 8.7 household rating and 19.9 share—trailed by sister KBTX (4.6/10.6) and KXXV (4.5/10.4). Besides having the extra muscle across the DMA, Bunch says KWTX thrives on a robust community service ethos, long anchor tenure—and combining the two plusses. “Our anchors are really involved in the community,” he says. “That’s a big part of it.”

KXXV calls itself the hard news station in town, with a focus on extreme weather. “You won’t see a five-minute interview on the set with the Chamber of Commerce,” says Lee. “Our brand is hard, breaking news.”

The station reached a milestone when it flipped on local hi-def on April 30. Lee acknowledges that in doing so, KXXV is just pulling level with the competition. But he says there are certain advantages to coming late to the HD party. “We have a pretty good idea about what equipment the competition is using, so we’ve got the latest and greatest stuff,” he says. “I think our look is going to be better—not being fi rst to jump in I think will be an advantage for us.”

Rounding out the market are London Broadcasting’s NBC affiliate, KCEN, and ComCorp.’s Fox affiliates KWKT-KYLE. Network programming also airs on stations’ multicast channels; KWTX and KBTX have the CW on their .2 channels. KWTX supplements CW’s prime with local college and high school sports, and Bunch wants to see the network help get Dish and DirecTV on board with the multicast channel’s distribution.

KCEN has This TV on its .2, while KXXV features Telemundo. Nearly 19% of the market claims Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey. KXXV has had a weather channel, 25 Weather Now, on Time Warner Cable for more than a dozen years. “It’s a great reinforcement to our weather product here,” says Lee.

Waco–Temple–Bryan features rural regions. Education is a major industry here, with giant university Texas A&M located in College Station. The aircraft manufacturer L-3 Communications is a significant employer, as is a Wal-Mart distribution center and a Caterpillar plant.

After a somewhat slow start to the year, general managers say ad demand is picking up. “January and February were slow, but March came out pretty good,” says Lee. “We’ve got a very nice recovery here.”

Stations are fighting for the upper hand. KWTX launched a 5 a.m. newscast in January. In September, it will debut a 4 p.m. news, as will sister KBTX to take the place of Oprah Winfrey. Last year, KWTX rebranded its sports department from News 10 Sports to the digitally focused (254 is the region’s area code). Page views and video views have more than doubled since sports got its own site, says Bunch.

KBTX is searching for a general sales manager following the untimely death of John Boaz last month. KXXV has new gear and a custom graphics package for the hi-def debut. Station execs in Waco say the local Fox’s 9-9:30 p.m. news comes out of a hub in Tyler, some 130 miles west of Waco; KWKT-KYLE did not return calls for comment.

KCEN is part of London’s network of Texas-based stations, including outlets in Tyler and Beaumont; the station addresses wicked weather with “Andy’s Weather Alert”—an automated phone call, text message and email from chief meteorologist Andy Andersen in advance of storms—for $9.95 a year.

But it’ll be some time before anyone unseats leader KWTX. “We’re not a sensational[izing] station,” explains Bunch. “We tell stories about people, and explain how the things that are happening affect those who live locally.”

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