Show-Me Showdown

After years of trading blows with rivals, KCTV is now the ratings champ in Kansas City, Mo. Although the Meredith station ranked a distant third in revenue as recently as 2006, the CBS affiliate had a blockbuster February sweeps and is poised to retain its crown in the current May book. “Most of our newscasts have double-digit growth over last year,” says VP/General Manager Kirk Black.

Station executives describe Kansas City, known to many as the barbeque capital of the U.S., with homespun adjectives like open, honest and friendly. TV is a big part of their daily routine, and sports—such as football’s Chiefs and baseball’s Royals—are always a popular draw. It’s a family-oriented market; one station boss describes it as “a lousy place to be single but a great place to raise a family.”

Nielsen’s No. 31 DMA took in $175.6 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $160.7 million the year before. Fox O&O WDAF led the 2006 pack with an estimated $42.9 million, ahead of Hearst-Argyle’s ABC affiliate KMBC ($41.8 million), KCTV ($36.5 million) and Scripps’ NBC outlet KSHB ($28.1 million).

The market features three duopolies: Meredith has KCTV and the MyNetworkTV outlet, Hearst-Argyle has KMBC and the CW affiliate, and Scripps has KSHB and the independent KMCI. Of the Big Four, only WDAF lacks a sister station in the market, although VP/General Manager Cheryl McDonald doesn’t view that as a disadvantage: “I see it as I only have one station to run.”

The Kansas City economy has been lagging—its revenue rank is two spots lower than its DMA rank—but station managers say things are about to turn around. There’s bustling redevelopment downtown, major corporations like Sprint and healthcare technology provider Cerner offering jobs, and the pro football and baseball stadiums are being refurbished. “There are too many good things going on for it not to hit the TV marketplace,” says KSHB/KMCI VP/General Manager Craig Allison.

One new construction project: KMBC moves into a new facility June 1, looking to be first in the market with high-definition news, which it hopes to offer for the July book. KMBC President/General Manager Wayne Godsey says the station’s strengths are a stable pool of news talent and a high level of trust with its audience. “We don’t do a lot of flash and trash,” he says, “though we are aggressive.” The station won morning and evening news in February.

WDAF is staking its claim on the Web—unveiling its branding last September. The station is tapping Kansas City bloggers to cover niche issues in the community, while McDonald is pushing her charges to innovate. “We have to think on the creative sides of our brain; we have to be entrepreneurial,” says McDonald, who has been in the market over 20 years.

KSHB, meanwhile, offers more local programming than anyone else in the market, according to Allison, who stepped up to general manager when Jim Swinehart retired last summer. That includes variety program Kansas City Today, weekdays at 10 a.m., and sports shows on its independent station.

KSHB’s Website relaunched in March and logged 1.8 million video streams last month. “We’re thrilled with the interactivity, the functionality and the traffic,” Allison says.

But it’s KCTV that has the most to be thrilled about. The station won total day, primetime and late news in February; Black says the gains are due to a surging Ellen leading into his 4 p.m. news block, popular meteorologist Katie Horner, and CBS’ highly rated primetime.

He’s working on companion Websites for KCTV and KSMO; although he won’t share much about them, they may cover such topics as entertainment and classifieds. The impressive numbers and increase in ratings will certainly help their upcoming launch. Says Black, “We can promote the new sites better than anyone else.”

Next: Houston

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.