Station Break

WKPT news is Kaput

Blaming the economy, the lack of network compensation and the costs of the transition to digital, another ABC affiliate is shutting down its news department. WKPT-TV Kingsport, Tenn. (DMA No. 93), and co-owned WAPK-LP, a low-power UPN affiliate, will end their week-day half-hour newscast and brief updates Feb. 18. The move eliminates five of the seven jobs in the stations' news department.

The Holston Valley Broadcasting-owned station said it plans to air a nightly newscast, produced by another station. Media General-owned WJHL-TV Johnson City, Tenn., confirmed negotiations but said no deal had been struck. WJHL-TV has a 36-person news department. WKPT-TV said it will be keeping news director and former anchor Betty Payne and another staffer.

WKPT-TV had been cutting back its news for the past few years, and ratings were around 1, well below its competition's.

"Regrettably," said Holston President George DeVault, "the current business climate, coupled with the FCC mandate to construct and operate a new digital television station and the decision of the major television networks like ABC to stop paying monetary compensation to affiliates for carrying network programs, has made it impossible for many small stations to maintain a traditional local-news effort and still produce a modest profit for their shareholders."

In the past few months, Sinclair Broadcasting has killed news departments in St. Louis and Winston-Salem, N.C., both ABC affiliates. ABC officials didn't comment.

Rate flak at Nielsen

Nielsen Media Research last week defended itself against at least two station groups' accusations of overcharging, con-tending that its rate increases are related to Nielsen's investments in enhancements to its service in all markets.

Emmis dropped the service for its top-rated WTHI-TV Terre Haute, Ind., following a double-digit increase, and joined co-owned WFTX(TV) Cape Coral, Fla., in deciding to operate without Nielsen numbers. And last week Nexstar dropped the service for stations in Abilene and Wichita Falls, both Texas.

In a letter to the Scranton Times
last week—a market in which Nexstar owns WBRE-TV Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and where Nexstar chief Perry Sook had told the Times
that Nielsen's behavior bordered on the monopolistic and called Nielsen a service in decline—Nielsen's Frank Palumbo said the quality of Nielsen samples has improved and cited higher cooperation levels from the public. "We're signing most stations in smaller markets on schedule," said a Nielsen spokesman. "Most are signing without raising any issues."

Videographer, reporter killed

A reporter and a video photographer for Great Falls, Mont., station KRTV(TV) were killed when the car they were in was crushed between two tractor-trailers. Jennifer Hawkins, 22, had been with the station since September. David Gerdrum, 48, had been with KRTV since August. Poor visibility from a dust storm was a factor in the crash, the station reported. The two were returning from covering a skiing event. The station's Web site created a memorial inviting viewer comments.

Canova out at WCCO-TV

Longtime WCCO-TV Minneapolis News Director Ted Canova was let go last week. The CBS O&O's general manager, Rene LaSpina, replaced Canova with Maria Reitan, who had been news director at Belo's WHAS-TV Louisville, Ky.

Canova, who had been with the station seven years, bid his troops goodbye Jan. 14. LaSpina said Reitan brings not only extensive newsgathering and production knowledge but also a knowledge of the Twin Cities, where she has spent considerable time because her husband's family lives there.

It's the second major shakeup at the station in recent months. The other involved CBS's bringing in LaSpina herself to replace popular GM Jan McDaniel. LaSpina had been GM at WNEP-TV Scranton, Pa., perennially one of the nation's highest-rated stations.