Austin's TV news wars: KEYE beefs up its morning news desk
The battle for early morning Austin eyeballs is heating up as KEYE (CBS) rolls out much more than a token morning show with a full staff, and new owner Sinclair Broadcast Group seems serious in this attempt to compete in the morning time slot.
KEYE TV's Morning News has expanded to six on air staff: Anchors Hunter Ellis and Mileka Lincoln, Meteorologist Allison Miller, Traffic Reporter Erica Harpold and Field Reporter Adam Bennett. Former Morning anchor Fred Cantu will appear as a feature reporter.
KEYE had been getting by with solo anchor Cantu, who had been cut during an odd and short-lived attempt to attract an audience: By ditching morning news and mounting cameras around the “JB and Sandy Show" on Mix 94.7 in late 2009 and 2010 (while Meteorologist Kelly Sifka handled weather cut-ins).
Sifka remained when the station pulled the plug on the radio-on-TV concept, and Cantu returned, working part-time at KEYE in the mornings and at Home Depot the rest of the day. Finally, the station put Cantu back on the payroll full time. Although Cantu has a loyal and loving audience, he never attracted the numbers to make him a viable contender against powerhouses KXAN (NBC) and KVUE (ABC); the February ratings had KVUE drawing the most viewers at 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., while KXAN won at 6 a.m.
“Fred will have more time now to do what he does best, telling Austin’s stories,” says Suzanne Black, KEYE TV News Director.
Now, Cantu is out of the anchor chair, and Sifka has reportedly left the station. But don't worry, Cantu is not going back to Home Depot.
“Fred will have more time now to do what he does best, telling Austin’s stories,” says Suzanne Black, KEYE TV News Director. The station is also adding a new segment “Friday’s With Uncle Fred,” in addition to reinstating his weekly “Gadget Guy” reports.
“Viewers always ask us, ‘What’s going to happen to Fred?’ We are so glad we have him as a part of our team,” comments Amy Villarreal, Vice-President and General Manager of KEYE TV.
So, where did this new KEYE new morning crew come from?
Hunter Ellis, a former fighter pilot and a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, was most recently the roving reporter for KEYE TV’s 4 p.m. show We Are Austin Live. His broadcast experience includes the History Channel, KCBS and KCAL TV in Los Angeles.
A native of Hawaii, Mileka Lincoln comes from KEYE’s sister station, KABB in San Antonio where she was the weekend anchor. Prior to that, she was a morning anchor in Laredo.
All of this is happening in a cauldron of change in the morning shows.
Erica Harpold is a long-time Austinite, having graduated from Austin High School and Texas State University. Prior to this position, Erica was an anchor and reporter for KCEN in Waco and KAUZ in Wichita Falls.
Allison Miller had previously been the weekend meteorologist, making the move to mornings.
Adam Bennett was weekend anchor for Amarillo station KAMR/KCIT before coming to KEYE last month. Adam is a native Texan and a proud graduate of The University of Texas.
Some KEYE views objected to the changes on Cantu’s Facebook page:
I am sad about the morning news change. I really enjoyed waking up and watching/listening to you and Kelly each day. I went to a different station the last time they took you off and I will be doing the same thing this time. You will be missed.”
“Give it a chance. I'm grateful to still be a part,” Cantu countered with class.
All of this is happening in a cauldron of change in the morning shows. First, former KVUE sports anchor/reporter Brian Mays moved to the news department to co-anchor KVUE News Daybreak and Midday with Melissa Gale.
Next, while sharing the morning ratings with KVUE, KXAN let go 16-year veteran weatherman Shawn Rutherford. They also eventually replaced anchor Chris Willis with Robert Maxwell, who co-anchors with Sally Hernandez. Willis, still on staff, is now heading the station’s investigative team. Even with all of those changes, KXAN eked out a win at 6 a.m.
But now, KEYE is poised to make a serious run for the ratings.
KEYE came close to claiming the #1 rating for the 10 p.m. time slot from KVUE in Feb. Many believe that the station that wins at 10 p.m. has a leg up on the competition for morning ratings, because viewers may not change the channel. They simply turn the TV off.
Although stations are rated daily, the next Neilson “sweep” month runs from April 26 to May 23, 2012.