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KMSB TO END PRODUCTION OF 9 P.M. NEWSCAST; KOLD TAKES REINS

Fox affiliate KMSB Channel 11 will abandon the in-house production of its nightly newscast on Feb. 1—but that doesn't mean news will vacate the 9 p.m. timeslot. Instead, KMSB's 9 p.m. newscast will originate from KOLD Channel 13's studios.

KMSB on-air and production staff members were told about the changes during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, where they were also told their employment status is uncertain, at best.

As part of the arrangement, Belo, KMSB's parent company, will maintain a sales staff, but the hiring of talent and production personnel will be made by KOLD and its parent company, Raycom.

Additionally, KOLD will create a morning-news show to air from 7 to 9 a.m. on KMSB, according to sources.

It was suggested during the meeting with KMSB staffers that KOLD would need to make hires in order to produce the two additional newscasts—but there were no guarantees that the likes of news anchor Lou Raguse, weather personality Gina Trunzo or sportscaster David Kelly would be part of the transition. All told, the change affects about 20 people in front of the camera and behind the scenes who work on KMSB's news product.

"Under the agreement, KMSB and KTTU will continue to control, manage and program the stations and sell all on-air advertising," according to a press release. "KOLD-TV will, by contract, provide certain services to support the operations of KMSB and KTTU (TV 18), including producing local news in high definition, in-depth weather, traffic and sports, and website administration."

This is the latest in a tumultuous series of events since Bob Simone replaced Tod Smith as Belo's Tucson general manager two years ago. Simone came into the market with lofty expectations, and early in his tenure, he announced plans to launch a four-hour, locally produced morning-news block. That goal never materialized.

He also approved the funding for news-studio improvements at KMSB's Sixth Avenue offices. The studio has been built, but was never actually used. As a result, the KMSB news product looks low-budget when compared to the market's other three local-news operations. KMSB has also endured a number of personnel departures on the news end within the last few months.

This is KMSB's second shared-news arrangement. When KMSB announced it was launching the nightly newscast, it entered into a shared-content deal with KVOA Channel 4, but that was severed shortly after Bill Shaw took over as GM of the NBC affiliate.


SITTON STUDIES BROADCAST OPTIONS, CANDIDACY PROSPECTS

If longtime UA football and men's basketball announcer Dave Sitton pursues a run for Congress, it could put his status as the television voice of Wildcats athletics in jeopardy.

"We'd go to the (Federal Communications Commission) and find out exactly what the rules would be with sportscasting or doing things other than politics," Sitton said of issues relating to equal-time requirements. "It is possible that if I did declare as a candidate that I would need to give up broadcasting, but that is not an automatic."

Uncertainty also looms regarding Sitton's role in the Pac-12's huge new television deal, which takes effect in the fall of 2012.

"The timing looks suspicious, but the situation we're in with this seat possibly being open is the issue, not the situation at the Pac-12," Sitton said. "I already have good contacts at the Pac-12, but even with the Pac-12, nobody knows how that's going to shake out yet."

Sitton, a Republican, says he probably will pursue Gabrielle Giffords' congressional seat if she does not seek re-election.


KNST TO MAKE MOVE TO FM

Clear Channel has basically pronounced AM radio dead in its current form—at least in Tucson.

KNST AM 790, the only AM station in the market to consistently rank in the Top 10 in the Arbitron ratings, is making the move to FM at 97.1, the slot that has been occupied by underperforming Mexican-music format Mia.

The transition, which could happen any time, is an indication that KNST's managers have recognized that the station can't compete against an FM talk station, even with a lineup that includes syndicated juggernauts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Of the stations that have maintained format dominance due to their legacy status in the market (KMXZ FM 94.9, KIIM FM 99.5, KRQQ FM 93.7 FM, KLPX FM 96.1), only KNST has slipped behind a direct competitor.

That's because Journal-owned KQTH FM 104.1 flipped its music signal from The Point, which never generated stellar numbers, to the market's first FM talk station. The Truth has steadily improved its numbers, and within a couple of years had surpassed KNST in most of the important advertising demographics. In the 12-and-older Arbitron ratings, KQTH and KNST are often close, but that's due largely to KNST's stranglehold among the 55-and-older AM-familiar demographic.

KNST's move will give Tucson three privately operated talk stations on FM. In addition to KQTH, Journal now simulcasts KFFN AM 1490 on 104.9 FM. That move appears to have given the sports-format station a slight boost, according to early ratings estimates.

KNST could simulcast on both AM and FM as well. After all, it remains the highest-ranking AM station in the market.

This may not be the last AM-to-FM talk transition. Cumulus-owned KSZR FM 97.5, aka BOB FM, seems a candidate for a similar move with sports-talk format KCUB AM 1290 (which employs me in a pregame and postgame capacity for UA football and men's basketball broadcasts).

Meanwhile, as suggested in last week's Media Watch, a tweak to KWMT FM 92.9 appears to be in the works as well. The Mountain is poised to be redubbed "My 92.9." The station, which recently released morning hosts Jennie Grabel and Chris Patyk (who was also the program director for 92.9 and numerous other stations in the Clear Channel cluster), is expected to unveil the transition shortly.

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