At this time last year, Andrew Stewart was celebrating a milestone in his career. After two stints at KGUN that totaled 18 years, Stewart was promoted to general manager following the retirement of Ray Depa. It was his dream job.
"I got the job I always wanted at KGUN, and we were very successful financially. We made a lot of changes. The station has never performed better than it did in the last year under my management team," Stewart said. "It's one of those deals where you get there, you do that, and then say 'Now what?' At age 47, I'm excited about this new challenge. It's probably better than going out and buying an expensive red sports car."
The new challenge is as GM at KWBA, the Cascade-operated CW affiliate that four months ago parted ways with what remained of a bare-bones production staff, including on-air talent Joan Lee. It doesn't have a news presence like KGUN. KWBA pulled the plug on its 9 p.m. newscast about 16 months ago, and has been limited in terms of local content ever since.
"I thought long and hard about it," Stewart said. "I spoke with them a number of times over the past five or six years and said no every time. They made the situation right in terms of financials, and again I look at it as a major, major challenge at a time in my life where I'm looking for a new challenge. The station is in need of management and leadership. It's been lacking leadership, and its reputation in the community could stand to be improved. They saw an opportunity, based on my relationships in the market from a sales and leadership perspective, that I could make an impact at this television station at a time when it really needs it."
Stewart moved up the ladder from the sales side, and will make that the initial focal point of KWBA's improvement efforts.
"Everything starts with the money, so we have to get the money up there. When we get the sales up there we can also look at the product in terms of programming," Stewart said. "Two things make a television station: the people who work there and the product they have on the air. What we can really control is the quality of people we have here."
Which means there isn't exactly going to be a hiring boom at Tucson's CW, but there will be additions.
"Quality, not quantity," Stewart said. "I want to develop a professional reputation at this television station. I want to bring in some experienced television professionals to try to right the ship. It's a promising product. The CW serves a young demo that is eroding in network television. We need to build and rebuild our reputation locally."
TALK RADIO LANDSCAPE CHANGINGLook for a new talk station in the market beginning Monday. At press time, despite several inquiries, it wasn't clear what station would be switching formats; management may be keeping it a secret in anticipation of giving its employees a Friday pink-slip surprise. What is clear is that syndicators have stripped two local AM stations, KVOI and KJLL, of programs that will presumably be moving to the mystery station.
AM 690 KVOI lost popular talk personality Laura Ingraham.
"We got notification two months ago that Laura was being moved. We were very surprised because we were doing very well with the program, and actually beat (AM ratings leader) KNST in the morning," said Doug Martin, GM of Good News Broadcasting, the company that runs KVOI and two other stations in the market. "We can either wallow or find something else. I liked her a lot, but it just so happened that Dennis Miller was launching his show, so we picked him up and he had his first program on March 26. I think he's going to have an amazing upswing."
The Miller foray into talk was perfect timing for KVOI. Martin considers this as flawless a change as he's ever experienced.
"A lot of listeners were upset that Laura was off, but the majority of them have been very accepting of Dennis Miller," Martin said. "It has been the smoothest transition we've ever had. In the past when people have been taken off and we've had someone in their place it's been very difficult, but this one has been very smooth."
Miller kicks off KVOI's weekday lineup from 6 to 9 a.m. Dennis Prager (9-noon), Michael Medved (noon-3) and Hugh Hewitt (3-6) round out the daytime slate.
Meanwhile, KJLL 1330 AM took a double hit with the loss of Bill O'Reilly and Jerry Doyle. The Jolt has moved liberal talk show host Ed Schultz to 9-11 a.m., and will fill the evening O'Reilly void with brokered financial programming.
"Schultz is on over 200 stations, and he's doing really, really good," said KJLL station manager Kimberley Kelly.
The likelihood is the market's new talk player has major ownership ties. Martin was told by Ingraham's syndicator the decision to make the change was made without even looking at her ratings on KVOI, and that furthermore, "It was a big deal, something we can't roll back."
It puts the smaller stations in something of a quandary. They're forced to be creative in searching for programming that can get some numbers, but when they're successful a larger ownership block can take the show, which means the small guys have to start from scratch again. As a result, Kelly is reworking her contracts in an effort to bolster her position, and says there's something of a bond between the smaller stations, even though they're technically in competition for ratings numbers.
"A lot of the stations are coming together now to try build some kind of conditions where we're all protected from the networks yanking shows from us," Kelly said. "I've had all my contracts rewritten for all my shows, meaning we get right of first refusal. When you are issued the right of first refusal, they can't take it from you until they've offered it to you first under their terms. If every station was that smart they'd be a little better protected."