Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Channel 12 at the top


People, longevity among the solid reasons behind WKRC-TV's lock on local news ratings

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        To be No. 1 for 2 1/2 years, you have to do the right thing at the right time.

        That's the formula for WKRC-TV (Channel 12), which has won the ratings for all newscasts since June 1999.

        What are they doing right? Here are 12 reasons why Channel 12 is No. 1:

        1. Anchor tenure: Rob Braun, Kit Andrews and meteorologist Tim Hedrick have been together since 1991, longer than any current Tristate TV team. They've been together longer than anyone has worked in the WXIX-TV (Channel 19) newsroom, which was created in 1994.

        Since Ms. Andrews joined the late news 10 years ago, WLWT (Channel 5) viewers have seen anchors Jerry Springer. Norma Rashid, Jim Watkins, Courtis Fuller, Charlie Luken, Tom Burse, Dave Fraser, Dave Wagner and Anne Marie Teirnon.

        “People here want to get their news from people they know,” says Mr. Braun, a Channel 12 anchor since 1987, and son of the late TV entertainer Bob Braun.

        “This is a city that doesn't like change too much,” says Bill Fee, Channel 9 general manager.

        2. Weather. Channels 5 and 9 think so highly of Mr. Hedrick that both tried to hire him in 1996. But Channel 12's weather strength is more than one man.

        The station's “Weather Authority” branding, begun after Mr. Hedrick's hiring, now shrewdly shines the spotlight on fellow forecasters Steve Horstmeyer, Tim Buresh and Layne Mason. Together they have more TV experience (75 years) than any TV weather staff here.

        Mr. Horstmeyer and Mr. Buresh are good enough to be No. 1 elsewhere. “If I ever left this market, I'd try to steal one of them,” says Elbert Tucker, Channel 12 news director.

        3. Radio promotion: Rival TV stations envy the $1 million in free promotion that Channel 12 has on eight sister Clear Channel radio stations, in exchange for free promotion on Channel 12.

        Five-second spots air around-the-clock promoting a Channel 12 news story on WLW-AM, WEBN-FM, WOXF-FM, WVMX-FM, WKFS-FM, WKRC-AM, WSAI-AM and WCKY-AM. The radio alliances of Channels 9 and 5 can't compare to Clear Channel's radio dominance here.

        “We commit to one story (a day). The frequency and reach compiles. It's really math,” says Sheila Obermeyer, Channel 12 vice president for marketing and creative services.

        4. Cross promotion: Channel 12's radio promotion extends far beyond the ubiquitous news headlines and “Doppler 12 Weather Center” forecasts.

        Channel 12 anchors do hourly newscasts on WKRC-AM. Sports anchor Brad Johansen does Bengals' games on Clear Channel radio. Morning co-anchor Cammy Dierking also does weekday newscasts for WVMX-FM (MIX94.1) and Bengals' radio pregame features for Sunday home games.

        “It's more than just swapping promotional time,” says Chris Sehring, Channel 12 vice president and general manager. “We're trying to have our people woven into the fabric of the radio stations.”

        5. Stability. Channel 12's reporting corps, like its anchor team, has remained a constant for more than a decade. While Channel 9 has lost Randy Little, Paul Schaefer, Jay Shatz, Bob Holtzman and Deb Haas, Channel 12 viewers have continued to see Deborah Dixon, Rich Jaffe and Howard Ain.

        When Channel 5 news fired 18-year veteran Jeff Hirsh in 1997, Channel 12 grabbed him.

        “I told the news director: "You need to hire this man.' I was an intern with him at Channel 5. He's the fastest (news) writer I've ever seen,” Mr. Braun says.

        6. Individual promotion: Not only has Channel 12 kept its veterans, the station also promotes them in TV commercials.

        Other TV stations have experienced old pros — John Popovich and Chic Poppe at Channel 9, and John London at Channel 5 — but only Channel 12 airs individual promotions. That's smart.

        “One of the things we're proud of is that we market our people. They're an important part of our station,” Ms. Obermeyer says.

        The “people you trust” spots this fall were complemented by billboards with an American flag, a candle, the 12 News logo andone word: “Trust.” Says Ms. Obermeyer: “It's building a brand.”

        7. Solid news: This one should be higher, I suppose, because it's so obvious: Viewers know they'll get a competent summary of important events on Channel 12 news.

        You can't underestimate the consistency provided by Channel 12's veteran core. “I've had competitors tell me that,” Mr. Tucker says.

        8. CBS: Channel 12 managers were shocked and depressed in 1996, when Channel 9's owners stole ABC and dumped staid CBS on Channel 12. Now Channel 9 folks are stunned and disgusted with ABC, which fell to fourth place in November.

        CBS won three sweeps (February, May, November) in a year for the first time since 1984. CBS' prime-time programming on Channel 12 was up 7 percent over last November, while ABC fell 21 percent on Channel 9 and NBC dropped 10 percent on Channel 5. Cincinnati was CBS' No. 3 market last month.

        “We do better than most CBS markets,” Mr. Sehring says.

        9. CBS synergy: A big factor in Channel 12 passing Channel 9 at 11 p.m. in recent years has been CBS' commitment to strong 10 p.m. programs leading into local news. ABC, owned by the Disney entertainment conglomerate, doesn't have a clue.

        CBS President Les Moonves boasted to TV critics after sweeps that CBS was up 24 percent nationally at 10 p.m. with viewers ages 18-49. He also noted that CBS finally lowered its median age under 50 (49.7) with younger-skewing shows like CSI, Survivor: Africa and Yes, Dear.

        Like Clear Channel, CBS understands cross-promotion. Mr. Moonves credits his sister cable networks, MTV and VH1, for promoting the Nov. 20 Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Concert.

        “MTV and VH1 gave us a ton of support,” Mr. Moonves says.

        10. Management: While the on-air face of Channel 12 remains constant, management hasn't. Two architects of Channel 12's success — General Manager William Moll and News Director Steve Minium — left for Clear Channel corporate positions earlier this year.

        Each had groomed a successor. Mr. Sehring, a Columbus native, joined Channel 12 as sales director in 1999; Mr. Tucker had been a newsroom manager since 1992.

        “I give a lot of credit to management. We didn't bring in total outsiders,” Mr. Hedrick says.

        11. Community work: Channel 12's community outreach is much more than a Fountain Square studio for Good Morning Cincinnati.

        Competitors marvel at Channel 12's involvement with the Golden Galaxy awards, Neediest Kids of All, Rubber Duck Regatta, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Zoo and other organizations, in addition to the charity work and school appearances by anchors.

        “It seems like we do thousands of things, but that's one of the keys to our success,” Mr. Sehring says.

        12. Luck: While these factors have propelled Channel 12 into first place, managers know that somebody has to be second, third and fourth every day in TV news.

        “We celebrated the (November) victory for about five minutes,” Mr. Sehring says. “For us, it's not about winning sweeps months, but doing it right day in and day out.”

        “The other stations are formidable competitors,” Mr. Tucker says. “Even though we've had a heck of a good run, they're going to keep coming at us with every tool available.”

        What competitors need most, however, are time and patience.

        “We had a couple of rough years in the beginning, when our (ratings) numbers weren't so hot,” Mr. Hedrick recalls.

        Viewers eventually tuned in. Now some think Mr. Hedrick grew up in Western Hills, not northern Illinois.

        “People like to be familiar with the people they watch,” he says.
        Contact John Kiesewetter by phone: 768-8519; fax: 768-8330; e-mail: jkiesewetter@enquirer.com.
       

       



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