Stations ready for L.A. air war

Jun 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Two stations in Los Angeles are revving up the air wars in a market known for extensive reliance on news coverage from its helicopters.
KNBC-TV just signed an exclusive contract to be the only station in the market to lease a fixed-wing, twin-engine plane in addition to a chopper, making it the first station to have a full-time airplane, starting this fall.
KNBC General Manager Paula Madison said the plane will be able to fly several hundred miles over the ocean, as opposed to a chopper, which flies a shorter distance and needs to be refueled more often.
Stations in the market usually cooperate with each other when covering stories over the ocean-one chopper refuels while another covers for it. KNBC’s plane will probably eliminate the need to rely on rival stations during those times.
The plane will also have live capability, Ms. Madison said. It will be especially useful when a plane crash occurs off the coast, for example. The pilots, plane and chopper will be exclusive to KNBC and in the air routinely. They will also land at a nearby airport, instead of on the station’s chopper pad, which will be less disruptive to the Burbank, Calif., community.
Fox-owned KTTV just signed its own exclusive deal, which will make it the only station in the market to have two full-time helicopters in the air starting June 25. KABC-TV was the only station with two choppers, but it uses both only during sweeps months.
“Helicopters are one of the best news-gathering tools we have to bring people breaking news, and there’s a lot of breaking news to cover in Los Angeles,” said KTTV General Manager David Boylan. “We’re now in a unique position of having two helicopters in a market that encompasses an enormous geographic area, and it reflects our commitment to news.”
As Mr. Boylan spoke from his office June 20, a major police chase occurred in the market and created a ratings boon all day for KABC, KTTV and KCAL-TV, which jettisoned their regular news rundowns to cover the action.
The 41/2 hour car chase began and ended in the Baldwin Park area, which is east of Los Angeles. The chase began at 3:15 p.m. after Santiago Gutierrez, 39, brandished a 9mm semiautomatic weapon and robbed a Mobil station of a full tank of gas for his minivan. He led officers onto several freeways and even shot at the stations’ helicopters. It was reported that he was upset over his divorce.
KCAL, which is the only station in the market with a 3:30 p.m. newscast, was the first to air the chase, and its ratings went from a 2.5 Nielsen Media Research rating and 7 share to a 3.1/9 by the end of the newscast at 4 p.m. At that time, as if a baton had been passed, viewers switched to KABC. That station’s 4 p.m. newscast started out with a 6.1/17, and by the time KABC switched to network programming at 6:30 p.m., it had its highest ratings of the day with a 13.7/27. When ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings” came on, the numbers dropped to a 9.3/17.
At 5 p.m., KTTV pre-empted its regular programming to air the chase until the start of prime-time programming at 8 p.m. KTTV and KABC went commercial-free at that time. KCBS-TV also covered the chase, while KNBC broke in and out, with KNBC anchor Chuck Henry telling viewers, “As news warrants, then we will go back to that. If nothing happens, you’ve seen the van.”
KTTV was the only station to air the chase between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. At 5 p.m., KTTV had a 2.5 rating/6 share. In the last quarter-hour before prime-time from 7:45 p.m. to 8 p.m., the station pulled its highest ratings of the night with a 19.5/32.
KCAL is the only station to have a newscast at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., so many viewers switched back to catch the chase, which became a standoff at 7:50 p.m. when the driver ran out of gas on the San Bernardino (10) Freeway. KCAL started its 8 p.m. newscast with a 16.1/27 and peaked at 8:15 p.m. with an 18.9/31. KCAL beat all the other networks’ programming and consistently held on to its double-digit ratings and share, averaging a 17.5/28 for its 8 p.m. newscast, a 16.5/25 for its 9 p.m. news and a 14.1/22 for its 10 p.m. news.
In the standoff, Mr. Gutierrez refused to surrender and sat in the van for more than six hours. Finally, at 2:30 a.m., 11 hours after the chase began, police fired tear gas canisters into the van. He shot back at police, and they shot him twice, injuring Mr. Gutierrez, who was taken to the hospital.