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Fringe Stations Fall on Hard Times

Feb 5, 2007  •  Post A Comment

No news is bad news for viewers of KFTY-TV, the Clear Channel-owned independent station on the north side of the San Francisco market that will no longer provide local news.

It’s a sign of the unforgiving economic times for stations on the fringe. Now the question is whether KFTY’s new strategy, which relies on TV broadcasts of radio shows and community-created content, can turn around a fiscally challenged station.

The strategy is being forced by economics as well as an attempt to improve the station’s situation by changing its focus. Thirteen people connected to the station’s newscasts lost their jobs.

“We are no longer in a position to access the advertiser base required to maintain two long-form newscasts,” KFTY VP and General Manager John Burgess announced on the station’s Web site Jan. 26. “Instead we will launch a new public-affairs program, focus more energy on Web-driven content, work closer with viewers and community groups to develop `locally’ based content and continue to provide live news, weather and traffic updates during our weekday morning … program.”

KFTY was purchased by Clear Channel Communications in 2001 when it took on Ackerley Communications’ billboard, radio and TV station business as part of a deal that involved $500 million in Clear Channel stock and nearly $300 million in Ackerley debt. Clear Channel last year announced it intends to go private and sell its TV station group. Most observers say KFTY’s predicament has more to do with having little economic wiggle room than any attempt to pretty-up assets for a sale.

“We did not create Channel 50, we inherited it,” Steve Spendlove, Clear Channel Television regional senior VP, told TelevisionWeek. “The station for the last four or five years has had a very difficult time. .. It’s been very difficult for that station to remain relevant, financially and content-wise.”

KFTY’s lineup now is heavy on paid programming in the morning and syndicated off-network shows in the afternoon and evening.

“They cannot make a living running paid programming, because every year paid programmers are going to pay you less,” Mr. Spendlove said.

The station airs its “Armstrong & Getty,” morning show, a simulcast of Clear Channel’s Talk 910 KNEW radio station in San Francisco, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. KFTY plans to add a two-hour midday TV broadcast of a radio show hosted by Phil Cowan, who is part of Clear Channel’s Talk 650 KSTE in Sacramento.

Mr. Spendlove said he hopes the turn to radio on TV will help KFTY break out of its niche as a bedroom-community broadcaster, one that competes with strong network-affiliated stations and independent KRON-TV.

“The next phase we’re going to look to roll out … is harvesting local content from not only unique local sources but also the community,” he said. “That’s the direction we’re moving in.”

In that phase, which may be months away, feedback by e-mail, Web site and call-in will help the station figure out what the people want to see-and determine what advertisers may be interested in supporting.

“First we have to get comfortable with what we can do with the resources we have after this move and then put our plans together. We have to narrow the focus operationally,” Mr. Spendlove said.