The competition is fierce. KVOA hopes the high-def move can create some distance between it and chief rival KOLD Channel 13. They have been in a virtual news-ratings dead heat for six months or so. No. 3 KGUN hopes it can build on recent momentum, including but not limited to the significant gains in its morning news show, and keep closing the gap.
But perhaps the most surprising recent ratings numbers occurred at little-discussed KMSB Channel 11. The Fox affiliate, which pipes in anchors from Phoenix and brings to the table a skeleton local news staff, has more than doubled its ratings in a year. While its audience for the 9 p.m. news remains roughly a third of what the market leaders pull down at 10 p.m., it's still reason for celebration among KMSB brass--and the emphasis on sports plays a major role.
"We can't ignore the fact this is a beautiful time to be a Fox affiliate because of the lead-in programming you get, but I would also say we've been very deliberate in trying to provide the viewers with something they can't get elsewhere, and a lot of that hinges upon local sports," said KMSB general manager Tod A. Smith. "If you look at things like the University of Arizona, UA basketball, softball season, those are things we feel like we're uniquely positioned to bring to the viewers. A lot of sports you can get from ESPN, but what ESPN doesn't provide you is a more in-depth look at local stuff."
And in terms of sheer volume, nobody in the market comes close to covering local sports like Vinny Vinzetta and Brandon Nash.
"That's on purpose. It's a niche we felt wasn't occupied and one we felt we were in a better position to take advantage of than anyone else," Smith said. "... Local sports is a big thing as to what we're about, and we'd like to present opportunities to bring more local things to the viewers."
Monday through Saturday, KMSB delivers a sports segment similar to the rest of the local stations, a three-minute offering that brings up the rear of the newscast. Even then, in that limited window, it has more local variety, often delving deeper into high school or UA nonrevenue sports. But the real separation is on Sunday, when Vinzetta hosts an extended in-studio sports-week recap. It can be as long as 40 minutes, from 9:20 to 10 p.m. (this is usually the case during football and basketball season), or as short as 25 minutes during the spring and summer. Aside from a multitude of features and highlights, Vinzetta hosts roundtable segments with experts (former UA football coach Larry Smith is a regular during football season; former UA basketball player Bob Elliott makes the trek to the KMSB studios during the basketball campaign) and members of the local media.
The May book will be interesting inasmuch as sports interest in Tucson tends to wane once basketball season has come to a close. Whether that's directly reflected in the May numbers remains to be seen.
"Last May, (ratings) were slightly improved over the February book, and what this February did for us was provide us with a platform for viewers to sample," Smith said. "We feel pretty strongly we should continue some growth there, but there is some concern, because this is the slow time for the UA."
"We've been enjoying what's going on with the show," said Oehler, who has hosted the show since its inception nearly two years ago. "We've had great contributions from the listeners and from clients, and we thought this would be in the best interest of the station to keep growing as we strive to be the best all-sports station in Tucson that we can be."
The additional hour places the Happy Hour in direct competition with In the House With Glenn Parker, the local sports offering on KCUB AM 1290 The Source (which also gives me a paycheck for UA pregame and postgame shows).
"I think the decision was more made on what we felt was best for our listeners," Oehler said. "We'll go out and do our show, and whatever happens on any other station happens. As far as us, 4-6 was the best way to go."
For Oehler, who spends much of his free time as a Big Brother, the added on-air opportunity is a chance to expand his persona.
"I'm real excited," Oehler said. "Two hours allows me to know my listeners and allows the listeners to know me better, and I can show a little more personality, and have more fun. It's been a long time since (1490 has) shown this kind of commitment, so I'm flattered they decided to show it with me."
Oehler says there's a chance that commitment could be expanded to duties on Journal's other talk component, KZPT FM 104.1 The Truth: "Those possibilities exist, and they'll be explored to the fullest extent when the time is right."
"It came to whether I could balance the duties of being a full-time Realtor with being a sports writer," said Durrenberger, who now works with Coldwell Banker. "The answer was obviously yes. I am looking forward to sharing my observations and thoughts on Mike Stoops and the ever-evolving face of Arizona football."
Durrenberger covered the UA football beat, first with the Tucson Citizen and later the Arizona Daily Star, from 1998 until 2005. He will contribute two pieces a week to the rivals.com Web site during football season.