As part of the digital upgrade, local television stations now have more than one signal available for programming. It's like having extra stations piggybacking on the original signal.
Problem is, most local outlets are still trying to figure out how to utilize the service—and how much in terms of resources can be spared to make those extra signals viable.
As a result, most stations are currently running syndicated programming on those extra channels—or just leaving them unused for the time being.
KOLD Channel 13, however, is experimenting with offering more news on its piggyback signal 13.2 (which is viewable on Cox Channel 87 and Comcast Channel 209). On a couple of occasions within the last month, KOLD has made the unprecedented move of running regularly scheduled local newscasts on the 13.2 channel while running special-event CBS programming on the main signal.
The traditional approach has been to pre-empt the scheduled newscast, or start it before or after the network programming, if at all possible. But instead, KOLD broadcast both President Barack Obama's health-care address and the finals of the U.S. Open men's tennis tournament on the main signal, while at the same time presenting its half-hour local 5 p.m. newscast on 13.2.
"Because we're not yet set up for it, we could not run our commercials during the newscast on 13.2," said KOLD general manager Jim Arnold. "We don't have the technology to insert our commercials on (both) 13 and 13.2. We ran that newscast with two-minute promotional public-service announcements to give our anchors a time to catch their breath and get things set up and have the show look like a normally formatted (newscast). We put that show on at our expense, because we wanted to still provide the 5 o'clock news for those with the technical ability to pick it up.
"Eventually, we're going to do this all for profit. Right now, we're doing it to drive viewers and get them accustomed to recognizing there are other things on 13.2 that are interesting and provocative that you're not going to see on 13. If CBS doesn't cover the President Obama speech, but they feed it to us anyway, we can broadcast it on 13.2. If CBS has a sports program past 5 o'clock, we can put our newscast on 13.2. We're looking at all of that aggressively."
Generally, 13.2 is dedicated to weather, but KOLD has used the signal in the past to broadcast live raw news feeds of recent events such as the Santa Rita Hotel demolition, a recycling-plant fire and a Sen. John McCain health-care forum.
"The more we do this, and the more we put it on the air, more and more people will catch up to it," said Arnold. "It's going to be a long process, and we don't have the inventory or promotional inventory to dedicate a lot to it. Basically, right now, it's a weather service, but if it develops into something else, like a 9 o'clock (a.m.) newscast, then we'll start promoting it more.
"Ideally, we could put special programs on 13.2 and sell (advertising) at a special rate. Let's say at 9 o'clock in the morning after The Early Show, we decided to run another local newscast. We could put that on 13.2 and sell it at 13.2 rates in the beginning, and still carry Rachael Ray on (KOLD's main signal). There are different options like that.
"It's kind of fun to sit around and brainstorm and have people who say, 'Hey, can we put this on 13.2?' We say, 'Run with it.'"
Speaking of the U.S. Open: KOLD's Jim Arnold was not happy about the length of the aforementioned tournament. Rain delays pushed the men's final, slated for Sunday, to Monday afternoon, which directly interfered with premiere programming for the new TV season.
"We had the dilemma with our viewers. Last year, we did not run the U.S. Open, and we had the tennis people mad at us. This year, with the weather delay, we ran the U.S. Open and had the soap-opera people upset at us. We lost the premiere episode of Dr. Oz and Oprah. It cost us literally thousands and thousands of dollars because of this tennis match and the weather delay, when the whole solution to the problem is to put a roof over the stadium.
"I had people calling me names. They're going to sue me. They're going to beat me up. I'm the dumbest person in the world. These are really tough decisions to make. We're trying to please half the people, because we know we can't please the other half. It makes for a pretty stressful day."
La Preciosa's two-year run recently came to an end when Spanish-language KTZR FM 97.1 switched from the variety format to a Top 40 format on the Clear Channel-owned signal.
"Over the course of the last couple of years, the audience wasn't as large as we'd like it to be," said Clear Channel Tucson operations manager Tim Richards. "We felt like there was a call for action from the listeners. We felt the listeners really wanted this, and we're giving the listeners what they want."
Richards says the La Preciosa format started off strong, but faded. That said, morning host Alex Lucas survived the transition to Mia 97.1.
"The biggest reaction we got from the station was for the morning show, and we were actually able to retain Alex in the Mia format," Richards said. "There's still Alex in the morning, and there's a taste of that Spanish variety in the morning show, but at 10 o'clock, the music shifts to Spanish Top 40.
"The feedback has been fantastic: huge listener response; huge client response. We're excited the market is embracing this radio station."