KMSB Channel 11, the smallest of the town's TV-news outlets, is taking on a significant commitment by making plans to implement a four-hour morning-news block sometime this fall.
It's a big step for a station that didn't even have a live studio on the premises three years ago—and didn't develop its entire news product in-house until recently, thanks to a news-sharing agreement with KVOA Channel 4.
KVOA general manager Bill Shaw dissolved that deal a few months ago, and officials at the local Fox affiliate decided to build beyond the station's nightly hour-long 9 p.m. newscast.
"It's a natural evolution for the TV station," said KMSB and Belo Tucson general manager Bob Simone. "The next step for us is to advance to other time periods. The company really prides itself on serving the community, and this is a great way for us to do that. Now that we have everybody here, and we have room for expansion, it's the next step for us."
That expansion involves remodeling a former utility-room space into an 1,100-square-foot newsroom; the hiring of an additional dozen employees; and various improvements and enhancements to the current news studio.
The product will largely mirror the local morning-news model at Fox affiliates nationwide.
"I think there's going to be a faster pace and a little bit more of a conversational tone to it," said Simone.
KMSB currently broadcasts a morning-news show produced by Belo sister station KTVK in Phoenix. As is the case with the KTVK show, KMSB plans to dedicate the entire four hours to local personalities carrying the load, whereas the approach at NBC affiliate KVOA, ABC affiliate KGUN Channel 9 and CBS affiliate KOLD Channel 13 is to feature a two-hour local block along with at least two hours from a national morning show (Today, Good Morning America and The Early Show, respectively). During the nationally driven portion of the morning block, local programming is included in smaller windows.
Simone says the first step is hiring a news director, and from there, station officials will decide what other personnel to bring into the fold.
"We have great corporate support for this. Our company is huge in the news business, and is committed to news and putting out a good product," Simone said. "When I presented it to the staff, I said, 'It's going to be a busy summer at Belo Tucson.'"
In related news, KMSB has already made some reporting changes, adding four in-house reporters.
Video journalist Kevin Adger made the move from KTVK in Phoenix. He will play a role in the station's Friday-night high school football coverage.
Video journalist Carissa Planalp comes to Tucson from Yuma, and also has experience at KTVK. A graduate of the UA, Panalp was named a Reporter of the Year by The Associated Press Television and Radio Association. Planalp will occasionally anchor weekend newscasts as well.
Samantha Ptashkin and Kevin Lewis will begin their stints at KMSB on June 28. Ptashkin will report, anchor and produce broadcasts. Lewis spent nine years at ABC affiliate KMIZ in Columbia, Mo. He is Brandon Nash's replacement in the sports department.
KGUN Channel 9's advertiser-driven local show, The Morning Blend, has been progressing for the past couple of months.
The program runs from 11 a.m. to noon, weekdays, and incorporates a mixture of interviews with local business owners, entertainment conversations and general chat. While it has something of an in-studio news feel, KGUN has been careful to separate it from the news department, because subjects pay for the right to be featured on segments.
The Morning Blend replaced KGUN's 11 a.m. newscast.
For many CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates, on weekdays, local news usually takes up the morning block, a midday half-hour slot (noon for KVOA and KOLD; it was 11 a.m. at KGUN), and half-hour newscasts at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. KVOA also produces an hour-long offering weekdays at 4 p.m.
"We're always looking for different ways to reach out to our viewers," explained KGUN creative services director Steve Harris via e-mail. "By replacing the 11 a.m. news, we were able to reallocate our resources, such as beefing up our Web content and improving coverage in other newscasts."
The Morning Blend is hosted by Ann Lauricello and Alex Miranda. Lauricello most recently worked as a morning anchor/producer at CBS affiliate KGWN in Cheyenne, Wyo., while Miranda co-hosted and reported for a program called The Juice in Miami, Fla.
The local NBC affiliate has pegged Brandon Gunnoe as its new morning co-anchor. He replaces Josh Benson, who accepted a position in Orlando, Fla.
Gunnoe came the other direction, making the journey from Florida to Arizona. He most recently worked at a station in Fort Myers, where he handled weekend and fill-in anchor responsibilities. Gunnoe also worked as a reporter and fill-in anchor during a five-year run at WSAZ in Huntington, W.Va.
"He brings with him a wealth of experience as an anchor and journalist," said KVOA station manager Kathleen Choal.