The owner of the Intermountain West group thinks he has a duty to the viewers in his home town of Las Vegas to provide high-quality local news, and a lot of it. He’s replacing syndicated programming with news on his NBC affiliate as the shows’ contracts expire and by 2016 should have filled just about all the slots with it before primetime starts.
If all goes as planned, KSNV Las Vegas by 2016 will be as close to a non-stop news station as a network affiliate can be.
Jim Rogers, whose Intermountain West Communications Co. has owned the NBC affiliate since 1979, says he wants to do away with syndicated programming altogether, and replace it all with news.
He already is well on his way to doing that. In the last year or so, Rogers dumped both Judge Judy and Inside Edition, filling their spots with local news.
Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune will move to KLAS, Landmark’s CBS affiliate, in September, as Rogers won’t be renewing his contract with CBS Television Distribution when they expires. Dr. Phil will bite the dust next fall, which will leave five full hours of news from 3 to 8 p.m. each weekday. NBC Nightly News at 5:30 p.m. will be the only program not produced by KSNV during that time.
Rachael Ray, which airs at 11 a.m., and The Doctors at 2 p.m. will face the same fate in 2016.
Once that’s done, only Days of Our Lives, which airs at 1 p.m., will stand between Rogers and his goal of airing only news and public affairs — local programs complemented by the network’s Today and Nightly News — from 4:30 a.m. until NBC’s primetime lineup starts at 8 p.m. And if the soap opera “would cease to be in business,” he’d be happy to replace that with news, too.
“I didn’t go into broadcasting to be in someone else’s business,” Rogers says. “The only thing we as broadcasters can do better than cable is local news. So that’s where I have to go.”
In many ways, Rogers’ plan is like a pumped-up version of the strategy being executed by a growing number of stations around the country: replace high-priced syndicated shows with local news, which is generally less expensive.
At last check, the top news producers in the country, all Fox-owned or affiliated stations, aired about 60 hours of local news each week, with the average number of hours for all stations rising every year.
An extraordinarily affable and enormously successful lawyer and businessman (a big booster of higher education, Rogers donated $137 million to his alma mater, the University of Arizona law school), Rogers says his news-heavy strategy is motivated as much, if not more, by his goal to put on air “every viewpoint there is.”
“A lot of people think I’m out of my mind giving up Wheel and Jeopardy and putting in news. It’s a big gamble,” says Rogers, 74, who in addition to having careers in law, banking and broadcasting, spent five years overseeing Nevada’s public colleges and universities as the state’s System of Higher Education chancellor.
“I want something I can be proud of and, if it’s got to cost me some money,” that’s OK, he says.
“I’m also very politically oriented and because I own my stations with no partners, I can pretty much do what I want to,” he says.
An ardent First Amendment advocate, and “a bit of a crusader,” Rogers already has, in addition to local newscasts, two station-produced public affairs (and politically charged) programs in his lineup, part of wanting to “get into the substance business more and more.”
Rogers brings a very egalitarian perspective to the business of broadcasting.
A liberal who calls his political leanings “a viewpoint, not the viewpoint,” Rogers says he is committed to airing “both sides, and, if someone wants, a third and fourth side.”
Plans include expanding KSNV’s managerial and news staff to include a greater number of minorities, and possibly dedicating an entire show to Las Vegas’ Hispanic community. Rogers says that population is not being duly served by broadcasters in the country’s 40th-largest market.
“If you’ve got a Caucasian leader in a news department, everything gets filtered through the white perspective,” he says.
KSNV has, and will continue to, add news crews each time more news is added to the lineup, part of Rogers larger goal of upping the caliber of the station’s news along with the amount of it. Intermountain President Ralph Toddre said he expects to hire about eight new staffers when news replaces Jeopardy and Wheel.
Although KSNV news does not go heavy on investigative stories, Rogers says, “We are going to put substance in our reporting.” He already has met with NBC News executives to explore ways in which the station’s and the network’s news departments can work more actively, and more closely, together.
Rogers also plans to continue waging a war against “the culture of the 30-second sound bite.” Not only does that sort of half-baked reporting make bad television, but it also furthers a society of people with ill-informed opinions, he says.
“That’s been a very, very bad thing that broadcasters have done, and we are not going to do that anymore,” Rogers says. Not only will KSNV newscasts feature stories that are relevant to viewers, they also will include fresh content as the days unfold.
“You can’t run the same story 13 times a day saying there was an accident on the corner of Fifth and Seventh,” he says.
Rogers says he believes Las Vegas is the prime place for such an experiment, given the size and ever-changing face of the market, as well as the many serious challenges facing its residents.
Rogers is clearly devoted to serving the city, which had just 21,000 residents when he moved there as a teenager in 1953. KSNV runs a promo boasting that the station is owned and operated by Las Vegas High School grads.
“We have a vested interest in every sense of the word,” he says.
Rogers says he has been toying with the all-news concept for a long time and has now set the goal of bringing it to fruition in the next two to four years, citing his age as the reason for setting a timeline. “I don’t even buy green bananas anymore,” he says.
It’s a model, however, that Rogers says won’t work for everyone. Of the 11 stations Rogers owns in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming, KSNV is the only one slated to take news to such an extreme.
Intermountain’s other stations — located in cities including Reno, Nev. (DMA 108), Csaper-Riverton, Wyo. (DMA 197) and Helena, Mont. (DMA 206) — are in markets that don’t have enough going on to support such a venture, Rogers says. He could see the format working only in the country’s 50largest markets.
Expanding news is also particularly important in those larger markets because of the long and erratic hours working people spend on the job, he says. “We have such a great number of people on the highways after work that the majority of my friends have never seen the 6 o’clock news,” he says.
Rogers also is well aware that his ability to test the concept is a luxury that many station managers — limited by everything from ownership and station group strategy to finances — simply don’t have.
“It’s a model for my market, and mostly because it’s my town,” Rogers says. “I am really excited about this.”