More of the Same

When you think of television news in Houston, one thing that probably doesn't cross your mind is "Gee, there's just not enough of it."

The media giants have heard your prayers, even though you haven't uttered them. Get ready for a whole bunch more local news on the tube.

A.H. Belo, the company that owns The Dallas Morning News, KHOU-TV and a slew of other media outlets, is teaming up with Time Warner Cable, which is part of the company that owns everything Disney doesn't.

The result: Houston viewers will get a 24-hour channel devoted exclusively to Houston news, and they'll get Belo's Texas Cable News, an around-the-clock statewide version of CNN's Headline News.

Be still our hearts.

Belo launched TXCN 18 months ago, putting up $15 million for state-of-the-art equipment, if not necessarily for experienced reporters and editors. Since then, though, Belo has been unable to get its product on the air beyond the Dallas area. Time Warner had its own ambitions for localized news product as a way to differentiate itself from its digital-satellite competitors, so it showed little interest in helping Belo.

But recently the two companies announced they'd be working together. Within two years, a station devoted 24 hours to Houston news will be on the air, along with TXCN.

Details about content for the yet-unnamed Houston station are sketchy, but the station will share video and news with KHOU and be in the so-called wheel format, says Belo exec Skip Cass. That format, like CNN's Headline News, provides regular slots each half hour for news, weather and sports. The station will hire some new staff, but Belo isn't likely to put too much money into paying people to gather the same news that KHOU is getting.

The new station could be a boon when a disaster strikes -- a disaster perhaps not big enough for the other news operations to ditch their regular programming to go full-time on the air -- but a typical news day might tend more to endless repeats of the same recycled footage and countless more opportunities to hear how hot and humid it will be for the rest of the week.

Reviews on TXCN aren't that encouraging, either. One Dallas viewer says the outfit seems strangely unable to handle breaking news and that the overall menu relies too much on taped reports from KHOU; WFAA, the Belo station in Dallas; and KENS, the company's San Antonio station.

That view jibes with what one TXCN staffer wrote a while back to NewsBlues, an on-line site for television journalists. "Our editorial meetings go like this. "What's 'FAA doing (answer) How 'bout KHOU? (answer) KENS? (answer)' then the producer will pick and choose the stories from these stations and stack the show," the anonymous poster wrote. Going out and reporting news on your own apparently is not as much of an option as might be hoped.

With the expansion into new markets, of course, TXCN might seek to become more than a clipping service and could be a welcome entity. And maybe the new 24-hour Houston channel might feature aggressive reporting and shows that would take advantage of the unlimited time available to go in-depth on local issues.

We're not holding our breath. But you gotta dream.

Radio Ga Ga

Trouble continues to bubble at KTRH-AM, the city's major news radio shop.

Lots of staffers, on both the ad and edit sides, have left, as they perceive conditions deteriorating under new general manager Marc McCoy. The latest outrage, at least among newsroom grumblers, has come with the announcement of the new news director.

The guy replaces longtime director Joe Izbrand, a well-respected manager hounded out of his job by McCoy. To replace the veteran newsman -- he's won numerous Edward R. Murrow Awards -- KTRH has turned to a very young guy with scant experience running a major news operation.

Bryan Erickson comes to KTRH from KTSA in San Antonio, a talk/news outfit with four reporters and five news anchors, according to its Web site. At its peak, KTRH had as many as 35 newsroom staffers.

City Hall reporter Janice Evans has been serving as interim news director since the spring, but was passed over for the permanent gig. The (decidedly underwhelmed) staff hasn't been given any clear, convincing explanation for the decision.

McCoy is now GM of three AM stations here that are part of the Clear Channel radio giant: KTRH, KBME and KPRC. The latter is, of course, KTRH's main non-sports competition.

There's real fear in the KTRH newsroom that the station is heading more and more toward a talk format, pushing aside its longtime hard-news character.

Whether that's true or not, it's clear that it ain't easy these days being No. 1.

Helluva Game

All of Houston broke out into one huge, spontaneous, ecstatic orgasm of joy earlier this year when the earthshaking announcement came that our fair city would host the galleryfurniture. com Bowl.

Didn't we?

In case you missed it, the Bowl is the latest brainchild of furniture czar Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale, a person who has never let potential ridicule keep him from airing cheesy ads, or buying Princess Di memorabilia for his store, or sponsoring college football games that the world could have easily done without.

But maybe we're being too hard on the Bowl. A recent press release from the office of Mayor Lee P. Brown says that "the economic impact will be significant" when the game is played in the Astrodome December 27.

And it's hard to see how that could not be true, as the press release -- which announced the beginning of ticket sales -- noted the game would be "pitting the Big 12 Conference champions against the champions of Conference USA." The game will be televised on ESPN2, "with an estimated audience of 77 million viewers."

Well, maybe. In reality the game pits the seventh-best team in the Big 12 against the third-best team in Conference USA (Hellooo, Missouri vs. Memphis!). And while 77 million homes in the country may have access to ESPN2, we think the chances are good that at least some viewers will choose other options that day. Last year's NCAA national championship game between Florida State and Virginia Tech drew only 54 million viewers, perhaps a more realistic target for the Bowl to shoot for.

Like we said before: You gotta dream.


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