An Austin radio station is looking to give its signal a big boost.
In an application filed with the Federal Communications Commission, 101.5 KROX-FM (known on air as 101X) seeks to relocate its antenna south from the Westlake area to a spot between Austin and San Marcos.
The relocated antenna would be higher than the current one is and would get a major power boost, going from 12,500 watts to 80,000 watts, according to Scott Gillmore, market manager for Emmis Austin Radio, the owner of 101X and several other local radio stations.
Those changes would greatly improve 101X’s reception in Hays County, Gillmore said, without hurting reception in Travis and Williamson counties.
Picking up 101X would also become easier in several other Central Texas counties if the FCC approves the request, he said.
“The filing is just the first step and there are many other steps to making this a reality, so, while this may happen in 2015, the filing gives us a five-year window to make it happen,” Gillmore said.
In addition to 101X, Emmis Austin Radio’s other stations include 93.3 KGSR-FM, 93.7 KLBJ-FM, Latino 102.7, 103.5 BOB-FM, 107.1 La Z and NewsRadio KLBJ (590 AM and 99.7 FM).
Each Thursday, we take a look at a TV/radio story from the American-Statesman archives.
Today, we head back in time to 1999, when KEYE and KXAN had dueling news choppers.
My chopper is better than your chopper
By Diane Holloway
Aug. 26, 1999
When the gas pipeline exploded in Liberty Hill a few weeks ago, the sky suddenly looked like Vietnam — not because of the billowing smoke and fire but because of the buzzing helicopters.
Two of the choppers were owned by local TV stations; the rest were leased for the occasion by other local media, including the American-Statesman, as well as a couple of stations from out of town.
Everybody was hot on the trail of the arresting visuals, and the air was the best way to capture them. The sky was only slightly less crowded during the Lance Armstrong parade.
Floods, fires, tornadoes, train wrecks and other big-picture disasters are the meat-and-potatoes of helicopter photojournalism, and Central Texas is on the verge of a chopper war.
These broadcast buzzards are expensive, selling for well over $1 million without all the high-tech video gizmos. And that’s just the tip of the price tag. Monthly maintenance costs thousands of dollars, and so does the service of experienced pilots.
Is it worth it? The answer depends on whether you’re a “have” or a “have not.”
“Aerials give you an idea of perspective, what’s happening and where things are going,” said Jeff Godlis, news director of CBS’s KEYE Channel 42. “There’s no place in the viewing area that’s not within 15 minutes or so. We’re in the business of getting there and getting there fast, and a helicopter is the fastest way around.”
KEYE has been buzzing Central Texas since 1995, when the station’s local news debuted. Pilot Mike Adrian, who goes by Capt. Mike on the air, is at the controls of the flashy Enstrom 280C-Shark, dubbed Sky-Eye 42. This three-seater carries two cameras and Adrian, who doubles as pilot and reporter.
Late last month, KXAN Channel 36 answered the challenge with its bigger, more lavishly equipped Bell LongRanger 3, a bright-white six-seater emblazoned with five (count ’em five!) NBC peacocks and royal blue trim. Piloted by Shannon Bower, the chopper is loaded with five cameras and always carries at least one reporter/photographer to handle the TV duties.
“We think flying a helicopter is a full-time job,” Bower said. “To also be trying to think about something else, like talking and running the camera, is overload.”
Do we sense a bit of chopper competition here? You bet.
Although pilots for KEYE and KXAN refer to it as “friendly competition,” the stakes are high. And these hugely expensive birds have to be more than flashy promotional vehicles — although they certainly are that.
“Well, yeah, people see you,” Godlis said. “But we think we get our money’s worth out of it. We talk about it every budget year, and we choose to have it instead of another satellite ground truck.”
So, the “haves” are happy. Really happy. When a big story breaks, like the Liberty Hill explosion or a weather disaster, they can have live pictures on the air in minutes.
But the “have-nots” insist they’re not at a disadvantage. For a fee ranging from $190 an hour for a small “bubble” helicopter to $675 an hour for a chopper similar to KXAN’s, the have-nots can rent a chopper and beam live almost as quickly.
The only possible hindrance is availability, since there are only a handful of choppers for hire in Austin.
“We’ve found we’ve been more than adequately served by renting one when we need it,” said Patti C. Smith, general manager of ABC’s KVUE Channel 24. “It’s a piece of equipment that’s not absolutely necessary for us to do our job. Also, I think my best resources at this station are my people. People can do anything.”
Time Warner’s News 8 Austin, a 24-hour local news service set to begin later this month, has something that looks like a helicopter landing pad on its roof at 17th and Colorado streets. But general manager Brian Benschoter insists there’s no chopper.
“It’s sort of gee-whiz stuff, and that’s not our game,” Benschoter said. “I guess it would be cool to have one, but I can think of better things to do with those financial resources — more reporters on the street, more producers in the studio to give us better content.”
Fox’s KTBC Channel 7 has a lease agreement with a helicopter service that gives the station priority over other clients.
“At this point, we’re not looking to clutter up the airways any more than they already are,” said KTBC’s general manager Danny Baker. “If we need the service, like we did the other day when the pipe blew in Liberty Hill or last year’s floods, we can take off in 20 minutes. But buying one? It’s one of those extras that right now I don’t think is necessary.”
Note the phrase “right now.” It’s a dog-eat-dog world in local TV news, and some people believe it’s just a matter of time before Austin rush hour looks like Los Angeles rush hour — on the ground and in the air. First there was one chopper flying, now there are two. Can four or five be far behind?
“The first shot in the helicopter wars has been fired,” KXAN’s news director Bruce Whiteaker said with a chuckle soon after his shiny new bird began its daily morning traffic reports.
KEYE’s and KXAN’s helicopters both are essentially mini-studios, with cameras, microphones, live transmission capability, etc. Both have super-zoom cameras mounted on the outside that are gyro-stabilized for high-quality video.
KXAN’s zoom camera, as pilot Bower is quick to point out, is almost twice as powerful as KEYE’s, but the average viewer would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
KXAN leaped into the chopper war primarily to cover morning traffic on “FirstCast.” The station’s research indicated that traffic information was at the top of viewers’ wants and needs in the morning.
“We felt like we could justify a chopper simply for covering traffic, but if you own it, you can fly it for other coverage reasons,” Bower said. “And if you own it, you have access to it all the time. We’re set up to be a first responder. Our goal is to be over the news as soon as possible.”
When a story breaks that cries out for aerial coverage, KEYE and KXAN take to the skies without a second thought. KEYE parks at a private hangar near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport with Adrian nearby. KXAN is anchored at a hangar north of Austin with Bower and a reporter/photographer ready for action.
“It’s teamwork,” Bower said. “Having a skilled photographer is important, but having a pilot who understands what the camera is looking for is very important, too. It’s a very heavy load on one man.”
But KEYE’s Adrian insists double duty is no sweat. He has a split headset that allows him to talk to air traffic controllers and news producers at the station. He controls the remote camera with a box that sits on his leg.
With four years of pilot reporting, Adrian proudly points to some of the big stories he’s covered: the Amtrak train wreck near Round Rock, the Jarrell tornado and the explosion in Liberty Hill.
Adrian likes to fly his bird slightly below 1,000 feet “to take advantage of the view.” Bower prefers to hover at 1,500 to 2,000 feet, “so we can cover the story and not bother anyone.”
The pilots, who agree that aerial video offers a perspective that can’t be achieved from the ground, are friends and often chat with each other in the air.
“There’s certainly competition up there, but it’s friendly,” Adrian said. “I’m thrilled to see KXAN in the air because it’s kind of lonely up there. It makes it more fun to have somebody up in the sky with me.”
Although the have-not news directors deny it, the haves are convinced it’s just a matter of time before everybody’s flying.
“I’m amazed it’s taken four years for somebody else to get in the air,” Adrian said. “There are stories you really can’t properly cover any other way, and the pipeline explosion is a perfect example. The other guys do rent them on the big stories, but owning one is an advantage. The handwriting is on the wall.”
New demographic data shows NBC affiliate KXAN is the station of choice among evening news viewers in the age bracket advertisers covet most.
During November sweeps, KXAN ranked No. 1 among adults ages 25-54 at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., Nielsen reports.
Outside of sweeps months that happened to coincide with NBC’s Olympics broadcasts, it’s the first time in 13 years that KXAN has placed first at both 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. in that demographic, according to station management.
Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of KXAN, says the station’s focus on investigative reporting and its commitment to weather coverage are helping to attract new viewers.
“We are excited to see the great response to our focus on investigative and in-depth storytelling, as well as our dominant First Warning Weather coverage led by 25-year veteran forecaster Jim Spencer,” Lassberg said.
The cast of Showtime’s “Queer As Folk” will reunite at this year’s ATX Television Festival.
The 10-year reunion, announced Tuesday, joins other previously announced programming planned for the festival’s fourth year, including a “Gilmore Girls” reunion.
“We’re extremely proud to bring ‘Queer As Folk’ to the festival this year,” ATX Television Festival co-founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson said in a joint statement. “We strive for diverse and revolutionary programming, and this groundbreaking series changed the game for cable television in 2000, marking a high point not only for the LGBT community, but for socially important storytelling.”
The show, which ran from 2000 to 2005, was a drama focused on a group of gay friends.
“Queer As Folk” alums who’ve committed to attend the reunion include creators Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, as well as actors Gale Harold, Peter Paige, Robert Gant, Scott Lowell, Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill.
“We are delighted that ATX Television Festival has chosen to honor ‘Queer As Folk’ and that we have the opportunity to be reunited with our remarkable cast,” Lipman and Cowen said. “Writing and producing a groundbreaking and often controversial show like ‘Queer As Folk’ was challenging, but also a rewarding and transformative experience for all of us. We look forward to sharing to our stories and memories.”
This year’s ATX Television Festival will be June 4-7 at various venues in and near downtown Austin. Badges are on sale now for $225 at atxfestival.com.
The forecast is grim for fans of KVUE’s digital weather channel.
Currently found on channel 24.3, the round-the-clock service features a mix of local and national forecasts, as well as live radar, traffic conditions and more.
But the launch of the Justice Network on Jan. 20 will displace that content, according to the station.
“As to the 24/7 Weather Channel, it has been a priority over the years and will remain a priority for KVUE to provide this vital information to our viewers,” president and general manager Patti Smith said in message to viewers. “With technological advances, we know that we can share this information in a variety of ways, and continue to serve Central Texas with the most comprehensive weather information. Towards that end, we suggest our viewers utilize kvue.com, our KVUE Radar mobile app and the KVUE WeatherCast mobile app to provide the weather information previously displayed on our dot.3 channel.”
The Justice Network, when it debuts, will feature a variety of crime-focused programs, including many that previously aired on TruTV and its predecessor, Court TV. Some of those shows include “Alaska State Troopers,” “Body of Evidence,” “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice,” “I, Detective,” “The Investigators,” “LA Forensics,” “Locked Up Abroad,” “Masterminds,” “Missing Persons Unit,” “Murder by the Book,” “Over the Limit” and “Psychic Detectives.”
Hunter Ellis has left KEYE to focus full-time on documentaries.
Ellis, a former “Survivor” contestant and cable TV host who co-anchored the station’s morning show for about three years, signed off in late December.
“It is bittersweet, as I am very excited to return to the world of documentary television, but I will miss the viewers and the loyalty they showed us as we built the show from scratch,” Ellis wrote on Facebook. “It has been a true privilege to share all the news and events, good and bad, over the past few years. It has made me appreciate the town we live in. I am happy to say we will continue to call Austin home, I will just be on the road more, and will be destroying my alarm clock! A very sincere thank you to all our viewers, and to all those I worked with who made those early mornings easier and more fun. Time to kick the tires and light the fires … Many great adventures ahead!”
Reporter Alex Boyer has been filling in alongside Ericka Miller since Ellis departed.
The founder of the Austin-based Bikinis Sports Bar and Grill chain is catching all kinds of heat on social media after an appearance last night on the CBS network’s “Undercover Boss.”
In the episode, Doug Guller posed as an entry-level employee, working at five Bikinis locations scattered across Texas — three in the Dallas area, one in San Antonio and the original location near Highland Mall in North Austin.
At the end of the episode, Guller revealed his true identity to workers at the restaurants — and that’s when the drama kicked into high gear.
Guller, who started Bikinis about nine years ago, is being criticized by viewers for firing an employee who had declined to wear a bikini top and for offering to pay for breast augmentation for a different worker, among other things.
(To be fair, the “breastaurant” owner — Guller trademarked the term in 2013 — also gave one employee a 30 percent raise and $10,000 for a family vacation and offered to help another worker with housing and medical expenses for her ill child.)
But the firing and the offer of free breast enhancement surgery, in particular, rubbed many the wrong way. Jezebel, for instance, said “Undercover Boss” had “stooped to depressing new lows.”
“This was a bad episode unleashing a bunch of unchecked (expletive) on a viewing audience that (judging by fans’ reactions on Twitter) didn’t want it. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this level of blatant sexism no longer seems widely appreciated,” the Jezebel piece said, in part.
Guller hasn’t responded to the criticism yet. In a Tweet shortly after the broadcast, he thanked the show and told his employees, “Y’all rock.”
Many Central Texas Time Warner Cable customers will soon need additional equipment to keep watching their favorite cable networks.
The area’s largest cable company will go all-digital on Jan. 20, a move that will free up bandwidth that could potentially be used to offer super-fast 1-gigabit Internet service one day, a company spokeswoman said.
We waved goodbye to well-known newscasters and watched as our friends and neighbors were featured on a host of nationally televised shows, among other things.
Here’s a look at some of the year’s biggest local TV stories.
Judy Maggio retires: After 33 years anchoring the news at both KVUE and, more recently, KEYE, Maggio retired in May.
Since leaving, Maggio has spent the past several months traveling, volunteering and enjoying live music around town.
Hema Mullur, a University of Texas graduate who most recently worked in Denver, was hired to take Maggio’s spot alongside Walt Maciborski on KEYE’s 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.
Other TV departures: Several other familiar faces also left Austin stations in 2014, including KEYE weekend anchor Deeda Payton, KVUE morning anchor Jessica Vess, KXAN meteorologist Natalie Stoll and KVUE meteorologists Andrew Chung and Ilona McCauley.
LIN Media merger: Austin-based LIN Media, owner of about 50 TV stations nationwide, was gobbled up by Media General, a Virginia-based broadcaster, in a $1.6 billion merger finalized this month.
The deal gave Media General three Austin stations: NBC affiliate KXAN, CW affiliate KNVA and MyNetworkTV affiliate KBVO.
TV news ratings: KVUE and KXAN continue to be the stations to beat in the Nielsen ratings.
KVUE spent most of the year in first place mornings and at 10 p.m., while KXAN is the usual No. 1 at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Middays, a spot KVUE typically wins, went to KXAN during the most recent “sweeps” period.
Austin on TV: It’s no secret TV producers love Austin. That was especially evident in 2014, when “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Daily Show” and “Watch What Happens Live” all taped here.
Reality TV, meanwhile, continues to mine our city for talent, with locals popping up most recently on “The Real World” and “Undercover Boss.”
Lifestyle shows: Two Austin TV stations launched lifestyle shows this year.
The shows — KEYE’s “We Are Austin” and KXAN’s “Studio 512” — differ from traditional newscasts, in part, because local businesses can pay to be featured in segments.
Eye-opening tweet: Time Warner Cable News got some unwanted international attention after tweeting out a traffic update that included four images of nude men.
The cable news outlet quickly issued an apology and yanked down the tweet, but not before screengrabs started circulating online. Oops.