KVUE news director leaving after 16 years

Frank Volpicella
Frank Volpicella

Frank Volpicella, who has led KVUE’s news team for almost 16 years, will depart the city’s ABC affiliate later this month.

The TV news veteran has taken an early retirement package offered by Tegna, the station’s owner. Several other staffers in a number of departments were also offered voluntary buyouts, which are based upon age and years of experience, and are expected to begin announcing their departure dates soon.

“It was a difficult decision,” Volpicella said. “I love KVUE. I love the staff. It’s been quite an emotional time.”

Volpicella said he’s not sure what’s next, although he said he hopes to remain in the Austin area – either staying in journalism or working in another field.

“I plan on being retired for about 10 minutes,” he said. “I’ve been working since I was 16 and I’ve never been without a job. Even when I changed jobs, I always left on a Friday and started on a Monday. We’ll just see what doors open this time.”

Volpicella is the latest of several longtime KVUE employees set to leave in the coming weeks, though for unrelated reasons. Tyler Sieswerda, evening news anchor for the past 11 years, is relocating to Dallas and KVUE president and general manager Patti Smith, a 17-year veteran, said recently she is stepping down.

Both Sieswerda and Smith will leave in May.

“Frank Volpicella is an icon in the television news business, not only in Austin, but throughout the country,” Smith said. “He’s given his heart and his considerable talents to this station for over 15 years. From day one, Frank and I have agreed on the principles of how you create and manage a team of individuals that will exemplify ‘Where trust is earned.’ That partnership between general manager and news director has been critical to the success of the station over the years.

“I hold Frank in the highest of regard for his character. He’s the most principled news director I’ve ever known and he sets the example for integrity in the business. KVUE wouldn’t be the honored station it is without his years of commitment to our service and success. For that, the entire staff at KVUE thanks him for his years of dedicated service to KVUE and this community.”

Smith, Volpicella said, is a big reason why he’s been at KVUE so long.

“Patti and I connected from the very beginning,” he said. “In 15 and a half years, we’ve never once had a disagreement. It’s uncanny. I’ve had many opportunities arise elsewhere over the years, but I always chose to stay.”

During Volpicella’s time at KVUE, he was responsible for hiring almost all of the reporters and news anchors on the air today and oversaw newscasts that have received countless awards and have consistently ranked at or near the top of the Austin Nielsen ratings.

“I’m most proud of my staff,” Volpicella said. “Our success has always been about what the staff accomplishes. Their hard work won us the station’s first Emmy, the station’s first Peabody and a national Murrow Award.”

Volpicella said he’s particularly proud of the many employees – in front of the cameras and behind the scenes – over the years who’ve jumped to TV stations in larger cities. Some have even gone to the major networks.

One of those success stories is Michelle Chism, who spent two years as KVUE’s assistant news director before moving up to a station in Baltimore.

“His dedication to KVUE, his staff, ‘capital J’ journalism and his community is unwavering,” Chism said. “Not only does Frank set the bar for journalists, he raises it so we can all become better, both professionally and personally. You will find no one better at managing people. You will find no one with better news judgment. You will find no one with higher ethics. I feel very blessed to have worked with Frank. He is, bar none, the best boss I’ve ever had. But I am even more privileged to call him a friend.”

KVUE wins prestigious Peabody Award

KVUE took home a prestigious George Foster Peabody Award over the weekend for a special report on the state of mental health care in Texas.

Investigative reporter Andy Pierrotti, executive news director Frank Volpicella and others traveled to New York City to accept the honor.

This is the first time an Austin TV station has won a Peabody Award, according to KVUE.

“To be recognized with the George Foster Peabody Award is affirmation that our work can affect positive change within our community by shedding light on issues of great importance,” KVUE president and general manager Patti Smith said. “It’s one of the highest honors in the broadcasting business to be recognized with this prestigious award and one that will underscore our commitment to excellence as we go forward.”

The 30-minute special, “The Cost of Troubled Minds,” aired in September. It was the result of seven months of digging, Pierrotti said in an interview last year.

“The issues impacting the mentally ill in Texas are mind-blowing,” he said, “and there’s certainly no easy fix.”

Many of those issues are due to repeated budget cuts in past years, the station found.

“The plight of the mentally ill and the lack of resources to care and treat them is a problem not only in Austin, but across the nation,” Volpicella said. “We are grateful that our documentary inspired a state senator to file legislation to address the shortage of mental health workers in Texas. We hope ‘The Cost of Troubled Minds’ will continue to spark legislative action to solve this growing social problem.”

Established in 1940, the Peabody Awards are presented annually by the University of Georgia.

KVUE dropping 24-hour weather channel

KVUE chief meteorologist Mark Murray
KVUE chief meteorologist Mark Murray

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.”

Gannett, KVUE’s owner, signed a deal late last year adding the Justice Network to its stations nationwide.