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Thursday, September 10, 2020

CW39 Houston launches "NO WAIT WEATHER + TRAFFIC"

First ever show in the nation to solely focus on weather and traffic coverage debuts on CW39 Houston KIAH

Since arriving in late June, newly hired CW39 Houston KIAH News Operations Manager Scott Fitzgerald (formerly the KJRH Tulsa, Oklahoma news director) has already helped oversee lots of changes at one of Nexstar Media Group's newest stations.


"It feels a lot longer than six weeks, it's been a busy six weeks," Fitzgerald laughed when he told recounting his busy first summer in Houston. "But I'm very proud of what [the staff has] done. We were sitting here thinking if we were ready to launch the new show and we launched it, and literally an hour later, we went, 'we need a hurricane plan because there's a hurricane in four days.'"

That hurricane was Laura, which had the Gulf Coast states in a quandary for around a week in late August as the storm ultimately chose its path of unfortunate destruction near Cameron, Louisiana.

The other winds of media change transformed the nearly two-year-old channel 39 AM news show "Morning Dose" (and only newscast KIAH currently produces, the nightly newscast is produced by abc13 KTRK) and transformed it into "CW39 Houston NO WAIT WEATHER + TRAFFIC."

A few days before the storm hit, the staff debuted the new newscast. The weeks leading to that, they produced "Morning Dose" like usual on a temporary set, took a quick break at 10am and then started rehearsing for the new show.

While the anchor team remains the same (such as anchor Sharron Melton and traffic anchor Hannah Trippett) the focus of the show will be as the title implies, a nearly total focus on Houston weather and traffic coverage.

One personnel change will be meteorologist Maria Sotolongo who is leaving the TV biz for ranch life near College Station, TX. Spectrum News Austin and Spectrum News San Antonio meteorologist Adam Krueger will join CW39 in a few weeks to take her place.

Citing a desire to create a unique newscast in Nielsen's Designated Market Area (DMA) TV market #8, Fitzgerald and crew determined that Houston's legendary traffic and weather woes affects every local TV news viewer.

And from 6 to 10am, the "NO WAIT WEATHER + TRAFFIC" newscast has plenty of time to devote to the topics since that's the entire format of the show.

"The stories we do are related to people's commute," Fitzgerald added. "If you really think about it, getting to work is is a lot of people's lives."

The change in news format, also led to changes in the newscast studio. That includes a substantial investment in a larger set makeover, graphics package and upgraded weather system with new storm/lightning tracking software.

"A lot of folks around the country right now are talking about cutting and saving money," Fitzgerald told me. "And [the news set upgrade is] definitely an investment, not just visually, but the ability to tell stories. You know, we have a touch screen in play. We've got five or six different positions on the set now where we could tell a different story. The set also provides a way if we wanted to go in other avenues, we could pull parts of the set out and create a new place to, you know, to tell a story and do something with that."

Fitzgerald says you can't cover traffic from behind a desk, so the station also sends anchor Shannon LaNier to broadcast live from Houston freeways. At this point, two other live vehicles can be put into the mix if necessary.

And even though weather and traffic are actually in the name of the newscast, there are a few news items still in the mix here and there.

For example, Tuesday morning on the first day of school for many area districts, reporter Courtney Carpenter interviewed a principal in our pandemic world. Feature Maggie Flecknoe will continue reporting live and from inside the studio.

The KIAH management team thinks the revamped newscast is the first of its kind in the nation. That follows the history of the Houston CW affiliate. From producing a younger demo focused newscast under the 39News brand more than a decade ago, to totally dumping tradition for the anchor-less NewsFix format, the former Tribune owned station has always experimented to compete with the bigger television companies that run Houston stations.

Now that Nexstar has taken over, suddenly more resources are available as we saw during the before mentioned Hurricane Laura. If you were reading this blog before the storm made landfall, then you saw how "the largest local television broadcast and digital media company in the nation" sent in help from stations across Texas to allow channel 39, for the first time, to offer wall to wall expanded on-air coverage. By the way, in Texas alone, Nexstar owns stations in 13 markets.

That sudden boost from KIAH's new parent company, also gives the station more options to compete in the Houston market for the foreseeable future. Now it's just about time to implement those resources.

"I've got a list," Fitzgerald told me with a laugh. "Whenever I get that list, you know, shortened up. Yeah. We've got a long list."

- Nexstar Media Group Completes Tribune Media Acquisition Creating The Nation’s Largest Local Television Broadcaster
- Chris Pruitt named VP and GM of CW39 KIAH

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