Clash of the broadcasts

Local affiliate’s sale to Channel 7 may mean another Chico-based newscast

This banner recently appeared on the side of the FOX building in downtown Chico. FOX20 TV has been purchased by the same company that owns Redding’s ABC affiliate, Channel 7.

This banner recently appeared on the side of the FOX building in downtown Chico. FOX20 TV has been purchased by the same company that owns Redding’s ABC affiliate, Channel 7.

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It’s official. New York City-based Bonten Media Group and Esteem Broadcasting of Bristol, Va., have purchased Chico’s KCVU FOX20 television station from the Sainte Partners II, L.P. out of Modesto.

Bonten currently owns Redding’s KRCR Channel 7. According to its CEO, plans are in the works to put together and begin airing a nightly 10 o’clock Chico-based newscast sometime this year.

Two banners reading “KRCR Loves Chico” were recently draped on the side of the FOX building at Third and Main streets in downtown Chico.

Rumors of the transaction surfaced last May, at which time the parties involved said they could neither confirm nor deny the news. On Dec. 17, the sale was announced after approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

“There will be changes, but it’s a little bit premature to go into detail,” said Randall Bongarten, Bonten’s chairman and CEO. “We are looking at all of that stuff, and we are going to try to make [the station] better. A 10 o’clock news slot would be good, don’t you think?”

He said Esteem now owns FOX20’s broadcasting license and that Bonten will actually operate the station. The companies have this arrangement in a number of markets, including Eureka, where they recently made a joint purchase of KBVU-DT, also a FOX affiliate.

A source told the CN&R that some of the KCVU FOX20 ad-sales employees were laid off in wake of the change of ownership and were less than pleased with the timing at the beginning of the holidays.

Bongarten said the new owners “hired almost all of the people who were at the station.”

Ireri Pimentel, spokeswoman for KCVU, referred our calls to Redding and KRCR’s Lisa Drafall, director of marketing.

When asked about the sign confessing Channel 7’s feelings about Chico, Drafall laughed and said, “Well, we’ve always loved Chico.”

There are plans in the works to create a Chico-based newscast produced and broadcast from the FOX building, she said.

“This is definitely something we hope to bring to the North State in 2013,” she said. “All of this is being looked at right now. We already had sales staff in Chico, and news correspondent Tyler May has been in Chico about a year. And Jerry Olenyn is also in Chico.”

KRCR news and sports reporter Olenyn, an occasional contributor to this paper, is married to Kelli Saam, who is a news anchor for the Redding station. They were teamed as news anchors for KNVN Channel 24’s 5 o’clock Action News broadcast until they were let go in June 2010. (Saam also co-anchored the 11 o’clock broadcast with Alan Marsden.)

“We don’t know exactly what we are going go do, but we definitely have plans to launch a Chico news center in the Chico building in 2013, and for sure a Chico First Alert Weather Center,” Drafall said. “We’re good at that.”

Last May, FOX20 began simulcasting morning and evening news programs from KTXL FOX40, which serves Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto.

“We’ve always covered significant news and weather in the Chico-Redding region,” Brandon Mercer, KTXL’s news director, said in a press release. “Now we have an opportunity to broadcast directly to those communities.”

An hour-long broadcast is carried at 7 a.m., and a half-hour version runs at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. Currently, on weeknights, FOX20 carries The Big Bang Theory at the 10 p.m. spot, and on weekends The Closer fills that time slot. That’s also the time KHSL airs its Action News at Ten on the CW Television Network.

Nine years ago the two stations tried to work together to fill the 10 p.m. slot. At the time the Chico station was known as FOX30. The first broadcast was on Feb. 9, 2004. Officials at both stations told this paper they were excited about the deal that would allow Chico-dominated news to be aired each night at 10 p.m.

There had been calls by local viewers for 10 o’clock news for years, and when Doug Holroyd became general manager at KCVU, he moved that priority to the top of the list.

Bob Wise, then-general manager at KRCR, said the stations would have access to the same news stories, but separate features would be produced for KCVU. “We can’t just repeat ourselves,” Wise said. But, “if it’s a major story, both stations will have it.”

Redding anchors and reporters did the 10 p.m. newscast from KRCR, leading with the Chico-oriented stories. An hour later, with a different backdrop, they would lead with the Redding-area stories.

At the time Holroyd said it wasn’t that KCVU couldn’t afford to staff its own news team; it was just a matter of priorities.

Fifteen months later the two stations decided to end their joint production. Holroyd said KRCR simply opted to exercise the termination clause in the stations’ contract and that the local FOX affiliate had no plans to reintroduce locally produced news.

That 15-month period was the single exception to Chico-area television viewers having only one option for local TV news, even though there have been two affiliated stations operating here since 1985.

KHSL Channel 12 is a CBS affiliate and has been on air for nearly 60 years. NBC affiliate KNVN Channel 24 first went on air in September 1985 with a competing news broadcast.

And it was competitive. Channel 24 adopted a sort of hipper attitude to attract a younger audience, while Channel 12 took on the more-established and mature role.

A common practice, an insider once told this paper, was for someone at one of the stations to contact the local news department at one of their affiliate stations in another city to alert them of a talented newsperson at the competing station, in hopes that person would be lured away to a larger market.

In the late 1990s a struggling Channel 24 was sold to Evans Broadcasting, and its call letters were changed from KCPM to KNVN (North Valley News). The station closed down its offices on Fourth Street in downtown Chico and moved into the Channel 12 offices on Silverbell Road. KHSL took over the station’s operations, and at the beginning of 2000 the stations news departments became one under the banner Action News. The two stations are now both owned by Evans and operated by Catamount Broadcasting. There are rumors that both might be sold to the Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Broadcasting Group.