It's taken millions of dollars and meant setting aside decades of competition, but changes that will bring the CBS47 and KSEE24 television stations under one roof are nearly done.
Viewers will notice changes on air starting Sunday, when CBS47 unveils its new studio. KSEE24 will unveil its new studio Oct. 28.
Texas-based Nexstar Broadcasting Group purchased KSEE (Channel 24.1) in February and KGPE (Channel 47.1) in November. Instead of continuing to work separately, Nexstar is moving KGPE from its building just east of Fashion Fair Mall into the bigger KSEE building on McKinley Avenue near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
The total transformation, which Matt Rosenfeld, the former KSEE boss who's now over both stations, says is costing Nexstar "millions of dollars," comes after years of uncertainty at both stations, fueled by layoffs, lack of money to buy or repair equipment and a revolving door of owners.
"Our expectations have always been to operate our stations at the highest level but there is a new level of resources and investment," Rosenfeld says. "That's been the leading complaint and frustration among employees at both stations. There wasn't a huge influx of investment at all. Now, when we are done, there will be nothing to complain about. It's the most state-of-the-art group of stations in the Nexstar Group."
Nexstar owns, or provide services to, 72 broadcast TV stations and 43 community portal websites in 41 markets nationwide.
Rosenfeld calls the changes a fresh start for both stations, adding that the expectations for what will be produced are much higher than in recent years.
A joint news department for two TV stations is a first for Fresno. Although KMPH (Channel 26.1) and KFRE (Channel 59.1) are owned by the same company, KFRE doesn't produce news.
Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school based in Florida, says these kinds of arrangements are not unusual now that the Federal Communications Commission has given the OK.
"The 'hubbing' of newsrooms started in radio more than a decade ago," Tompkins says. "Unlike TV, it was not unusual for one station to provide news for a half dozen or more radio stations. It eventually led to a real reduction in news service on commercial radio. That has not happened to TV, and it is not likely to because TV is still fairly profitable in most markets."
The most notable change has been the massive construction project by local contractor BMY Construction Group to convert the KSEE building into what is being called the McKinley Media Center.
Rosenfeld estimates that 95% of the KSEE building will be changed by the time construction ends in November. To accommodate the work and still produce daily newscasts, the KSEE news set was moved around the building, eventually broadcasting from what is supposed to be the station's garage. Some viewers have noticed an echo to the sound that was caused by the cement bricks on either side of the news desk.
Although work will continue through November, the big move to shift KGPE operations to the new location started this week in time for Sunday's launch of a re-imagined news broadcast for CBS47. The debut of a revamped KSEE news is scheduled for Oct. 28.
Both news departments will be under the guidance of news director Chad McCollum, who had formerly only been over KGPE's news department. There will be one news director, but the news broadcasts will be distinct:
-- "CBS 47 Eyewitness News" will lead with breaking news and have a faster pace. When possible, stories will focus less on interviews with officials and more on the people affected by the event. The station's news will also include investigative segments.
-- "KSEE 24 Local News That Matters," an addition of the word "Local" to the previous tag, will kick off with a snapshot weather report and then move to stories focusing on family matters, safety, health, money, community, faith, education, agriculture and other similar topics.
Stories will be covered by the combined newsrooms -- which will now feature almost 30 on-air personalities.
"As a reporter being sent out to cover a story for one station or the other's news, where you are doing two stories, it gives them the opportunity to focus their stories differently," McCollum says.
Rosenfeld says anchors will never cross between stations. Stefani Booroojian and Bud Elliott will remain the primary weekday anchors for KSEE; Ken Malloy and Evy Ramos will continue to handle those duties for KGPE.
Malloy says he never had any doubts about the positives when he heard about the purchase. "In fact, the more I've learned about Nexstar, the better I feel about the whole process. Our mission and reach to serve the public is expanding -- and that's a good thing."
Three new weather systems to produce Pinpoint Weather have been installed -- one for each station and a third as a backup. Should severe weather strike, that third system could be used to provide additional weather reports for either, or both, stations.
The two areas the newscasts will share are sports and traffic.
A new sports studio was constructed as the hub for coverage on both stations. Sports reporting will be done for both stations by the team of George Takata, Anthony Flores, Andrew Marden and Devon Thrasher. But the big difference is that KSEE will focus more on Fresno State sports, while KGPE will have a stronger emphasis on high school sports.
"This gives us the largest sports team in the market. The question was, 'How do we direct this unit so the two sportscasts don't look the same?" McCollum says. "KSEE24 has done a fantastic job with Fresno State. It doesn't mean that CBS47 won't cover Fresno State news; we have to. But, the bulk of the content when it comes to Fresno State will go to 24. You will still see full sports coverage on both stations, but if you are a Fresno State fan, then you will want to watch KSEE."
Marc Berman, editor in chief for TV Media Insights, an online site that monitors TV and the media, is skeptical about the blending of the reporting staffs.
"The success, or non success, of any local station often depends on the uniqueness of the reporters. Stations need to create their own identities in order to succeed," Berman says. "By mixing on-air talent, viewers may have difficulty separating the two, which will not be beneficial to any participating stations in the long run."
Leaders of the local news competitors say it will be business as usual.
ABC30 general manager Dan Adams says it's always been the practice of the local ABC station to concentrate only on producing the best news product possible. KMPH general manger Jack Peck says his news team focuses on producing the top newscasts possible "no matter what others are doing."
The KSEE/KGPE newscasts also will share the same Web portal for traffic reports.
To produce content, both stations will have their own control room featuring state-of-the-art equipment. This is a major change for KGPE, which has not had the equipment to broadcast in high definition. Upgrading of equipment doesn't stop at the back door. Nexstar has outfitted the stations with new cameras equipped with WiFi -- so no remote truck is needed as long as there is a hot spot.
During the transition, other departments have either moved around the KSEE building or shifted to the KGPE building. When the work is done, there will be a business hub to handle all billing matters for the two local stations, plus Nexstar-owned TV stations in Bakersfield and Salt Lake City. There will also be a hub for other internal jobs, such as programming for the stations. There will be separate sales staffs.
Once all operations have moved into the new McKinley facility, the KGPE building will be sold.
KSEE (Channel 24.1): Began transmitting June 1, 1953 as KMJ-TV, the first TV station in Fresno. It was originally owned by the McClatchy family (which also owns The Fresno Bee), but sold to San Joaquin Communications in 1981 and the call letters were changed. Other owners have included Meredith Corporation and Granite Broadcasting. It's an NBC affiliate.
KGPE (Channel 47.1): Went on the air in 1953 as KJEO, Fresno's second TV station. The call letters were changed to KGPE in 2000. Past owners have included Retlaw Broadcasting, Fisher Broadcasting, The Ackerley Group, Clear Channel Communications, Newport Television and High Plains Broadcasting. It's a CBS affiliate.
KSEE24 and CBS47 are rolling out some schedule changes.
7 o'clock hour weekdays
-- A new 30-minute weekday newscast, "CBS47 News at 7 p.m.," will bump "omg! Insider." It will be followed by "Entertainment Tonight."
-- The "KSEE News at 7 PM" is being dropped. The 7 and 7:30 p.m. time slots for KSEE will now be the home for "Inside Edition" and "Access Hollywood."
Also on KSEE24
-- The 30-minute "KSEE24 News Midday" expands to an hour and will start at 11 a.m. To make way for the newscast, "Central Valley Today" moves to 3 p.m. weekdays.
-- The station's 4 p.m. "We Are Fresno: LIVE" has been dropped and will be replaced by "Dr. Phil."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.