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Friday, March 3, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The CBS Switch -- Kstw Gears Up -- With A Big-Time Makeover, Channel 11 Gets Set To Be The New CBS Affiliate

TACOMA - Whether a reborn KSTW-TV can compete head-to-head with the other stations in news coverage remains to be seen, but Channel 11 yesterday unveiled the trappings, at least, of a big-time CBS affiliate:

-- A new multi-story news set, with an enormous, impressionistic sculpture of the Seattle skyline.

-- A Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, dubbed "Sky Eye," which was being painted with the new KSTW logo. Up to now, Channel 11 was the only TV-news station in town not airborne. The red-and-orange KSTW logo is nearly identical to that of network-owned KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.

-- A slick, nearly $2 million advertising campaign for print, radio, TV, billboards and buses, aimed at publicizing the new partnership between KSTW and CBS.

"There's no one in this area that's not going to know that there's something happening with Channel 11," said Hank Barber, executive vice president and general manager of the Seattle office of McCann-Erickson Inc., KSTW's ad agency.

What is happening is monumental in Seattle media. In 10 days, after 37 years on KIRO-TV (Channel 7), CBS moves its programming to KSTW.

Ironically, KSTW, once known as KTNT, was the area's original CBS affiliate, starting in 1953. But KIRO lured CBS away when it first signed on as Channel 7 in 1958. After some legal wrangling, both stations were with CBS, from 1960 to 1962. Ever since, Channel 11 has been a fairly typical independent station whose bread was buttered by syndicated programming, sports and a 10 p.m. news hour.

Now, owner Gaylord Entertainment Co. has won back the CBS eye through a hard-ball affiliation deal involving its Dallas station. If money spent is any indication, it doesn't plan to blow KSTW's opportunity.

The station has been hiring like crazy. Among the new faces will be Washington native and "CBS Morning News" anchor Monica Gayle, who is leaving CBS to join veteran Seattle anchor Don Porter for half-hour broadcasts at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. weeknights, starting March 13.

The newsrooms here and in Seattle are being remodeled. There will finally be a satellite-uplink truck. There's the helicopter.

When all this hits the air, KSTW will be hardly recognizable.

And yesterday, station managers boldly predicted that KSTW KSTW will do better in the ratings as a CBS affiliate than KIRO has, because they plan to promote the network better than Channel 7 did.

"The networks here have never had this type of presence on radio, in print, and this won't happen just through the change," said Gary Schneider, KSTW vice president and general manager. CBS is helping bankroll the ad campaign.

The network could use that kind of exposure. CBS just went from being rated No. 1 in prime time nationally in November to No. 3 in February, and has long been No. 3 in Seattle.

Doing well in the network-program ratings is something local stations have little control over, although KIRO indeed has done comparatively little to promote CBS.

Doing well in locally produced news, a symbolic and financially tangible sign of a thriving station, is another matter for KSTW. The competition will be fierce.

KIRO will increase its hours of news to compensate for the loss of CBS, and ABC affiliate KOMO-TV (Channel 4) and NBC affiliate KING-TV (Channel 5) are the top-rated news stations in town.

While 6 p.m. will be important, KSTW news director Charlie Johnson said Channel 11 will concentrate on building an audience for the new 11 p.m. newscast, which will follow CBS prime-time programming seamlessly, without a commercial break.

Most TV stations schedule their first commercial break 7 minutes or so into the news, to grab viewers long enough to get credit in the ratings and still sell attractively scheduled commercial time.

But KSTW plans to go for 11 minutes before taking a commercial break, calling this first segment "11 at 11." Local, world and national news, plus weather, will get covered in quick fashion.

KSTW will follow the first commercial break with "Northwest News Extra" - an "enterprise" story or expanded coverage of the night's top story, Johnson said.

After conventional sports and weather segments, entertainment reporter Shawna McLaughlin will close KSTW's 11 p.m. newscast with a segment called "Shawna Before Dave," which will lead straight into "The Late Show with David Letterman" at 11:35 p.m. - again without a commercial break.

Johnson said there is some risk. Some viewers might be sated after the first 11 minutes and tune out. But it's a way to differentiate KSTW's news in a four-way race at 11.

Another planned innovation is what Johnson called an "index line" - words across the bottom of the screen to describe the current story.

"None of us watch television news like this," Johnson said, leaning forward. "People come in with the kids, they're fixing dinner."

With the fanciest news set in town, parity in the sky and a staff whose size is approaching that of the other three TV newsrooms, all that's left is for KSTW to show it can evolve from doing once-a-day, few-frills journalism to becoming an enterprising, 24-hour news operation.

"We don't expect to be the No. 1 newscast this March, but we expect to be there someday," Johnson said. there someday," Johnson said.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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