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MEDIA / KEVIN BRASS : Consultants No Longer Feared by TV Staffers

KNSD-TV(Channel 39) news executives spent two days last week hunkered down with consultants from Audience Research and Development, a routine quarterly visit from representatives of the Dallas-based firm.

A few years ago, such news would have turned the station’s reporters into whimpering mounds of very well-dressed jelly. At most television stations, a visit from a consultant usually resulted in harsh notes from management and sudden personnel changes.

Business started booming for consultants in the early ‘70s, often referred to as the Happy Talk Decade. Now they are simply part of the routine, sort of like traveling tutors who come in periodically to tell a station what it is doing right and wrong, and how to best reach its target audience.

Gillett Communications contracts with ARD to provide a wide range of services, from talent coaching to audience surveys, for several of its stations, including Channel 39.

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Consultants help “tweak” and fine- tune the newscasts, according to news director Nancy Bauer. The ARD representatives primarily look at how stories are presented in the context of the station’s goals. Instead of simply critiquing a reporter’s hair style (traditionally within the realm of a consultant’s work), ARD might help the reporter choose a different approach for a story to make it more appealing to Channel 39’s perceived audience, Bauer said.

After working with consultants who specialize in tossing reams of demographic information at a station (for example, informing the station that its typical viewer is a 76-year-old woman with an annual income of $500) Bauer likes ARD because it focuses more on giving her staff practical tips. In February, ARD will be conducting an all-day writing workshop for Channel 39 reporters. They spent the two days last week reviewing tapes, watching newscasts and studying newsroom procedures with Bauer and other members of station management.

“Everybody here is very curious about what they said,” said one Channel 39 reporter, who asked not to be named. “There is still a certain amount of suspicion and a certain amount of skepticism of the consultants. But now they are an accepted reality.”

KFMB-TV (Channel 8), which has used ARD in the past, doesn’t use a regular consultant, although it does occasionally contract for audience studies. KGTV (Channel 10) is visited every couple of months by representatives of Frank Magid and Associates, one of the granddaddies of the consulting biz.

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The role of consultants has taken a “180-degree turn” in recent years, according to Channel 10 executive producer Wayne Brown.

“They don’t just come in at night, meet with the general manager and then they’re gone, and you get edicts handed down the next day,” he said.

At one time, mega-consulting operations like Magid were criticized for homogenizing the news, for cloning successful newscasts. But that has apparently changed as well, although some say consultants only tell stations what they want to hear.

“Now they get in and learn the audience,” Bauer said. “They understand who the audience is and who we want to go after. So you can have three stations with three very different newscasts.”

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Mel Buxbaum’s new career as executive producer of Roger Hedgecock’s television show is off to a rough start. During location shooting at the border last week, he fell and tore muscles in his calf. He’s hobbling around in a cast.

XTRA-AM (690) has hired Jackie Gladfelter away from KSDO-AM (1130), where she produced the Stacy Taylor show. Beginning on Jan. 23, Gladfelter will be a senior producer and program coordinator for XTRA, which is struggling to establish its news-talk format. “They offered me substantially more money,” she said, “nearly double my current salary.”

A crew from CNN is due in this morning to do a profile of new KSDO announcer Michael Reagan.

Allison Ross was due to resume her KFMB-TV (Channel 8) anchor duties last Monday after an extended medical leave, but she called in sick with the flu. She is expected back tonight.

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“Ted-Ted, the Putty Head,” the fictional program director of a rival radio station in a recent XTRA-FM (91X) commercial, is a thinly veiled shot at rival program director Ted Edwards of KGB-FM (101.5). The commercial pokes fun at the “other station’s” programming deficiencies. “It’s interesting that it is coming out of a station where every jock has asked for a job here,” Edwards said. “It’s born out of frustration of having us beat them in the ratings every book. It’s sour grapes. Why should they care what we do?” XTRA creative services director Kevin Stapleford said the commercial was meant in fun. “People who work at another station called KGB seem to like it,” he said.

Fans of KGB’s Berger and Prescott Show won’t be hearing “The Pubic Hair Song” anymore. After listener complaints, Edwards pulled it. “I just thought it was in extremely bad taste,” he said.

Former Channel 39 Weather Guy Brian Hackney, who always will have to live with the ignominy of being moved out in favor of the bow-tied Bob Dale, has landed a new job. He will be the new weekend Weather Guy and “science and environmental reporter” for KGO-TV, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco.

If XHITZ-FM (Z90) played more of the type of music they feature in their sort of cool television commercial--featuring a lone guitar player jamming on the blues under a street light-- maybe more people would listen to the station.

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Local radio veteran John Clay is the new music director for KKLQ (Q106).

Michael Tuck didn’t show up for a scheduled interview with KPBS-TV’s (Channel 15) Gloria Penner. Penner called San Diego Union columnist Steve Kelley to let him know his show from last year would be rerun. Then, at the last minute, Japan’s emperor Hirohito died, and former U.S. ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer appeared at KPBS to do interviews for Japanese TV. Penner rushed him into the studio at the last minute. Tuck told the show’s co-producer, Debra Kodama, that he simply forgot about the show.

Channel 10’s Lisa Kim was sitting in her car at a fast food restaurant near the station’s east San Diego headquarters Wednesday night when a man jumped into the car, hit her and stole her purse.

But here’s some news that reflects better on San Diego: The local ratings for the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour are twice the national average.

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