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KDNL Repositions Itself

Overhaul at KDNL-TV: Building, Program Schedule
By Elizabeth Freeman

St. Louis has five commercial TV stations. The one on the UHF side, KDNL-TV, does not get much press, largely because it has never been a significant contender for the St. Louis television audience.

When Atlanta-based Cox Broadcasting Co. acquired Channel 30 in early 1982, they immediately announced plans to initiate subscription TV in hope of capturing the non-cabled city audience. That experiment with “Preview,” Cox Communications own pay-TV service, flopped in February 1983, for a variety of reasons.

For the past year, KDNL-TV has been trying to reposition itself as a serious contender in St. Louis TV. Much of the responsibility for exorcizing KDNL-TV’s step-child image rests on the shoulders of William Viands, vice president and general manager. Viands arrived in St. Louis 15 months ago, after managing two Cox radio stations in Miami. He is a 22-year Cox veteran.

KDNL-TV ad 1983
KDNL-TV ad 1983

One of the more dramatic steps undertaken by Cox to upgrade its St. Louis television property has been contracting for a major overhaul of the station’s studios at Tucker and Cole Streets. Cox is spending $750,000 to remodel the station’s entrance and lobby, lay new carpeting, [add] new walls, ceilings and lighting in the 35-year-old building that once housed KMOX-TV, Channel 4. Cox has spent a cool half-million on equipment and $200,000 for new furniture.

One of the more notable achievements of the remodeling is that the building is being rid of its ugly green “emergency room” tile.

Remodeled studios are no guarantee of higher ratings. Good ratings come from a revamped programing schedule, and Viands shared some thoughts on the sort of fare KDNL will be pushing during its 24-hour broadcasting day.

Nostalgia is every independent station’s staple fare – KDNL is no exception.

“It’s just amazing. I gave my secretary a stack of letters today from people saying ‘Thank you for the Lucy Show’ or ‘Why did we move Perry Mason?’ or ‘We really enjoy watching the Andy Griffith Show,’” says Viands.

Adding to the hockey, soccer, and wrestling, Viands plans to re-acquire the “Whitey Herzog Show” in the near future.

One of KDNL’s big disappointments is the late night talk and entertainment program “Thicke of the Night.” Mediocre ratings forced KDNL to shift tie slots for the show, says Viands, because Alan Thicke was no competitor to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

“Thicke isn’t as funny and durable as we hoped,” says Viands. “Some of the people on with him are great, but they’re overworked . The show would fly a lot better if it was 60 minutes, I think. Coming up with 90 minutes, five days a week with original material is difficult.”

Viands thinks “Thicke” producer Fred Silverman could do the show – and KDNL’s ratings – a big favor by taking the Thicke out of “Thicke” and putting someone in like Bill Cosby.

“We have to go out and negotiate a separate deal for every single program we have on the air, 24 hours a day,” says Viands. All-day programing also means selling advertising for wee morning time slots in which the audience largely consists of insomniacs.

KDNL added radio-television personality Otis Thomas as the station’s news director in 1983. Thomas provides one-minute local news updates throughout the day, plus an entertainment feature, “Otis Thomas on the Town” which is couples with Cable News Network’s “The Hollywood Minute.”

KDNL also carried an hour CNN newscast weekdays at 5:30 p.m. KDNL carries three community affairs programs: Viands is especially proud of one: “KDNL Capitol Report,” taped at Cox Communications Center in Washington, D.C., featuring weekly interviews with Missouri and Illinois legislators.

On March 1, KDNL celebrates one year of returning to full-time service. “Our programing is worth looking at,” says Viands. If viewers agree, KDNL will be the fastest growing St. Louis station in 1984 – maybe even a contender.

(Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 2/1984).