Effective May 24, 1973, Carl Rochelle (who would later find national prominence as an anchor and reporter for CNN) resigned as anchor of KMSP-TV Channel 9's Eyewitness News program after two and a half years on the job. The reason?
“I am tired of being number three in the market,” he bluntly told the Minneapolis Star . “I just don't want to continue in that manner. I want opportunity for advancement.”
Rochelle's frank and
brutal comments weren't unfounded. In the ten p.m. news competition in the
Over the years, a lot of big names and big ideas came and went at Channel 9. Its very first newscaster in 1955 was none other than Harry Reasoner, later of 60 Minutes and ABC News fame, when the station was a Du Mont network affiliate known as KEYD-TV. Later on, Channel 9 anchors included KSTP veteran Bill Ingram, newspaper man George Grim, radio talk host Bob Allard, and the two-man team of Bill Fahan and Jim Steer among others. In 1969, struggling KMSP was the first Twin Cities station to hire TV news consultant Al Primo to reformat its news programs from a strict reading of news, weather and sports by three anchormen to a more colorful, entertainment-orientated program with features, light stories and banter between the anchors and reporters. Thus began Channel 9's Eyewitness News. Primo's formula, used by virtually every television newscast in the country to this day was revolutionary; but not revolutionary enough to entice Twin Cities viewers away from their old habits.
KMSP personality Al Tighe served as interim anchor for Eyewitness News until a replacement could be found. Behind the scenes, the station took the opportunity to try and solve the problems they had in attracting viewers to its newscasts. After months of extensive research on what attracts viewers to one particular program over another, it was found that great personalities are the key. First place WCCO-TV Channel 4 had long-time favorite Dave Moore at the helm. KSTP-TV Channel 5 had in recent years installed a team of youthful, good-looking anchors and reporters. Channel 9 screened over 200 audition tapes from around the country in search of one great personality and wound up settling on two: Ben Boyett and Phil Bremen.The station invested in new equipment, designed and built a new set and in October of 1973, Newsnine with Boyett and
is KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul, your Newsnine station,” a staff announcer
would intone before the start of every program, entertainment as well as news.
The word “newsnine” in lower-case letters appeared with every station
identification. The youthful, good-looking Boyett and
In addition to Boyett and
...and David Letterman with the weather?
Interestingly, David Letterman almost became the bright new weather guy on Newsnine.
'I saw you on TV for VD'
Like other struggling ABC affiliates at the time, Channel 9 relied on sensationalistic features to attract viewers to its news shows, including a week-long series on the Devil for the February sweeps in 1974 as “The Exorcist” was raking in millions at the box office, and in time for the May sweeps, a week-long series on that dreaded sexually-transmitted plague everyone talked about in the 1970s, venereal disease--VD. The VD report was hyped a week in advance and ended up landing the station in some hot water.
A promotional ad that ran
on the station during the week of the series featured footage young people out
and about in
One woman in her early twenties who was shown in the ad innocently riding her bike sued for $200,000, claiming the camera zoomed in and showed a “clearly recognizable” and “blatant” closeup of her face, according to news reports from the time of the suit. The suit alleged it conveyed the “clear, explicit, yet totally false implication” that she had venereal disease or was associated with it in some way. The suit further contended that the broadcast caused her to suffer “extreme humiliation and embarrassment,” and asked for $100,000 for that “physical and emotional anguish” and another $100,000 in punitive damages.
Mickey Mouse News
In spite of “bright new news guys,” intense promotion and titillating special reports, Channel 9 still found it difficult to be an aggressive competitor in the nightly news race. While they hired first-rate on-air talent, the actual news staff and budget was far below what was maintained by Channels 4 and 5. The ownership was notorious for its reluctance to spend money on the operation, with the seeming contention that winning the race was simply a matter of style over substance. Minnesotans as television viewers tended to be hard-wired to not break from old habits to be sure, but the station also could not shake its reputation for having a cheap product. Of those who did watch Channel 9, some were there just to see the unintentionally entertaining flubs that were more frequent than they should have been for a major market network affiliate.
Meanwhile over at KSTP-TV Channel 5, they were making some of their own changes, not so much in response to Channel 9, but to catch up with first-place Channel 4. They snatched up the name recently discarded by Channel 9, Eyewitness News, and hired their own bright new news guy, Ron Magers. KSTP and WCCO duked it out for viewers, with KSTP eventually overtaking WCCO in the ratings battle. KMSP, in the meantime, barely budged.
The Newsnine program was fine-tuned with the addition of new features and better presentation. Boyish-looking Phil Bremen grew a mustache for a more mature appearance and the station continued to wave its arms, jump up and down and let people know, hey, we're here. Ads for the news shows tried to claim that “lots of people” are watching Newsnine, without any solid numbers, in an attempt to convince the masses inclined to go with the crowd. Tell them it's so, and they'll think its so and soon lots of people really will be watching, the theory went.
Finally, in the summer of 1975, after the May sweeps still found Channel 9 in the also-ran position at ten p.m., Ben Boyett was let go. Phil Bremen remained as the sole anchor until a replacement for him could be found. Upon dismissal, Boyett told all and didn't hold back to Minneapolis Tribune reporter Irv Letofsky. He charged that the station's low news budget and serious deficiency in equipment made it impossible to compete. He claimed that the station used cheap radio scanners “like the kind you can buy at the Radio Shack for a hobby” and that competing with WCCO and KSTP was “like putting Ron Lyle in the ring with Muhammed Ali.”
“They started us with a comedy ad campaign as the best comedians in town,” Boyett told the Tribune. “They never said anything about news.”
The indignant newsman
pointed to a promotion that consisted of a line drawing of him and
that new faces and an overall facelift would be the ticket to success for
Channel 9, Don Harrison was introduced to Newsnine viewers in September of 1975
bringing a warmer and more mature presence to the program. He was joined a few
months later by a woman co-anchor, the perky Cathie Mann. Rounding out the
anchor team, sportscaster George McKenzie and Dave McLaughlin, who was not just
a weatherman, but a meteorologist. A
jazzed-up rendition of “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams was used as the
The early-evening newscast was moved from five to six p.m., taking it out of competition with the Mickey Mouse Club but putting it up against the well-established news programs on Channels 4 and 5. The station continued to push the Newsnine brand in almost every promotion and introduced a new slogan, “Keep On Watchin',” playing on the popular seventies catch phrase “keep on truckin'.”
Former sportscaster and personality Tony Parker, who literally signed the station on the air in 1955 and worked with its original anchor Harry Reasoner, resigned after 20 years of service, while announcer-weatherman Ernie Martz stayed on as a staff announcer.
But with all the changes
and supposed improvements, “the ingredients remain the same, which means that
the local news reporting is still abysmal,” said Bob Lundegaard of the
The flubs didn't go away
either. In reference to the March 31, 1976 Newsnine broadcast, Lundegaard
reported, “Thursday's show was one of those nights that every newsman dreads.
The wrong film was shown in one segment, juxtaposing a legislative committee
meeting with a story about racial problems at a suburban school. Then Ms. Mann
fluffed two straight stories. Finally,
By the 1976-77 television season, traditionally
third-place ABC was red hot. It was the home of the Fonz on Happy Days, who had toppled Archie
Their news operation was
plagued with the same kinds of problems and public perception as KMSP's was
locally but ABC was changing that with the hiring of ABC Sports genius Roone
Arledge to head up the news division and the luring of Barbara Walters away
from NBC with a multi-million dollar contract.
In 1977, as the new number one network in prime time, ABC introduced a new theme, Still The One, with a well-remembered commercial that featured clips from old ABC shows, followed by energetic Americans of all stripes making the “number 1” gesture with their index finger while a catchy rendition of the classic Orleans hit played.
We're Still the One
You can turn to with cheer
Still the One
And we'll always be here
You're still having fun
Cause we're Still the One!
the newfound prestige, ABC began to strengthen its affiliate lineup by
successfully getting CBS and NBC affiliates to switch to ABC in markets where
the network only had a low-power UHF station or no affiliate at all. They also
began to take a long, hard look at stations that remained in last place in the
market in spite of the network's success – like the one in
While local news shows usually benefit tremendously from a strong prime-time lead-in, the numbers were showing that while KMSP was enjoying its strongest ratings in its history thanks to ABC's programming, a stunning two-thirds to three-quarters of its audience disappeared as ten o'clock rolled around, with much of the audience going to KSTP-TV. Channel 5's Eyewitness News was number one at ten, in spite of poor prime-time ratings from third-place NBC. Channel 9's news, meanwhile, was often coming in fourth, behind Mary Tyler Moore reruns on WTCN-TV Channel 11. ABC was getting impatient with its situation in the Twin Cities and so were Stanley E. and Stanley S. Hubbard of the KSTP empire.
In December 1977 it was reported that an ABC official warned Donald Swartz that the network was shopping his competitors for a new affiliate, and that he'd better do something about his situation. Independent WTCN, which had been the ABC affiliate until KMSP snatched it away from them in 1961, was considered a possible contender ("Channel 9 news reportedly in trouble with ABC" by David Eden, Minneapolis Star, December 28, 1977) but it seemed highly unlikely that WCCO or KSTP would drop networks they had been wedded to since the Golden Age of Radio. And even WTCN was one of the most successful independent operations in the country, as part of the Metromedia chain of mostly non-network stations.
Still, Swartz took the warning serious enough to agree to budget a little more money into the news operation. In the spring of 1978, the programs got a makeover with a new look and a new name, Newswatch. Don Harrison remained as the lead anchor, and the station introduced a new sports guy, Dave Sheehan, an entertainingly cocky, smart aleck sports commentator familiar to Twin Citians as host of the infamous Jock Talk on WWTC Radio in the early seventies. He was nicknamed “the Mouth,” and he would refer to sports fans as “athletic supporters,” among other things. Channel 9 continued to ride the coattails of the first-place network by incorporating the ABC logo into its own logo and having announcers and news reporters use the tag “ABC-9.”
The new look was to debut on the night of ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards with the hopes of bringing in a large lead-in audience. But the awards ceremony ended up going way overtime and the premiere of Newswatch with Don Harrison and introducing Dave Sheehan didn't happen until well after midnight. Most of the potential audience had long since gone to bed.
Meanwhile, problems continued to mount in the newsroom with abrupt resignations and complaints of a shoestring budget and stifling edicts from management. News director Miles Resnick, who tried to bring enthusiasm and a new optimism to the operation only to be hampered in his efforts, resigned after a little over a year. He was replaced by George Noory, who stayed less than a year.
John Carman of the Minneapolis
Star cited several examples of the station's “embarrassing news
failures” and “penny-pinching attitude toward news.” It was the only local
network affiliate that didn't send a news crew to
The station neglected to
cover the arrival of state troopers to an earlier power-line protest in
Dave McLaughlin left for WTNH-TV in
station saw a potential advantage in the departure of McLaughlin. Barry ZeVan,
the popular weatherman at Channel 5 who had left a few years back for greener
pastures elsewhere, wanted to return to the Twin Cities. He was negotiating
with Channel 9, which was about to offer him more money than they were paying
anchorman Don Harrison. But then the other shoe fell.
Operation Big Switch
29, 1978, just before the start of the new fall season, it was announced that
KSTP-TV Channel 5 would become an ABC affiliate the following March, ending the
network's eighteen-year relationship with KMSP as well as KSTP's 50-year
association in radio and television with the National Broadcasting Company.
“We want to go into the 1980s in a leadership position with a network which we think has the management, team and depth to be the best. That's ABC. We're just absolutely thrilled,” Stanley S. Hubbard of KSTP gushed to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
It was ABC's biggest coup
and the announcement was big news in the industry, written about in Newsweek, TV Guide, Business Week, even
the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, along with the trade
publications. KMSP manager Donald Swartz, for his part, claimed to be
"I had no idea it was coming,” he told the
KMSP held out hope they would get NBC and with it the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to follow the ten o'clock news, if not the best prime time lineup. But NBC, eager to show the industry that they didn't need a mere ABC reject, struck a deal to affiliate with WTCN-TV Channel 11. Dumped by ABC and snubbed by NBC, Channel 9 would become the new independent station in town. As an independent, there would no longer be the need to invest so much money in a competitive news operation. No more nagging from the network. Consequently, the deal to bring Barry ZeVan back to the Twin Cities was off.
switch wouldn't take place for another six months, the station wasted no time
in severing ties. The ABC logo was blotted out in at least one on-air promo,
leaving an obvious blank circle next to the number nine. Announcers and
reporters stopped saying “ABC-9” and beginning in January 1979, ABC's Wednesday
night family show Eight Is Enough was
dropped (only to be promptly picked up by the still NBC-affiliated Channel 5)
as well as ABC's late-night programming of movies and prime time reruns (which
Channel 5 wasn't willing to drop Johnny
Carson in favor of any sooner than it had to). Adding to viewer
confusion, Channel 9 filled the post-ten p.m. void with the CBS Late Movie, which
wasn't being carried by WCCO. The station also started blacking out the
network's prime time news briefs for local news updates. Essentially, it was
Channel 9's way of “giving the finger” to the network it wasn't good enough
With KMSP's pending status
as an independent station and the downsizing of the news operation, staffers
began turning in their resignations. Anchorman Don Harrison, who stayed with
the station through thick and thin, departed for
Co-anchor Cicely Hand, who had just started with the station a few months earlier, left Channel 9 along with the network, saying she “didn't want to be part of an independent team.” Steve Doyle stuck around for a while longer, until he was offered a job hosting the local edition of PM Magazine on WCCO-TV beginning in the fall of 1979. While anchors, reporters, producers and photographers left en masse, sportscaster Dave Sheehan stayed on board. As an independent station there would be expanded sports coverage and Sheehan looked forward to the challenge.
On its final night as an ABC affiliate, Channel 9 pre-empted the network's prime time programming after the Osmond Family Hour to showcase its new weeknight line-up, consisting of Gunsmoke reruns, the Dinah Shore Show, a new 9:30 news program called Prime Time News and reruns of Maude at ten p.m. It ran the ABC News Weekend Report with Tom Jarriel at 1 a.m. on March 5, 1979, just before sign-off. A few hours later, Good Morning America appeared on Channel 5 while Channel 9 filled the void with Jonny Quest and other cartoons.
of March 5, Channel 9 takes orders from nobody – except our viewers,” an ad
declared. "No more edicts from
As an independent, the schedule was heavy with reruns, movies and first-run syndicated programming, a formula that had proven highly successful for former independent station WTCN-TV Channel 11 and similar stations around the country.
KMSP happily bowed out of the cut-throat six-and-ten news
competition with a game show at six, an old sitcom at ten and Prime Time News
at 9:30 with new anchorman Tony Burden, along with Ernie Martz, the weatherman
from the Boyett & Bremen days resuming his old job and sportscaster Dave
Sheehan as one of the few holdovers from the old news show. Burden also hosted
a live daytime news-talk show with Bev Stoddard called Noon On Nine.
The station acquired
broadcast rights to high school basketball, Minnesota North Stars Hockey and
Minnesota Twins Baseball. While a number of industry “experts” made
dire predictions about the fate of Channel 9, suggesting that it would be sold
off at a fire sale price or simply go dark, the combination of sports, movies
and old favorites such as Gunsmoke helped
the station rebound surprisingly well in its post-network era. While KSTP
benefited immediately with ABC, it was WTCN that sank like a stone, bogged down
by a poorly managed, third-place NBC.
Eventually, KMSP renewed its commitment to news. In 1981, Prime Time News was expanded to an hour, from 9-10 p.m., with national Independent Network News in the first half and local news in the second. The staff and budget was increased, and by the end of the decade, the news program gained viewers, respectability and awards. Over time, as Tony Burden and Dave Sheehan moved on, anchors included Rod Grams, who would later become a
turned out, ABC inadvertently did them a favor. Channel 9 became far more
successful as an independent station than it ever was as a network affiliate. It
was seen on cable systems in other states, thus expanding its audience
reach in a way that it couldn't as a network affiliate, and it programmed
the kind of shows people want to see, many of which rivaled network programming
on the other channels. It would eventually hold the distinction of being the
number one independent station in the country. KMSP affiliated briefly with the
fledgling Fox Television Network in 1986, but parted company with the network
two years later in a dispute over programming preemptions. Fox switched to
KITN-TV Channel 29 and KMSP successfully resumed status as an independent in
the fall of 1988, of which it remained until 1995 when it became an affiliate
of UPN, the United Paramount Network.
The affiliation switched
back to Fox when the company purchased KMSP (as well as Channel
29) in 2002. Ironically, the previous ownership, United Television, Inc.,
was once a subsidiary of the old 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, before
Rupert Murdoch built it into a media empire. With Fox's deep pockets for a
top-notch news operation along with popular programming such as the Simpsons and American Idol, in the ultimate revenge,
Fox 9 News at 9 with Robyne Robinson and Jeff Passolt often drew better ratings
than the news programs on the still ABC affiliated KSTP-TV. Robyne Robinson has
moved on, but Fox 9 News continues to be highly successful.
For rare video of KMSP
news in the 1970s and 1980s, go to