Clear Channel on Friday abruptly pulled the plug on its local news operation at its KFTY-TV 50 in Santa Rosa, laying off 13 employees who produced its newscasts at 7 and 10 p.m. including anchors Ed Beebout and Tricia Hua (both at right). Neither newscast aired that evening. General Manager John Burgess said in a statement on the station's Web site "We are no longer in a position to access the advertiser base required to maintain two long form newscasts."
Burgess told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat that the changes were part of a new strategy in which viewers and users of KFTY's Web site will determine much of the station's programming decisions. "Literally, the mission of the station is to become a viewer-driven station, where they are supplying content," said Burgess, who joined TV50 in 1992 as news director. "In my opinion, we're all looking at better ways of truly touching our customers and I think for the television industry, if you're not engaging your viewers and Web site users in two-way interactivity, you're not going to be growing, especially over the next three to 10 years ... That as much as anything is the reason for this decision," he said.
TV50 in the past few years has been carried on an increasing number of cable systems in the Bay Area. The station went on the air in 1981 as a privately owned, independent station. Founder Wishard Brown sold KFTY for $2.25 million in 1990 to Gary Heck of Korbel Champagne Cellars. Heck sold it to the Ackerley Group in 1996 for $7.8 million. In 2001, radio and advertising giant Clear Channel Communications bought the station. Now Clear Channel has said it will go private and will sell its 24 small-market TV stations. Burgess said a sale will take place, but that had nothing to do with the programming changes.