Join the dawn patrol

It looks like more and more stations are joining the extremely early morning dawn patrol. If you thought 5 a.m. was early, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

In two big markets, local stations have or are in the process of expanding their morning newscasts – to 4:30 a.m. In Los Angeles, four stations already have 4:30 a.m. newscasts (compared to Chicago’s one) with Fox-owned KTTV as the latest addition, joining KABC, KNBC, and KTLA in the very early dawn patrol. In Denver, market leader KUSA-TV is also adding a 4:30 newscast, the first in the Rocky Mountain city.

So far, the only Chicago station airing a 4:30 dawn patrol is NBC O&O WMAQ, which began as Barely Today with Bruce Wolf, which was an offbeat look at the headlines. After anemic ratings however, WMAQ decided to retool the program and is offered as a traditional newscast, sans Wolf.

The reasons why stations are expanding their dawn news shows are simple: more and more viewers are waking up earlier since commute times are longer; advertiser demand; and of course, revenue accrued from the shows.

According to the Denver Post, the 4:30 a.m. half-hour period could grab an extra $12,000 to $15,000 per week for KUSA, which is owned by the Gannett Co. and has led the Denver market in the ratings as an ABC affiliate before 1995, and now as an NBC affiliate for over 30 years. In a larger market like Los Angeles, the revenue taken in is significantly higher.

In Los Angeles, NBC O&O KNBC pioneered the A.M. news concept by launching Today in L.A., which became the 1st A.M. newscast in the market with its 1986 debut. By 1988, it was the top-rated program in its time period and expanded a half-hour a time to two hours by 2000. Its success spawned WMAQ-TV to launch First Thing In The Morning in 1989, and WLS-TV’s early morning newscast in 1991.

Morning news is a profitable revenue generator – stations keep all ad inventory and spots are in high demand for advertisers catching viewers as they head for the door going to work.

Even a few stations are trying a different to a morning show. CBS O&O WBBM is currently airing Monsters and Money in the Morning at 5 a.m., focusing on sports and financial news, with traffic and weather thrown in. So far, the experiment has not found an audience, but WBBM remains committed to the program, at least for now.

With one station in the 4:30 a.m. derby in Chicago, you can bet the other four local stations in town will be licking their chops to start their newscasts a half-hour earlier – there’s a lot of potential revenue out there waiting to be claimed – too valuable to waste on an Andy Griffith rerun.