Recession rips into KTLA

The budget ax fell yesterday at Tribune Broadcasting-owned indie KTLA, with the station immediately laying off 12 of its 247 full-time staffers.

Another six to eight employees have been told that KTLA will eliminate their positions at the end of the year, according to general manager Greg Nathanson.

In addition to the 18 to 20 full-time staffers losing their jobs, KTLA intends to drastically cut back on its use of part-time and per-diem employees–a number that fluctuates throughout the year.

Also, Orange County station KDOC-TV confirmed yesterday that it has ceased all live production and laid off 11 of its 42 full-time employees as well as 10 part-time staffers.

KTLA, which is under pressure to boost profits, blamed the layoffs on the lingering recession that has kept TV advertising revenues down for a second unprecedented year. Employees were warned in recent meetings that cuts were imminent.

“We definitely have to look at the way we do business, economize and reorganize,” Nathanson said.

The cuts were spread across all departments, with the advertising-publicity-promo area taking one of the hardest hits.

Among those receiving walking papers was well-regarded station spokesman Ed Harrison, who has been with the indie for more than seven years.

Department heads and on-air personnel escaped the pinkslips. In fact, KTLA’s news unit suffered the least–most likely because its top-rated prime time and morning newscasts are a huge profit center for the station.

Despite the layoffs, Nathanson noted the station may add morestaffers for a live, locally produced 9-10 a.m. talkshow that is slated to begin early next year.

A good portion of the above-the-line and below-the-line talent for the talker will come from the station’s ranks, however. Nathanson’s goal is to syndicate the new program as a means to generate income for the station. “We have to find new revenue sources,” he said.

The indie also intends to beef up its weekend news staff because Nathanson, who formerly served as prexy of the Fox Television Stations, expects that rival KTTV will launch a 10-11 p.m. Sunday night newscast once Fox Broadcasting Co. expands to 15 hours of prime time programming.

KTLA is one of the last Los Angeles VHF stations to resort to layoffs since the recession hit and shrank stations’ profit margins.

Aside from KCAL-TV, which so far has relied on eliminating a handful of positions through attrition, all of the other local broadcasters have laid off workers (KABC-TV’s cuts, however, primarily involved the phaseout of technical positions because of technological advances).

Among indies, KCOP eliminated five positions earlier this year while KTTV has let go 20-25 staffers over the past two-three years.

“This station withstood (the downturn) as long as it could,” said Nathanson, who foresees no immediate end to the sluggish economy in Southern California.

The recession hit the local market in December 1990, long after it struck the Northeast and other regions of the country. Many local broadcast exex expect this will be the last area to recover.

L.A. TV-stations’ revenues dropped for the first time in 1991 after more than two decades of gains, including a record year in 1990.

“If it were not for the Olympics and the elections, this year revenues would be down again,” Nathanson said.

Although KTLA’s share of the revenue pie “is as good or better than it has ever been … the pie has shrunk. It used to be a 12-inch pie and now it’s a 9 -inch pie,” he noted.

At Golden Orange Broadcasting-owned KDOC, general manager Chuck Velona said yesterday the small UHF station was forced to eliminate more than a fourth of its staff, including its entire news and production units, because of rising costs and diminishing revenues.

The station on Nov. 30 will slash its half-hour weekday newscast and one-hour “Request Video” strip.

Contrary to reports, Wally George’s long-running weekly rightwing yellfest will continue on the station. Production will move to a different locale, according to Velona.

He cited the increased cost of news and line production, declining revenues and the daunting prospect of upgrading to high-definition TV equipment as the reason for exiting the live-program arena.

Velona said the station would have to invest $ 2 million to $ 7 million over the next 3-5 years in HDTV gear in order to stay in the TV business. Its owners already have earmarked $ 1 million for a new transmitter next year.

The G.M. called the layoffs “a sign of the times.”

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