New player on a small field: Topeka TV news

Sam Hartle

Last night, after the last snap of the Super Bowl and a totally useless episode of Grey’s Anatomy, Topeka’s ABC affiliate did something they haven’t done since 2002 – broadcast a local news program.

In mid-2005, Free State Communications (a subsidiary of the Lawrence based World Company), bought Topeka’s ABC affiliate, KTKA, for $6.2 million.

The sale prompted articles in the Topeka Capital-Journal which solicited comment from Topeka’s other local affiliates with news operations; WIBW (CBS) and KSNT (NBC). The program director from WIBW seemed to think that the new KTKA venture would flop, while KSNT’s general manager thought the town could use another news outlet.

I think both comments have some merit. I can’t imagine the Topeka market as being that lucrative overall, let alone profitable for an upstart news operation on a channel that has been neglected and abused for more than five years.

But then again, how many of us really watch local news – not many? Why don’t many people watch – because we don’t care about local news, or because the local news options aren’t very appealing? If people don’t watch because the other channels don’t do that great a job, then KTKA has a chance in the Topeka television market.

But what does the World Company see in KTKA?

To say that the World Company dominates the Lawrence media market would be an understatement. Not only does the company operate the Lawrence Journal-World and a local news outlet, identified as channel 6, but they also own the local cable and broadband Internet company, Sunflower Broadband.

Enter the Topeka media market. Currently, all of Topeka’s main media outlets are owned by national media conglomerates; Morris Communications, based out of Augusta, Ga., operates the Topeka Capital-Journal and WIBW AM and FM stations; Gray Television Group, based out of Atlanta, operates WIBW-13; and Cumulus Broadcasting, also based in Atlanta, owns six radio stations in Topeka.

It’s interesting to note that the only people who give the KTKA venture a shot at success are from KSNT, which is owned by the local Topeka Television Corporation.

While KTKA will have a tough job of generating ratings and ad revenue in the Topeka TV market, the World Company’s acquisition of KTKA has a completely different motivation, and that motivation should have the main Topeka media source, the Topeka Capital-Journal, shaking in its boots.

The World Company’s acquisition of KTKA gives them more Topeka connections than they already had (wink). Regardless of how successful the news operations of KTKA turn out to be, it allows the World Company to get a foothold in the Topeka media market.

The bread and butter of the World Company is the merging of online, print and video resources. The Lawrence Journal-World receives awards on a consistent basis for newspapers with similar circulation. Their Web sites,, and also routinely win awards. Subsidized by revenues from their broadband services, the World Company’s emergence in the Topeka media market will be far more than just a TV station. The presence of the World Company in Topeka could mean much greater things for Topeka media.

You can count me as someone who will be tuning in.