Weatherman Jim Byrne among 13 laid off at KCOY, KKFX

In an effort to cut costs, the parent company of Santa Maria-based television affiliates KCOY and KKFX has laid off 13 employees, including well-known weatherman Jim Byrne.

Among the changes: Local sports coverage will end, the nightly news will be anchored by a team based in Salinas, and the live morning show will be cut in half to one hour.

Kevin Harlan, who has been general manager of the stations for the past three years, would not say Thursday how many people were let go and which positions they held. When asked about specific employees, he said, “I don’t remember.”

“The cuts are across the board,” Harlan said.

Harlan said the cuts were the result of declining revenue.

“The television markets have lost millions of dollars over the last several years. We are a business, and we have to address this,” he said. When asked how much money the layoffs will save, Harlan declined to answer.

John Zuchelli, who served as KCOY’s news director for nearly six years before he left last fall, said he was saddened by the news, and issued this statement: “KCOY was founded in 1964 by my father, Ed Zuchelli, and several other residents of the Santa Maria Valley. They built the TV station to serve the community of Santa Maria. I hope that will continue to happen. The entire Zuchelli family is praying for the people who have lost their jobs.”

According to Zuchelli, the positions that were cut include photographers, producers, directors and other production staff.

Besides Byrne, weekend sports anchor Kevin Roose received a layoff notice. The reductions are effective Jan. 16, according to an employee whose name was on the layoff list. He did not want to be identified.

Cowles California Media Co. operates KCOY, a CBS affiliate, and KKFX, which is affiliated with Fox. Cowles California is a division of The Cowles Co., located in Spokane, Wash.

Repeated calls to Cowles California were met with busy signals. However, the company’s website posted a statement from President Paul Dughi regarding the layoffs: “Seeking to lower capital and operating costs and improve on-air product, Cowles California Media Group has consolidated control of six of its TV stations. By centralizing and automating control of all six stations in Salinas, we greatly reduced our capital and operating costs, advanced our on-air look with widescreen SDTV and HDTV, and eliminated the inefficiencies and technical errors that hurt the bottom line.”

Besides the Santa Maria stations, Cowles owns stations in Salinas, Spokane and Yakima, Wash., and various print publications, including the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane.

According to Zuchelli, the company has made the following decisions affecting KCOY and KKFX:

Local sports coverage has been eliminated.

The morning news, anchored by Tony Cipolla, will continue to be live from Santa Maria but will be shortened from a two-hour newscast to a one-hour show.

The evening news will be anchored by a news team in Salinas. Santa Maria news will be recorded by reporters and inserted into the newscast.

Harlan said the weather segment will be produced and reported from Salinas. This has been done on weekends for the past two years.

Byrne, who has been at KCOY since 1999, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Part of a trend

Robert Hernandez, a Web journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, noted that consolidation has been taking place across all news media.

Just last month, Spanish-language television station Univision canceled Noticias Univision Costa Central, its news broadcast in Santa Maria. The parent company, Entravision Communications Corp., blamed financial woes for the show’s cancellation.Kevin Keeshan, vice president for news at ABC television affiliate KGO in San Francisco, said declining audiences mean that stations cannot charge as much for advertising, and this is especially difficult for smaller markets.

However, television revenues are likely to be buoyed this election year by political ads, for which television is a key platform.

Keeshan said his newsroom has cut costs first through employee attrition, and then staffing “anywhere but editorial.”

“Localism is at a premium,” as people tend to loyally watch what they perceive as their hometown station, Keeshan said.

It remains to be seen whether KCOY will be successful with its new coverage model, he said.

“Will there be enough for local viewers that this is the station we want to turn to when local news is breaking?” he asked.