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The 4:30 rise and shine

The 4:30 rise and shineNovember 5: To many, the glowing 4:30 a.m. on the alarm clock means it’s still time to sleep. But to others, it’s a time to get the day started and watch the news. Catering to this early bird audience, television stations across the country are running newscasts under the cover of darkness.

At the onset of 2010, Bob Papper, professor and chair of the journalism, media studies and public relations department at Hofstra University and a former radio and television producer, estimated there were fewer than 20 stations that were hosting newscasts at 4:30 a.m. But that’s no longer the case. “You can see what’s happening this year: an explosion of expansion. It seems like every week, I see one or two or more stations starting or announcing they’re going to start news at 4:30 a.m.,” he said in an e-mail interview. Some of the stations to most recently add the a.m. newscast include WGN (CW), WFLD (FOX) and WLS (ABC) in Chicago; KMBC (ABC) and KSHB (NBC) in Kansas City; KCTV (CBS) in Fairway, Kan.; and WQAD (ABC) in Moline, Ill. In Boston, four of the five major news channels now broadcast at 4:30 a.m., which includes New England Cable News, WCVB (ABC), WBZ (CBS) and WFXT (FOX).

But why 4:30? To the casual observer, it seems awfully early. But there is a market for it, noted Patti Dennis, vice president of news at KUSA and KTVD. In the case of the two Colorado-based stations, it’s an attempt to cater to their business viewers. “We know the audience is likely business travelers or business people who need to work in multiple time zones around the country or the world,” she said in an e-mail interview. “We have the show anchored by our business anchor who puts a lot of local, national and international business news in the newscast. We have travel weather as well as long range rural forecasts for our agricultural audiences in Colorado.”

In the Boston market, news consultant Nick Lawler of Frank N. Magid Associates told Boston.com the early audience tended to be the elderly, service people, such as airport staffers, as well as blue-collar workers, who might be going or coming off of a shift. “There are literally tens of thousands of bakers, bus drivers, fishermen, café managers, construction workers, hotel employees … all up long before the sun,” New Orleans’ WDSU news director Jonathan Shelley told the American Journalism Review.

Whoever the audience, Papper noted that it doesn’t cost too many dollars to start a newscast when a newsroom is already in place. “An additional half hour at 4:30 a.m. means paying some staffers a little more and maybe adding a producer – or even just an associate producer. Some places are probably adding the newscast without adding any people.” In addition, he noted evidence does exist that people are getting up earlier, which is hurting evening newscasts.

The 4:30 a.m. newscast, however, looks like it’s here to stay. Like the domino effect, once one station implements the newscast, the others follow, noted Papper. “Someone who gets up at 10 minutes to 5 and turns on the TV will go to whoever is already on – rather than wait 10 minutes,” Papper said. “Do I expect it to continue? Absolutely. Do I expect more expansion? Absolutely.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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