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From AJR,   July/August 1999  issue

Viva Less Sports   

By Jennifer L. Goodale

The No. 1-ranked news station in Las Vegas, KVBC-TV Channel 3, has decided the traditional sports segment isn't a necessity.

Sound kind of crazy? Maybe not. Why broadcast sports when there's nothing going on?

That's the view of KVBC News Director Michael George, who came to the NBC affiliate last March from an NBC affiliate in Atlanta. He says there are many nights when nothing significant happens in national sports. Plus, no national teams hail from Nevada. So why not focus more on local sports, George asks, and blend it with the news on a daily basis?

In late May, for example, Mike Tyson was released from jail in Montgomery County, Maryland. Tyson may not live in Las Vegas, but he boxes there often, bringing lots of money to the area. Waiting until the end of the evening broadcast to talk about it, George says, tells the viewers it's not important. Instead, the KVBC sports director, Andrew Smith, read the Tyson story during the news segment.

No sports segment, per se, will be scheduled for the weekday 6 and 11 p.m. broadcasts or the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. weekend broadcasts. The station will decide if a story requires Smith, instead of a news anchor, to read it.

It's really a day-to-day decision, George stresses. During football season this fall, the weekends will most likely feature four to five minutes devoted to local and national play, and Monday newscasts will wrap up the weekend highlights. But during the rest of the week, local sports will get just one to two minutes of airtime--if that--interspersed with the news. The station is not planning regular sports segments for Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

"If there's no sports [during the week], what do broadcasts fill their three minutes with?" George asks. Local stations continue to air sports segments, he says, "because it's always been done... If you don't need three minutes, why do it? It's not right."

So, if the news anchors are reading some of the voiceovers and sports-related news, what's happening to the sports anchors? George won't comment on any personnel changes, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported May 1 that sports director Smith will anchor a sports segment on the weekends until his contract runs out in February. The sports anchor, Brian Lippai, will leave in August, when his contract expires, according to the Review-Journal, and sports producer Rick Strasser will depart in December. Smith, Lippai and Strasser did not return phone calls.

If the only highlights are from a basketball game, why can't a news anchor handle it? George asks.

KVBC-TV dominates the news ratings in Las Vegas, the 56th largest TV market in the country, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the station can't compete with the cable sports shows that continuously air national scores, says George, who has worked at other stations that have discussed minimizing the sports segment.

"I love sports. That's how I started in broadcasting," George says. "But it's all news. That's why it's in the newscast."