L.A. TV News Shakeup: KCAL Adds Morning Block as KCBS Double Pumps ‘CBS Mornings’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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CBS-owned Los Angeles TV stations KCAL and KCBS are set to shakeup the local news landscape in the fall with a programming flip that will bring the first-ever morning newscasts to KCAL. 

KCAL will carry seven hours of news, starting at 4 a.m. and stretching to 11 a.m. KCBS-TV (CBS2) has long carried local news from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., followed by the West coast feed of network morning show “CBS Mornings” from 7-9 a.m.  

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With the switch, CBS2 will run the East coast edition of the live “CBS Mornings” network broadcast from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., followed by the West coast edition in its regular 7 a.m.- 9 a.m. berth. In the 6-7 a.m. hour, CBS2 will simulcast KCAL’s local newscast.

The change-up makes KCAL a contender in the morning news arena for the first time. The station has been largely a news outlet since transforming its primetime lineup to a three-hour news block in March 1990.

The decision came after a new management regime installed last year at the now-combined CBS News and Stations division questioned why a station with a strong news brand would sit out the lucrative early morning hours. KCAL at present airs infomercials in the wee hours of the morning and time buys such as “The 700 Club” religious program. KCAL and CBS2 rivals KNBC, KABC, Fox’s KTTV and Nexstar’s KTLA all offer local or national newscasts in the 4 a.m.-9 a.m. span.  

“By launching morning news on KCAL 9 and adding a second daily broadcast of ‘CBS Mornings’ on CBS 2, our local-to-global news organization is perfectly positioned to showcase its premium content on our broadcast and streaming channels in the Los Angeles market,” said Wendy McMahon, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations. “As one of the most trusted local news providers in Southern California, the window of opportunity for KCAL 9 News in the morning is wide open. We also believe this is an audience growth opportunity for ‘CBS Mornings’ by giving early risers and commuters in the Los Angeles market the chance to watch live from 4:00-6:00 AM.” 

The expansion at KCAL brings the total number of hours of news on KCAL and KCBS and the CBSLA.com streaming news channel to 91.5 per week. Joel Vilmenay, president and general manager of CBS’ outlets in L.A., said KCAL will bring on at least 16 new staffers to help manage the expansion of news

There’s no specific date yet for the transition beyond the fall. The move is seen as a long-overdue step for KCAL and a benefit to early rising Angelenos who want network and local options for news.  

“We think it’s a no-brainer,” Vilmenay told Variety. “What makes this possible is the significant investment to expand local news on KCAL” from the leaders of CBS News and Stations, McMahon and Neeraj Khemlani.  

“The reordering of our morning news programming will be a much better offering to our viewers,” Vilmenay said.  

Once known in the market as KHJ-TV, KCAL was acquired by Disney in 1988 and changed its call letters to KCAL in December 1989. Four months later, KCAL launched the market’s first three-hour primetime local news block. Disney sold the station to Young Broadcasting in 1996 (after Disney acquired Capital Cities/ABC). CBS bought KCAL from Young Broadcasting in 2002 for $650 million. 

As the KCAL newsroom grows, there are also plans to rev up the volume of original shows and enterprise reporting done for the CBSLA.com streaming platform, which launched as a 24/7 news feed in June 2019, Vilmenay said.

The investment in more KCAL newscasts signals the recognition that local TV news coverage plays a unique role in the lives of viewers even as the world is awash in media options. 

“2020 was the most consequential year of coverage. I think we are all understanding more the importance of local news to our viewers,” Vilmenay said. “COVID was effectively a local story. Social justice movements, extraordinary weather events. These are the moments that our viewers are relying on us every day to cover. It’s a responsibility we’re privileged to have.”

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