Chasing the Young

WB11 and its girl-power anchor team are diving after a younger demographic. Will they belly-flop or win?

It's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and St. Louisans far and wide are huddled in front of their television sets to catch legendary KMOV anchor Julius Hunter's final broadcast.

For more than two decades, Hunter has been the area's black Cronkite, a consistent presence in a city that values familiarity over virtually all other qualities.

But at the Black Thorn Pub on South Wyoming Street on this night -- just as old Julius is signing off once and for all -- all eyes are on the two stunning young ladies squaring off at the air-hockey table, courageously putting their well-manicured fingernails in the way of a speeding wind-aided faux puck.

Melanie Moon and Kathryn Jamboretz
Jennifer Silverberg/Stylist: Vivian Ogler
Melanie Moon and Kathryn Jamboretz
Says Jamboretz, "The deadline pressure is so different when you have newscasts every four hours. Here, you can be a lot more selective."
Jennifer Silverberg
Says Jamboretz, "The deadline pressure is so different when you have newscasts every four hours. Here, you can be a lot more selective."

It is doubtful that more than a handful of the mostly twentysomething hipster patrons really care about Hunter or know that tonight is his last broadcast. But judging from some starstruck looks -- particularly the wanton expressions of the men -- odds are, more than a few of them recognize the smoldering betties at the air-hockey table, better known to area channel-surfers as WB11 (KPLR, Channel 11) anchors Kathryn Jamboretz and Melanie Moon.

Together, thirtysomethings Moon and Jamboretz represent the only all-female A-team anchor desk in St. Louis evening news. And not by accident -- KPLR is hellbent on having its 9 p.m. newscast be a hipped-up, lifestyle-oriented extension of its parent network's prime-time programming, which is squarely aimed at 18- to 34-year-old women.

"The best way to maintain ratings is to maintain the audience who's watching at 8:58 [p.m.]," says KPLR general manager Bill Lanesey.

And, as Jamboretz notes: "Women like watching other women."

There's little doubt that KPLR -- which nudges out its lone 9 p.m. rival, Fox2 (KTVI, Channel 2), for the top spot among 18- to 34-year-old women Monday-Friday -- is accomplishing Lanesey's objective. Similarly, hardly anyone denies that KPLR's girl-power anchor team deserves much of the credit for the station's success among this niche demographic.

What's debatable, however, is whether this strategy is too narrow in focus to be credible from either a business or journalistic standpoint. And what's curious is that of the twenty WB affiliates nationwide that air regular nightly newscasts -- stations with the same lead-in programming as KPLR -- few, if any, have adopted Channel 11's all-or-nothing pursuit of the young-adult viewer, a long-revered demographic whose actual value has been called into question of late by prominent media analysts.

Webster University journalism professor Art Silverblatt -- swift on the heels of an October 13 New York Times Magazine article that took a blowtorch to the common belief that the 18-to-34 category is the most desirable demographic -- questions whether advertisers should even bother buying spots on a newscast as niche-driven as WB11's.

"It is really a misdirection," Silverblatt says. "Who are they going after, and why? People who are between 35 and retirement are at the prime of their purchase power. They're definitely users of the media, and they've essentially been cremated. I can understand that [targeting younger consumers] in terms of some brands, but everybody uses shampoo."

After a defensive grudge match at the air-hockey table -- where Jamboretz prevails 4-2 before getting timed out by the machine (standard duels are played to 7) -- the ladies move on to the Ms. Pac-Man machine. Moon demurs, but Jamboretz -- who admits to having become "addicted" to the game as a young lass growing up in Webster Groves -- kicks ass. In fact, she's such a deft joystick jockey that one wonders whether she could torture the rival Pac-monsters that chase her li'l miss around the screen blindfolded.

While Jamboretz rips up the screen, Moon -- who says she didn't touch a drop of booze until her mid-twenties, nurses a Diet Coke and resists the cell-phone pleas of KPLR reporter Jennifer Haynes to join her at a riverboat casino for a night of blackjack and amaretto sours.

One senses that gambling till the sun comes up on a school night isn't the standard speed of this blond, petite, über-religious daughter of a Baptist minister, a graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Jamboretz is a different story: The University of Colorado alum and sorority sister is bitter as all hell that she's under doctor's orders to take a month off from drinking, in the heart of the holiday season, after undergoing an emergency appendectomy the week before.

"I'm a drinker, and so is my family," says Jamboretz, as she speeds toward KPLR's Maryland Heights studio in a silver BMW with Mary Jay Blige on the stereo. The daughter of a prominent local ad man, she reveals with mischievous pride that the germ of her party-girl modus operandi was a jam-packed Golden Child-style high-school bender at her vacationing folks' house that had to be broken up by her grandparents.

Short, perky, quick-witted and blessed with refreshingly slammin' curves that belie her trade's norm of anorexic chic, Jamboretz is cuter off-camera than on -- a compliment not to be taken lightly in a profession where, let's face it, looks are at least as important as brains. She is, in short, the sort of girl you'd feel equally at ease bringing home to Mom or taking to the tavern with Pop.

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