Tornadoes Preempt Oprah Farewell on KSDK -- Oh, the Humanity!

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Oprah Winfrey said goodbye to America yesterday -- but she'll say goodbye to St. Louis viewers today.
Oprah Winfrey said goodbye to America yesterday -- but she'll say goodbye to St. Louis viewers today.
For a TV station reliant on advertising -- and viewers' goodwill -- the timing couldn't have been worse.

Just as talk show icon Oprah Winfrey was preparing to say goodbye to her millions of devoted viewers, ending her show's 25 year run, severe weather tore into St. Louis, with tornadoes touching down in Sedalia and heading towards the metro area, giant hail pelting St. Louis County and truly ominous thunderstorms moving in over the city. What's a TV station to do?

As Jeff Winget, KSDK's director of marketing and promotions, tells Daily RFT, there was really no question: "Our brand is, 'Where the news comes first.' Knowing that helps us make decisions before we have to make them." And, in this instance, that meant not airing Oprah at all yesterday afternoon: "It was a question of a TV show versus saving people's lives."

Our lives are more important than Oprah?

Sounds crazy, no? But it's not that simple.

As Winget explains, the station knew the bad weather was coming long before any funnel clouds were on the horizon. So they got in touch with CBS, which syndicates Oprah's show (which is kind of bizarre, actually, since KSDK is St. Louis' NBC affiliate, but c'est la TV business). CBS gave the station permission to air the episode once the weather cleared.

So, that meant truly devoted Oprah fans could stay up super late -- or get up super early -- and catch their queen at 3 a.m. today. They will also get a chance to see a complete and uninterrupted show at the usual time, 4 p.m., today, and again at 3 a.m. tomorrow.

That allowed the station to run with the weather uninterrupted, other than a 5 p.m. newscast mostly focused on (you guessed it!) the weather, from 2:30 p.m. all the way until the storm finally passed at 6:50 p.m.

That surely cost the station a few bucks -- and so, too, did its decision on Sunday night to air the Celebrity Apprentice finale without weather interruption, using the scheduled commercial breaks for updates instead. That meant forgoing a huge chunk of the evening's advertising revenue.

Winget declines to say just how much money KSDK lost on Sunday. "Look, yesterday we were charging pretty good penny for Oprah spots, and none of those aired," he says. "But we take our responsibilities very seriously."

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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