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KCBS ZEROING IN ON HARD NEWS : Robert Hyland III, Channel 2's New General Manager, Vows to Bring Back Golden Era of No-Holds-Barred, Nuts-and-Bolts Stories

June 25, 1987|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

In his first month as general manager at ratings-beleaguered KCBS-TV, Robert Hyland dumped the 7 p.m. newscast, replaced it with "The People's Court" and rehired one of the architects of last October's disastrous "news wheel" format--a format that lasted exactly three weeks.

But Hyland maintains that he is committed to bringing back the KCBS golden era of tough, no-holds-barred, nuts-and-bolts hard news.

Witness, he says, last month's local Nielsen sweeps derby.

Hyland was instrumental in yanking a pair of series from the 6 p.m. newscasts. One was entitled "Dodger Wives." The other was "Women Who Love Priests."

Without going into details, Hyland said neither he nor his newly-rehired news director, Erik Sorenson, saw series about major-league mates or clerical crushes as broadcast journalism's finest hour.

This week, Hyland and Sorenson are announcing the formation of a new four-member "Channel 2 Investigations" team, headed by KCBS veteran Ross Becker. Beginning in July, they vow, the team will begin breaking new stories instead of rehashing articles from the morning newspaper.

"I think KNBC and KABC do present hard news, but they also do things that fall into the soft side--I suppose for a balance effect," Hyland says. "Not that we, too, won't do soft features from time to time. But I think the image for us will be investigative reporting."

KCBS had two producers and a full-time reporter on investigative assignments in Los Angeles a year before Hyland showed up here, but Becker's team will redouble those efforts, according to Hyland.

Many among the newsroom staff are understandably skeptical about Hyland's high hopes. They have survived poor ratings, a seven-week Writers Guild strike and three different changes in general managers and news directors in the past nine months.

"So far, he's been real low-key," said one on-air personality who requested anonymity. "If his car weren't parked in (former general manager Tom) Van Amburg's old slot, you wouldn't even know he was here."

Newsroom veterans question the wisdom of rehiring Sorenson, who was responsible with then general manager Frank Gardner for implementing the station's disastrous "news wheel" format last fall. The news wheel--a revolutionary concept in local news that divided the evening newscasts into thematic, 20-minute bites--was on the air on Sept. 15 and off the air by the first week in October. Gardner was forced to resign and Sorenson followed a few days later.

Nevertheless, Hyland, new to Los Angeles and to television, turned to Sorenson for his experience in dealing with Southern California broadcast journalism and the KCBS staff.

"Irrespective of what went on with the news wheel concept, it was part of his broadcast life," Hyland philosophized. "Even though it was a failure in many ways, it was also a success in a way. He cared an awful lot about it and he learned what was good about it and what was bad about it. I think that he is by far the best person to take this station from where it is right now to a higher level."

Hyland is the son of a CBS legend. His father, Robert Hyland II, has managed the CBS-owned-and-operated broadcast outlets in St. Louis, Mo., for more than 30 years. KMOX-AM is often cited in trade publications as the best all-talk station in the country. The CBS-owned AM, FM and TV stations that his 68-year-old father has managed (CBS has sold the TV station) earn 50 cents of every broadcast advertising dollar spent in St. Louis, according to Hyland.

"The most competitive person in the world is my father," he says. "He's the kind of guy who always feels that he's going to be knocked over by the competition, so he's always thinking ahead about ways to destroy the competition."

He fights comparisons to his father, but the shared competitive characteristics of the Hyland dynasty are indelible.

Robert Hyland III tried avoiding head-on family competition and took his first job out of college as a salesman with ABC-owned and operated radio station KGO-AM in San Francisco.

"I fought long and hard to not come to CBS," he said. Nonetheless, he joined the "family" firm in 1968.

Like his father, most of his CBS career was in radio, not television. In 1979, he became his father's equal when he took over management of CBS' WCBS-AM in New York. In 1980 he was promoted once again to head all CBS-owned-and-operated FM stations, and thus became his father's boss.

He also helped mastermind a format switch for CBS-FM stations across the country that called for uniform Top 40 "hit radio" style, including in Los Angeles, where KNX-FM became KKHR-FM from 1983 through 1985.

"We had planned to make that change long before KIIS-FM ever got hot here," said the 42-year-old executive. "But we didn't--as I look back--move as quickly as we should have. And in the meantime KIIS came in here and figured that we were going to change KNX-FM and really cranked up KIIS-FM and did a helluva job."

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