In recent weeks, we've been reporting about the unusual number of familiar Denver TV news faces leaving the local airwaves or taking on diminished roles amid continuing economic challenges, with most of the action happening at 9News: Entertainment reporter Kirk Montgomery is already gone, sportscaster Susie Wargin has announced her departure and Kyle Dyer is leaving the station's morning show but will helm two midday newscasts.
Against this backdrop, 7News has announced the new anchor who'll replace Mike Landess, who's retiring: Eric Kahnert, a former 9News staffer who was with the station as recently as a couple of years ago. Is this a canny strategy by 7News to undermine and possibly leapfrog the longtime market leader? Could be, although a station exec doesn't put it that way.
Right now, Kahnert is a news anchor at KSTP in Minneapolis, his hometown according to 7News news director Jeff Harris. But from 2009 through 2012, Kahnert worked as a weekend anchor at what a 7News release describes as "a station here in Denver."
That station is, of course, 9News.
When asked why Kahnert is the right guy to take 7News forward, however, Harris skips any reference to his previous Colorado employer. "Eric's a great, strong reporter and a strong journalist," he says. "And he has a background in investigative journalism, which is a great fit for 7News."
Harris adds that Kahnert won't simply be sitting behind a desk: "My hope is that he's going to be breaking news, and part of that would be doing a lot of digging. We think that part of his background is going to be a component of what he does for the station, just like everybody else here."
Lately, 7News has won a slew of awards for its investigative work, including a Peabody, and its ratings have been climbing especially in key demographics such as female viewers. But 9News continues to lead in overall audience share for most newscasts, as it has since the days when Landess, another Channel 9 refugee, first teamed with co-host Ed Sardella back in the 1970s.
The margin between the outlets has narrowed, however, and with 9News making what appear to be economic decisions to part ways with longtimers such as Montgomery and Wargin, as well as moving Dyer off the morning show she's helmed with such success for eighteen years, there's a possible opportunity for rivals such as 7News.
Not that Harris will delve into this subject. The most he offers when it's broached is a rhetorical question. "Does this set us up for the future?" he asks, before answering, "It does -- really well."
The station will be using the summer to transition Kahnert into the broadcast. He's slated to start on June 30, and Harris says "he'll be joining the entire anchor team," including Landess, during key afternoon and late evening broadcasts. He'll then take over when Landess signs off in August.
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Could the move trigger shifts at other stations? It's certainly possible. But the most powerful drivers for on-air changes remain dollars and cents.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Media archive circa May 8: "Update: Mike Landess, retiring 7News anchor, on whether he jumped or was pushed."