A year ago, KATU was the only television news operation in Portland, Oregon, that didn't have a helicopter. After being No. 1 in its market for about 10 years, Channel 2's ratings were slipping; fewer men, in particular, were tuning in.
Vice President and Station Manager Jan Allen was starting to worry. A gut feeling told her it could be the choppers men were drawn to. One day Allen had an epiphany: KATU would get two helicopters.
News department staffers thought she was crazy. It wasn't that they didn't want the helicopters. "They were salivating when I came up with it," says Allen, 45. But they couldn't justify the purchase financially if the helicopters were used solely as a newsgathering tool, she says.
Allen, a 25-year veteran TV journalist, wasn't swayed. She convinced her corporate bosses to buy one helicopter and lease another and then came up with a catchy slogan: "The Power of 2." Allen would not reveal the cost of the investment.
Up to this point, the station was clearly getting beaten on breaking news stories, says Pete Schulberg, TV/radio columnist for Portland's Oregonian.
But KATU was mounting a coup. The station created 15-second teasers--"testosterone spots"--featuring, for example, the sound of the choppers' whirling blades.
The ultimate strike came when the station rolled out "The Power of 2" with a two-minute music video aired during the one program where men would definitely see it: "Monday Night Football." Looking like a scene from "Apocalypse Now," Jet Ranger 1 and Jet Ranger 2 flew in military-style formation to the orchestral accompaniment of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." The male narrator commanded the audience to "experience The Power of 2."
But not everyone was enamored. "It sounded more like a promo for the 'Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' than for a news station," says the Oregonian's Schulberg.
Yet, it worked. "Two days after it started, people were calling and saying, 'Send Jet Ranger 1 over here,' " says Allen. Within two weeks, she says, ratings were back up; judging from viewer reaction, the men had returned.
The station produced 170 promos in 10 months, airing two fresh ones each week. Maybe it was a little overkill, Schulberg says. "People sort of thought, 'What did this have to do with news?' "
But, he adds, "I can't say I blame Channel 2 for doing something. It's just reality that, in these days, you really need a helicopter." Or two.