WCPO-TV Branding No Longer 'On Your Side'

Feb 4, 2020

We start with breaking news because TV stations always start with breaking news: The Channel 9 news branding is no longer on your side.

WCPO-TV has unveiled new imaging, reverting back to its call letters and huge channel number – WCPO 9 – similar to the logo used about 60 years ago. It dropped the orange and brown "9 On Your Side" slogan mentioned repeatedly by anchors and reporters, and seen on logos and news vans for nearly two decades.

Credit Courtesy WCPO-TV

I guess this means that Channel 9 executives won't hassle me – as they did when the "9OYS" was adopted about 20 years ago – for referring to the station as WCPO-TV (as stated on its license) or as Channel 9, instead of "9 On Your Side."

Before that, they complained when I refused to call their 11 p.m. news The Latest @ 11, the official title for Channel 9's late news.

Until it wasn't.

"WCPO 9 has a new look and messaging to reflect its commitment to the Cincinnati region," the station announced Monday. The rebranding, along with a "Home" video, aims to promote Channel 9 "as the only station in Cincinnati owned by a local media company, The E.W. Scripps Company."

Late 1950s or early 1960s WCPO-TV logo.

"As the only locally-owned media company, we live and work here and have a vested interest in the success of our region,” said Jeff Brogan, Channel 9 vice president and general manager. "This new campaign reinforces that commitment we have to this area by producing relevant journalism and giving back to the community." [Kiese note: WCPO-TV is the only locally-owned full-power TV station. Cincinnati Public Radio/WVXU/WGUC, low-power WKRP TV, WDJO-AM and WNKN/WNKR FM are among Cincinnati's locally-owned media outlets.] 

Branding and TV studio anchor desks are a big deal to stations, but they've never mattered much to me. Since I started covering TV in 1985, I've tried to focus on the news content – not the marketing, which changes.

And changes. And changes.

WKRC-TV morning anchors Bob Herzog and Sheila Gray in 2015.
Credit Courtesy WKRC-TV

WKRC-TV used to be "Tall 12." In the 1980s it was "Eyewitness News" with anchors Nick Clooney and Randy Little.

Now Channel 12 calls itself "The Local Station," or "Local 12" for short. I rarely use that slogan in stories. Aren't all the local news stations, well, local? Wasn't Sheila Gray a local newscaster at WXIX-TV for 14 years before hired by Channel 12? Isn't that why Channel 12 wanted her?

WXIX-TV brands itself as Fox 19 Now. Channel 19 devotes more hours (11) to local news on weekdays than any other station. But what if you want to watch a Cincinnati TV newscast at noon or 7 p.m.? Not now, because Channel 19 airs game shows, not news.

For years, WCPO-TV has promoted news as its identity, and for good reason. News director Al Schottelkotte anchored the top-rated newscast for 22 years (1960-1982). In 1987, anchorman Pat Minarcin's award-winning investigation into Drake Hospital serial killer Donald Harvey launched Channel 9's investigative I-Team unit, which was promoted as part of the station's "9 Stands For News" branding.

WLWT-TV says it's "leading the way," because it was Cincinnati's first TV station 72 years ago (Feb. 9, 1948) and NBC's first affiliate.  Six years ago, Channel 5 branded itself as "where the news comes first" in 2014 – although the newscasts' ratings were far from No. 1. In the 1970s, WLWT-TV promoted its "Action News." 

WLWT-TV's "where the news comes first" promotion for Ken Broo, Sandra Ali, Dave Wagner and meteorologist Jim O'Brien.
Credit Courtesy WLWT-TV

Folks at WLWT-TV (Channel 5) used to boast about its "Power of 5" radar, using radar sweeps from Cincinnati, Dayton, Wilmington, CVG and Louisville. Not any more. Now Channel 5 touts its "most accurate forecast" designation from WeatheRate, an independent research company that verifies forecasts. Like with the J.D. Powers award, stations must pay WeatheRate to mention the award. Before WLWT-TV received the WeatheRate designation eight years ago, WCPO-TV was No. 1 with WeatheRate, and paid to use the distinction.

Things go in cycles.

In 1967 under Schottelkotte's  leadership, Channel 9 was the first Cincinnati TV station to acquire a helicopter, called the News Bird. They boasted about it until 2000, when they ditched the helicopter because it was an expensive luxury.

In 2013, Channel 9 returned to the skies with "Chopper 9" with reporter Dan Carroll, and boasted that Channel 9 was the only TV station with a helicopter that could get to breaking news faster than anyone else. Chopper 9 zoomed across the opening of 9 On Your Side newscasts. Then last month – breaking news! – Channel 9 announced it was ending Chopper 9 flights and terminating Carroll sometime this month.

Chopper 9 in the opening graphics for a January WCPO-TV newscast.
Credit Courtesy WCPO-TV

Spoiler Alert: There's no helicopter in the new "WCPO 9" newscasts opening.

WCPO-TV has boasted about 11-minutes of non-stop news and weather at 11 p.m. I remember when when WKRC-TV did 12 minutes – called "12 on 12" – in the 1980s or early 1990s.

When sports reporter John Popovich (left), with colleague Dennis Janson in 1986, came to WCPO-TV in 1979, he did features for the new 7 p.m. newscast.
Credit Courtesy John Popovich

Adding a 7 p.m. newscast was a big deal at WCPO a while back. It also was a big deal in 1979 when Channel 9 did Cincinnati's first 7 p.m. weekday newscast with anchor Jon Esther and Jack Helsel. By 1986, WCPO-TV's 7 p.m. news had been replaced by Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! when WKRC-TV's premiered a 7 p.m. newscast with Randy Little. When Little left for Channel 9, newly hired Rob Braun took over a revamped Live At Seven on Channel 12.

The 9 On Your Side branding was taken from reporter John Matarese's popular consumer reports 20 years ago. In 2002, the branding was extended to Channel 9 reporter Michael Flannery, who used the power of television to get help for children needing surgery, wheelchair lifts or other items in his 9 On Your Kid's Side reports – until Flannery and his segment were scuttled in a budget cut.

I always found 9 On Your Side branding confusing. Aren't journalists supposed to be impartial and unbiased?

At the annual Crosstown Shoot-Out, whose side was 9 on? UC or Xavier?

When 9 On Your Side reporters revealed details of the Plush family suing the city of Cincinnati over how Cincinnati Police failed to rescue their trapped son, was Channel 9 on the side of the family? Or Cincinnati taxpayers who could pay a financial settlement to the family?

TV stations also make a big deal when they buy and install a new anchor desk and news set. They would invite me over to see it before the premiere. When I worked at The Enquirer, I moved into several different desks when the Features department was relocated to various corners of the newsroom. I never thought of inviting the TV stations to see my new desk.

The new WCPO-TV logo debuted Monday, Feb. 3.
Credit Courtesy WCPO-TV

Although WCPO-TV has erased the 9 On Your Side from the airwaves, the station will continue to be on their side, says Melisse Marks, Channel 9 creative services director.

"The 'On Your Side' brand has always been more than just a slogan and a part of our logo. It conveys how we approach our work. Even though our consumers won't see 'On Your Side' in our logo and marketing messages, our commitment to helping make our region better by helping people live better lives continues," Marks says in the announcement.