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KEYE planning to start the day with spunk

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com

Erika Gonzalez has far too much energy to sit still for two straight hours.

That's why, when KEYE debuts "We Are Austin Mornings" on Friday morning, you won't find her glued to the anchor desk.

Airing from 5 to 7 a.m., the show is designed to be an alternative to the strait-laced local newscasts on competing stations. Instead, Gonzalez says, it's modeled after network morning programs such as ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "Early Show" and NBC's "Today."

"We've got all the need-to-know information, but we're also fun and spunky, with a whole lot of viewer interaction," she said. "This show is its own animal."

Regular checks of Facebook and Twitter are planned, as well as show-and-tell segments focusing on everything from cooking to technology. Music plays a big role, as well, with Gonzalez and meteorologist Kelly Slifka picking a mix of songs that will be heard throughout the morning.

"It's a free-flowing show," said Slifka. "The content will depend on what our viewers want."

"If you want us to talk about something," Gonzalez added, "tell us."

"We Are Austin Mornings" is modeled after KEYE's 2-year-old "We Are Austin Live," which airs weekdays at 4 p.m. The anchors of that show, Bettie Cross and Jason Wheeler, will have a regular presence on the sibling show, which, like its afternoon counterpart, will bounce between multiple sets.

"We're definitely going to get a cardio workout," Gonzalez said.

The program replaces a simulcast of Mix 94.7's "JB and Sandy Morning Show" that has been on the air for nearly two years. Contract negotiations between executives from the TV and radio stations broke down earlier this year.

Slifka handled traffic and weather duties during the simulcast, but says he had little opportunity for interaction. That's one of the things to which he's most looking forward.

"I'll definitely miss them," he said, "but I'm excited to do more than just blurting out weather and traffic."

"He's a smart, funny, quirky guy," Gonzalez added. "The man just needed someone to talk to."

KEYE ditched morning news back in 2009 after years of struggling in the ratings, even with well-known Austin anchors Fred Cantu and Michelle Valles. This time, though, management is convinced things will be different.

"This is a total departure from what we used to do," said senior producer Jose Torres. "It's going to be a fun way of doing Austin news."

Gonzalez, too, thinks the station will draw a significant audience this time around. Hosting "We Are Austin Mornings," she says, is a dream come true, and the anchor is committed to making it work.

"I'm not afraid to say I'm silly and quirky," she said. "That's why I've always wanted to work mornings. That's what feels right for me.

"This baby came out of nowhere. I feel truly blessed that everything has fallen into place like this."

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987

"We Are Austin Mornings"