It's no April Fool's joke: KUAT Channel 6 made the digital transition early, shutting off its analog transmitter due to weather damage.
"It was a Mother Nature intervention," said Steve Delgado, Arizona Public Media's publicity and marketing specialist, about the decision to turn off the analog signal at 11:59 p.m. on March 31. "That tower was subjected to some heavy freezing early in the year and effectively took out one of the devices. The rest of the devices up there have to shoulder the burden. ... To replace this particular transmitter requires a lot of logistics—a huge crane, a lot of people involved, a lot of energy—for something that was about to be sunsetted in the summer. So the decision was made to just turn it off."
Like every other station, the PBS affiliate had prepared to make the much-publicized digital switch on Feb. 17, but went along with the government's adjusted deadline of June 12, put into place as concerns rose over the number of households unprepared for the transfer.
KUAT's transition could act as an interesting barometer for how severe the local problem might be. Tucson's mountainous terrain has the potential to create digital dark zones in a number of areas, and new maps have suggested the issue might be more widespread than advertised. Delgado says estimates show that 17,785 households, or just less than 10 percent of the area, could be impacted. Or, perhaps the problem will not be as bad as feared.
"There will be calls, because there always is with everything surrounding this issue. It does have a certain confusing nature to it, especially with some of our more seasoned viewers," Delgado said. "... There's a certain portion of the population that on April 1 is going to have the kids run out, saying, 'Mom, Mom, there's no Arthur.' That's when the phones are going to start ringing."
Most Tucson stations still plan to make the really-seriously-we-truly-mean-it-this-time-absolute-final-switch on June 12, although Belo-owned KTTU Channel 18 went digital some months ago due to similar technical issues with its analog transmitter.
Local radio-talk mainstay John C. Scott was slated to return to KJLL AM 1330, the station he parted ways with in favor of KVOI AM 690. Scott's return was scheduled for Wednesday, April 1, although start-time glitches and technical issues still had to be resolved as of our deadline.
"It's a great opportunity for John. It's a better deal for John financially, and also gives him some real responsibility over at KJLL. I look at it as a positive thing for him," said KVOI general manager Doug Martin.
In place of Scott, who was on for two staggered hours every weekday, KVOI has opted for a third hour of the Dennis Prager Show, which will air midday, and a new local morning talk show, Wake Up Tucson With Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone.
"Joe's a businessman in town. He ran for county supervisor. He has a number of small businesses, and he's very good at it. He's also very community-active and knows what's going on politically," Martin said. "Chris hosts Business and Banter on the weekends. It's very good and gets a lot of calls and a lot of interest. The two of them have partnered up and are going to focus on the local economy and local political issues. We feel that's going to be very positive for us, and we're also excited for John's opportunity. He's been given a real great chance over there."
Scott has been a stalwart of local talk radio, peddling his product on seemingly half of the local stations on the AM dial during a career that has traversed the better part of three decades.
Tucson Citizen columnist Anne T. Denogean apparently saw things differently over a column she wrote relating to the final days of the Citizen—and as a result, the column, slated to run on Friday, March 27, was pulled.
The piece in question praised some of her colleagues and speculated on the future of the paper and what differences could result in light of a Citizen closure or purchase. A draft of the article is available for viewing online, as is a Denogean e-mail to the blogger; she was upset that the draft version of the column was leaked.
According to eyewitness reports, the newsroom exchange hinged on the perception that the article was critical of Gannett at a sensitive time when potential investors were in negotiations to perhaps purchase the troubled afternoon daily.
Said potential investors were scheduled to be touring the Citizen this week.
KVOA Channel 4 employees are facing a five-day furlough during the second quarter, which runs through June 30. The policy is company-wide and affects everyone employed by KVOA's parent, Evening Post Publishing Company.
"If you look around the country, our company is not alone in taking measures such as furloughs to help offset the impact of the economy on media companies," said KVOA president and general manager Gary Nielsen in a press release. "KVOA has terrific employees who work hard every day, and we are sorry this will have a financial effect on them in the second quarter. We know this will be difficult for everyone in the short term but will help to navigate our company to more prosperous times."
Up the road, Belo, which operates KMSB Channel 11 and KTTU Channel 18, laid off three employees locally, which was significantly less damaging than the blood-letting that occurred at the company's Phoenix television property, which saw a staff reduction of about 30.
Cuts are occurring at the Tucson Weekly as well. Most of the cuts to the editorial side involve peripheral expenses, such as trimming the freelance photo budget and eliminating payment for guest commentaries, although the most noticeable visual loss to readers could be the temporary cut of syndicated comic strip "Troubletown" after the publication of this edition.