Media Watch

Closing A Circle

After a half-century in the television industry, give or take, Jack Parris had brought his career full circle.

He jumped into television while a student in the theater department at the University of Nebraska in 1954 after hearing that the campus station, KUON, needed help in the afternoon.

When he turns in his keys after seven years as general manager of the University of Arizona's KUAT Communications Group, he'll go back on "helping out" status as a broadcast consultant. His 51-year career dawned in a black-and-white world and concludes with the kickoff of digital transmission.

"Everybody did a little bit of everything," said Parris, whose career included 24 years in various Midwest cities and 27 years in Tucson. "In a small station, everyone did a little bit of everything--directing, announcing, cameras. We took turns. It was a wonderful experience."

Technological evolution isn't the only change he's watched while television wove itself into American culture.

"When I got into commercial broadcasting, we were still operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity," he said. "I think that has changed over the years. The bottom line has become very important, and I think there is a need for (commercial) stations to attract large audiences."

But unlike commercial stations, the KUAT group--the television station and radio stations KUAT-FM and KUAZ-AM and -FM--is more dependent on the audience for support. While it receives federal and state funding, rising costs and budget cuts have made the KUAT organization even more dependent on direct audience support.

"We don't have a (financial) cushion anymore," he said, adding that controversial proposed budget cuts aimed at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service would have landed squarely on local stations.

KUAT's share of the embattled $100 million is about 15 percent of the group's operating revenues. He said that while the group's fundraising efforts have been successful, there is a concern about leaning on the membership to pick up more of the tab. But, he added, there have been several optimistic moments.

Parris said members have been very generous in their financial support for KUAT-AM/FM in its news-talk by day and jazz by night format. The station's last campaign raised $100,000 in seven days. He added that life in a public station differs from its commercial counterparts in other ways, particularly in the people.

"Tucson is a transitional market. People come here from places like Yuma, work here for a while, then move to bigger markets. But at KUAT, people have a tendency to stay," he said. "I think people in public broadcasting believe in what they are doing, and are proud of their communities, so they stay put."

Part of that, he said, is because for the most part, public stations are the places where local programming, other than live sports, still happens, adding that The Desert Speaks, which also runs on other public stations, is in its 16th year.

Parrish came to Tucson in 1978 as station manager and program manager at ABC affiliate KGUN-TV, became general manager in March 1983 and left the station in December 1986. He joined KUAT in January 1998 as assistant general manager for video service, which is responsible for distance learning courses.


Could someone punch up the Peaches and Herb classic and take this action to the dance floor?

StarNet, the Arizona Daily Star's online operation, recently made KGUN Channel 9 a "favored news partner." StarNet hosts KGUN's vastly improved Web site, which includes Star front-page headlines and mirrors the "recent Associated Press stories" feed from the StarNet home page. In exchange, the ABC affiliate provides news and weather video updates to StarNet.

It's an amusing thought if you look at local media deals over the years. New Star owner Lee Enterprises was KGUN's owner from 1986 to 2000. KVOA is also a StarNet news partner, and the Star's former owner Pulitzer Inc., sold KVOA so it could buy the Star in 1971.

The Tucson Citizen's online venture has the hookup with CBS affiliate KOLD, which also is a reconnection of sorts. Gannett bought the Citizen in 1977. In 1985, Gannett bought the Detroit-based Evening News Association, which owned KOLD.

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