Media Watch

KUAT GM Hopes To Continue Upturn

Jack Gibson inherited a good gig.

The KUAT Communications Group was doing fine before his arrival, and it's doing fine now--but there are challenges ahead, largely involving the desire to streamline personnel responsibilities and remain in tune with ever-changing technological advantages.

"It has been running well, but times are changing," said Gibson, who makes the move to Tucson after a 15-year stint with WPBT, which serves Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches. "A key is the desire for change. The key motivation for me is both the opportunity and potential here, but also the desire to make it responsive to the needs of the community.

"The relationship with the university is critical for us. It's who we are. It's where we're located. I think the station has done a good job in the past connecting with the university community. We intend to do a better job in the future. There are lots of opportunities to connect with programs on campus. ... We have broadcast antennas, and we can get the word out, whether it be television, radio, online or through multimedia."

And it's between those mediums that Gibson hopes to improve communications, not necessarily in a broadcasting sense, but between the different entities within the university media structure.

"The intention is to merge the folks who create content for us--whether that's content online, promotional, radio, television, multimedia--to one department," Gibson said. "They will be charged with creating content across the platform. For example, a person who appears on Arizona Illustrated on the TV side could conceivably have an interview spot on the radio station or online that happens pretty simultaneously. It can perhaps act as a learning piece for primary or secondary educators to be used as a teaching tool. The units (currently) operating sort of independent of each other might mention something to the radio folks, but they wouldn't necessarily think of the other applications it would have. The change we're making structurally is to have one editorial head ... so that any story that's being developed for television has the same connections to the radio station, online and media outreach."

Gibson is intent on maintaining KUAT's position as a provider of local content.

"Without the local programming, this station could operate more effectively just beaming a signal from Washington or New York or Los Angeles," Gibson said. "The difference in public broadcasting opposed to Discovery or A&E or someone like that is that we have local affiliates basically creating original content in their local markets that reflect the key interests and compositions of their local community. That's something we strive to do. You wouldn't see programs like Arizona Illustrated (on Discovery or A&E), because on a national scheme, they're not very cost-effective. Arizona Illustrated is probably the program I hear the most feedback (about) in terms of people putting their money where their mouth is. It has been incredibly gratifying."

That said, Gibson sees potential ways to increase local programming avenues, without adding to staff size.

"One of the challenges for me is to create more with basically the same investment of resources," Gibson said. "We've talked about several series capitalizing on programs like Arizona Illustrated. We have a producer who produces art stories, but we don't have a stand-alone art program. If there's a way to take a look at the programming that producer has developed, and to produce a monthly or quarterly arts series, we're real interested in doing that. We could also develop a cross-platform with a radio component, online, speaking engagements, and start to address the potential the company could achieve."

KUAT, of course, requires private donations to survive. The good news for Gibson is that the March pledge drive set station records.

"(A) 43 percent (increase). It was incredible. It's the most successful March campaign the organization has ever had," Gibson said. "The better news is we did it and reduced the time on air asking for gifts by 5 percent. It's a combination of a couple things. The programming mix was right. The folks in development have a good track record of working together, understanding the market and successfully designing a schedule, and that's why viewer response was so strong. That translates into membership revenue that will allow us to move forward."

And Gibson, of course, feels forward is for the better.

"The bandwidth--between the two analog stations, the two digital TV stations, the two FMs and an AM, the cable channel with the UA channel--is critical to the future. This place is very well poised for a very bright future," Gibson said.

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