Media Watch

KWBA Tries To Find Market Niche

Three weeks ago, KWBA Channel 58 (cable Channel 8) let go of Joan Lee and the remainder of its creative-services department ("Grinch Hits KWBA," Dec. 14). Three months ago, it went with the CW during the dissolution period of the WB and UPN networks. Thirteen months ago, it pulled the plug on its 9 p.m. local news. It has been anything but business as usual for KWBA as it tries to best figure how to make its presence felt in Tucson.

Of the stations in Tucson with a network affiliation, KWBA stands as the only one without an identifiable local personality. KVOA Channel 4, KGUN Channel 9 and KOLD Channel 13 can handle this through their news departments. Meanwhile, Fox affiliate KMSB Channel 11 recently hired Gino Trunzo as its entertainment and features reporter ("KMSB's Trunzo Gets Acclimated to Tucson," Dec. 7), pretty much what Lee was doing during her seven-year stint with KWBA. KMSB also has a two-person sports staff.

Now, there's nobody in a local on-air capacity that gets a check from KWBA.

"You won't see Joan, per se, but you'll see local stuff," said Carol LaFever, CEO of Spokane, Wash.-based Cascade Broadcast Group, which also has a television property in Louisville, Ky. "We came to the point where we felt like the station couldn't be just Joan. I hate to say that in print, but it's an honest statement. Joan is a wonderful person, but the community needs more of her in different ways than just, 'Hi, this is Joan Lee with The Buzz.'

"I still have the feeling you have to do things for your community. That's part of what you're supposed to do as a broadcaster, but it does get tougher and tougher economically to do that. We are trying some more creative ways, and we'll just see if they work."

The crux of that creative approach is brokering--in other words, selling--time to local personalities and giving them a chance to present topics in their own way. Some well-known names are taking advantage of the opportunity.

"Randy Garsee is producing a series of documentaries for us. Valerie Cavazos does a show called Livin' Latin and a couple other shows that she's bringing on. Lou Waters has a show about golfing," LaFever said. "We're talking to the city; we're talking to the university. We're going to have a lot more local programming." (LaFever says they will likely offer time to the government entities.)

This also marks Garsee's return to local television. After a 9 1/2-year term as KOLD's prime-time male news anchor, the station let him go in September. His first half-hour program aired Sunday, Dec. 17.

"The CW is giving me the time to do the type of visual storytelling I love doing," Garsee said. "My concept is sponsored documentaries under the title of Randy Garsee Reports. Hopefully, it will be well-received by the public."

Garsee's KWBA debut featured Medicine Man Gallery owner Mark Sublette. His next project is slated for a January airdate.

Approaching local programming through brokered shows is clearly not just part of an effort to find a niche. Money obviously played a role in the dissolution of the creative-services department. A great deal of that money was spent in technical upgrades, part of which enhances KWBA's digital signal and another signal that presents Latino-based programming as a piggyback to KWBA's Channel 58 signal.

"Yes, we've pared down the expenses. In part, that's going to enable us to operate it and to run it for a long time in a business where the expense of doing a business just keeps getting bigger and bigger," LaFever said. "We spent over a million dollars for our digital buildup for each of our stations. That's a big lump.

"That's what broadcasters are doing now. There's so much money in the infrastructure. I think it's unfortunate that the employee side is taking a hit, but the infrastructure and technology makes it possible to do it with fewer people, and I think 10 years from now, you're not going to have stations. You're going to have this giant server farm in Kansas somewhere, and TV stations will do nothing but what they do locally.

"... In a large part because all the programming is the same--our programming is as good as theirs, is as good as you'll see on cable--the way we want to distinguish our station is through more local programming," LaFever said. "We brought in a gentleman named Dominic San Angelo to help in that project. We're starting to do the outreach with different organizations, and that's starting to pan out. I would suggest if you look at our station in two months, you'll see blocks of local programming that are three or four hours at a time, a couple of days a week, basically establishing some territory in which people would see those programs. We have to keep reinventing ourselves. We can only run Judge Judy so many times."


Arizona Daily Star general-assignment feature reporter Erin White has accepted a position with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"I applied for the job, because I thought it looked like a great opportunity to move to a bigger market," said White, who in addition to feature duties covered many local media-related stories. "I grew up near Louisville, Ky., so it's also half-again as close to my family, which was incredibly appealing to me."

White concludes her three-year stay in Tucson on Dec. 22. She'll begin her general-assignment feature story duties in Fort Worth on Jan. 2.

"It's been an incredible learning experience for me, personally and professionally," White said. "I'm excited about the opportunity, but leaving is most definitely bittersweet. I'm leaving a lot of people I really care about."