Station to Station

Denver's two public-television stations get together, technically speaking.

When KBDI-TV/Channel 12 debuted in February 1980, it was as a public-television station dedicated to taking chances -- and in the years since then, it has regularly provided a quirky alternative to the more stodgy KRMA-TV/ 0Channel 6. So it comes as something of a surprise that, beginning next month, these two longtime rivals will be climbing into bed together -- from a technical standpoint, at least.

To be specific, the outlets are set to share the same master-control equipment, all of which will be housed at Channel 6's facility at 1089 Bannock. Channel 6's engineering staff is overseeing the installation, and once the gear is up and running (the target date is October 21), employees answerable to higher-ups at each station will operate it. Kim Johnson, newly named vice president of broadcast operations for Channel 12, confirms that the consolidation means some employees will lose their jobs, but she insists that the station won't lose its independence. "This is being done so that we can enhance the quality of both our signals and improve our efficiency with an eye to HDTV and digital broadcasting," she says. "But both stations will retain editorial control of their own signals."

What that means when it comes to Channel 12 is unclear, because the station is in transition. Ted Krichels, who had helmed KBDI since its birth, left in June to take over as general manager of Penn State Public Broadcasting. At the time of his departure, some observers speculated that Krichels was getting out in part because he believed that Channel 12 was fighting a losing battle with Channel 6 for donations and funding and would eventually be swallowed up by its better-heeled competitor. This fear isn't entirely unfounded: Channel 6's parent company, Rocky Mountain PBS, also owns KRMU-TV/Channel 18 in Grand Junction, which basically simulcasts Channel 6 programming, and its acquisition of KTSC-TV/Channel 8 in Pueblo is awaiting Federal Communications Commission approval. But James Morgese, president and general manager of Rocky Mountain PBS, dismisses suggestions that the centralizing of master controls is the first step toward taking over Channel 12, noting that Krichels was very much in favor of the venture. "The word Ted and I were using was 'coopatition,'" he says. "There are areas of commonality by which we both benefit, and since we do carry some of the same programs, we probably end up sharing some viewers as well. And because we were able to attract a federal grant to supplement the money we got from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to do this, it turned into a win-win situation for both of us."

Channel 12 execs second that emotion even as they emphasize that the post-Krichels regime wants to build on the station's past, not break with it. Willard "Wick" Rowland, who replaced Krichels in August, served as the dean of the journalism and mass communications department at the University of Colorado-Boulder for a dozen years and is a veteran member of the station's board. Moreover, he's less a neo-conservative than a purebred idealist, particularly when it comes to questions of monetary resources. In "All Public Broadcasting Wants to Do Is Survive," an August 4 commentary that ran in the Denver Post shortly before Rowland was named to his current post, he decried the underfunding of public television by the federal government, even hinting that the trading of membership lists with the Democratic party engaged in by stations such as Channel 6 (which did so back in 1994) might have been prevented had legislators been less stingy. He also blasted "enhanced underwriting" -- the broadcasting of product hypes in exchange for funding.

Rowland, whose way with words tends toward the opaque, isn't as blind to political realities as his Post editorial implies. But when he talks about the master-control pact with Channel 6, he quickly moves beyond dollars and cents to a dewy-eyed vision of the perfect TV future. "What we're doing is going to create all kinds of efficiencies as we take the first steps down the road toward the digital environments in which we will very soon be operating. It's a synergistic effort to create a critical mass of the understanding of public-television opportunities by having more than one channel on the air."

In terms of programming at Channel 12, new broadcast VP Johnson says Rowland's words translate to risky shows that can't be dismissed as standard public-TV fare. She's particularly pleased with War Kids, a documentary about shell-shocked youngsters in the Balkans assembled by Denver University staffer Todd Waller with an assist from Channel 12 (it debuted on September 9) and the September 15 edition of the Peter Boyles-hosted public-affairs program Colorado Inside Out, which focused on the problem of prostate cancer among African-American men. "That's a demographic that public television doesn't always serve as well as it should," she concedes. "But we want to reach as many different people as we can."

At the same time, one of Channel 12's signature shows -- the pioneering music-television series Teletunes, which bowed in 1981 -- has essentially been scrapped; Johnson says that it's "on hiatus" in the same way that docs on ER tell concerned relatives that their loved ones aren't going to make it. But she points out that the station has made a renewed commitment to the music-video-driven MusicLink, scheduling shows put out under its umbrella at midnight seven days a week. MusicLink's Mike Drumm, who was worried that Krichels's departure might lead to the irreversible mainstreaming of Channel 12 earlier this summer (see Feedback, July 8), is now confident that the station hasn't changed directions. "If there had been a shift to the right, this wouldn't have happened," he says.

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