The Message

Pledge of Allegiance

CPR has tried a number of ways to decrease the moaning, to no avail. For instance, the outfit once decided to spread a two-week drive over three weeks with occasional days off along the way, under the theory that listeners would appreciate having a break. Unfortunately, Nethery says, "We got more negatives than before. People were like, 'Oh, my gosh, you're going into your third week!'" Now the philosophy is to get the chore over in three bursts of two weeks apiece, in late January or early February, May and October.

Because of the June and December mini-drives in recent years, CPR has spent more time fundraising than usual -- and that doesn't take into account regularly aired quasi-ads suggesting that listeners donate automobiles to the cause or put CPR in their wills. Nonetheless, Nethery says this material accounts for only about 10 percent of CPR's broadcasts, as opposed to the 25 percent of airtime devoted to advertisements by most commercial stations. In Nethery's view, the contrast between those who help and those who bitch is even greater. "We may have gotten fifty to a hundred complaints" during the May drive, he says, "but over 30,000 people give us money over the course of the year. That's a lot of people raising their hand and telling us they want to be a part of this."

There's no predicting how many more will volunteer in order to win a Teac. CPR generated only about $20,000 in the first two weeks after the drawing was announced, leaving four times that amount to raise by month's end -- "but sometimes people respond more as a deadline approaches, so we'll see," Nethery says.

Mark Andresen

Anything to avoid another pledge drive . . .

In the Zone: Like public-radio signals, public-television outlets keep the lights on with the help of on-air fundraisers, some of which are pre-packaged rather than live. The Public Broadcasting Service, the primary supplier of programming for such stations, offsets other costs by hawking program sponsorships promoted via filmed snippets that look more and more like standard-issue commercials with each passing year. There may still be distinctions between the elaborately produced acknowledgements aired at the end of some PBS shows and ads for the same companies that run on for-profit networks, but the average viewer probably wouldn't pick up on them.

Locally, Channel 12 plays the sponsorship game aggressively -- too aggressively, according to at least one critic. In 2003, Denver Post columnist Diane Carman took the station to task for airing Head On, a series of political debates, after state senator John Andrews, whose company funds the show, sacked his outspoken opponent, Dani Newsum. Andrews isn't the only prominent figure to have a similar agreement with Channel 12. Jon Caldara confirmed in this space that the Independence Institute, which he heads, pays many of the expenses involved with Independent Thinking, a Channel 12 discussion program that he hosts, and producers such as Aaron Harber gather funds and secure underwriting for their offerings as well.

Still, the most telling example of a Channel 12 show that bridges the worlds of public and commercial television is Sports Zone, a discussion program airing at 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays that's overseen by former Channel 4 sportscaster Les Shapiro and features members of the local jockocracy. (For the June 1 edition, Shapiro traded observations with the Fan's Charles Johnson, Rocky Mountain News columnist Dave Krieger and KOA's Dave Logan.) The program is sponsored by ESPN Zone, an area eatery associated with ESPN, a commercial channel, and broadcasts live from the restaurant.

Sports Zone's name hints at an even closer link, but Kim Johnson, Channel 12's vice president of broadcast operations, says that's coincidental. "The show originally launched as Sports Column, but afterward, we discovered that there's a bar downtown called the Sports Column, so we decided to change it," she maintains. "We went back to the four or five other prospective titles we'd thought about for the series, and one of them was Sports Zone." The switch occurred in January, a couple of months before the deal with ESPN Zone was inked. While Johnson admits the name change may have attracted ESPN Zone's attention, "they were not the only company that was approached for sponsorship," she says. Paula Ross, Channel 12's director of marketing and events, who signed up ESPN Zone, divulges that ESPN, the restaurant's corporate licensee, okayed the deal.

Channel 12 did likewise, using criteria that Johnson concedes "are very subjective." She knows there's a line that public TV shouldn't cross, "but that line is determined by each public broadcast station," she says. "It would be very difficult to establish some sort of guidebook, because each new production provides different opportunities and different challenges." In her opinion, stations would be going too far if they engaged in overt "product placement, or mentioned a venue repeatedly, or placed signage in very close proximity to the shooting area or intentionally on camera." She doesn't think Sports Zone commits any of these sins, though, because "we're cognizant of the fact that we want a separation of commercial interests."

How large a separation is another matter entirely.

Ready for her close-up: Not long ago, while newspaper readers could identify columnists by their mug shots, they didn't have a clue as to what most reporters and editors looked like. But that's changing with partnership agreements like those that connect the Denver Post with Channel 9 and the Rocky Mountain News with Channel 4 and transform scribes into TV talking heads on an almost daily basis. International affairs writer Bruce Finley earned even more face time when he was chosen to serve as an unlikely pitchman in a commercial for a new Post subscription offer. Finley's been on dangerous assignments before, but never like this one.

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