James Morgese is leaving Channel 6, a.k.a. Rocky Mountain PBS, after fifteen years as the outlet's president and general manager -- and he doesn't want anyone to think he was forced out.
"The station is fiscally sound and my relationship with the board [of directors] is sound," he says. "It was my decision in that I think I need to do something new, do something fresh -- recharge and redirect my career."
Morgese doesn't have a specific gig lined up just yet. But he's got a lot of ideas about where he's headed, and there's a very good chance his future will focus on new media, not television.
Several projects led Morgese online -- among them Big Green Rabbit, which he calls "a kids' program about healthy living, healthy eating and taking care of the environment." He served in an advisory capacity, helping the show's producers place the offering on public-TV stations like his and assembling "a rich archive of online gaming and other resources for kids to help them learn how to eat better and get more exercise."
In addition, he helped develop "a supplemental educational software package in math and science for Spanish-speaking middle-school students" in conjunction with Boulder-based Digital Directions International Inc. At present, the software is being used in states such as New York, California and Texas, and in a trial program conducted by Denver Public Schools, he says the CSAP scores of participants rose by 70 percent. "That was exciting," he concedes, "and if I had my magic wand, that's the kind of thing I would be doing."
As for Channel 6, the station is just about ready for the conversion to digital broadcasting, which takes place in February 2009, in part because Morgese helped resolve an unusual problem related to an organization dubbed the Radio Reading Service of the Rockies. "Their mission is to provide what is, in essence, a talking-book-like service for the blind on a proprietary channel," he says. "They read the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post -- even the grocery ads -- so the blind can participate in the printed world." Over the years, Channel 6 allowed these broadcasts "to run on a channel underneath our television service," Morgese explains. But with the switch to digital, this snippet of the broadcasting spectrum will vanish.
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"Apparently, nobody thought about these people -- but I did," he says. Together with the folks at the Radio Reading Service, which is now known as the Audio Information Network of Colorado, "we created a box that receives the information off of our digital channel and replicates the service in the digital realm." Audio Information Network is currently trying to market this device in other areas where reading services are losing their foothold, and he says there's been interest in several states, including Iowa, New Jersey and Arkansas.
Given current economic conditions, entrepreneurial activities like this one are a gamble -- but things are hardly easier in public TV, which relies on donations to remain on the air. Fortunately, Morgese allows, "we haven't yet felt the alleged recession" to the degree that other non-profits have. He contends that "the DNC has sucked a lot of money out of the community. Individual donor revenue is holding up fine, but when it comes to corporations and other foundations, the presence of the DNC has certainly been felt." Nevertheless, he's hopeful that once the convention wraps, corporate giving will pick up again -- and that will be especially important if fears about negative repercussions from the digital conversion come true. In his words, "There's some speculation that it will have a big impact on very small public-TV stations around the country, and also speculation that some of those small stations may not make it." If that happens, he goes on, "there will be fewer stations around to share the costs, and everyone's expenses will go up." Under that scenario, the level of donations will have to rise simply to maintain the status quo.
In the meantime, though, Morgese says Channel 6 is in good shape: "We have a reserve, where many stations don't. That helps as a buffer when times get tight." As a result, he feels that it's the perfect time to hand over the reins to a new person -- and he's promised to continue acting in his present capacity until the board selects his successor, probably by the end of this calendar year. After that, he says, "I'll be off on a new adventure -- and I'm looking forward to it." -- Michael Roberts