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Station to Station

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,...
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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.

In the meantime, Channels 6 and 12 are readying the new master control for duty -- something that Rocky Mountain PBS's Morgese admits "has been a bit painful to create from scratch. You have to think of things that haven't been thought of before. But we have many of the national public-TV organizations around the country watching to see how we consummate this, and if it works, it will probably be replicated around the country."

Adds Rowland, "We want to ride the waves of new technology and maybe even be ahead of them to show what we can do with television. And we're always looking for new members and underwriters to ride along with us."

Operators are standing by.

In the key 18-34 age bracket of the spring Arbitron ratings, the KALC-FM/105.9 (Alice) morning show featuring Jamie White, Frosty Stillwell and Frank Kramer finished number one in the Denver market. So why in holy hell would the station, owned by Dallas's mighty AMFM conglomerate, erase the two male components of the team and replace them on September 15 with, of all people, former Partridge Family cherub Danny Bonaduce?

The answer says a lot about the way radio works today. Stillwell and Kramer, who, according to a press release, "remain part of AMFM's programming arsenal and on-air talent pool," hooked up with White in Denver five years ago but were moved to KYSR-FM/98.7 in Los Angeles three years later to shore up its sagging profile. Since then, the program has been beamed back to Denver, and the substituting of SoCal references for Colorado ones hasn't diminished its audience in the slightest. The numbers at KYSR have been strong as well, leaving White in the position of explaining changes to her listeners that she didn't seem to understand herself. On her first program with Bonaduce, she called the move "a forced decision," swore that she "loved the boys," referred to working in corporate radio as "a whore job" and said about her new partner, "I don't even really know him. Maybe someday we'll be funny." As of press time, her wish was still unfulfilled.

It's possible that White's regret was all an act; there are even rumors that the move was made at her behest. But whatever the truth, the choice of Bonaduce is quizzical. Once cute as a button, he's now gruff-voiced and more than a little bit scary -- and as a radio personality, he hasn't exactly scored one smash after another. He didn't last long in Detroit or Chicago, and a stint in Phoenix ended in March 1992 after he allegedly paid a transvestite prostitute for sex, then robbed and beat him/ her. (Cops found Danny hiding naked in the closet of his apartment.) A court later ordered Bonaduce to pay for the cost of his victim's corrective facial surgery. Odds are good that Shirley Jones was very disappointed.

Not too happy either was Craig Carton, whose head was handed to him after he completed the September 9 morning show on KKFN-AM/950 (The Fan); Carton's partner, Dave Otto, looks to be on the way out as well. Fan program director Tim Spence declines to comment on Otto's fate beyond saying that a new morning show should be in place in the next week or two, but the grapevine has him turning up next month on KDJM-FM/92.5 (Jammin' Oldies).

Few tears will be shed over the breakup of the Otto-Carton team, which had been assembled after the Fan moved the syndicated Jim Rome program into the midday slot Carton had formerly manned solo. On too many days, the pair ignored the sports issues of the day to babble about hot chicks, drunkenness and other juvenilia that might have struck many middle-schoolers as immature. In a rare demonstration of good taste, local listeners stayed away in droves, and the anemic ratings that resulted prompted Spence to make a change. But he stops short of pledging that the next group of yakkers will stick to stats. "Our direction before was more of a guy-talk focus," he says, "but that doesn't mean we won't try to have an impact on lifestyle issues. It's a challenge to make a sports show work in morning-drive, and we're just trying to find the right mix."

So, too, is Don Crawford Jr. of Crawford Broadcasting Company, which recently yanked Christian music off KLZ-AM/560 in favor of big bands and other nostalgic sounds. (The Christian format will reappear October 7 on KBNO-AM/1220, a Spanish-language station Crawford recently purchased.) Crawford is going directly after the market share of KEZW-AM/1430, which plays many of the recordings KLZ is now spinning, by trying to do more of the same. "We will have almost twice the number of songs per hour as they do," he says. "There'll be no news, no talk shows, no restaurant shows, and our DJs will make brief qualitative remarks about the music or what's going on in the community and then start another song -- because that's what people everywhere want. And because you can hear KLZ's signal across the state, they'll all be able to hear it. We're trying to establish a niche, so we're moving in with our big gun."

Smile when you say that, partner.

The September 17 exchange between Peter Boyles and lightning rod Sam Riddle on KHOW made for some of the month's most entertaining radio -- but that didn't prevent it from being unfathomably moronic.

Boyles spent much of his program painting Michael Shoels, the stepfather of murdered Columbine student Isaiah Shoels, as a deadbeat dad because of his alleged failure to support the fruit of his first marriage -- an accusation made by his ex-wife. In the midst of this harangue, Riddle, a Shoels family spokesman who helped hook up Michael Shoels with former Jack Kevorkian lawyer Geoffrey Fieger and New York-based provocateur Al Sharpton, called in to Boyles's show and started dropping verbal bombs. He angrily denied Boyles's suggestion that he would profit financially from his relationship with Shoels, referred to the host as "a lowdown racist hound" and asked Boyles, "How long has it been since you had a snort of cocaine? It's hard to get rid of that itch, isn't it?" After a livid Boyles replied that he hadn't used cocaine for fifteen years, Riddle (who is eyeing the city council seat recently vacated by Hiawatha Davis) huffed, "Yeah, you and George Bush." Boyles then said, "You come down here and call me a cokehead and I'll knock you on your ass," precipitating a flurry of fistfight challenges and accusations by each man that the other was a "punk." Later, Boyles unwittingly played into Riddle's charges of racism by asking, "Are you calling me a liar, brother?" and saying, after Riddle hung up, "I'm going to straighten the boy out."

Boyles didn't put any bigoted emphasis on the words "brother" and "boy," but they stood out because of the frequency with which he's pilloried Shoels, whose stepson was the only African-American slain at Columbine. Discussing Shoels's activities since the shootings is fair game, given how eagerly he has thrust himself into the public eye, and suggesting that some of his actions have the scent of opportunism isn't prejudiced in and of itself. But if Shoels's behavior has turned him into a Columbine sideshow, there's no arguing that Isaiah died in a particularly horrible way. It's no surprise, then, that even some people who agree with Boyles about Shoels still feel uncomfortable with Boyles's need to revisit the subject over and over again.

To his credit, Boyles seemed to realize his clash with Riddle had undermined his credibility on the issue: When Riddle visited KHOW on September 20 in the company of Michael's sister, Boyles was on his best behavior. Riddle, too, was magnanimous, and his comments about race made him seem positively reasonable -- which is likely the last thing Boyles wanted. That's what happens when you kids don't play nice.

Some Denver broadcasters think you are really upset over the terrible start of the Broncos season. On Channel 9's September 19 afternoon broadcast, sportscaster Tony Zarrella's report about the team's embarrassing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was followed by a long shot of the news desk and a slow, music-free fade to black -- the same visual device used after stories about a beloved figure's death. Two days later, radio yakker Mike Evans tried to comfort those tuned to the Fan by pointing out that earthquake victims in Taiwan have it worse. If the Broncos lose again, what's next? Suicide counseling?

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