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Life in the Fox lane.

Life In The Fox Lane

A slight, bearded man with an unassuming voice climbs a broadcast pole in rural Arkansas to place his television station's antenna on the tower - without permission. He's done this at dozens of sites across the state and won't take the antennas down - eventually forcing communities to accept his station.

Is this legal?

"I do it," says KASN 38 Director of Marketing Chris Garrett with a mischievous grin. And he's successful. The Little Rock-based station now has cable carriage on over 225 cable systems across the state.

Garrett is living up to his station's tag line of "Doing Television Like No One Else," and that's what KASN 38, the only independent station left in the state, has had to do since it lost its Fox Broadcasting affiliation in April 1990.

Meanwhile, KLRT Fox 16 is utilizing its Fox affiliation for all it's worth - right down to including the broadcasting company's name in the station's title.

"You just become more valuable when you're a network affiliate," says KLRT Vice President and General Manager Steve Scollard. He feels strongly on this point because Scollard fought hard - and some say dirty - to get the affiliation.

When KASN was the Arkansas Fox affiliate in 1988, the station negotiated a merger with KLRT that would have transferred the Fox affiliation, plus other programming to KLRT. Meanwhile, KASN would have become a Home Shopping Network.

But once the Fox affiliation switched and KASN laid off over half of its employees, KLRT suddenly pulled out of the deal - notifying KASN by fax.

"Quite frankly, we were set up," says Paula Pruett, president of MMC Television Corp., the company that owns KASN.

According to the terms of the merger agreement, Fox reverted back to KASN when the deal fell through. But the broadcasting company eventually decided to go with the more established KLRT which had operated as an independent since 1983.

KASN sued KLRT for unspecified monetary damages due to the failed merger. KASN alleges civil conspiracy, misappropriation of trade secrets, interfering with business relationships, breach of contract and fraud on KLRT's part to "destroy" KASN.

KLRT filed a counterclaim alleging the Pruetts have "willfully, wantonly and recklessly made statements to the press, to syndicators, to Fox Broadcasting Co., to advertisers and suppliers."

Neither station wants to fight the lawsuit through newspaper pages - especially since it probably won't be heard until the winter of 1992. But the facts surrounding the case have affected the health of both stations - KLRT is reveling in its affiliation with Fox, and KASN is making a point to say it can survive without the network.

No Comment

Scollard is a busy man these days, serving in his position at the station and on the Fox national affiliate board. He doesn't have time to just sit and talk about a case that will be dormant for at least the next eight months, and so he opens and scans the day's stack of mail while giving brusque answers to questions about the lawsuit.

"They'll probably put |No Comment' on my tombstone," he says.

"I spend a very small portion of my day worrying about the lawsuit. I haven't even talked to my attorneys about it in two months."

While Scollard wonders if the suit will ever come to trial, Pruett is biding her time.

"Some of the more objective people who have heard the case have said that it is very winnable," says Pruett.

The two stations bring in less annual revenue than any other stations in the $44-million Little Rock market. While there are estimates that KASN's billing is less than $1 million and KLRT's is just over $2 million, Pruett says both the numbers are substantially higher than that. The most generous estimates put KASN at $2 million a year and KLRT at $4 million.

Some in the industry say KASN would probably only win $100,000 to $200,000 in the suit because the station, while it suffered during the transition, is really improving.

"I thought losing Fox would drive the nail into the coffin for 38," says one television sales executive in town, "but I see them coming back pretty strong."

Regardless, Pruett has a long way to go before recouping the $6 million she paid for the station in 1988, the $1 million she spent in new equipment that year, and the undisclosed amount she's poured in to rebuild the station since the failed merger.

Life With and Without Fox

Pruett says, "The whole point of the lawsuit is there was very difficult life after Fox" and the defunct merger. "It set us back two or three years in terms of revenue."

KASN literally had to start over, beginning with rehiring laid-off employees. The staff is back up to 40 now, and Garrett anxiously points to colored pins on a map in his office representing new cable systems that have accepted his station.

Pruett says, "We paved a lot of way for 16 to have media recognition when they got the Fox affiliation." Pruett, also a part owner in a Fox station in Madison, Wis., says, "We created the whole Fox image in Arkansas - we anchored it."

When the affiliation switch came, changes had to be made in everything from letterhead to outdoor billboards. The station is still decorated with pictures from Fox programming - with the Fox logo consistently popping up in the corner of the frames. Bart Simpson's mug presides over the conference room at KASN because the show was a favorite of Pruett's.

"We had Foxified our promotions," says Garrett. "People still call us Fox 38."

After losing popular shows such as "Married With Children" and "The Simpsons," KASN is attempting to establish a viewership through what Pruett calls interactive television. She and Garrett both get on a roll when they start talking about projects such as Dial-A-Movie where viewers choose movies and are currently choosing a movie host.

KASN also has a three-year contract with Disney for children's programming - which some say is the reason Fox left the station. The head of Fox, Barry Diller, is in a feud with the head of Disney, Michael Eisrer.

While Garret says, "We're able to control our own destiny, and we don't have to have New York or Los Angeles telling us what to do," Scollard views the situation in a different way.

"I don't think humility has any place in this discussion," Scollard says. "As big of a thrill as it was for us to be awarded it [Fox], I know just how painful it was to lose."

If KLRT did purposely dismantle KASN with the intention of pulling out of the deal, it didn't plan well. The failure of the merger and the final switch of the Fox affiliation occurred near the crucial beginning of a ratings period and both stations were hurt by it.

While KLRT has recovered more rapidly than KASN, both stations have significant advances to make in market shares and revenue.

PHOTO : THE BATTLE OVER BART: KLRT 16 fought hard to become Arkansas' Fox affiliate and is now experiencing the benefits of airing and promoting popular syndicated shows such as "The Simpsons."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:management of television stations KLRT, after Fox Broadcasting affiliation, and KASN 38, after losing Fox affiliation
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 18, 1991
Previous Article:More recession indicators.
Next Article:$13.2 million spent.

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