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Linking the state.

Linking The State

Look! Up on the Capitol dome. Flying overhead.

On top of the Twin City Bank building.

It's a bird.

It's a plane.

No, it's a Channel 7 camera.

For the Saturday, July 6, "Operation Welcome Home" parade on the streets of downtown North Little Rock and Little Rock, KATV-TV, Channel 7, had use of 18 cameras.

That compares with the five cameras used by KARK-TV, Channel 4, and the six cameras used by KTHV-TV, Channel 11.

But KATV was not acting alone.

It teamed with KHBS-TV, Channel 40, of Forth Smith; KHOG-TV, Channel 29, of Fayetteville; and KAIT-TV, Channel 8, of Jonesboro.

All are ABC affiliates.

Together, they have formed a statewide news network that can telecast special events such as elections, debates and, most recently, the celebration welcoming home Arkansas troops from the Persian Gulf.

"I thought we could make a difference in showing what broadcasters can do when they really pool their resources," says Harold Culver, vice president and general manager at KAIT.

The stations decided to join forces in early 1990 when Jim Pitcock, vice president for new at KATV, began searching for a way to better compete with Little Rock stations KARK and KTHV.

Pitcock called his assistant news director, Randy Dixon, at home on a Friday night with a brainstorm.

He remembers telling Dixon, "I've got it. We just have to figure out how to do it."

Figuring out how to do it was indeed the hard part.

"I suppose you could look at it as a headache," Pitcock says. "But I saw it as a challenge."

A combined crew of 100 people from the four stations worked almost four months to organize coverage of the July parade.

Much the same crew was used last year for coverage of the May primary election, in addition to the gubernational debates that proceeded those elections.

KARK's and KTHV's combined expenditures on parade coverage didn't add up to what the network spent. Consider, for example, the $500 to $1,000 per hour spent on six hours of satellite time by the network.

The breakdown of contributions and returns is 50 percent for KATV, 25 percent for KHBS-KHOG (which have combined business operations) and 25 percent for KAIT.

KAIT officials concede the station lost money on the parade, but Culver isn't daunted.

"I think there's probably the opportunity" to make a profit, he says. "But we haven't discovered it yet."

Culver says making money isn't a priority.

KAIT's news director, Lucy Himstedt, has dubbed the network ABC for Arkansas' Best Coverage.

The goal of providing superior news coverage is keeping the fledgling news network going.

Operation Network Arkansas

Jim Pitcock sits in his downtown Little Rock office watching a tape of the "Operation Welcome Home" coverage.

At the same time, he keeps an eye on three monitors tuned to the Little Rock network affiliates.

KATV has been Little Rock's No. 1 news station for more than three years. When it comes to news, Pitcock is in control.

He's in control at the statewide news network, too.

Culver says KATV has done a good job of allowing the other stations to play a role, though.

"It takes a lot of coordination to get a balance," he says.

Pitcock gives credit to Dixon, who produces the network telecasts.

As Pitcock and Dixon watch the tape, their enthusiasm is evident.

"You really get the feeling of what it's all about," Pitcock says. "That's history there."

KATV's sales department doesn't feel the same way.

When asked about revenue generated by the statewide news network, Ron Kelly, KATV's sales manager, says, "That's easy. There have been no profits and no sales."

The stations didn't attempt to sell around last year's gubernatorial debates, but they did try to jointly sell the parade coverage.

They failed.

There are just not enough statewide advertisers. The stations ended up selling ads individually.

KATV made money, but Kelly won't say how much. Television, along with other sectors of the media, has taken heat for exploiting the war and the subsequent homecoming celebrations.

"If we had done it strictly for revenue, everyone would have said no," Kelly says of the parade coverage.

Networking Nightmare?

Still, the stations are anxious for additional telecast opportunities.

"It's up to us to use it for events that deserve mobilization," says Darrel Cunningham, president of Sigma Broadcasting Inc. and general manager of KHBS and KHOG.

Why can't the northwest and northeast Arkansas stations avoid the expense and simply take a satellite feed from KATV?

"You could do that, but I think your local community wants to see you involved in these things," Culver says. "If you have all of us involved, it presents just a little different perspective."

Pitcock agrees.

"It enhances our coverage and allows us to reach a standard we could not achieve by doing it on an individual basis," he says.

His competitors don't see it that way.

Bob Steel, news director at KARK, says, "If we had that kind of money, I don't think it would be spent for coverage in northwest Arkansas ... I don't think it has hurt us."

Steel says the "nightmare" of coordinating a statewide news network isn't worth it.

"I can think of better ways to spend my money," he says.

Apparently, so can KTHV, although the station's owner, Bob Brown, says if the situation warranted combined coverage, he would consider teaming up with other CBS affiliates.

On election night last November, some critics concluded KARK's coverage was superior, thanks in part to the politically astute team of Steve Barnes and John Brummett.

Steel says KARK gave important returns earlier than the competition.

Pitcock counters that the statewide news network was able to cover more than 100 races, while KARK focused on statewide contests and Pulaski County races.

"We're not a Pulaski County station," Pitcock says. "We try to cover the entire state."

That's why plans call for the network concept to be used again.

"We're constantly kicking around things, looking for opportunities," Culver says.

"There's no question it's worth it," Cunningham says. "I couldn't sit down and say here's our exact dollar cost and here's our return, but we're building a system. We're linking the state like no other system, and I think that has value."

PHOTO : PRODUCING RESULTS: KATV-TV, Channel 7's assistant news director, Randy Dixon, usually serves as producer for the statewide news network composed of four ABC affiliates. Little Rock's NBC and CBS affiliates don't believe the network has hurt them.

PHOTO : OPERATION OVERKILL: Diana Davis, a co-anchor at KAIT-TV, Channel 8, at Jonesboro, was one of about 100 people from four stations that combined to form a network for coverage of "Operation Welcome Home." The statewide news network used 18 cameras for six hours of coverage.
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.

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Title Annotation:KATV-TV teams up with KHBS-TV, KHOG-TV and KAIT-TV to establish statewide television news network
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 29, 1991
Previous Article:Sister on the go.
Next Article:A radio monopoly.

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