New TV station’s debut this week
By Tom Sowa
Starting a new business tends to have one serious obstacle to overcome: how to get the attention of people who don’t know you’re in town.
Bob Hamacher and the staff of KAYU-TV, Spokane’s newest television station, have at least one advantage when it comes to publicizing their arrival.
They’ll just turn on their transmitter sometime this week and beam a signal into the TV sets of the Inland Empire on Channel 28.
That beats sending out 300,000 calling cards or open-house invitations.
Like a new nightclub or new supermarket that’s opening its doors, KAYU wants to catch the eye of television viewers by offering something out of the ordinary during its first two months of business.
The difference will be that KAYU, Spokane’s first independent, UHF (ultra-high frequency) station, won’t need to get patrons inside its doors.
It has the opposite task – getting itself inside viewers’ living rooms.
KAYU’s independent status – not being affiliated with any of the three big networks – is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
The drawback is that KAYU can’t carry the latest network prime-time shows.
But its advantage is the freedom to program anything else it can obtain.
Hamacher, a Spokane native, says KAYU will follow the time-tested, independent-TV principle of “counterprogramming.”
If the other three stations are offering news, KAYU will offer family comedy; if the three networks are showing prime-time comedies, KAYU will offer a movie.
Movies, old family-oriented TV comedies and some regional sports – that’s what independent TV stations customarily offer.
And KAYU intends to do exactly that, Hamacher, the station’s general manager, says.
Movies – a certified audience-grabber – will play a big part in Hamacher’s game strategy to make KAYU a ratings challenger to the other stations in town.
A look at KAYU’s first two months of programs makes clear that the new station will use a strong selection of older, “star” movies to make an impression on viewers.
Movies, in fact, will constitute the station’s main marketing strategy.
KAYU will offer 24 of them per week – three each weekday, five on Saturdays and four on Sundays.
To get the attention of Spokane-area viewers, the first two months of movies are loaded with old favorites.
This week, during its afternoon (1 p.m.) series, the features all will be Spencer Tracy films.
At night, the 10:30 p.m. films this week will feature the late Mae West (except for Friday night).
In November, the weekly film specials will be devoted to Clark Gable, Elvis Presley, the Marx Brothers, Katharine Hepburn, the “Thin Man,” Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (in four “Road” films) and W.C. Fields.
But not all the films offered are relics.
On Nov. 7, in an uncut, unedited version, the station will offer “The Deer Hunter.”
Hamacher also wants evening viewers to think of Channel 28 as an alternative to the evening news.
“A lot of people come home after having a rough day; they don’t want to get more depressed by watching the news,” Hamacher says.
At 7 p.m., “Bonanza” rolls for an hour prior to the 8 p.m. weekday movie slot.
KAYU will kick off its college basketball coverage Dec. 11 with a satellite transmission of the Georgetown vs. Virginia game.
But not everything on KAYU carries that much weight.
From 6 to 7 a.m. and from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on weekdays and for a part of the weekend mornings schedule, KAYU will carry paid religious programming such as material from the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Hamacher says the station is airing the programs simply for the money.
Unlike regular programs, the Christian shows don’t cost Hamacher a cent.
They come in and are aired by KAYU for a paid fee, just like a 30-minue paid advertisement.
“We do that because that’s a commercial time that’s hard to sell (advertising for),” Hamacher says.
If sports and family fare are two of KAYU’s strategies, the third will be children’s programs.
“And if anyone wonders why we carry ‘Banana Splits,’ tell them it’s the general manager’s favorite kids’ show,” Hamacher says.
Where KAYU saves operating costs is with news – or rather, its absence of news.
What it will offer will be a half-hour news broadcast on weeknights at 10 p.m.
Even with that imported half-hour (from an independent East Coast syndicate), KAYU is doing more than it is required to – the station’s broadcast license, approved by the FCC last year, doesn’t require the station to offer any news programming at all.
If the FCC sounds easy to deal with, consider that the application effort by Hamacher and his two partners – Rich Sheingold and D. Lane Guin – began in 1979.
After an application is filed, the FCC considers whether the additional TV service is needed and whether the applicants could operate the station without income for a year.
(Since then, the FCC has changed that requirement from one year to just 90 days.)
Then a hearing on the application is held and if no serious objections are raised, the FCC grants a construction permit.
After Channel 28’s permit was approved last November, it took another year of planning for Channel 28 to get together the staff and equipment needed to go on the air.
The time delay hasn’t bothered Hamacher, who at age 36 says he finally is prepared to do something he has dreamed about – owning and operating his own TV station.
One day, he says, he woke up and said, “Hey, I want to own a TV station.”
From then on, he simply started asking questions and realized the idea wasn’t that far-fetched.
The key indicator was in 1979 when the total TV advertising revenue in this market exceeded $12 million, he says.
“That indicated that another station was feasible in this area.”
He enlisted two partners, and together, over the past year, their main task has been to choose equipment and find a staff.
The easy half of that task was selecting a staff, Hamacher says.
“This area is full of talented people. We’ve got one of the finest station staffs in the Northwest.”
However, equipment was another matter.
For a brand-new station, the danger is to spend too much money on expensive equipment.
“You have to keep up with the technology, but you can’t let the costs get out of hand,” Hamacher says.
If the equipment being installed last week meets performance expectations, the KAYU signal should be received by most viewers within a 60-mile radius of Spokane.
The problem last week was simply not knowing when the transmitter would be ready to go.
“It’s funny, though,” Hamacher said last week while watching workmen install the station’s antenna on Tower Mountain.
“While everybody else has been hectic the past couple of weeks, I’ve become probably the calmest of the bunch.
“I just want to get started and play TV, and do what I like to do.”
Sunday, October 17, 1982