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Stations going by the numbers

November 10, 1988

By Tom Sowa
The Spokesman-Review

For viewers who love numbers, numbers and more numbers, Spokane’s three TV affiliates covered Tuesday’s elections in a big way.

Computerized data transmission systems helped the three commercial stations pound out results faster and more completely than in any previous presidential election.

The state-of-the-art equipment gave KXLY, KREM and KHQ – all involved in an important November ratings battle – plenty of figures to flash across viewers’ screens.

Except for technical snafus beyond their control, KHQ-Channel 6, KREM-Channel 2 and KXLY-Channel 4 delivered state, North Idaho and Spokane County results in record time.

In more traditional fashion, the stations also used live interviews with winners and losers to pump a degree of drama into the newscasts.

Overall, the three stations looked and sounded not much different from each other.

“All three stations did a capable job from what I saw,” said KHQ news director Dean Mell. Mell, echoing his counterparts at KXLY and KREM, said KHQ’s remote equipment delivered results essentially without a hitch during the evening.

“Our one frustration was having more information – early in the night – than we had time to do it.”

Despite the similarities, each station did certain things better during the broadcasts, which began with short inserts during the network reports and continued past midnight.

•KREM’s Idaho election coverage stood out. An Idaho power outage had stations struggling, but KREM called its affiliate in Boise and got the numbers ahead of its competitors.

•KREM North Idaho reporter Jim McLaren also used his background and research to add valuable comments during regional summaries. He was the only reporter to note, correctly, that early votes against the Idaho state lottery would be offset by results from counties closer to Washington, where support for the lottery was strong. The measure passed.

•KREM was the only station assigning the state legislative races to two staffers who did nothing else. That system gave viewers a chance to hear an occasional remark on election trends, as when reporter Jon Catton noted that all county incumbents but one were winning their races.

•Where KREM stumbled, according to KHQ’s Mell, was in switching at 10 p.m. from election results to the high-priced “Cosby Show” and later to “Cheers” at 10:30.

The syndicated shows were backup programs that ended up on the air because CBS chose to end its coverage at that time, said Phil Wenstrand, KREM’s news director.

•KHQ had the best reports from outside its own studio. It got viewers the first and best explanations for delays from the Spokane County Courthouse and from Coeur d’Alene.

•KHQ also stayed on the air to give viewers the latest live results. It ended is late-night network programs at 11:40, but returned at midnight and at 12:20 a.m. to update area contests.

•KHQ’s coverage suffered, however, from unlucky timing. Like the two other stations, it tried to squeeze results into the network overage twice every hour, for about five minutes. But at one point, the station had to stop its local “cut-in” to allow NBC to broadcast the concession speech of Michael Dukakis.

To regain lost time, Mell decided at 8:45 to interrupt NBC’s network report with a longer local cut-in.

But that was when NBC struck again. As viewers on Channel 6 were about to hear an interview with Democratic State Representative Dennis Dellwo, the network cut to George Bush’s victory speech.

“First he beats my candidate, now Bush cuts into my interview,” Dellwo joked to the KHQ reporter as viewers went from Spokane to Houston with the flip of a switch.

•KXLY devoted more continuous time throughout the evening to the contests. At 8 p.m., when KHQ and KREM were giving five-minute reports each half-hour, KXLY put together a 30-minute summary.

At 10 p.m., thanks to ABC’s advance plan to quit network coverage, KXLY also went directly into its late-night report one hour earlier than the competition.

•On the minus side, KXLY’s outside-the-studio reports came across as mechanical and bland.

One KXLY reporter got off to a rocky start by asking State Rep. Sally Jackson in a live interview, “in what respect” was she feeling optimistic about her chances for a victory against opponent Charles Wolfe.

“In what respect?” repeated the surprised Jackson to reporter Mary Cronk. It took her a second before she could launch into the predictable list of reasons why she thought she would win.

KXLY courthouse reporter Kevin McCarty not once, but twice, told viewers that the county election computer was measuring initial returns at “166 percent” of expected voter turnout. Both times McCarty said the figure was too complicated to explain for viewers. He never explained why he mentioned that figure in the first place.

Thursday, November 10, 1988

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From → KHQ, KREM, KXLY

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