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Off-the-air with Richard Brown

By Pia K. Hansen
The Spokesman-Review

It can get really hot under the bright lights in a TV studio. There’s little room for those who tend to buckle under pressure or who can’t smile reassuringly while they explain that 5,000 more people starved in Africa refugee camps.

“TV is a fickle business,” says former news anchor Richard Brown, who left KXLY on Oct. 26 after a challenging summer and fall that included a death in the family, a back injury and legal problems. “As journalists, we can do documentaries on big issues, but once the documentary runs and the shows are over, TV moves on to something else.”

And it’s a personality driven business. While writers retain some anonymity behind bylines, news anchors become familiar faces, especially in mid-sized markets like Spokane.

So Brown’s disappearance from KXLY’s evening lineup, where he’d been a staple at 5:00, 6:00 11:00 for nine years, didn’t go unnoticed.

“In July, they brought on Dave Erickson to do the 5 o’clock, and that made it clear to me that I was on my way out,” Brown says, adding that he wasn’t fired. “It was time for me to leave, and so I left – I hold no animosity against anybody at the station.”

Brown’s contract ran until June of next year, but this fall a back injury put him partly out of commission, his mother-in-law passed away – and then he was arrested on allegations of driving drunk. He pleaded guilty Oct. 15 in Spokane County District Court to a reduced charge of first-degree negligent driving as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

“That was a serious lapse of judgment on my part,” Brown says of the criminal charge, adding that KXLY management was aware he had been pulled over.

The TV station, however, declined to discuss specific reasons behind Brown’s departure.

“Richard Brown left for personal reasons; that’s all I can say about that,” says Jerry Post, news director at KXLY. “I have a lot of respect for Richard as a person and as a journalist. He came here already having had a long and distinguished career, so he automatically came in high regard.” Post adds that Brown “wasn’t one of those anchors who just look out for themselves. Younger reporters looked to him as someone to learn from. He shined in that role.”

Once Brown was off the air, rumors took off like wildfires in dry grass.

“On TVspy (a blog) postings were very specific about where I had met with people and when and what we’d talked about,” Brown says. Most rumors had him heading up the South Hill to KREM-TV.

“It was all fiction. I hadn’t talked to anyone at KREM and I still haven’t,” he says, shaking his head in disbelief. He says he regrets not handling his departure better.

“A newsroom really becomes like your family, and I should have told them myself. My leaving so abruptly created a distraction. And I should have said goodbye to the viewers.”

Brown, 55, has been on the air for 32 years in such places as Edmonton, Alberta (his first TV job), Atlanta, New York and San Francisco.

Susanna Baylon, who co-anchored three evening news shows with Brown for two years at KXLY, says he was one of the reasons she came to Spokane.

“I’d never co-anchored before, I’d always been solo, so I wanted to sit next to someone who it would be really good to sit next to,” Baylon says. “He made me a better anchor just by sitting next to me.”

She left KXLY in April 2006 to start a family.

“He taught me a lot about how to handle mishaps off the air without everything falling apart on the air,” Baylon says. “And he’s just so funny. You don’t think that when you first meet him, but he has a great sense of humor.”

Being co-anchors is a little like being married, Baylon adds.

“You have to trust and respect each other,” she says, and yes, sometimes people think co-anchors are actually married. “Viewers feel like they know you and they see you together all the time.”

Brown and his wife, June, have one daughter who lives in Queens, New York. He’s from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he still has family.

“We try to go back every summer,” Brown says.

In 2003, the couple bought a home that came with countless improvement projects.

“It’s a ’60s rancher and when we saw it, it had yellow vinyl siding, and I looked at June and said, ‘You are crazy,’ ” Brown says. Now the rancher has what he calls a Montana lodge-style exterior.

“All the trim and the doors and all that we did ourselves,” Brown says. “Outside, it has cedar shingles, and I put those on myself. What I’m focused on right now is my power tools and charity work.”

Brown is on the board for Cancer Patient Care, and he also volunteers for the Chase Youth Awards.

Brown’s broadcast career took him, among many other places, to Beirut in ’84, Mozambique in ’90 and Zaire in ’94, where he was within close range of the bombing of Goma airport.

“When we sneaked into Mozambique with a photographer and a producer and were met by rebels, I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ At the same time, I’ve traveled the world on someone else’s dime and had some incredible experiences. There aren’t that many other jobs where you get to do that.”

June, he says, has been an enormous support.

“She’s put up with a lot in this business. She’s always allowed me to take a stab at things.” They’ve been together 32 years.

Brown was at one time an English and history teacher, then moved onto a job as a speech writer for the Canadian liberal party in 1975.

“We lost the election and all of us got fired,” says Brown, but a friend asked him to join the staff at CFRN-TV in Edmonton. That’s how he got started in television.

Brown came to Spokane and KXLY nine years ago from KGO-TV in San Francisco.

“At the time, I really thought I was going to retire, but I was driving June crazy,” he says, laughing. “She has an interior decoration business, so she’s got a lot going on. I guess I couldn’t just walk around at home.”

So is he thinking of retiring now?

“I guess I just need to decompress. Once you’ve been a journalist you can’t just shut it off. It’s like if you do that, you are like a diver that comes up too fast – then your head will explode.”

Monday, December 3, 2007

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Anchor away

By Jim Kershner
The Spokesman-Review

When KREM-2 anchor Charles Rowe retires on Nov. 30, it will be the end of a TV career that stretches back to the Reagan Administration.

Not his presidential administration; we’re talking about Reagan’s gubernatorial administration in California in 1967.

Rowe has been at KREM-2 for 20 years, plus long stints in L.A. and Chicago, yet before that he served as the state capital reporter at a Sacramento TV station from 1967 to 1969. That’s where Rowe accumulated his store of Reagan anecdotes.

“It was fascinating just watching Reagan operate,” said Rowe. “I remember one weekend, the hippies and anti-war folks were threatening to camp out on the capitol lawn. The gardens there are meticulous, just beautiful. The word was that they would camp out there and destroy the vegetation. I asked Reagan, ‘What are you going to do? Call out the guard or the capitol police?’ He said, ‘Well, Charles, I’ll just turn on the sprinklers.’ And that’s what he did and there were no problems.”

Actually, Rowe, 71, goes back even farther than that in broadcast journalism. This Chadron, Neb., native got his start working weekends in 1958 at a Hot Springs, S.D., radio station. By 1966, he had moved into TV journalism, if that’s the correct term for a one-man news operation in a Quonset hut in Coos Bay, Ore.

“We had to go out and sandbag the place at high tide,” said Rowe.

The switch from radio to TV was difficult for other reasons as well.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Rowe. “It may seem odd, but I’ve never been that comfortable in front of a camera. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m basically a shy guy to begin with. I’ve never been one to look for the spotlight, and it was difficult: All of the sudden you’re walking around town and people know you and you don’t know whothey are.”

He went quickly from Coos Bay to Eugene, and then on to Sacramento. His rise after that was, by any measure, dizzying. By 1969, he was anchoring and reporting in Chicago, the third-largest TV market in the country. How did a boy from Chadron handle that?

“Not well,” said Rowe with a chuckle. “I got there in January 1969, it was cold, and the first story I went out on I was drenched with a fire hose in temperatures around zero. And the city wasn’t what I was used to growing up in. Finally the news director and I had a heart-to-heart. He said, ‘Charles you have to go with the flow. This may not be the most livable place you’ve ever been, but it’s time to step up.’ I said, ‘OK, I got the message.’ Then my work ethic kicked in and I started working seven days a week.”

He anchored the news in the mornings and then delivered three five-minute daily newscasts for the ABC Radio Network. Paul Harvey was right down the hallway.

“When he said, ‘Hello, Charles,’ it made my day,” said Rowe.

Five years later, he was anchoring in Los Angeles, the second-largest TV market in the nation. He worked there from 1974 to 1981 (with a brief interlude in Portland). He looks back on the whole time as a whirlwind.

“L.A. had so many high-profile stories, you tend to forget them,” he said.

And he wasn’t just anchoring: Rowe was cast in more than a dozen Hollywood films and TV shows.

“Every time, it was as a news reporter or an anchor,” said Rowe. “KTTV was an independent station and my contract did not forbid me from appearing in TV shows or movies. The network affiliates prevented their anchors from doing so.”

So Rowe got a Screen Actors Guild card and plenty of work. For instance, Rowe appeared in “When Hell Was in Session” in 1979, in “Midnight Lace” in 1981 and something called “Blood Beach” in 1981.

“Oh, you don’t want to forget about ‘Blood Beach,’ ” said Rowe, with a laugh. “It’s a teenybopper horror movie in the sand at Santa Monica. Did I survive? Barely. It was great fun. You can still rent it.”

Does Rowe own a copy?

“No, I never kept any of that stuff,” he said.

Rowe also appeared in a lot of shows you have heard of: “Knot’s Landing,” “Dynasty,” “BJ and the Bear,” “Quincy,” “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo” and “The Rockford Files.”

Just look for the guy standing there with a microphone.

“The funny thing is, I’m still getting residuals for maybe, $4, for some of this stuff when it runs in foreign countries,” said Rowe. ” ‘The Rockford Files’ is still running somewhere.”

By 1981, he had had enough of L.A. and decided to return to his original line of work: radio. He moved to Lincoln City, Ore., and built a new station from the ground up, KCRF-FM.

“Those years I owned that station was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Rowe. “It was a middle-of-the-road adult contemporary station, very heavy on local news. We won a lot of awards for news coverage. I’m very proud of that station. I wasn’t making a lot of money but I sure was having a lot of fun.”

So he sold it in 1987 and heard about an opening at KREM-2. He has been there ever since. From his anchor chair, he has presided over most of the momentous stories in the region, including the story he called the most memorable – the B-52 crash at Fairchild Air Force Base – and the two he said vied for “most disgusting” – serial killer Robert Yates and the tragedy at Ruby Ridge.

Now, he said, the time is right to hang it up. In fact, he felt that way last year.

“I was going to do it a year ago, but management asked me if I would stay another year,” said Rowe.

KREM news director Noah Cooper, in a prepared statement, called Rowe “the bedrock of KREM-2 News for 20 years.” Cooper said Rowe “breathed news his entire professional career.”

Rowe’s longtime co-anchor, Nadine Woodward, said the reality of Rowe’s retirement “just hasn’t hit me yet.”

“We’ve gotten along so well on the air many of our viewers actually thought we were married,” wrote Woodward, in an e-mail interview. “Charles is a gracious anchor, never one to steal the spotlight. And he’s always prepared. He preps more for each newscast than any anchor I’ve ever worked with.”

For a man who admittedly gave all of his time to his career, retirement might require an adjustment.

“I don’t have very many hobbies,” said Rowe. “I’ve taken up photography to some degree, so I still have that to conquer. I have a place in Oregon down on the beach. I’ll be spending a little time with that. I look forward to going down there and smelling a little salt air. The deepwater fishing around Depoe Bay, I’ll be spending some time with that.”

He is not married, but he said “I have been with the same lady for 17 years”: Laurine Jue, formerly a KREM-2 anchor and now a spokeswoman for Avista. He plans to continue to make Spokane his base.

He hopes to do some volunteer work at Spokane’s Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center as “a way to serve my country a little bit.” He’s a proud veteran of the Navy – he served aboard destroyers and achieved the rank of E-6 by the time he got out in 1958.

He hopes his farewell from the station will be low-key.

“Saying goodbye, I’ve never been very good at this kind of thing,” said Rowe. “When people have left the news department here, I’ve always just given them a handshake and say, ‘A job well done.’ And I’d appreciate the same thing.”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Richard Brown resigns

By Jim Kershner
The Spokesman-Review

One of Spokane’s best-known TV journalists is off the air.

Richard Brown, KXLY-4 anchor, resigned on Oct. 26 for personal reasons.

Contacted on Friday, Brown said he just “decided it was time to part ways” with KXLY. His contract did not expire until June. His last day on the air was Oct. 24.

“One of the difficult things about this is you don’t get to say goodbye to the people who have watched over the years,” said Brown.

“I’d like to say to those people, thank you. It’s been an honor.”

Brown arrived at KXLY in 1998 and has been one of the station’s main anchors ever since.

Prior to arriving in Spokane he was an anchor for seven years at KGO in San Francisco. He has also worked at CNN in Atlanta and WCBS in New York. He has won a passel of news awards.

In a posting on the KXLY Web site, news executive producer Melissa Luck said Brown “has the rare gift of presenting both gravitas and humor” and that he will be missed.

What’s in store for Brown? He’s not certain.

“Right now, I’m going out in the yard and finish picking up leaves,” he said.

“I’d love to stay in Spokane. This is home for us now.”

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Out of the Doldrums

Tri-state market bounces back on news

By Allison Romano
Broadcasting & Cable

With five options for late-evening news, broadcasters in the Spokane market churn out more news than most midsize markets. The glut of news, station managers say, reflects both a hunger for local information and the resurgence of a once stagnant market that spans 24 counties across Washington, Montana and Idaho.

Belo-owned CBS affiliate KREM and Cowles Publishing’s NBC affiliate KHQ lead the pack. KREM wins at 5 p.m., while KHQ takes 6 p.m. and the late news at 11. Morgan Murphy-owned ABC affiliate KXLY, which airs the market’s only 6:30 p.m. news, is a close third and growing steadily.

KREM also produces the 10 p.m. news for sister WB station (and future CW affiliate) KSKN, while KHQ produces the 10 p.m. news on Northwest Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate KAYU.

Station managers say Spokane’s local news benefits from station owners’ other assets in the region. KREM, for instance, collaborates with Belo’s strong KING Seattle, as well as with regional cable news channel Northwest Cable News. For breaking news and big events, such as the recent Bloomsday 12K race, the station can borrow KING’s helicopter, a luxury that smaller-market stations can’t afford. “These resources give us a significant advantage,” says KREM President/General Manager D.J. Wilson.

KHQ works with its sister newspaper The Spokesman-Review, while Morgan Murphy’s seven local radio stations lend promotional muscle to KXLY.

The market has been recovering after several sluggish years in the wake of Seattle’s tech bust. Downtown revitalization in Spokane is attracting new residents and businesses, and Northwest Idaho is a hot tourist destination. “This market was in the doldrums in 2001-02,” says KAYU General Manager Jon Rand. “But now the market is pretty healthy, and real estate values are increasing.”

Stations took in $47.4 million in gross revenues last year, up from $43.7 million in 2003, the previous non-political year. Political spending, particularly for a Washington Senate race and the Idaho gubernatorial contest, is expected to boost station coffers.

Many stations are using their digital spectrum. KHQ carries a version of NBC Weather Plus on a secondary digital channel, while KAYU recently launched music channel The Tube. KXLY will multicast Fox’s new MyNetworkTV this fall and feature syndicated programming, reruns of news and local specials.

“This will allow us more flexibility in providing local programming,” says KXLY Marketing Manager Kirstin Votava. “There are a lot of events that we wish we had time for.”

Sunday, June 4, 2006

The CW Network set to land on KSKN-22 in the fall

By Jim Kershner
The Spokesman-Review

KSKN-22 will become Spokane’s CW Network affiliate when that new network launches in September.

KSKN is Spokane’s WB affiliate. The CW Network will be the product of the upcoming merger between the WB and UPN networks.

The CW Network will consist of the top shows from the old WB and UPN (including “Gilmore Girls” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” among many others), as well as some new programming.

DJ Wilson, the KREM-KSKN general manager, said it will “allow viewers in the Inland Northwest one-stop shopping for some of the best shows on TV.”

The CW schedule will run during prime time seven days a week, with other blocks on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings. KSKN will continue to run its lineup of syndicated and local shows, including “KREM-2 News at 10,” “Dr. Phil,” “Friends” and Seattle Mariners broadcasts.

The official announcement came Monday, when the CW Network signed agreements with 12 affiliates around the country, including KSKN.

KSKN is KREM-2’s sister station. Both are owned by the Belo Corp., a media conglomerate based in Dallas.

Spokane has been without a UPN affiliate since the first of the year, when KQUP-24 dropped its affiliation.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The CW puts plans by KXLY on hold

By Jim Kershner
The Spokesman-Review

Local broadcasters called it a “bombshell” when the news arrived on Tuesday that the WB and UPN networks would merge into a new network called The CW.

First of all, it means that KXLY-TV’s planned launch of a new UPN affiliate (announced less than two weeks ago) is on hold.

“We’re going to step back and re-evaluate,” said KXLY’s Kirstin Votava. “We’re talking to our contacts at UPN. Stations all over the country are reeling from this.”

KXLY will continue to run UPN shows in the wee hours of Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings through next Sunday. After that, everything is uncertain.

At KSKN-22, Spokane’s WB affiliate, the future is uncertain as well. The WB will remain intact until September, but D.J. Wilson, the KREM-KSKN general manager, said it’s too early to say whether KSKN will then become The CW station.

KSKN may have the inside track, since it already has connections with both the WB and (through sister station KREM-2) CBS, which is partnering with Warner Bros. on the new network.

“The option is ours, I believe,” said Wilson. “We will have the option to become The CW or to become an independent station.”

She said that she expects to “begin the conversation” with the new network in the future.

Wilson said everyone in the industry was taken by surprise by the merger. The surprise may have been particularly acute at KXLY, because of the unfortunate timing.

“We learned a lot in the process,” said Votava. “But at least we weren’t two years down the road.”

Sunday, January 29, 2006

KXLY-4 makes room for UPN

By Jim Kershner
The Spokesman-Review

UPN has found a new home in Spokane: KXLY-4. But you’ll have to stay up late to catch its UPN broadcasts, at least for the time being.

KXLY and its affiliated digital channel, KXLY-DT, began airing UPN’s prime-time shows earlier this month in the wee hours of Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings.

Anybody for “Veronica Mars” at 2:05 a.m.?

That’s better than nothing, especially if you have a TiVo or a VCR.

However, KXLY plans to launch a new station (both analog and digital) which will air those shows in prime time and serve as the market’s UPN affiliate.

Kirstin Votava, KXLY’s TV marketing and promotions manager, said that launch “will be in the near future,” but the exact date is still up in the air.

Meanwhile, here’s the KXLY schedule for the most popular UPN shows:

•”Veronica Mars”: Mondays at 2:05 a.m.

•”Everybody Hates Chris”: Sundays at 2:05 a.m.

•”WWE Smackdown” (aka “Friday Night Smackdown”): Sundays at 12:05 a.m.

All of the other UPN shows are also airing in the early morning hours of Saturday, Sunday and Monday. (You might prefer to think of it instead as late Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night.)

For the complete schedule, check your listings or go to the KXLY.com website and click on the link that says “UPN schedule.”

This situation came about because Spokane’s former UPN affiliate, KQUP-24, dropped its UPN programming as of Jan. 1.

Sunday, January 22, 2006