Either way, public TV stations are consolidating in Colorado

Originally published in Current, July 21, 1997
By Steve Behrens

A new public TV network serving several Colorado cities is being created, but not the network discussed for many months last year.

The state Board of Agriculture, which oversees the University of Southern Colorado, meets in August and may give the go-ahead for Denver's KRMA to acquire the university's station, KTSC in Pueblo. Add to that a repeater station west of the mountains in Grand Junction, which KRMA established in January, and you have the new Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting.

This leaves the Denver area's KBDI the odd man out--a familiar role for the latecomer station that prides itself on exercising the First Amendment, and whose existence nettled KRMA for years.

Remarkably, last year's talks nearly succeeded in merging KBDI as well as the bigger KRMA and Pueblo's KTSC. CPB endorsed the combination, paying for consultants Tom Clough and then William Dietel to facilitate the talks. Clough captured the interest of all three stations with the vision of an efficient, three-channel statewide service, bigger than the sum of the three existing stations. One channel would carry news and public affairs, the second a classic PBS schedule and the third, educational offerings.

"On some levels, it seemed like we achieved harmony very quickly," recalls Ted Krichels, KBDI's president.

"There was one point for several months when we were all saying yes," agrees James Morgese, KRMA president.

Both Denver stations compromised their program philosophies. KRMA, traditionally conservative, agreed to a broader mix, and KBDI agreed the new network would be less "out there," according to the managers. When the FCC froze new channel assignments, they went for two program services instead of three. In negotiations involving several members from each board, the smaller stations gave KRMA directors a majority of the new board, and selected Morgese as chief exec.

"When we finished with a series of meetings," a KBDI board member recalls, "[consultant William] Dietel went around the room and pointed his finger at each one of us, and asked, 'Do you agree and are you willing to sell this to your board?' We all said yes."

But KRMA's full board would later balk at the deal, and talks ended, for a while.

The board members had come to the table with curiosity but not commitment, Morgese says now. "If we did it again, I wouldn't go into negotiations without the board chairs saying, 'This must happen.'"

There was still a sense of "us versus them" in relations between the two rival Denver stations. Krichels observes: matchmaking is harder when a larger partner fears that cooperation will "overly benefit" the smaller partners.

The talks had begun and proceeded with a flawed concept, including huge capital costs, says an outside observer, and the negotiators never discovered what might break the deal. "I don't think the possibilities ever were given a fair chance."

Last fall, KRMA pursued merger on its own, proposing to buy the Pueblo station's assets--a merger that could save $1 million a year, Morgese estimates. But he also stayed in touch with Krichels at KBDI.

Now both Denver managers say they're talking again, about collaborating but not merging: sharing facilities and staff, crosspromoting and trying joint ventures.

Failing to merge top management and boards may turn out to be a boon to diverse programming, since there will be multiple gatekeepers on duty, and one of them will be able to continue an aggressive free-speech mission without compromise.

Web page posted Aug. 16, 1997
Copyright 1997 by Current Publishing Committee


The two Denver stations move forward on plans to combine their master control rooms for the sake of efficiency, 1998.


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