Grand Forks, North Dakota viewers object to TV news being outsourced to Fargo

WDAZ-TV, Grand Forks
Smaller communities value their news, whether it's source is the local newspaper or a small TV station. People in Grand Forks, North Dakota are not happy with a choice made by Forum Communications, owner of WDAZ-TV. Forum also owns sister station WDAY-TV, in larger Fargo, and has decided to cut WDAZ's 5pm localized newscast and its anchor, Terry Dullum. WDAZ is a satellite of the Fargo ABC affiliate and the weekday 5pm newscast is the sole newscast produced in Grand Forks; the other Grand Forks-specific newscasts are produced in Fargo. It's very like this is a monetary decision.

Terry Dullum
There has been quite a bit of outcry over this, to the point that competitors KXJB and KVLY are covering A petition has been started with a goal of 1000 signatures. While WDAZ is essentially a satellite of WDAY, thousands in the smaller city of Grand Forks became accustomed to having their own localized newscast with their own anchor. At the time of writing this, the petition is less than 100 signers shy of 1000.
it. Dullum is a fixture in the community and many unhappy viewers have used social media to vent frustrations over his dismissal.

This should send a loud message to TV news operations: viewers want to see news that's relevant to them and their community. That's how loyalty is built with viewers. The more local a newscast is, the more it's valued and the more it's watched.

Cheers, all.


The Idea of Going Car-Free in Memphis is Laughable and Sad at the Same Time

I have lived in Memphis the majority of my life. I was born here and I know this city very well. While this is the only city I would truly ever want to call home, I have what I feel is a legitimate grievance: we do not live in a city designed (or modified) to effectively or realistically travel about without the aid of a personal automobile.

Courtesy: The Commercial Appeal
Memphis has public transit. Before I began driving, I used Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) extensively. Once you learn how to use it, that is. When I needed the aid of public transportation, I was one of the thousands of people who saw MATA buses and trollies running up and down city streets, wondering just how to use them and where, exactly, they where going. But once I learned the system, schedules, etc, it was a pleasant experience, for the most part.

But riding the bus in Memphis can be a challenge. In some case, it takes intricate, almost reconnaissance-like planning and scoping to get from where you are to where you want to go. The way buses are scheduled, if you are traveling to a transfer point and the bus you are one arrives late, you plans either change on the fly or you wait it out until the next bus rolls along. That, along with the fact that many areas of the metro area are not widely served (namely the surrounding affluent suburban areas and the far eastern portion of Shelby County) does not make relying upon MATA a realistic possibility.

Even with recent efforts to integrate bike lanes throughout the city, Memphis can be highly frustrating to maneuverable with a car. Drivers in this city are simply not mindful of anything on the street that's not a car. It's largely a fantasy to think one can ride a bike from Whitehaven to Midtown without almost getting killed by careless drivers or encountering roadways and thoroughfares not designed with neither pedestrians nor bikers in mind.

While noble and bold in conception, the aspect of ditching your car for a month in the name of reducing auto emissions and helping the environment is laughable. For now, anyway.

For those not from Memphis, you must understand that there is a stigma attached to not owning a car in this city. It doesn't matter if you're driving a $500 raggedy tax refund used jalopy, you're better than those people who have to ride the bus. That alone will keep people away from MATA. Or walking. Or riding a bike.

Courtesy: Memphis Daily News
Like I stated before, when I first used the bus, I had no idea how it worked and I wasn't alone. If MATA would make the process less of a mystery (perhaps designating an advertising budget like they did in the 70s and 80s?), I think ridership would go up. Also, an expansion of routes (in area and frequency) would making riding buses and trollies more attractive.

If bike routes and lanes expanded, this would help. But the harsh truth is that Memphis drivers are not used to sharing the road with bikers. Drivers often use bike lanes like shoulder, with no regard for the bike lanes' intended use.

Going car-free is idealist, nothing more. A good idea, but still, just an idea, really.

More info about Memphis' 30 Day Car Free Challenge can be found here.

Cheers, all.


Can drones replace news helicopters?

After watching a very interesting piece about drones on 60 Minutes, I sent out this tweet:

While my focus was on smaller television markets with limited resources, my interest has shifted a bit in light of the tragic events at Seattle ABC affiliate KOMO. Chopper pilot Gary Fitzner and photographer Bill Strothman were killed in a crash while leaving the facility where the station's helicopter was stored, mere yards from the city's iconic Space Needle.

So I've been thinking: could drones be used as an economical tool for gathering news and make for a safer alternative? I envision these tiny, airborne devices being utilized by television stations to get aerial footage for breaking news, even for stations in larger markets who cannot (or will not) fork over millions of dollars to purchase or lease a chopper or pay for its expensive fuel. Plus, helicopters must be stored in specific places; it's not like a car that can be parked in the driveway after breaking news coverage is over.

With 5G bandwidth becoming common across America, drones could also be used anywhere near a 4G/5G tower, eliminating the need to tune into a signal on what can often be an unreliable microwave spectrum. This would also allow multiple drones to operate simultaneously within the same general area.

My vision of initial operation goes like this: a large fire has broken out in a residential area during a wildfire. Crews cannot get to the fire due to safety issues. A news crew drives as close to the fire as safely allowed. The drone is deployed. With someone trained to remotely operate the drone as a crew member guiding it along, the cellular spectrum can be used to transmit a live HD grade signal back to the station. The drone costs a fraction of a helicopter, so if it's damaged, it's no big deal, especially in situations where lives are in the balance. Plus, it's less intrusive than a helicopter, therefore, it can access more areas without jeopardizing safety.

The use of drones could also level the playing field in TV news, making exclusive claims to owning helicopters a thing of the past. As I stated previously, choppers use a lot of fuel. And it ain't cheap.

But we;re years away from this. Regulations must be put into place. I can imagine drones would be governed the same way aircraft is today.

So, will drones replace news helicopters? Not anytime soon. Just as the internet has not replaced TV news but has influenced it to change, drones will add another alternative and dimension to the tools television stations will have at their disposal to provide quality news coverage.

Cheers, all.


The Value of Local Television in Smaller Markets

Something crazy is on the verge of happening in southern New Jersey. When I heard about this, I almost thought it was a joke. But what I'm about to explain today is happening for real. And I must say, it's absurd.

WMGM, an NBC affiliate that operates out of Atlantic City, NJ, has been sold. That, in itself, isn't news: TV stations are put up for sale all the time. What makes channel 40's sale unique is this: the company that wants to buy the station, LocusPoint Networks, isn't in the broadcasting business. They acquire frequency spectrum space and sell it to other companies that, in turn, use it for cell phones, private communications networks, etc. The sale is still pending approval from the FCC; if it goes through, WMGM will cease operations. This will leave the entire South Jersey region without a local television station.

If you're familiar with the area, you know that Atlantic City is part of the Philadelphia market. WMGM operates under a unique situation: the area can receive a Grade A signal from WCAU, channel 10, the NBC station in Philly. It's considered a Philly market station, but doesn't have a specific market distinction. Yet, since there are no other NBC stations in New Jersey (the other portion if New Jersey is part of the NYC market), channel 40 is allowed to co-exist with WCAU. WMGM serves an area not normally covered by Philly stations, so it is essentially a split Nielsen market, meaning a portion of the larger market is treated like its own small market.

Philadelphia is the nation's 4th largest market; it's huge. While each station delivers a quality news product, the smaller communities further out from Philly, like Wildwood/Atlantic City, often times get left out of daily news coverage. This is where small market TV stations are valuable. They pick up the slack when the larger stations are focused on what's happening in the areas closer to the larger cities. Smaller market stations serve a unique and important role for folks living in more rural/outlying areas.

In February 2008, I was working as an anchor and reporter for the ABC in Jackson, TN. Jackson is an official DMA and receives most non-ABC programming from Memphis, 80 miles southeast. A string of deadly tornadoes swept through the region. WBBJ provided non-stop coverage to the people of West Tennessee. I shot footage that evening and upon arriving back to the station, answered phones for nearly six hours with my co-workers, giving information, phone numbers, damage reports, etc, to people directly affected by the storms. Nielsen numbers suggested more people in the market watched us than the Memphis stations. That single even proved to me the value of small market TV and the lifeline it provides to the people it aims to serve, areas that aren't served unless something big happens there.

And that's why the pending sale of WMGM upsets me a bit. You may be thinking the Philadelphia stations will cover the news in Atlantic City. Unless something huge happens there on a regular basis, don't expect that to happen. Smaller stations cover the city hall meetings, burglaries, crimes and other events larger stations simply do not consider "news". Just as people in and around Philly expect to see and hear what happened in their neck of the woods, the same holds true for people in smaller communities.

While channel 40 isn't technically in a small market, it serves the same purpose; losing a TV station in exchange for more 4G cellular service seems to be a terrible trade off.

Supporters of keeping WMGM up and running have set up this web site.

Cheers, all.


MS Gulfcoast station WXXV launches local newscasts

Since the early 60's, the only source of local TV news for residents in South Mississippi has been Raycom's WLOX. That changes today, as NBC/FOX affiliate WXXV launches its news department.

This isn't the first time WXXV has produced local news. Back in the late 1990s, Fox 25 News at Nine popped up to offer another choice for news in the Gulfcoast. Even though the newscast aired an hour before WLOX's newscast, it still failed.

Back in 2012, WXXV added NBC as their .2 sub-channel. NBC requires all affiliates to produce news, so I assume this is why this day has come. Still, it doesn't hurt to have more than one choice for any product, including TV news

I worked in a one station market and I must say, I sort of regret it. Why? The only other local news outlet we competed with was the newspaper. It would have been nice to go head-to-head with another station in the market. WLOX has been the lone TV news operation for half a century. Biloxi-Gulfport is the 160th Nielsen television market, with about 130,000 TV households (about 400,000 people). It's a smaller market, and although the market has access to New Orleans through cable penetration, people in those areas tend to be left out as far as local news is concerned. Local TV tends to be more valued in small markets. Even though it means competition, I'm sure the folks at WLOX are excited about News 25.

The first local newscast is slated for 5:30pm on their .2 NBC sub-channel, pushing NBC Nightly News to 6pm on tape delay, followed later by a 10pm newscast. A 9pm newscast will air on the Fox channel.

I'm anxious to see WXXV's news product. I visited their website and saw a Clip Syndicate box, which means they'll be posting video soon.

I wish News 25 the best of luck. As long as they produce quality, earnest news content, they'll stay afloat. Smaller markets tend to appreciate it more.

Cheers, all.


Aereo: Innovation or theft?

After a recent collective legal effort by America's over-the-air (OTA) broadcast networks, the 2nd Circuit US Court of Appeals in New York has upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court, affirming that Aereo is not infringing any copyrights by streaming TV signals online.

This a setback in what the networks see as an effort to protect their main products, their programming. However, Newscorp, the company that owns and operates 17 Fox and 10 MyTVNetwork stations across the US, has suggested a drastic solution to Aereo: pulling Fox programming from the airwaves altogether.

Speaking of the court's ruling at the annual National Association of Broadcasters gathering in Las Vegas, Newscorp COO Chase Carey said, "This is not an ideal path we look to pursue, but we can't sit idly by and let an entity steal our signal." He went on to say, "If we can't do a fair deal, we could take the whole network to a subscription model."

A large number of Americans subscribe to some kind of pay television service, whether it be satellite, cable or a fiber optic service provider like FiOS or UVerse. In order to provide these signals to their customers, television service providers must pay for the privilege to do so in the form of re-transmission fees. Makes sense, right? A cable provider sells access to a station and makes money, so should the station not be compensated? Local stations are used as a selling point for subscription TV services, so the common logic is that stations should share in those profits.

But many Americans still rely upon an antenna to watch television. Millions of Americans don't pay for television because they either can't afford it or simply choose not to. I bring this up because it helps explain how local TV makes the bulk of its money: through the sell of advertising.

In advertising, the easier access one has to an entity that distributes ads ensures that those ads reach the most people. It's a model almost every free weekly metropolitan newspaper understands: if I give away my newspaper, more people will be inclined to pick up a copy. Therefore, my advertisers have better and wider access to readers.

This model works with TV. If I can't or won't pay for TV, I know I can always take out the old rabbit ears and pull in the evening news or American Idol for free. Satellite or none, if I want to watch Criminal Minds or Scandal, it's there. And so are the ads that air with the programs.

Back to Fox. I'm calling Mr. Carey's bluff on this one; Fox pulling programming from the airwaves makes as much sense as shooting yourself in the foot. I do not see this happening. But if it did happen, where would that leave Fox as a terrestrial broadcast entity? Would Fox create another cable service like FX and move its primetime network programming there, and maintain its broadcast stations according to a different programming model? Or would the Newscorp stations simply disappear from the airwaves and be offered only to cable and satellite subscribers?

With the exception of WOGX in north central Florida, all Fox owned stations produce local news. Local news ratings are used by stations to set ad rates for local and regional advertisers. If Fox goes pay TV, that ad model would change completely, because the large portion of non-pay TV household would most likely not be willing to start paying for TV because of the loss of one local station. That's means all programming, including news and everything else, loses a chunk of its audience. Free TV means free access to advertising.

But like I said, I'm not convinced any situation like this will become a reality.

But I must touch on Aereo. Aereo claims that the reason no copyright infringement occurs is because they have thousands of "mini-antennas" that provide the signal that is streamed to each individual subscriber. The service offers all sorts of fancy bells and whistles such as time shifting and DVR space, but I must ask this: how does one take a signal from over-the-air and initially resell it to someone? The network programming is the draw here; folks aren't paying to see reruns of "My Little Pony" or Mexican soccer. The mere existence of Aereo proves the worth of local network affiliates.

Why does Aereo have the right to charge people for something that they didn't pay for and that's copyrighted? What's wrong with the networks restricting the way their programming is distributed? If the networks want local affiliates to broadcast their signal over-the-air, fine. If the affiliates want to make deals with cable companies over re-transition, fine. Isn't it only fair that Aereo pay for the right to redistribute network/affiliate programming? When will Aereo reach out to stations and work out some kind of deal? That way, everyone gets paid and everyone is happy.


Car theft dashed because would-be thieves were too dumb to drive stick shift

Maybe if more people drove vehicles with manual transmissions, less of them would get stolen.


This would almost be funny if not for the seriousness of the situation. Randolph Beane was waiting outside of an Orlando hospital to pick his wife up from work in his Corvette. He was later approached by his three would-be carjackers.

"Beene, 51, said one of the thieves pointed a gun at him while asking how to use the car. 'They apparently couldn't start it. I had to tell him four different times to push in the clutch, because it's a standard transmission.'"

Complete story from WOFL-TV (Fox) in Orlando

Cheers, all.

Arkansas woman busted for hiding drugs, money in very strange places

24-year-old Joanna Saunders of Jonesboro, Arkansas must have anticipated being stopped by police; it appears she was using a certain female body part to hide some illegal substances, among other things...
"Jailers told Officer McEntire they found and removed from Saunders’ vaginal cavity “1.1 grams of marijuana packaged in a clear small plastic baggie, one blue glass tube or pipe containing a white powder residue, and metal container, key chain containing 14 small bags of a crystal-like substance believed to be methamphetamine.” Jailers also said they found $419 cash concealed in her bra."
Complete story from KAIT-TV (ABC), Jonesboro

Cheers, all.

Meet Kai, a modern day superhero (or something)

When working in TV news, you often times come across some very "interesting" people. More often that not, they're just that; interesting. You end up recording an interview that's unusable and never goes to air, usually ending up of the Christmas tape.

But every once in a while, you come across a fellow like Kai. He's a homeless hitchhiker in the Fresno, California area. He also carries a hatchet. Add a chaotic situation with a nut claiming to be Jesus trying to plow down a utility worker with his car and beating a woman, and all of a sudden a hatchet wielding homeless dude swoops in and saves the day.

Kai's account of what went down that day is one of legendary status. KMPH (Fox) reporter Jessob Reisbeck has posted the raw interview with Kai. The package that aired on TV is wild in its own right, but the unedited one-on-one with Kai is, well, short of amazing.

Here's what aired on channel 26:

And here's what ended up on the cutting room floor (NSFW. Kai loves the F-bomb):
Kai's heroic act has been a subject of conversation on Twitter:
Cheers, all.


Is this the BlackBerry's last chance?

Canadian smartphone company BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion) has finally unveiled its long-awaited and much overdue devices, the 10 and the z10 (the "zed ten", not the "zee ten"; this is a Canadian phone). For the most part, the phones are getting very positive reviews. With upgraded multimedia features and enhanced versions of its web browser and BlackBerry Messenger (I know people who cannot live without BBM), the new BlackBerry seems to be on its way back into the forefront, after years of dismal performance by RIM. Some believe this to be BlackBerry's last chance for survival in a world of smartphones and devices dominated by cheap handsets that run Android's open source OS and Apple's designer, status satisfying design-over-usability driven iPhones.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's flagship national TV news program The National took an in-depth look at the work that went into developing BlackBerry's new phone. Inside BlackBerry is a 16 minute feature that takes a look inside the company and profiles the dynamic people behind what could very well be the comeback story of 2013.