IdahoPTV Home > 50 Years of Idaho Public Television
THE MAN WITH THE MICKEY MOUSE TIE
By Royce Williams
Blue moon of Kentucky
Keep on shinin’
Shine on the one who’s gone
And left me blue.
The late Jack Schlaefle wore the Mickey Mouse tie whenever he had to try to convince listeners about the value of Idaho Public Television, usually listeners who had already made up their minds about the 3-station network.
Sometimes the reaction to his advocacy was negative, and sometimes but rarely his reaction to the loss was to uncork a bottle from the top shelf. After two or three gulps, he could unhinge his singing voice and make the old Bluegrass number live up to Bill Monore’s bluest mood.
The singing had begun while Schlaefle was serving in the army in Korea. One evening the film projector broke down in the middle of a movie, and Schlaefle asked the officer in charge if he could entertain the troops.
Having no alternative the officer agreed, and after Schlaefle sang a few songs, the troops applauded. The officer immediately transferred Schlaefle to special services, where he was introduced to early television. He would stay with the medium the rest of his life.
Once military service ended, Schlaefle returned to Denver and graduated form the Colorado State College of Education. He was working on his master’s degree and volunteering at the Denver Educational Television station KRMA, now known as Rocky Mountain PBS, when the station hired him as a producer. It was while he was working that he met KTVB-Boise’s owner Georgia Davidson, who, in turn, was working with Boise Junior College’s Director of Educational Services Ace Chatburn.
Chatburn became the catalyst that pulled the various factions together in Idaho to search for funds to set up a public television station in Boise, the last capitol city in the country to get public TV. It was something Chatburn had wanted to do since he first saw television in 1944 in New York City.
Chatburn applied for and received a grant of $334,000 to get a Boise station up and running. As part of the funding for the new BSU Library, the Legislature set aside another $225,000 for a proposed 10,000-square-foot television wing in the building. The groundwork had been laid.
Schlaefle’s name came up as soon as the television committee got funding. KTVB-Channel 7 had been showing some educational television programs, including Sesame Street, underwritten by Eddy’s Bread of Boise. The underwriter’s name uttered at the start and the end of the program, however, did not cover the costs of airing the show. KTVB management was supportive of educational programs, but was happy to transfer low- or no-profit educational shows to a public television station, happy enough to loan an engineer to Chapman to help with setting up a new station.
In July of 1971, Chapman called Schlaefle and asked him if he wanted the station manager’s job. After checking with his wife Elisabeth, Schlaefle said yes and packed up for the move to Boise. He was leaving a Denver station where he had produced a wide variety of educational programs, including one children’s show in which he was a puppeteer. In collaboration with the Colorado Department of Fish and Game, he had produced and hosted an outdoors program, and did a cooking show with frontier recipes called Frying Pans West. The straight man on that show was a tame black bear.
Schlaefle told Elisabeth he thought it would be a challenge to get the last capitol city in the nation geared up with educational television.
It was probably more of a challenge than he expected. Boise at the time (1971) was a fairly conservative town, one that thought it was best to take baby steps before you crawled or ran. But Schlaefle was a leaper, some calling him a wild man. He started with a staff of six people, but by the station’s first anniversary in December of 1972, there were 13 people on the payroll and the station was airing 65 hours of television a week. It was said of Schlaefle that he could smell money. The station added its first underwriter during its first year – First Security Bank funding movie classics.
Former producer and host of Idaho legislative coverage Marc Johnson remembered Schlaefle as “a visionary, never a micromanager.
“When he wanted to create Idaho Reports, he just indicated he wanted a regular public affairs program, but left it to us to do the details, and I have no memory that he ever said anything – anything – negative about anything we did,” Johnson said.
Others who worked for Schlaefle told similar stories about Schlaefle being a producer’s dream boss. Shortly after the station was sending out programs (and Schlaefle always called them programs, never shows) to an 80-mile radius around Boise, he gave the staff a program title of Cabbages and Kings. Producers were to do stories on anything that popped into their heads. In other words, his only demand was creativity. Video ranged from Boise nightlife to shooting from the back seat of an Air Force fighter plane.
One of the early staff members was Peter Morrill, who would later become general manager. Morrill agreed with Johnson.
“Marc and I noticed that the relationship between the Soviet Union and the US was thawing,” Morrill recalled, “and a group from Idaho had formed a ‘people to people’ trip headed by philanthropist Velma Morrison and Idaho Attorney General David Leroy. We went to Schlaefle with a proposal to travel to Russia and do a documentary.
“Schlaefle didn’t hesitate. ‘Pack your bags,’ he said, so we did, and the result was a show called Truth Soviet Style,” It wasn’t something Idaho had expected to see.
By his second year at the station, Schlaefle was showing that he had a knack for what viewers wanted to see. He sent producers to cover the Western Idaho State Fair, coverage that continued for five years. A program called Showcase featured a potpourri of local talent, including some country music. Idaho Wildlife covered the outdoors. Boise Philharmonic did a live studio concert. Public Journal Four aired weekly with one of four perspectives – Insight, a leading Idaho citizen; Dialogue, advocate discussion; Probe, a major documentary effort; and Remote, at the scene of a major event. Executive Report interviewed Southwest Idaho leaders. KAID produced its own cooking show called Northwest Menus. Consumer Line let viewers call in with questions for experts. A 3-part documentary aired on Geothermal: Energy for Tomorrow, as did a documentary on Jeff Seward’s travels to China. Newsend premiered with discussions with local reporters on the news of the previous week. With KUID-Moscow, the station produced Teton: Decision and Disaster that had national distribution. Idaho in Concert aired in 1980 and featured local classical artists. Political debates became a fixture.
With that much activity in that many fields, there was bound to be criticism, but Johnson said he couldn’t remember being on the receiving end of most of it.
“It is clear to me that he also went to extraordinary lengths to insulate the working stiff from political or other kinds of pressure,” Johnson recalled. “He took any abuse and left us to make the programs.”
Morrill agrees, since he recalls his request that Schlaefle accept his resignation. The request came by telephone from Sun Valley.
“I was director covering what was to be five half-hour programs on the Northern Rockies Folk Festival at Sun Valley, but a staff person put one of the very hot lights too close to a sprinkler head.
“You can guess what happened, but the system controls were locked and the key couldn’t be found quickly enough, giving the system time to dump about 10,000 gallons of water onto the hall.
There was an out-of-court settlement, but since the sprinkler controls were so hard to get to, the station wasn’t hurt too much financially, he said.
“I called Schlaefle and told him he could have my resignation, but he just laughed and told me not to worry about it,” Morrill said. Morrill would stay with Idaho Public Television until his retirement, less a short stint at Florida Public Television (WUFT). Ricardo Ochoa, whose father was part of an early Spanish language program, would stay at the station until his retirement.
The first person Schlaefle hired, Vaun McArthur, would stay with Idaho Public Television’s engineering department until his retirement. The second person hired, Bob Pyle, would stay with IdahoPTV until retirement. The third person hired, Howard Hansen, would stay with the art and design department until his retirement. For many employees, Schlaefle ignited loyalty.
And Johnson recalled a mistaken trip to what he thought would be greener pastures in commercial television. He said he knew soon after the change that it had been a mistake, “but I was too embarrassed to ask (Schlaefle) if there was any way to come home again.
“But I ran into Jack someplace,” Johnson continued, “and he asked be very genuinely how I was doing, and I said I’d made a mistake leaving and wasn’t doing the work I had hoped to do.
“Jack just looked me and said, ‘Why don’t you come back?’, so I did, and I thank him for that.”
However, Schlaefle’s relationships with out-of-station people weren’t always smooth. One summary of his management style simply called him a doer, not a smoozer. He was a friend to friends and an enemy of enemies. Anyone who loved noncommercial and educational television and thought education didn’t start at age six and end at high school graduation was a friend. He had a knack for finding another person’s buttons and wasn’t reluctant about pushing them in an argument. He especially liked arguing an opposing view to many Idaho Statesman editorials.
During his 13-year tenure at IdahoPTV, Schlaefle was often at odds with the people at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), a major funder of local stations. Schlaefle pushed hard and vocally for more local control, and was especially critical of Public Broadcasting System’s plans for Sunday sports on public television.
Why should public television compete with the major Sunday sports offerings of commercial stations, he asked. Public television was supposed to be an alternative to commercial TV, he insisted. He became so vocal about this and other instances of local station autonomy, that he was unceremoniously given a glazed dill pickle at one out-of-state meeting.
Sports on IdahoPTV did come about during Schlaefle’s tenure, but it happened only after solid local viewer support for the programs was demonstrated beyond doubt.
It was in the early 1980’s that the greatest threat to what Schlaefle had built came about. The legislative leg of the 3-legged financial stool of public television was pulled from under the station in 1981, when the Legislature voted to zero-fund the network. The cuts were partly a group of lawmakers who were unsure of tax income after the 1 percent property tax initiative passed in 1980, and partly from another group unhappy with some documentaries produced in Moscow. High inflation rates nationally contributed to the perfect storm.
Schlaefle argued that his station was breaking records for viewership, compared to public stations nationwide. It was a why-fix-something-that’s-not-broken approach. He spoke up for separate management for the state’s three stations, citing among other things, the unique needs of the audiences in the three regions. He supported a proposal to place the three stations under auspices of the state universities.
But the Legislature seemed to want a statewide manager, some single manager they could call before lawmakers in Boise at any time. They placed the three stations under the State Board of Education and a statewide general manager. While everyone waited for the other shoe to drop, Schlaefle was even too blue to sing Blue Moon of Kentucky. But he was appointed to the general manager position, one he had opposed, but one he immediately set about making work.
As his first action, he sent a memo to all stations saying: “there is one important assurance I want to give at the outset of this new venture. The title general manager will not be synonymous with dictator.
“As a long-time manager of a single public television station, as a veteran of battles with national PBS to preserve the autonomy of the local stations,” he continued, “I am fully committed to strong stations responsive to the needs and wishes of the viewers in their communities.”
If lawmakers didn’t like public television, viewers stated that they did like it in the only way they could – with their financial support. During a short unannounced fundraising break at the Moscow station, viewers pledged $35,000 during the NCAA tournament. And in Boise’s 16-day festival in 1981, pledges jumped past the goal of $50,000 to over $300,000.
Two years before his death from cancer, Schlaefle was given six months to live, but he went on working for two years in great pain. The staff rallied around him, but his cancer was incurable. He died in 1984, and KAID-Boise established the Schlaefle scholarship for students working at one of the state’s three stations.
Interviewed on IdahoPTV’s 50th anniversary, Schlaefle’s wife Elisabeth said he “would be awe-struck if he walked into the station today and saw the advancements, especially in technology. He was very aware of the talents in others, and he set a tone of excellence for IdahoPTV, which hasn’t strayed from that.”
HELLO… HELLO… COME IN RANGOON
By Royce Williams
Lightning at high elevations in Idaho can pack a devastating punch.
Wind speeds can reach 3-digit numbers without warning, and temperatures are below freezing more often than not. Even dense clouds can distort or deflect a video signal.
Snow often appears as a surprise blizzard. Today’s engineers recall the winter of 1996-97 as the worst in memory for cold, snow and ice.
Standing in the middle of all of it are IdahoPTV’s transmission towers, those structures that get our signal to television sets in people’s living rooms. Over the last 50 years, station engineers have put together a system that gets the video to 97 percent of the population. Given the state’s geology, it has been work that would strike terror in the faint-hearted.
The problems started early. In March back in 1965, for example, when engineers were trying to get an 85-foot straight antenna past a snowy, muddy hairpin curve on Paradise Ridge, about four miles southeast of Moscow. The antenna went on top of a 160-foot tower that had been brought up in sections. Faded black and white photos of the problem just show both ends of the unbending antenna scraping mud at both ends on the unyielding curve in the shelf of road on the steep mountainside.
The solution is not explained, but there must have been one, for the following pictures show the antenna atop the supporting tower. Engineers apparently did engineering stuff on the curve. What it was wasn’t explained in the coverage at the time. But when the antenna was up, KUID-Moscow was being beamed to an 80-mile radius around the antenna. There was television in the evenings – from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
New problems developed right away as they would almost daily over the coming 50 years. Someone broke into the small building at the base of the Moscow tower and stole $300 worth of tools and turned out the flashing red light at the top of the tower that warned aircraft to avoid the antenna. Also, a squirrel had gotten onto a transformer and blew all the electrical fuses, throwing the station off the air until an engineer could get to the mountaintop and set things right.
Today there are 52 such towers scattered across Idaho bringing IdahoPTV to 97 percent of the state’s population. Just about anything can happen at any one of the towers, be it weather, vandalism, forest fires, equipment breaking or things simply reaching age limits. Engineers rarely work 8-hour days, and the phone can ring on weekends, holidays or in the middle of any night. Some of the names of tower sites say something about the difficulty of getting there – Crouch, Grimes Pass, No Business Peak, Snowbank and Windy Devil. Sandpoint Baldy is a tough site, as is the tower at McDermitt, Nevada. Mackey still doesn’t have a digital feed, qualifying it as a difficult site.
The network’s signal goes out from five major towers (transmitters) located near Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, Boise, Twin Falls and Pocatello. If Idaho were as flat as Kansas, that would be enough, but that isn’t the case. Idaho is a corduroy state, and that means a lot more towers (translators) have to be placed strategically to get the signal over, across and around mountains and buttes and down into valley towns.
There are 47 of these translator towers. Attached to 18 of the towers are microwave antennas, commonly called dishes, that connect major Idaho towns with each other and with the rest of the world via an orbiting satellite 22,000 miles above the earth. Television programs from the world are downloaded from this satellite, and IdahoPTV uploads programs it wants to send to the world. In the rooms where uploads and downloads are processed you’ll find the staff in sweaters. Room temperatures have to keep the electronic equipment from overheating. Food and drink are banned, of course.
That’s the plan on paper, so what could go wrong?
Nearly anything at any time anywhere.
For KAID-Boise, the problems started with sign-on at midnight on December 31, 1971. Engineers were trying to get the station up and running before the legislative and CPB funding deadlines for the full year. But when they flipped the on-switch, nothing happened.
Vaun McArthur, chief engineer, worked all day New Year’s Day 1972, and found the problem at the Deer Point tower. He replaced a tiny capacitor at the tower, and KAID-Boise was sending out a TV signal to a 50-mile radius around Boise. They were airing shows 46 hours a week. Because they turned on the system before midnight, they were able to spend the 1971-appropriated funds.
The system required a fix nanoseconds after it was turned on, and the fix required an engineer. Things haven’t changed much over the past 50 years. And with 97 percent of this rugged state covered, problems can mimic popcorn over an open flame.
Larry Smith, field engineer supervisor, remembers a fix that should have taken about 20 minutes but ended up taking six days.
We decided to fly in to a snowed-in site to do the quick fix on a microwave path, he recalled, and I hired a helicopter at the airport and we were off.
“I asked the pilot to wait, but he said the clouds were closing in, and he had to get back into the air while he could see,” Smith said. “He said he would be back as soon as the weather cleared.”
“It was six days before the weather cleared, and as the pilot was flying in, he called to say I should meet him at the landing site because the weather was closing in again.
“The pilot said that if he could make it, he would not land, just hover long enough for me to jump in, which I did, and we dropped off the mountaintop below the fog and at tree level,” Smith said.
Since some of the tower sites have roads leading to them that don’t qualify as a road; they’re more like a gully on a shelf, engineers have to rent helicopters or fixed wing aircraft. They drive 4-wheel drive pickups with heavy duty winches, or rental cars, use snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, trams, ski lifts, snow cats, snowshoes and, of course, packing in on foot.
Smith also recalls another snowstorm, one he raced on a snowmobile to a site. When he was finished with the repair, he faced a whiteout, but thought he could still find the road. He soon realized he was heading downhill where the road wasn’t, so he turned around, thinking he could follow his own tracks back to the building.
“The tracks were gone,” he said, “but I nearly collided with the building before I saw it. I was glad to see it and spent the night there, leaving the next morning in clear weather.”
In an interview shortly before his death retired chief engineer Vaun McArthur recalled his trip up to the Sandpoint tower on a snowmobile that flipped, pinning him under the machine. Luckily, he was with fellow engineer Cecil Cope, who got him off the mountain. McArthur spent several days in a North Idaho hospital. The incident brought a general rule that, whenever possible, two people travel to a tower site, especially in winter.
“You have to respect a tower,” said Craig Koster, an engineer in North Idaho, “and think beforehand about what could happen.” Like mountain climbers, television engineers must attach themselves to the tower ladder, reaching up to clip a line, then reaching down to free the one below them, moving up a yard or two, then repeating. Climbing a tower is safe, but an engineer won’t ever be confused with a squirrel.
Often the metal towers will be coated in ice, so focusing on the work at hand and maintaining a grip with both hands and feet is absolutely necessary. Koster doesn’t think engineering work is boring. “If it ever happens,” he said, “I’ll let you know.”
Dave Turnmire at KISU-Pocatello recalls driving to pick up a co-worker’s vehicle and getting a call that his co-worker had survived being stranded in a “wickedly bad snow storm.” He had been found alive, Turnmier recalled, “but had to spend a few days in the hospital while his kidneys remembered how to work.”
For Turnmier there are other mountaintop experiences he would rather forget, “like the rattlesnake that had me trapped for several minutes, getting trapped in an unheated building overnight by a storm, or having to be rescued when the track system broke off the snow cat.”
If bad luck’s going to hit an engineer, its most likely to happen in winter and at two sites – Sandpoint Baldy and Salmon. Mike Cramblit, field engineer out of KUID-Moscow, recalls the snow cat with a broken transmission setting atop 12-15 feet of snow at the Sandpoint tower. Repairmen had to dig down to the problem!
“We thought we’d have to spend the night in the stranded machine (the tower building would require digging down to the door), but the cat driver had brought along a snowmobile,” Cramblit said, “so we waited in the snow cat until he could get off the mountain, get another snowmobile up to us.
“We got off the mountain, but the experience taught us that if you’re going to a mountaintop in the middle of winter, go with someone well trained and prepared for winter emergencies.”
What’s most frustrating for all the field engineers is trying to repair the network without any money, sometimes leaving major projects stuck in neutral for months.
Most television engineers are familiar with their own history, specifically Philo T. Farnsworth the Idaho farm boy who invented television. It was Farnsworth who looked out across the straight rows of potatoes and transferred those lines to a cathode ray tube – television. There is a 9,054-foot peak near Salt Lake City named for Farnsworth, who was born in nearby Indian Creek. Several TV stations have towers on the site that’s manned 24/7. There was a long battle among lawyers for Farnsworth and RCA over patents, but today Farnsworth gets credit for television.
With the advent of digital television early in the new century, engineers put in a lot of overtime. Digital antennas are different, resembling more the tube in the middle of a roll of paper towels rather than the familiar bird perches. The new antennas can weigh as much as 12 tons as the one at Deer Point near Boise does, but most are smaller. Nevertheless, it is work to get them up to and attached to a tower. In contrast IdahoPTV has a wooden tower at Grimes Pass with antennas that pick up KAID-Boise and curved dishes that send the signal down into the valley so that Garden Valley residents can watch IdahoPTV. It is the only wooden tower left in the state network.
The work of engineers is never on camera, but if they’re not working, nothing is on camera. To the non-engineer, the work might look confusing. Without coaxial cable resembling a spaghetti dinner for the green giant, a football game, an outdoor concert or a governor’s inauguration isn’t going to appear on home screens.
“Pulling off any remote televised event can easily go from mild to wild but one thing is consistent – getting the signal from the camera and audio sources to the central switching point,” Koster said. “We try to centralize the control point so that no line is over 300 feet.”
Once, the signal was sent back to a remote truck, a van with an editing bay inside, but with digital television and satellite transmission, the trucks became surplus equipment in 2000. KUID-Moscow and KAID-Boise were connected to KISU-Pocatello by microwave in 1983, so 2-way video and audio communication among the stations has been possible since then.
A director will be working with four to five cameras to get a variety of shots directed at home screens while maintaining the sound with no breaks. The engineers make it look easy but the pressure to make a live performance glitch-free is tremendous. Engineers try to build a network that guards itself from glitches, one that doesn’t interfere with other networks that might be covering the same event, and one that doesn’t get in the way of the participants or the public. When the remote event is over, they move in to tear it all down and roll up the yards of cable.
Looking back, engineers recall or have studied milestones in their work: a color system and cameras for broadcast; equipment made smaller and easier to use; development of video and audio tape machines; letting go of film or disks; the evolution of high definition television; and digital broadcasting that eliminated snow (on screens but not on mountains) or multiple images.
‘BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME’
-From the musical Americana, 1932
By Royce Williams
For 50 years of Idaho Public Television’s existence, the network’s budget has been the best and the worst story, usually the result of the network’s somewhat schizophrenic relationship with the Legislature.
Every budget is a river with funds rarely at flood stage but just as rarely at drought stage. IdahoPTV has experienced both. As a general rule, any organization sitting on the shore is ultimately measured by its reaction to funding levels. It is tougher when the organization has little or no control over the flow.
IdahoPTV has often had to make do with too little (about every 10 years), rarely with freshets. In 2016, IdahoPTV is watched in any given week by just over a third of Idaho’s 1.6 million people on average, and it is these viewers who have sustained the network over the years. The network can depend on them, giving administrators some planning flexibility. Fifty-two percent of the viewers are 35 to 64 years old, a group usually employed. Twenty-seven percent are 65 years old or older, experienced with little time and support for frivolous television. Twenty-one percent range in age from 2 to 34 years old (increasingly making up a new internet generation) and interested in educational programs.
The figures are reassuring, yet television of the quality level most viewers demand is expensive. Video equipment used is used by few others, so it costs big bucks. It starts to crash after five years, and by seven years, repairs (even if parts are still available) cost more than the equipment is worth. It’s money down a rat hole. Getting the programs to televisions and websites in Idahoans’ homes in this corduroy state requires expensive equipment placed in spots where weather is often severe, making the equipment difficult and costly to install, reach or replace. The flow of dollars can dwindle when the quality doesn’t make it to a viewer’s home, so a systemwide downward spiral is tricky to avoid.
If the quality doesn’t reach the viewer, and he or she hides the credit card, there are two other funding sources that might save the day – Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) grants or other federal or foundation grants and state appropriations. But even these funds are tied to viewer support, meaning the funding begins to dry up as soon as foundation boards and elected officials get a hint that viewers are unhappy or changing channels.
The most crucial source is state funds, for that money buys the hardware that gets the programs from the editing bay to home television sets. Today, that system includes five transmitters, 18 microwave links, and 47 translators. Historically, the state funding has often saved the day, but roughly every 10 years, funding cuts or the possibility of cuts by the state have brought the threat of shutting the station doors close enough to cause stress levels to peak. Often the cuts have come as a result of confusing coverage with advocacy, two very different concepts in practice. State funding for IdahoPTV can be graphed to resemble a rollercoaster track with a historic fear level of 6.8 out of 10.
IdahoPTV was 15 years old when it first happened. Up to that time (1980-81), public television would have had to work pretty hard to find detractors. In fact, the Idaho Legislature passed a concurrent resolution in 1972 praising public television and the host of legislative coverage (Gene Shumate) for thorough and unbiased coverage of the work at the Statehouse. But the early 1980s session brought a bill to cut all state funding to public television. There were threats, too, of fewer federal grants to local stations from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the result of winning politicians’ promises in their campaigns of spending cuts.
A perfect storm was brewing, and IdahoPTV was a trailer in the path of the tornado. The 1 percent property tax initiative had just passed, and that meant less money coming in to state coffers. No one knew at the time how little, plus inflation was at record levels, so whatever did come in wasn’t going to buy as much. Legislators were at a loss as to how to implement the initiative or what that would cost.
Add to the mix a recent KUID-Moscow documentary called Cedar Thief and budget frustrations took the form of punishment. The documentary focused on the plight of northern Idaho’s small sawmill owners, who said they had finally resorted to stealing cedar logs to maintain their livelihoods. They blamed new rules for timber sales and large mills like Potlatch for their predicament.
The Forest Service said their sales were larger and that might squeeze the smaller mills, but that it had been approved at the federal level because of a national lumber shortage or, in some areas, a glut of overpriced lumber from inflation. Although asked to respond by program producers, Potlatch said no. Had they appeared on-screen and told their story, people there at the time said the controversy would never have happened. (Potlatch would later become a corporate supporter of public television.)
Local legislators came to Boise, pounded on their desks and said that IdahoPTV was using taxpayers’ money to malign a major North Idaho employer. If anyone spoke up for the small sawmill owners, it was not found in the fat files of clippings from the media of the day. Support, too, at the University of Idaho for documentary work got a lot harder to justify.
There had been rumblings of opposition to earlier documentaries coming out of Moscow. Two programs – Kellogg: The Best To You Each Morning, a report on lead buildup in Silver Valley yards in 1973, and Sweet Land of Liberty, interviews with gay people in the Moscow-Pullman area in 1976 – were seen by some as an affront to the mining industry and to mainstream religious groups. White hats and spurs came off the shelves at the Statehouse, and IdahoPTV lost all state funding except for a small residue of funds (about $35,000) in the Department of Education’s budget for educational television.
The fallout was nearly deadly for public television, but public reaction to the cuts tempered the effects somewhat. Cutbacks at the stations were in place. KAID-Boise cut back on part-time people, cut on-air hours, went off the air at noon on Saturday, and sign-on was at 3 p.m. each day. Savings went into fall-winter program buys and keeping The Reporters a daily show. Still, by the middle of 1981, both Pocatello and Moscow stations were planning to shut down.
Sixteen people lost their jobs at the statewide network. Probably the toughest cuts to take were to the students at U of I. There was no longer enough money to provide what they needed to do hands-on production. Numbers are hard to sift, but a large percentage of communication majors left the university less competitive for jobs than the students from the 1970s.
However, in the fundraising Festival that followed the cuts, memberships increased to 6,000 and $143,000 was pledged, a record amount at the Boise station. The average pledge was $25.55. It had been $7 the year before. And at Moscow, a short fundraising break during halftime at the NCAA tournament brought in a whopping $35,000, a huge amount from the Moscow area in the early 1980s. Also, IdahoPTV was starting a trend of leading the nation in the percentage of PTV viewers. The state with the most dedicated viewers had the stingiest legislature.
A Catch 22 is developing: The more money IdahoPTV raises from sources other than the state funds, the more the state wants to cut funding. And if cutting budgets is popular, how could you get more credit for doing it than by cutting public television? It is built-in publicity, even if you don’t do the cutting or restore some of it quietly. The amount of state funds in the various budget cutting years has never been great in relation to the total state budget. Using figures from the National Transportation Association’s average costs for resurfacing a mile of interstate highway through a city like Boise in 2016 ($32,000,000), IdahoPTV’s general fund appropriation ($2,314,000) would cover the cost of about 382 feet of road, not enough to get you off the on ramp to Mountain Home.
A supplemental appropriation late in 1981 ($334,000 with an extra $34,500 to KAID-Boise for legislative coverage) kept the doors open at all three stations through the upcoming January legislative session. There, the Legislature created Idaho Educational Public Broadcasting Service and put the statewide operation under a single general manager answering to the State Board of Education, a go-to person for questions that might come up from both the Statehouse and from the general public. Stations left the three university umbrellas and became part of the State Board of Education budget. No other public television network in the country had a similar structure, so no one was sure of the ways to make it work. In later years, other PBS stations would view this change as a good idea.
By the mid-1980s, the state was contributing 26 cents of each dollar spent on IdahoPTV (coming from 65 cents per Idahoan per year), but it wasn’t enough to replace video and electronic editing equipment that was beginning to conk out. For example, one tube socket shorted out at KUID-Moscow and the station was off the air for two days. Budgets were getting critical. Managers were unable to plan ahead for program purchases that they weren’t sure they could deliver to homes. And if they bought the equipment, they couldn’t afford the programs.
The network set up a fundraising program to buy new equipment. The goal was $3 million, which they managed to reach. But no sooner was the new equipment turned on than the second 10-year budget cut roared over the horizon. This time it was at the federal level, an attempt to squeeze the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB), the major source of grants to IdahoPTV (30 percent of the budget at the time).
President Ronald Reagan had vetoed the 1987-88-89 CPB budgets, one passed unanimously by the Congress. CPB argued that their budget was a small part of the total federal budget and worked out to less than a dollar per US citizen per year. The cuts did not materialize in that budget cycle, but the Republicans won a majority in Congress in 1994. New members were candidates who had promised to make meaningful cuts to the federal budget. The combination was a strong signal, and IdahoPTV announced major cuts in January of 1996 to give people losing jobs more time to find new ones before the July 1 deadline.
In a news release, the network announced the layoff of 10 staff people (four people in production; three in technical services; two in multi-media services and one in marketing-development), the result of notification by CPB of a total of $700,000 loss over the next four years. And the state, also in a budget cutting mood, had already stripped $100,000 from the network in the current year. There were significant cuts in the operational budget, too.
All of it was done under an umbrella with a deficit reduction imprint, but those opposed to the cuts countered that PTV’s tiny portion (.00025 percent) of the federal budget made a barely visible dent in the deficit. It wouldn’t come close to balancing the budget. At the time, the federal budget included more dollars for military bands than for both public television and radio. The friends of public television also pointed to national surveys that showed nearly 80 percent of the public thought the private-public partnership, including federal funds, worked just fine.
Outdoor Idaho and Dialogue escaped the 1990s cuts, but Idaho Reports was scaled back from a daily half-hour show; Portraits of Idaho was dropped; Child Care Almanac would not have a planned third season; and coverage of U of I Vandal Sports games was discontinued. Learning Link was dropped and the branch office in Coeur d’Alene was shut down, although broadcasting from the KCDT transmitter continued.
This round of funding cuts brought a decade-long discussion on whether or not the government should be involved in television at all. There were a lot of suggestions:
As the 1990s wore on, it became obvious that IdahoPTV would have to develop new sources or try to expand existing sources of funds if it was to keep up with viewers’ needs. Whatever was designed also would have to give station managers some leeway in planning for the future needs of those same viewers. Of course, some up and down is expected in public funding and has to be heralded or absorbed. Both happened in the 1990s.
With budget cuts at the federal level, grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting didn’t dry up but were severely limited. In Idaho, cutting spending of nearly any kind was popular and IdahoPTV was planning on a cut of nearly $500,000 if the 1 percent property tax initiative passed and there was no increase in other taxes to offset the loss – highly unlikely. Since state funds are sometimes used to match funds from other grants, an additional $26,000 in grants might be lost, too. The state was in that decade’s budget cutting mood as well; it was futile to ask for more.
The initiative didn’t pass, but there was another huge cloud on the horizon. The Federal Communications Commission sent down a decree (unfunded mandate) that analog television was a thing of the past and every television station in the country had to switch to digital broadcasting by 2003. Making the switch would be an engineering nightmare at every transmitter tower in the state. All of it was projected to cost between $11 and $14 million.
IdahoPTV did what it could do. It set up an endowment with the goal of $3 million by the first year of the new century. Again, the network went to those private donors who had already given a lot and ask them to give more. Amazingly, they came through and the money was real and solved an immediate problem – replacement of worn out and outdated production and editing equipment. It was equipment that would merge smoothly with the coming digital revolution.
The state came to bat in the switch to digital. From a low appropriation point in the mid-1990s, the state’s one-time funding jumped to a high of nearly $2 million in FY 2000. In the following three years and again in the last years of the decade, the state rustled up 60 percent of the cost of the transition to digital. With these one-time appropriations, IdahoPTV was able to put some money into matching grants that covered some of the remaining costs. Private donations made up 8 percent; federal grants paid 15 percent; CPB, 7 percent; USDA, 1 percent; and universities, 4 percent. Final cost of the project, less some replacement here and there, was just over $25 million.
However, the appropriations that covered the ongoing expenses at the stations saw a drop in FY 2003, and IdahoPTV laid off four full-time employees. These annual appropriations (separate from any one-time spending authority) would climb slowly to a peak of $1.7 million in FY 2008, then start a decline that lasted through the Great Recession.
How much of the decline can be blamed on the recession and how much on dissatisfaction with programming is anyone’s guess, but the cuts early in the decade came after a program on gays (It’s Elementary) aired in 1999. Editors at IdahoPTV had some experience with the subject and took Governor Dirk Kempthorne’s request to air the show later in the evening as a not unreasonable suggestion. The experience had occurred 23 years earlier when KUID-Moscow did a show called Sweet Land of Liberty. In that show, producers talked to homosexuals in the Moscow-Pullman community who were willing to appear on television about losing jobs, about losing apartments, about being generally excluded from most of what the rest of the community took for granted.
Phones started ringing off the hooks even before the credits rolled. But the resourceful producers took that as grounds for doing a follow-up program. They sat pro- and anti-gay people face to face and asked each side to confront the other. It’s Elementary was directed at adults and gave pointers on how they might handle questions from children about the issue. The television reaction in 1999 was a carbon copy of 1976. IdahoPTV did a follow-up call-in show on the issue, letting people ask qualified panelists about the topic.
In the reaction to the 1999 show, something that’s hard to pin down, there seemed to be a general acceptance of the subject as something worthy of coverage. There was a small group of legislators threatening both publically and privately to eliminate state funding. After the two shows aired, there was little evidence to support a statement about a lot of people changing their minds on the subject. It was different in 1976. One vehemently anti-gay guest did a 180-degree on-camera opinion change about gays.
There is little question about the cause of the dip in the rollercoaster track that occurred with the beginning of the Great Recession. From the roughly $3.2 million in 2008, the appropriation of all income to the system slid to a low of about $1.4 million in 2012. Money wasn’t being appropriated from the Legislature because they simply didn’t have it. The cuts may have serendipitously agreed with the ideology of a few legislators, but it can’t be said that the cuts were punishment for programming.
But there was the overriding notion that the government at all levels was spending too much, and the opinion resurfaced in Governor Otter’s third inaugural address. He proposed eliminating all state funds to public television over four years starting in 2010. The old 10-year cycle of boom and bust was beginning. State appropriations did fall over the next two years, but as with all government cuts, support erodes as the cuts are felt at home. The governor ended up appropriating about $1.5 million in FY 2010.
The zero funding never materialized, and the governor was proposing in FY 2014 the same amount as he had proposed in FY 2010. There was even some dollars appropriated for one-time capital outlay spending.
And in FY 2015 the general fund appropriation for Idaho Public Television broke the $2 million mark for the first time in the network’s 50-year history. Also, in March of 2016, the Legislature approved spending $3 million in the FY 2017 fiscal year starting in July 2016. The state’s contribution to IdahoPTV remains at 26 percent of the network’s overall budget, money that pays for the hardware that takes television from the source to Idahoan’s homes and schools.
FROM THE FEDS WITH LOVE
By Royce Williams
When Idahoans sat down to watch Assassination: Idaho’s Trial of the Century back in November of 2007, they were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the sound and video.
It had been a multi-year struggle to get the quality that traced whether or not Big Bill Haywood conspired with Harry Orchard to assassinate Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg. The trial found Haywood innocent, but the program itself was evidence of the major change in IdahoPTV’s history – leaving analog television permanently in the rear view mirror.
That is a lot easier to say than to do. Every tower in the state that took the video signal from stations to homes was built and decorated with hardware for analog. None of them would handle digital signals. The same was true for every video camera in the network, all the editing bays. And there was no money attached to the federal mandate to be digital by February 17, 2009, three days after Valentine’s Day, so we were left to assume some love was attached to the order.
For Idaho Public Television, the change amounted to a struggle for survival. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a major funds provider to IdahoPTV through grants, took the change to digital very seriously. It meant that if Idaho Public Television didn’t go digital, it would lose $809,000 a year in grants. That was 15 percent of the network’s budget, a hole that would soon expand to make the budget itself a hole. If the state didn’t come through with funds assistance, we would be left with a skeleton of analog infrastructure turning to rust.
The deadline was rushing toward television stations, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The great recession had trickled down to the state level, and IdahoPTV’s budget dropped by $200,000. It meant four full-time employees would leave the network, people who had given the state 42 years of total service. They could have worked on finding money or freed up other employees to work on the funding chore. Early estimates put the cost of the change to maybe $13 million. By the time it was done, the cost was nearly double that estimate. In the race, IdahoPTV found itself struggling to reach the starting gate.
The change had a similar impact on viewers at home. Televisions that could handle digital had a wider screen than old sets, meaning that if the signal did reach the house, there would be black bars at the top and bottom of the picture on old sets. As the digital switch was playing out, new high-definition TV sets were selling for about $7,000, not just a dent in home budgets, but a budget destroyer. As with color television in the 1950s, the prices would take years to come down to the point of reflecting demand for affordable television at home. By 2007, however, all new televisions sold had built-in tuners for digital television (DTV). This chicken or egg situation would slowly even out.
The federal government, through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), gave three reasons for the switch to digital: the change was to free up more space on the airwaves for better public safety communications, improve emergency response, and provide faster wireless internet services. To add urgency to the switch, the FCC said any station missing the deadline would have its channels sold to the highest bidder.
To sugarcoat the switch somewhat, the federal mandate allowed issuing $40 coupons to help viewers buy a converter box for their home sets, a box that cost between $40 and $70. The boxes, available from manufacturers starting in 2008, opened a digital line to analog sets. There was a minor crisis in that program when demand far outstripped the funding set aside to cover the coupon cost, but the feds caught up in response to complaints.
There was only one way to look at the switch: Digital was survival for IdahoPTV, the only remaining home-owned television outlet in the state. It had a network that served 97 percent of the state’s residents at a cost of less than $2 a person per year. And digital wasn’t just a sharper picture and better sound; it opened the door for digital data services to everyone in the state, a kind of marriage of television and computers.
Despite the economic downturn, the state Legislature found enough money to cover 60 percent of the total cost of the switch – $25 million. Twenty-two percent came from various federal agencies in matching grants, and the remaining 18 percent came from CPB, private donations and university help.
DTV was first tested in 2004-05 in McCall, and by April 2007, the first digital television translator began operations at Rexburg. The second translator was upgraded between McCall and Donnelly at No Business Peak. By 2007, IdahoPTV had found funding to upgrade 32 of the state’s 37 translator sites, and five digital transmitters were in place and beaming signals for Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, Boise, Twin Falls and Pocatello. Also, statewide control rooms, studios and camera equipment for studio and field were operating in digital and high definition.
Looking back, people at IdahoPTV had some concerns about the digital conversion taking viewers away from the network – the risk with any change. It didn’t happen. In fact, viewers have increased with the four channels allowing them to view programs they like among the choices available. It also let busy viewers watch their favorite shows whenever they had time to watch, not when the TV guide told them to watch.
‘IN WILDNESS IS THE PRESERVATION OF THE WORLD’
-Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac
By Royce Williams
Reporting on something that preserves the world can be a daunting assignment.
Unless, of course, you’re working on Outdoor Idaho. Your bad knees remind you you’re mortal, and you easily slip into your alter ego as a pack mule. The show brings anyone working on it back to earth, often in a jarring way.
In his book, Leopold was trying to figure out what Henry David Thoreau meant when he wrote about “the wildness of the West” and decided he meant untrammeled nature as the place to look in our continuing search for an explanation of our love affair with outdoors.
It was in 1983 when Peter Morrill, a tall drink of water nicknamed Bones, and this writer, Royce Williams, who resembled a thermometer whenever he drank tomato juice, first shook hands and sat down to plan the first Outdoor Idaho show.
A more unlikely pair couldn’t be imagined. Morrill was a son of a Connecticut Episcopal minister, and Williams was a grandson of a Kentucky Baptist preacher. We looked at our work with some trepidation. After all, how could such a pair even know where to look for Idaho stories? We relaxed after we got into the work, for we found we were the most likely to be successful at it. We would see and hear things that would have went right past those who only saw the familiar.
At that first meeting we were trying to figure out what we could do with the people and equipment we had at hand. It seemed to be too little, but we decided on a magazine format, something fairly new in television at the time, with one story from each of the three regions of the state. The equipment was delicate and had been assembled by people who never meant for it to be out in the weather. All of it was well past its best-by date. It was not until the early 1990s that newer equipment began to stand up well to the Idaho elements.
We knew we’d have to work from an indoor studio, but we didn’t have a set. That got solved just hours before we went on the air for the first time. It was a design of burlap and large black and white photos. There was no color to reflect a very colorful state, and the glue still wasn’t dry as the host said hello on the first show.
We did luck out with the host. Doug Copsey brought his work as a Shakespearian actor to the set, so he had experience creating action with body language and inflection added to Williams’ scripts. He could make a guest feel comfortable enough to tell a good story. Copsey made the 30-minute monthly shows flow smoothly despite the jerky behind-the-scenes mayhem.
Outdoor Idaho was born in poverty. Both Idaho Public Television (Morrill) and Idaho Department of Fish and Game (Williams) have over time been the favorite agencies for legislative budget cutting, perhaps because both provide a good-sized outdoors audience for keeping money in constituents’ pockets and plenty of stories about saving public money. The show premiered just as IdahoPTV was starting to climb out of zero funding from the state in 1981.
For traveling around the state, F&G provided a K-car station wagon. The vehicle may have saved Chrysler Corporation and Lee Iacocca, but the money it saved on the ground in a corduroy state didn’t match the cost of the wear and tear of monthly trips to Moscow and rougher points north, and to Pocatello and even rougher points east. We worked with producer-videographers in Moscow – James Morgese and Al Hagenlock – and Clayton Rye in Pocatello. Morrill shot in the southwest Idaho area, along with Ricardo Ochoa and U of I intern Jeff Tucker.
Early in 1985, Copsey left the show to answer the call of other artistic ventures. His last show was the first show in which Outdoor Idaho got outdoors! He said goodbye from a jet boat in Hells Canyon. Copsey’s timing was right, however, to lure in a new host, one suffering from Statehouse burnout – Bruce Reichert.
The new host came from a background in Jesuit schools, so he fit pretty well with Morrill and Williams. None of us by any stretch could be called churchy, but our backgrounds made recognition of the spiritual or inspirational second nature. There can be plenty of both outdoors – a church in the mountain as well as on the mountain idea.
Morrill expressed the show’s thrust pretty well: “The question I was trying to answer when I moved here was: What are the elements that go into making someone an Idahoan? Outdoor Idaho was the perfect canvas to explore that idea.”
That or any other reason to be there has never been easy. Getting ready for an Outdoor Idaho shoot once resembled more a move to Alaska than the task of getting video of a feeder full of sugar water and a few zippy broad-tailed hummingbirds.
Loading the vehicle, usually before sunup, once involved two or three bleary-eyed producers checking off the gear that had to come along. There was the aluminum carrying case for the camera, a box that let the camera rest in a bed of foam. There were holes for the tape deck batteries, the ones that lost a charge as fast as gaining altitude pushed the temperature downward. The heavy tripod went in next, along with the circular white fabric light reflector with the tricky fold. In case there was power at the remote cabins or motels we usually had to use for economy, we brought along the plug-in battery recharger.
Usually, several unused 20-minute tapes went in, along with the tape deck that sucked on the batteries in order to put video from the camera to the tape from six feet away. If there was to be an interview inside a building, we took a set of high-powered lights, since regular light bulbs make television that’s too dark to look at. Then, duffle bags for the producers went in, holding whatever we could guess would protect us from too hot and too cold. We always wanted to go where the weather fit our clothes, but there was no wildlife there.
Viewers sometimes must have wondered why there was so much video of wildlife running or flying away. Easy to explain. By the time we stopped the van, got out and unpacked all the gear, set up the camera, checked the lighting, white-balanced the camera, pushed the buttons on the camera and the deck in sync, the elk were long gone over the nearest ridge. The wildlife we actually got onto tape had to be wildlife that didn’t want to leave where it was or wanted to come back fairly quickly.
But all of that was over 30 years ago. Today, it’s all digital. The cameras are smaller and lighter, and there are no tapes or tape decks to worry about. Tripods are still heavier than needed. The video is recorded on a card, each one costing about $90 and they’re easy to lose in the backcountry. There still is the problem of getting there and finding something to shoot once you are there.
And producers still have to fight off inferiority complexes. It’s because of what producers have to do, and they do whatever the story requires. If the story needs a herd of mule deer on the side of a mountain and lit by the morning sun, the producer produces that. If the story requires a flock of hummingbirds, the producer gets the calls from the feds about whisky stills when he orders 50 pounds of sugar and a lot of gallon jugs. Success isn’t ever taken for granted. Producers learn to live with failure. Plans noted as A, B, C, even D are a necessity.
But I digress….
By the time Outdoor Idaho actually got outdoors, an energetic videographer intern from U of I was made welcome to the show by older and exhausted staff members. Jeff Tucker was a find. Born and raised with television, he had an eye for what made memorable shots outside. His specialty was close-ups. Williams was glad to see him, for he wanted to somehow get the poetic aspects of the outdoors on television. The idea came from the early national MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. They used video and stills from around the country on a short break in each show and called them video postcards.
Videoessays, thoughtful location-based essays opening each show for Outdoor Idaho were born and the 2- to 3-minute edited pieces with poetic scripts, Jeff’s knock-your-socks-off shots, and music opened each edition of the show. The essays matched the location where the host stand-ups were shot. When it was possible to use commercial recordings, we often used Mark Knopfler’s (Dire Straits) guitar pieces.
In the late 1980s nearly everything changed, and Reichert was left in the lurch. Morrill moved to a Florida public television station (returning later to help with the Idaho history series, then administration); Williams left both F&G and the show to work on the Idaho Centennial history series. Tucker became director-videographer for the history series. Morgese and Rye had moved on to other jobs. F&G dropped its support and producer Sue Nass in 1990 to do its own show.
However, Reichert was accustomed to challenges on entry. On the very first show in which he was host – at Jump Creek Canyon in Owyhee County – he contracted poison ivy resulting in both his eyes swelling shut. It was not good television. But he landed on his feet, and Outdoor Idaho left the magazine format to concentrate on theme or documentary shows.
The change was necessary. Outdoors and the people who were participating were changing. There were more people using resources that were shrinking from the needs of users themselves, and the plethora of users were often in conflict. It made outdoor coverage more complicated. Seven minutes per story wasn’t enough time to hear from all sides and give viewers some grounding in finding a side to pick or a way to reach compromise.
Also other coverage was becoming more and more simply short bites with only a chance to click like or dislike, amounting to misinformation. Outdoor Idaho did half-hour shows on a single subject, but when necessary went to an hour. On controversial issues the show got some flak, but it came mostly from those who didn’t know the difference between coverage and advocacy.
There is no shortage of issues to cover in outdoor reporting. By 2007, Outdoor Idaho was reporting on the new challenges facing people who fight wildfires – more homes to protect, larger and much more destructive fires. It was a surprise to many viewers, but a program on invasive weeds in 2004 went into their effect on recreation, wildlife, water quality and biodiversity in general. Some of the plants are escapees from home flower gardens, and control of all of them is running into the millions of dollars annually.
It was in 2009 that the show on wolves was first aired. Mere mention of this animal can start an internet brawl, but the show managed to let every side vent up to the point just short of cursing. Coverage of lead poisoning in the Silver Valley, on the pros and cons of wilderness, on the modern battles over which public should own public land have all had the Outdoor Idaho treatment.
Yet, the show never left completely the early-day videoessays; it simply turned them into hour-long specials. There have been several of these Idaho-the-beautiful programs: Idaho: A Portrait, Idaho Edens, Idaho Rhapsody, Idaho: State of Wonder, Idaho: An Aerial Tapestry, Idaho’s Scenic Splendor; and Picturing Idaho. These shows are at the top of the sales numbers, making up a large portion of the nearly $300,000 income to IdahoPTV since show sales began in 1991.
But longtime host and executive producer Reichert says the show “as with anything – including businesses and relationships – the trick is to keep things interesting and to persevere.”
“What Outdoor Idaho is really good at doing,” he continued, “is to explore an issue from a statewide perspective and to restate our history for the next generation.”
It’s extremely difficult to choose a favorite show, but Reichert thinks two shows over the last 33-plus years and 204 shows were especially good at that – Idaho Geology: A Convergence of Wonders and A Sawtooth Celebration.
“If you really want to understand a place,” he said, “you need to understand its geology.”
The script was especially tough to write since so much cosmic-scale and overlapping upheaval went into Idaho’s landscape. It was just as difficult to capture on video, since all of it happened over eons, so no movement for the cameras.
The Sawtooths show was a chance to delve into the history of Idaho’s environmental awakening in the 1960s with the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
“Luckily for us, former Congressman Orval Hansen and former Governor Cecil Andrus were around to help us explain to a new generation how we got from a proposed molybdenum mine in the White Clouds to the creation of the Sawtooth NRA,” Reichert said.
For Reichert and the crew, every show in the 290 to date have special memories associated with it, but a few stand out:
WE DIDN’T KNOW WE COULDN’T DO IT
By Royce Williams
It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime jobs, one for which we would later be thankful that it only came once.
“If I were asked today to compose music for 13 hours of television, I would say it couldn’t be done,” recalled composer Kevin Kirk, “but back in the late 1980s, we didn’t know we couldn’t do it, so we did it!”
What we did was raise $700,000, drive 60,000 miles, shoot over 400 hours of videotape, interview over 130 people, publish a book containing the interviews, and Kirk composed more than 175 pieces of original music for the centennial television history of Idaho that aired in 1990.
Some of the music for the 13 programs in the series came easily, like the overall theme (“When it was done, I played it all the way through and didn’t change a thing!” he recalled. “It came to me all at once, and it was right the first time.”), but Kirk remembered that some of the segments “nearly drove me crazy; I was pulling my hair out!”
You have to understand the television studio, he said, for it’s the studio that’s wagging the musical dog’s tail. Kirk explains: Some of the video segments were maybe 20 seconds long, yet the music composed for it had to have a beginning, middle and end, but fit the space it was covering.
He remembers a tough piece in Solitude, the program dealing with the history of Idahoans’ relationship with the outdoors:
“I was working well past midnight when I heard a noise outside the studio,” he said, “so I went out to check, and there was a flock of trumpeter swans flying across a full moon.” He went back inside and the new notes fit nicely in the time slot requiring emotion.
“It was a clear message: Hang in there, and that’s what you have to do for something like the history series,” he said. “Doing this music was like being on a bucking bronco. You hold on ‘till the end, you don’t get off.”
The work was the opposite of what he had done as a composer since he was a kid. “Whenever I listened to other musicians,” he said, “I could ‘see’ the movie or pictures in my head and all that went into a library in my head. But that went into reverse when I worked on the history series. I had the pictures and the words, I just had to take both back to music.”
It sounds easier than it was. Music was needed for the Basques, Chinese, Greeks, Japanese and Italians who had made their way to Idaho to find work in the mines, the farms, the railroads and digging canals. The Nez Perce were waiting for their first Appaloosa mare to foal in a Clearwater canyon. The Borah earthquake had made everybody in ten states very nervous. The first people to North America were making their way south out of Siberia through a corridor between two ice sheets. With Clovis point spears, they hunt mammoths for food. The Bonneville Flood carves the Snake River Canyon in just a few days. A prisoner of war was telling his story. A governor was murdered….
“I discovered what it felt like to get off the covered wagon and try to make a living,” Kirk said. “When I’m driving across Idaho today, I look at it a lot differently.”
“The road from Hill City to Carey used to be a boring drive until I had to write music about the Camas Prairie as a sacred ground for Native Americans. That road will never be boring again in any season,” he said.
It was composing music for the two programs devoted to Native Americans in Idaho that proved to be a major challenge. We were able to find some early-day recordings at the University of Washington, some of them on paraffin cylinders, “but there was no way I could duplicate what it took those people hundreds of years to develop. What I composed for those shows were based in the original music, but the pieces were my interpretation. I think I kept the feeling, but I had to take the Indian shows very seriously.”
The series required a wider view of the musical world than Kirk had experienced. Chinese graduate student Lihua Yu introduced Kirk to sounds from Idaho’s rich collection of Chinese instruments from the mining era at the Idaho Historical Museum.
“She was able to handle the instruments and play some of them for me,” Kirk said. “Hearing it was something that sent goose bumps down both arms!”
“Still, it drives you crazy when you’re trying to squeeze centuries of musical evolution into 15 seconds, when you have video requiring instrumentation and the instruments you need to put together haven’t been put together before,” he said.
“I spent a week on one 30-second piece of music for the Settlement program,” he said. “It was recognition of immigrants and required six seconds of music for each of Chinese, Japanese, Basque, Mexican and Czechoslovakian music.”
“And director Jeff Tucker says ‘do all that with a beat I can edit to.’”
Other pieces would come easier for Kirk. When the first white people came west, they brought tunes with them, melodies they had heard in the old eastern theaters.
“They would add new words, words that fit Idaho and what they found here,” Kirk said, “but the melodies were much older, sweet and sentimental in most cases. Those seem to be the melodies that endured, a tune you could whistle or play on instruments you could carry, like a fiddle, a guitar or a harmonica.”
Such melodies would soften the harshness of the frontier for the first settlers, and Kirk says he composed music for the series that does roughly the same thing.
“The music of the series works, works hard,” he said. “It can link events that happened generations apart. It can set a mood for a particular event.
“And all of it must be done in a way that helps a television viewer understand how it felt to live in another time, yet not so much that it overwhelms the information he’s getting,” Kirk said.
“There were times in the series when we used familiar music,” he said, “and that was fun to play around with.
“We went back to the big band sounds for the Sun Valley segment,” he recalled, “and we used a favorite melody of Sen. Frank Church when we profiled this famous Idahoan – from his favorite song by Frank Sinatra: On the Road to Mandalay.”
“There are moments the composer would rather forget – like losing 100 hours of music when his computer crashed and he had to start over – but he recalls the work on the series as great fun.
“Idaho is a Disneyland for composers,” he said. “It is amazingly beautiful, as diverse as the Sawtooths and potatoes, but when I’m out there in it, I don’t think in terms of beer and banjoes, I think in terms of symphonies.
“The series was very complicated and very difficult, but somehow we simply had a ball doing it!” he said.
PETE HAGGART’S STORY
By Peter Haggart Former head of radio-television academic department and station manager, KUID-FM and KUID-TV University of Idaho
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Haggart is described by former students as a hands-on kind of teacher, someone who did the work beside his students as well as instructing them in how to do the work.)
My wife Margaret and I moved to Moscow, Idaho in 1963, specifically to work on getting a public television station up and running at the University of Idaho.
It took two years of hard work before the premier station in today’s Idaho Public Television network came into being. It was KUID-Moscow, described as “the little station that could,” an apt description. The beginning was a very modest five hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year schedule of programming.
Over the next five years the station became a full-time operation offering the full gamut of programming for its audience. Like many early public television stations, we invented as we challenged ourselves to bring divergent programming not found on commercial television. Also, we were providing ground-breaking instructional programming for young people with funding for two teacher training grants that set the stage for instructional programming in Idaho’s public schools.
In the early years of the station, I worked closely with Gordon Law, the father of Idaho Public Television. He had hired me as a filmmaker and broadcasting instructor. We put KUID-FM on the air and I produced a weekly jazz and sports interview program for the radio station. I was active in filmmaking and started an academic program for film in the radio-television department.
As soon as the public radio station was up and running, Gordon and I focused on starting the public television station. Law and other staff members were already active in the closed circuit television operation on the campus, which shared its programming with the local cable television system in Moscow. Law worked on the political and funding side of the proposed station, and I worked on the programming and production aspects. It all came together in September of 1965, when KUID-TV began broadcasting to north Idaho on Channel 12.
I became head of the television and radio stations and the radio-television academic department when Gordon Law left the station in 1971. He began work on setting up a satellite-based instruction television delivery system for the Rocky Mountain states.
With my staff (many of whom also taught courses in the department), we focused our efforts on local and regional programming. The 1970s at Channel 12 proved to be some of the best years in the station’s history. Locally produced programs covered the arts, public affairs and sports. The production staff earned numerous awards for their work as they tackled a number of controversial programs. We were able to get a number of funding grants for converting the station from black and white to color broadcasting, plus several production grants.
As a result of being part of the Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Network, KUID programs were being seen by a much larger regional audience during the 1970s. This helped with program production grants and access to a wider audience for station productions.
One of the highlights for KUID was producing a multi-part series of programs about all the forms of news media that served, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. A KUID crew was on the road for a couple months filming the series. I served on the board of the network and was instrumental in proving the north Idaho audience with a separate feed of PBS national programming at an earlier time than competing stations in Washington State.
In the fall of 1976, I left the station and returned to full-time teaching. At that time the station had over 20 full-time employees. Throughout my tenure with the station, I believed that students should be thoroughly involved in all aspect of the station. This philosophy resulted in a large cadre of students who became employed in the broadcasting field.
I answered the call to become interim general manager at KUID while the state worked out its priorities for public broadcasting and hired a new manager at the station. This was shortly after the Idaho legislature reorganized public television from three separate independent stations to a state-run system of stations with a single general manager.
A MAN WITH AN ELECTRONIC BUG
By Royce Williams
Vaun J McArthur understood electronics, the brains of television, but he knew the network was fed by a heart, the impact of the medium on people. His work was keeping both connected.
He said the electronics were a bug that he caught early in life; it wasn’t a career. People who worked with him said he never lost interest in the bug, never wanted to get rid of it or leave it behind. At his death he had spent 45 of Idaho Public Television’s 50 years either as a full time employee or covering special assignments for the network after retirement in 1995.
The start of his tenure was a bit rocky. After being hired away from KMVT television in Twin Falls by Jack Schlaefle at KAID-Boise, McArthur went to work on getting public television on the air in Southwest Idaho. His title was chief engineer, meaning he was in charge of all the television towers, microwave and in-studio equipment. And there was a deadline for getting all of it up and running, a deadline based on funding that would disappear at the end of 1971.
The work went down to the wire. Working feverishly in the southwest corner of the Boise State University Library Building, McArthur and the early skeleton crew were hard at work late into the night of December 31. Shortly before midnight, he thought everything was ready, but when he flipped the big switch, nothing happened; screens stayed black.
McArthur never cussed, but he must have felt like it for a few seconds. Instead, he started the way he would continue: see a problem and don’t waste time wringing hands; get it fixed. He managed to find the faulty capacitor on New Year’s Day in the mountaintop transmitter, and was visibly thankful when he flipped the switch the second time and got a station test pattern on the screen. The Boise station reached a 50-mile radius around Boise and provided 46 hours of television a week in its first year.
In an interview for IdahoPTV’s 50th anniversary done shortly before his death, McArthur credited the late Cecil Cope, an engineer he hired in the early 1970s, as the co-worker who contributed much time and effort to making the television system work. The two men managed to get television programs to 87 percent of Idahoans by the time McArthur retired in 1995. He said the work was a major undertaking in a mountainous state like Idaho, and the 87 percent coverage was the best in the nation at the time.
McArthur recalled that his work “was sometimes an 8-hour day, but we were on call 24/7, because anything can go wrong at any time on a mountaintop. It was more likely that we would be working on the mountain for two or three days.” It required an understanding family at home.
The people who worked with McArthur at IdahoPTV describe him as a consummate professional, a man dedicated to his work and doing his best all the time. Others outside the engineering field credit him as a man who could change a bad day to a great one with a word. And at his funeral, his son Lorin said his father understood that RF stood for radio frequency, but “I think it stood for really fine man.”
Rich Van Genderen, one of the men who replaced McArthur after he retired, said his former boss “had a sense of humor, but it was so dry that you had to wait to see whether or not Cecil Cope laughed. If Cecil chuckled, you knew Vaun had told a joke.”
The work McArthur did was never easy and sometimes dangerous. Taking care of a network of transmitter towers on mountaintops in the severe weather that Idaho is famous for took both courage and ingenuity. Long after his retirement, McArthur recalled one job at the Sandpoint tower when his snowmobile flipped over on his chest. He was lucky that Cecil Cope was there with him to take him down off the mountain and to the Coeur d’Alene hospital for several days. Part of the job, he said, but any trips to towers after that involved two people, if at all possible.
After his retirement, Vaun was called back several times to work on special projects for IdahoPTV, and he always took a set amount as payment. “Those people who work on an hourly rate,” he said once, “usually try to stretch the job a lot more than is necessary.”
Van Genderen remembered how Vaun was always available after his retirement for consultations “on any problem that had the rest of us stumped.” The two men tried to have lunch once a month to get caught up and to discuss IdahoPTV’s switch from analogue to digital, the major change in Idaho Public Television’s 50 years on the air.
'CONVERSATIONS THAT MATTER'
By Royce Williams
Who’s new in town?
Why are they here?
What are they thinking about?
Those three questions are usually among the many that get asked at a roundtable just next to the KAID-Boise television Studio when a new Dialogue program is going together. The discussions have been repeated over 800 times so far. That’s how long Dialogue has been on the air.
The show grew out of the need to continue exploring issues that had arisen at the Idaho Legislature during the session, as well as other political and societal topics reflecting this growing state, recalls lead producer and host Marcia Franklin.
“Idaho Reports stopped at the end of March when the legislature left town, but the issues kept going,” Franklin said.
In November, 1994, Franklin hosted the first show, a conversation with leaders of both the Idaho Republican and Democratic parties – Mikey Reynoldson and Bill Mauk.
It was immediately after the 1994 election, when the Republicans had swept most national and state elected offices. So the two men had been thinking about the numerous ramifications of the sea change. Marcia had questions for her guests, but so did viewers.
That was a unique aspect of the newly created show – a viewer from anywhere in the state could call into the program and ask a question. The Call in Feature was designed not only to allow the viewers to participate, but also to link the residents of this large and diverse state. It was shortly after this first show that Joan Cartan-Hansen joined the show to take on hosting and producing work.
There had been a friendly competition in the office to name the new program, with then-technology guru Bob Pyle coming up with the winning name, Franklin recalled. The ‘Dial’ in Dialogue was a reference to dialing a phone, as well as the television dial, elements long gone in the current era of digital everything!
During the years when call-ins were a feature of the program, some shows garnered thousands of phone calls. The most popular shows with callers were ones with governors taking questions, discussions on social issues such as gay rights, and outdoor topics, including debates over wolf hunting and bear-baiting.
By 2009, however, there had been a decline in calls, an indication that people were no longer watching “appointment television,” and instead were streaming programs at times convenient for them. In addition, the producers decided to tape more interviews in order to accommodate guests’ schedules and to cover certain topics in more depth. So the phone call feature was discontinued.
In 2012, Cartan-Hansen also decided to work fulltime on Science Trek, a children’s science call-in program that started in 1999 as Dialogue for Kids. Since July, 2012, Franklin has been the sole host of Dialogue.
During that time, Franklin has refocused the series on humanities-based issues. That doesn’t mean public affairs topics aren’t covered: they are just seen through the lens of authors, filmmakers, historians and other thought leaders. Conversations are also typically with only one or two people, lending themselves to more in-depth discussions.
“I’ve been privileged to interviews some incredibly fascinating people,” says franklin. “I hope that viewers come away, as I do, having learned something new that either changes the way they look at the world or themselves. That’s why our motto is Conversations That Matter.
Some shows have been lively, such as the exchange between Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen and Samuel Sherwood of the US Militia Association. Shows that have brought in the most calls have involved Fish and Game issues and reporting on gay rights. Welfare reform, the farm bill, minimum wage, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Ruby ridge, astronaut Barbra Morgan…. The list of conversations is long and growing.
And Franklin has some favorites: “Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Frank McCourt, Colum McCann, Nathaniel Philbrick, Naomi Shihav Nye, Abraham Verghese, US Rep. John Lewis, Idaho’s own Michael Kirk, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Heather Rae and Michael Hoffman, to name a few.”
“It’s also important to note,” Franklin said, “that never once have my managers told me not to cover a particular issue, even if it was sensitive. Certainly, in a world where journalists are often held captive to the whims of advertisers, that’s a rare give.”
Over its 22 seasons, the program has won numerous awards, including a regional Emmy award for a discussion on the complex water agreement between Idaho and the Nez Perce Tribe
ONE PROUD IRISH DEMOCRAT IN IDAHO
By Peter Haggart
Former KUID-Moscow Station Manager
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Haggart talks more about the early days at KUID-Moscow in a video at 50 Years of Idaho Public Television.)
It was a byword that fit Dr. Gordon A. Law’s character, the result of growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
He used nearly every ounce of that determination to get Idaho Public Television up and running, giving him the title in television circles as the Father of Idaho Public Broadcasting.
No and stop weren’t words in his vocabulary during his time at the University of Idaho. For example, he flaunted his political stance – Democrat – by parking his car daily in the main U of I parking lot with a billboard-sized Church for US Senator on the roof.
University administration told him to cease and desist, but he wouldn’t. The university administration had no authority over his politics or the signs on his car, he said.
Law was born (1928) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and at the age of 3 returned with his parents to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for his formative years. Following service with the US Army in Europe, he returned to the USA and received a master’s degree from Syracuse University and a doctorate in education from Washington State University. He was hired by the University of Idaho in the early 1960s to be the chairman of the Department of Communication and oversee the instructional television program.
As soon as he arrived on the Moscow campus, Gordon began planning for the establishment of non-commercial broadcasting stations. The university already had in place the ability to teach courses via closed circuit and cable television on the campus and in the community of Moscow. He expanded those efforts and set about creating an FM radio station, which went on the air in 1963.
With that project operational, he turned his attention to the much more difficult task of seeking university, state and federal approval and funding for an educational television station at the University of Idaho. No easy task.
His educational philosophy included the strong belief that television could become a vital aid in the primary and secondary school system in Idaho. He sold his ideas to his colleagues, university administrators and members of the state legislature. He also sought and received support from the commercial broadcasters in Idaho who became active partners in early broadcasts.
He hired people for the academic department who also had a keen interest in the development of an educational television station, and thus already had on his staff people who would play vital roles in the operation of a television station from engineering to production to programming.
Gordon successfully guided the University of Idaho in the establishment of KUID-Moscow to go along with its sister radio station KUID-FM in the fall of 1965. These were the early formative days of public television (known then as educational or instructional television). He and his staff were learning by doing, exploring the possibilities of what public television could bring to the community and state. Early programs involved the arts, sports coverage and public affairs, including debates between political candidates for federal office and a volatile speech by one of the “Chicago Seven” at the annual Borah Symposium broadcast live and uncensored to the dismay of many.
To say that Dr. Law was politically connected is probably an understatement. He had the genuine ability to sway people holding important positions in local, state and federal agencies. He was an unabashed Democrat in a state that was Republican but tolerant enough in those days to elect Democrats to high office, people like former Governor Cecil Andrus and former US Senator Frank Church.
He was loyal and supportive to those people and, in turn, to him. He
also had the ability to work well with members of the loyal opposition.
His loyalty knew no bounds, whether to a neighbor or US senator.
Law was a strong believer in the inclusion of communication students in the operations of the television and radio stations. The university hears regularly from students who got their career start working for the university’s public broadcasting stations. He and all of his broadcast staff taught in the departmental academic program.
In 1971, Law saw a new opportunity for the expansion of the mission of television programming in the classroom. The federal government was going to fund an experimental program using satellites to bring instructional programming directly to schools in the Rocky Mountains. He left the University of Idaho and moved to Denver to become the director of that experimental program. The experiment had moderate success and led eventually to the formation of the Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Network, which abandoned the satellite system in favor of a microwave relay system of delivering programs.
Law then went on to work for the US Secretary of the Interior (Cecil Andrus) and also was an adviser to the US Office of Technology Assessment, which took him around the world on various assignments. He retired from his government career and returned only twice to Idaho: first for the 40th anniversary celebration of KUID, and again in 2009 to accept an honorary doctorate in recognition of his work in developing public broadcasting in Idaho.
Law died the following year at the age of 82 in Savannah, Georgia. He had lost his Irish brogue when he arrived in Idaho, but it distinctly returned during the final months of his life. He was the father of two sons, Gordon Jr. and Bryan, by his first wife, Patsy. Gordon was survived by his second wife, Claudia, of Savannah and many relatives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
OUTDOOR IDAHO: THE STATE’S THE STAR
By John Crancer
Producer, Outdoor Idaho
I’ve had the privilege of exploring and documenting this amazing place we call Idaho for 22 years. It’s a state of incredible geographic diversity, full of people who are passionate about the outdoors.
It was my love of the outdoors that helped me decide to accept a job as a producer for Idaho Public Television over two decades ago. I had worked on a variety of news and documentary projects at television stations in both Utah and California but hadn’t spent a great deal of time in Idaho. Yet I knew enough to be intrigued and was told I’d get the chance to work on a program called Outdoor Idaho. How could I pass that up?
At first, Outdoor Idaho was among several assignments for me as the station’s Moscow based producer. I also worked on public affairs programs, local documentaries, and U of I football games. I do remember one of my first Outdoor Idaho assignments – steelhead fishing with Bill Loftus on the Clearwater River. Fortunately, I didn’t know it usually takes many hours in the cold to hook a steelhead. But somehow in just a few hours I had reeled in a nice fish, and we had it on tape for the program. What a thrill!
A couple of years later, I moved to Boise and began working on full Outdoor Idaho programs, including an hour-long special called Idaho: An Anglers Paradise. That led to another memorable fishing tale. Guide Sam Whitten whisked us into Hells Canyon by jet boat where we hooked a giant white sturgeon. Over an exhausting hour later we had an 8-foot fish on video. Unforgettable!
Of course, most of Outdoor Idaho programs don’t focus on the producers. It features the remarkable people who live, work and play in the outdoors. People like Roger Williams and Syd Tate who created and were the first to walk Idaho’s Centennial Trail. They traveled from the Nevada border north to Canada through some of Idaho’s most rugged and gorgeous terrain. We’ve showcased families like the Moons from Sandpoint who love restoring wooden boats. Their segment included a great old film showing grandpa Pike Moon touring Lake Pend Oreille in a wooden cruiser with Bing Crosby.
We’ve also met wonderful outfitters through the years. Wayne Johnson showed us the beauty and history of the Main Salmon for a program called Salmon River Lodges & Legacies. Mike Scott helped us horse pack into the Castle Peak area for 50 Years of Wilderness. And Jon Barker guided us down the very remote Jarbidge and Bruneau Rivers for Canyonlands Calling.
Some of our river shoots have been the most memorable and challenging. On the Jarbidge, a once-in-a-lifetime rock slide blocked the entire river. We tried to line the new unrunnable rapid but got one of the rafts stuck in the boulders. Many hours later the badly damaged boat was finally patched and we were back on the river. That was very fortunate.
On another desert river, the Owyhee, we made it down the river pretty well but were hit by a rainstorm that created incredibly muddy roads. After getting stuck and nearly lost several times in the dark we finally made it back to the station at 3 a.m.! Another lucky escape.
Then there was the Middle Fork trip. It didn’t start out as an Outdoor Idaho but when we were the first private group to be confronted by the huge log jam at Pistol Creek, we saw an opportunity. We flew cameras in and documented both the jam and the eventual Forest Service decision to dynamite the blockage to free hundreds of trapped rafters.
On a more recent Middle Fork trip for our new program Excellent Adventures, we just about lost our opportunity to shoot on the very first day. The raft I was in with videographer Jay Krajic lodged precariously on a large rock in the middle of the river. Strong currents threatened to flip the raft and seriously test our waterproof cases, not to mention us. After several frantic minutes we escaped yet again and were floating down river taking pictures. We made it to the take-out with all our new footage.
The challenges of travel and terrain are just part of the job and it’s worth all the effort. We get to document a place that has a myriad of stunning qualities. Every shoot reveals a new and different landscape and introduces us to wonderful people. Over the years I've traveled to every corner of Idaho, from the vast desert in the southwest to the big lakes up north, from the Sawtooth Mountains in the heart of Idaho to the Selkirk Range near the Canadian border; this is one fantastic state.
Through the years, I've had the privilege of flying over most of Idaho in a helicopter mounted with a camera. During this process we’ve gathered an extensive collection of aerials for use in Outdoor Idaho and other programs. To me there’s nothing like the experience of soaring over the top of Mount Borah or skimming over the sparkling waters of Priest Lake. These aerial adventures have been awesome.
While flying the state in a helicopter is one way to gather footage, we couldn’t do Outdoor Idaho without a lot of hard work on the ground – driving back roads, rafting rivers, riding on horses, jet boats and ATVs, hiking and backpacking. Wherever the story is we have to find a way to get there. And the unsung heroes on most of these shoots are the videographers. Not only do they have to get themselves to the locations, they have to get there with all the video equipment in working order. I’ve logged many miles with these determined and creative folks. Jay Krajic, Chuck Cathcart, Dave Butler, Pat Metzler, Hank Nystrom, Jeff Tucker, Peter Morrill and many others are the folks who get the footage so we can tell the story. (Even Bruce Reichert and I will occasionally capture a few images with video cameras).
Television is a collaborative medium and that’s very true of Outdoor Idaho. Especially on the big programs everyone pitches in and adds something unique to the mix. When a program is finally completed it feels like quite an accomplishment.
I’ve already mentioned some of my favorites over the years, but here are a few more: The recent Idaho Headwaters is a search for the beginnings of some of the state’s outstanding rivers. Gold Rush Days and Ghost Towns explores the remnants of Idaho’s early mining towns. Pathways of Pioneers looks at the Oregon Trail in Idaho. Jewel of the North features one of the state’s most picturesque spots, Priest Lake. White Clouds in Waiting is the story about the push to protect the White Cloud Mountains. And now that it has finally happened, we’ll follow up on that with a new program this year.
It would be impossible to run out of unforgettable stories of this state. Each new program reveals another intriguing aspect of this place we call home. And with each production my appreciation for the state grows. So does my appreciation for all the people at the station and in the community. They’ve all helped make Outdoor Idaho a reflection of the spirit and grandeur of this place called Idaho.
FOURTY-FOUR YEARS ON TELEVISION…
By Royce Williams
Good evening from the Idaho Statehouse…
For most shows, that”s a very long time, but for Idaho Reports, every minute has had to carry a heavy load of information. After all, legislative sessions are only three months and the number of bills seems to increase every year. Every bill changes someone”s life.
When Gene Shumate opened that first show - called Legislature '72 back then - he didn't dream that the show would undergo multiple name changes, that it would support a variety of hosts, and maintain a dedicated viewership. Shumate, who had been hired by Idaho's first public television station at the University of Idaho, gained respect from those he covered. In a joint resolution, the Legislature thanked him for his “comprehensive and unbiased” reports.
One thing Shumate did figure out early was that the job was too big for one guy. In a single session, he was producing 30 hours of reports, coverage of hearings and special programs. He asked for some help and Jeff Seward joined the show in its second year.
“I spent the 1973 session doing a daily 3 to 4 minute report on tax and budget issues and covering the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee,” Seward recalled. He said Shumate left the show in 1974, and KAID-Boise hired Statesman political reporter Mindy Cameron to co-anchor the show. “I covered the Senate,” Seward said, “and Mindy covered the House. We switched the following year to expand our contacts and knowledge.”
Seward, who now teaches political science at Pacific University in Oregon, remembers a live show. “We had no film or video capability, no teleprompters. We went on live every night at 5:30 and read stories from copy in our hands. Also, we did interviews with legislators, lobbyists and state officials.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said, “and we established Idaho Public Television as the news source for the Legislature. One local commercial television news director even thanked me one day for doing all this coverage, because that meant he could get away without doing any at all!”
And like all Statehouse reporters, Seward didn't just cover politics. When the senators and representatives went back home in their districts, Seward was working on a variety of other productions. He did documentaries on the Basques in Idaho; on US Sen. William E. Borah; on downtown Boise urban renewal; on a property tax reappraisal; an analysis of the problems of rapid growth in Boise; and more.
He hosted a series called Idaho Outdoors about summer sports and recreation, a Saturday night college football scoreboard, political debates, and a host of other work as the station’s only on-air talent at the time. Seward would interview prominent personalities, both from Idaho and the world that included J.R. Simplot, Elliot Richardson, William F. Buckley Jr., Ralph Smeed, Perry Swisher and others.
With Mindy Cameron, Seward hosted Public Journal Four, a weekly show from four perspectives: Insight, a leading Idaho citizen; Dialogue, advocate discussion on a single issue; Probe, a major documentary effort; and Remote, at the scene of a major event. Cameron and Seward also hosted a special on the Western Governors Conference in Sun Valley.
Cameron would also team with Mike Kirk at KUID-Moscow to cover the Teton Dam disaster, and she hosted a end-of-the-week show called Newsend that brought in other legislative reporters to analyze the week’s developments at the Statehouse. She and Erich Korte would do a documentary on thermal energy in Idaho. As this is written, Cameron lives in North Idaho, where she moved after she retired as editorial page editor at the Seattle Times newspaper. She is a director on the Friends of Idaho Public Television.
Seward continued to co-anchor the legislative show with help from a couple of new reporters – Jean McNeil and Sid Sprecher – until 1977. That year McNeil and Sprecher took on the anchoring duties. It was during this transition that a young cameraman joined the legislative crew.
Ricardo Ochoa wasn’t exactly new to KAID-Boise, since his dad had hosted a bilingual show on Channel 4 called Tardeadas Alegres in Idaho (Good Evening in Idaho). But Idaho Reports would be Ochoa’s major work with KAID-Boise. He retired as Idaho Reports director in 2013 after 37 years on the show.
“When I started,” Ochoa recalled, “our cameras weighed about 150 pounds each, and we hauled them up to the fourth floor of the Capitol and built a set and a grid for lighting out of 2-X-6’s and black pipe.” He said the rotunda was lit then with 20-watt light bulbs, so the background was very dark on people’s sets at home.
“We ran our cables above the ceiling on the fourth floor,” he said, “so we had to be very careful not to fall through those skylights.”
KAID-Boise’s former chief engineer Vaun McArthur remembers the tough times as “an interesting hassle.
“We were running thick cables everywhere, dragging them through the hallways and climbing out on ledges…. Legislators were always tripping over them and getting upset with us,” he said.
In those first years, the show had no official room in the Capitol, for no one knew if the show would even be around for the next session. “We had to park out on the fourth floor and run cables to the Senate and House chambers,” McArthur said. “The microwave was shooting out the window, and one of the legislators sat on the table and accidentally moved the microwave, throwing it out of alignment, so we lost the signal.
“It was a pain in the backside,” McArthur summarized.
But the show did have cheerleaders. Former director of communications Sandra Streiff came to the Boise station in 1972. The show was a “constant for me in my 30-plus years at IdahoPTV. It has been the tree from which other shows have branched, including our Dialogue program. Idaho Reports has been incredibly valuable to all Idahoans.”
Idaho Public Television has taken seriously its role as the only statewide network for legislative coverage, and has over the years found creative ways around limitations on funding, thin staff and outdated equipment. The show’s name has changed several times, the schedule has gone from daily to weekly and back again, from a half-hour to an hour and back again…. Coverage has continued while other states have cut back.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that statehouse reporting across the US doesn’t have the priority it once enjoyed. Reporters covering statehouses ranged from 53 in Texas to two in South Dakota, but overall, 53 percent of the US statehouse reporters were working part time and 47 percent were full-time. The full time reporters had faded. Newspapers were doing 38 percent of the coverage; television 17 percent; nontraditional, 16 percent; wire services, 9 percent; radio, 8 percent; universities 7 percent; and others (blogs, for example), 6 percent.
Idaho Reports bucks this trend. It is the longest continuing coverage of the state Legislature in the West, and reports happen daily during the sessions. Also, there is analysis and additional reporting on-camera and on blogs. IdahoPTV also delivers live coverage of the Senate and House debate and coverage of major committee activity. The cameras are there, too, for the governor’s State of the State and a variety of ceremonial activities. Political debates coverage that began in 1972 continues into the 21st century.
It didn’t look promising for one of those early-day reporters who arrived in Boise in December 1976 from New York with a case of laryngitis that made the introductory interview a squeaky one. Jean McNeil was still learning to pronounce Boise when she was sent to interview Iz Merrill, a Democratic legislator about the new ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
“I reported back to Jeff (Seward),” McNeil recalls, “that he talked a lot about what ‘we’ believed, which I assumed referred to him and his wife.”
Jeff told me to sit down, “then proceeded to enlighten me. I had never heard of Mormons.”
McNeil had been in town 10 days when Cecil Andrus left the governor’s office to be Jimmy Carter’s interior secretary. She was covering John Evans’ inauguration, “a big party all over the Statehouse, and I saw a black man one floor up in the Rotunda. I realized he was the first black person I had seen in Boise. More culture shock.” Boise wasn’t going to be like LA or New York.
It took two years to get the show on the air, the show McNeil had given up a possible job in Michigan to join. While she waited for the Idaho show to get started, McNeil produced “several documentaries and an award-winning concert series, despite knowing zip about music!”
“We put the program, called Idaho Reports on, in Boise only, one night a week, then expanded to two, and then three, and finally five. We modeled the show on the half-hour version of The McNeil-Lehrer Report, focusing on one story a night. Our goal was to have the top story on each day and to use video as much as we could.” It was hard work.
“Our little crew – an anchor, three producers, a videographer and a director – routinely worked 10-hour days,” McNeil said, “and we managed to report the day’s top story much of the time.
“We had a small office on the third floor of the Statehouse, a studio set-up on the fourth floor, no video and only typewriters.
“Jeff (Seward) would send me to cover a committee, I would type up my story and read it on the air. I learned to write fast and accurate the first time and learned how to be on the air,” McNeil said.
McNeil became a fixture at the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee meetings. “That didn’t mean I didn’t cover other committees and activities, but I was in the budget committee at 9 a.m. each day, usually did follow-up interviews and got my piece produced before noon so I could cover other things,” she said.
McNeil said she loved the work, especially being part of a nightly news show, but budget cuts that came in the early 1980s brought a 2-month hiatus to the show in the summer, then the show was nightly only during the legislative sessions and a weekly show the rest of the year.
“It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” McNeil said, “and it appeared the daily show was not in the works in the future. It was time to leave.”
“That first session I covered was nirvana for a newbie journalist – covering lawmaking all day, writing up stories, and then getting to tape a 30-minute live newscast. I thought I had gone to heaven!”
The show has gone through a plethora of changes since those early days of the 1970s. It was called Legislature (plus the last two digits of the year), Statehouse Report, The Reporters, and finally Idaho Reports. There was a contest to name the show, McNeil recalled, “but Idaho Reports was the best we could come up with.” Weekly additions to the show, usually on Friday nights, included Newsend and Executive Report, analysis by working journalists outside public television.
The show has filled a variety of time slots, too. It has been a daily show, a weekly show, a half-hour show, a 90-minute show, a four-day-a-week show, all of it coping mechanisms for staff and budget cuts. The show has generally landed on its feet and has outlasted several of its major detractors.
Sid Sprecher, who had been hired at the same time as McNeil, was with the show for three sessions before taking a job with Market to Market, a PTV agriculture show in the Midwest. But while Sprecher and McNeil were hosts, the show picked up producers in Pocatello and Moscow, making Idaho Reports the only statewide public affairs show. It played a major role in unifying as much as possible three very diverse regions of the state.
The 3-way conversations among guests in Boise, Moscow and Pocatello was a major technology challenge, recalls Marc Johnson, who crossed over from commercial television to anchor Idaho Reports. “It was lots of live TV,” Johnson said, “so what could go wrong?
“We got a lot of television out of very little hardware because people really wanted to do something new and good,” he said.
Johnson recalls getting a lot of independence and support from managers at IdahoPTV. “I can’t remember a manager ever asking what we were planning for a given evening. They trusted us, maybe more than we deserved, to do as well as we could, be fair and try to make good television journalism.”
It had the effect of making the crew more responsible and more willing to take on a tough issue, he said.
Johnson also recalls how hard the Idaho Reports crew worked. “In the old days, we did five shows a week, 52 weeks a year,” he said. “It was a meat grinder. You would sometimes come to work not knowing what show would air that night. It was exciting, demanding and fun!”
Peter Morrill, who worked as an early director on the show and recently retired as IdahoPTV general manager, recalls Idaho Reports as “an amazing effort. Telling the stories of Idaho was both exhilarating and exhausting!”
The show would undergo drastic changes in the early 1980s, a result of elimination of state funding for IdahoPTV by the state legislature. Additional funding cuts at the federal level 15 years later would keep the show on a bare-bones budget. It never returned to a daily year-round program.
The funding difficulties cut into staff, equipment replacement, the amount of news that could be adequately covered. Idaho Reports reflected the hard times, now coming roughly every 10 years.
Barbara Pulling took over hosting duties for five years, followed by Roger Fuhrman until 1996.
Marcia Franklin recalls those days: “Roger and the reporters still did the show out in the open on the fourth floor, and I remember often having to run downstairs and ask the janitor to stop waxing the floor while we were on the air live.”
But the Legislature wanted that fourth floor space, too, and Idaho Reports Director Ochoa said the glass enclosure was removed “and we were, too, now sent to the basement with a new control room, a studio with a very low ceiling, and double walls to insulate us from the loud press area down there.”
It was a little like being in a mine, since the basement area at the Statehouse was much more cramped. With reconstruction of the building in 2010, tons of dirt were removed from the basement to bring the height of rooms up to standards. Statehouse coverage has a control room and studio in the Joe R. Williams building today connected to the Statehouse by a tunnel under State Street. It allows on-air interviews without distracting noises.
The weekly show, airing on Friday nights, got a slight name-change, becoming Idaho Reports This Week.
Franklin, who hosted the show for the 1997 session with John Crancer reporting, remembers the difficult transition: “I had people coming up to me all the time saying they missed the daily coverage and wanting to know when it was coming back. I had to tell them it probably wasn’t.
“After covering practically everything that moved,” Franklin continued, “it was difficult to come up with a format that distilled a whole week’s worth of stories into half an hour but also provided the depth that viewers had come to expect.
“I think we came up with a good balance of news stories, longer pieces, discussions and the lighter side (political cartoons), one of my favorite elements.”
Franklin, Joan Cartan-Hansen and John Crancer held the hosting duties until Jim Peck took over in 2004. Peck changed the show to emphasize analysis with political scientist Jim Weatherby, former US Attorney Betty Richardson, former lawmaker Henry Kulczyk, Statesman reporter Greg Hahn, and Spokesman Review reporter Betsy Russell. Statesman editorial writer Kevin Richert and political scientist Steve Shaw also were invited.
“These personalities blended and sometimes banged into each other wonderfully,” Peck said. “It was a strong group that often vehemently disagreed, but they were always civil, always polite. I think that was a tremendous benefit to our audience, for they showed that people could argue, debate, and not get nasty.”
Because there was no money to pay him, Bruce Reichert joined the show in 1982 as a volunteer, replacing producer-reporter Eric Malone. He describes the work this way: “Those were heady times for me, working with some really strong journalists and covering the strong personalities in the Idaho Legislature.”
After a year working gratis, Reichert said he “even shared the hosting duties after Marc and Jean and Gary Richardson left and others joined us. But, frankly, I was happy to turn the hosting duties over to others with more talent in that regard, as I worked behind the scenes and on a new show called Outdoor Idaho.” Currently, Reichert is IdahoPTV’s executive producer and still hosts Outdoor Idaho.
Work on a daily news show can sometimes get stressful when the day opens with too little going on and closes with little more going on. Reichert remembers some of that.
“It was not always easy, and some nights probably not even worth watching,” he said. “For example, the entire Legislature would head off to Mountain Home Air Force Base for a tour, but we still had to produce a half-hour show that aired at 6:30 that evening.
“I remember one night we were reduced to spending 15 minutes talking to someone about chip-sealing! But it was the last week or two of the session that we really earned our keep, and senators and representatives and the governor’s staff would actually watch our show to see what happened in the chamber across the rotunda.”
Gary Richardson, who joined the show in 1981 with little or no experience in television reporting, agrees about the stress involved: “IdahoPTV was seriously underfunded and understaffed, especially for the programming we were doing. The nightly deadline pressure was extremely stressful. It was doubly so as I was trying to learn a whole bunch of new skills quickly, a very steep learning curve.
“Many nights I would come home and immediately collapse on the bed, lying there, heart pounding, sometimes actually trembling, until I could mellow out and relax,” he said.
“The hardest part for me,” he recalled, “was the stand-up – the scene in which the reporter talks directly to the camera. Well delivered, it can link the viewer to the story both visually and emotionally. When I had to do it, I would quickly memorize a brief opening or closing comment about the story, then deliver my lines to that impersonal 3-inch diameter lens behind which stood a cameraman who had lost interest about the third or fourth time I stumbled through my lines.”
Hosts and producers had to put personal feelings aside while they worked on Idaho Reports stories, something they found difficult at times. Thanh Tan took over as host of the show in 2009, and was there for Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter’s announcement that the state would stop funding one-fourth of IdahoPTV’s budget over the coming four years.
As other reporters picked up on the story, Tan told an outside reporter that she left the room in tears. “I felt like I was covering my own funeral on the upcoming show,” she said.
When Tan left Idaho to cover politics for the Texas Tribune newspaper in Dallas, Greg Hahn made the switch from panelist to host.
Current executive producer Reichert said the show became less stressful when budget cuts made it a weekly, but he was surprised and impressed at how many viewers expressed disappointment about the change.
“A daily Idaho Reports had meant something,” he said, “maybe more than we realized, especially to the people outside Boise.
“It’s hard to believe we’ll ever go back to daily coverage of the Legislature, but we have gone to an hour-long show during the session, and we worked hard to get live cameras in the House, Senate and committee rooms,” he said.
Reichert says he is impressed with the current Idaho Reports staff: “They are trying new, modern ways of connecting with viewers, through blogs and podcasts, Facebook and a Web presence. What goes on in the ‘puzzle palace’ (Statehouse) affects us all eventually, and our reporters are some of the best in the west.”
Those reporters and co-hosts include Aaron Kunz and Melissa Davlin with lead producer Seth Ogilvie, all of whom have covered the Legislature for other media outlets.
Kunz was first hired in 2011 to bring the show up to date on environmental issues. As the Idaho reporter for EarthFix, Kunz’ first story for Idaho Reports was the issue of wind turbines and whether or not Idaho Power should be forced to buy wind power even if they didn’t need it.
With former Twin Falls Times-News reporter Melissa Davlin and lead producer Seth Ogilvie, Kunz kept the full hour show during the legislative session. That’s fine with Davlin, who said the show requires some adjustment: “I have to think about issues more visually and get away from the statistics and numbers I leaned on during my newspaper years, but I’m enjoying tackling it and I’m honored to be working on a show that has so much to offer the citizens of Idaho.
“I always enjoyed watching Idaho Reports,” Davlin said, “and I’ve participated in panel discussions when I was a print reporter, but I didn’t realize how much of an impact the show has until I joined the team. It’s humbling to be part of it.”
Kunz describes the show this way: “We’ve included long-form interviews with legislators and topic experts, pre-produced stories that explained issues from ground level across the state, and kept the pundit roundtable with Dr. Jim Weatherby and Spokesman Review reporter Betsy Russell.”
Clearly, however, one show a week could not keep pace with the flood of bills now coming through the legislative mill. Davlin and Ogilvie have expanded coverage with blogs and on social media outlets.
“Our viewers don’t have to wait until Friday to get caught up on the week,” Kunz said, “and I think that part is a crucial step to keeping Idaho Reports relevant and important.”
Idaho Reports extended its season to include October, November and December in 2015. Kunz said the focus is still on the state Legislature, “but we are including a look at national issues that impact Idaho.”
“For example,” he said, “the staff went to the nation’s capital to sit down with the congressional delegation on a wide range of issues including congressional leadership and the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, national party unity, nuclear and land management issues.”
Idaho Reports is a living show, he said, “and it reflects the needs and desires of all Idahoans.” Like many before him, he is proud to be part of the show’s long history.
‘I’VE ENJOYED EVERY MINUTE OF IT’
By Royce Williams
There’s one lasting image of Drich Bowler.
He’s standing on a huge boulder in the middle of the Snake River at the point where the Salmon joins the big river, and he’s yelling to the video camera on the shore.
There was no reason to yell. The mike clipped to his collar would have picked up a whisper a quarter mile away, but when Drich did his on-camera television work, the long–time actor couldn’t forget the years of playing to the rowdies in the back row in every one–horse town in Idaho.
On this day, Drich was introducing a segment on one of the programs in IdahoPTV’s production of Proceeding On Through A Beautiful Country, A Television History of Idaho. Called simply the history series, the 13 one–hour shows aired during Idaho’s centennial in 1990.
When the 16-member advisory board for the series was asked to submit names for the series host, it didn’t take nearly as long as the other discussions about programs. Drich’s name came up right away and no one else’s did. It was decided.
Early on, the rest of the crew was wondering if it had been the right choice. The host would not only have to stand in the middle of the deep and gurgling Snake River, but climb up hills that were just shy of cliffs, wade through snow a yard deep with no snowshoes, travel to every corner of the state on roads that barely fit the name, work with too little sleep … Drich was in his mid–70s.
He did better than anyone else on the crew with much less complaining. And he rarely missed a cue or garbled his memorized lines. He did stray outside the script once. It was on the final program 13 with the Sawtooth Mountains in the background, and he said: “I’ve dreamed of the personal chance of being your guide through this strange and familiar land we call Idaho. I’ve loved every minute of it!”
Drich did qualify as an Idaho guide. Growing up in Gooding, he dreamed of going on the stage, and he left for New York City in 1937, but after three years in the Pacific Theater of WWII, he came back to the University of Idaho, where he took a graduate degree in art education.
After military service, Drich met and married Lillian (Di) Deissler while both of them were working in the New Hampshire summer theater. The couple returned to the Hagerman Valley, where they built a home on the banks of the Snake River that was designed by their friend and architect Art Troutner.
“We came back to Idaho to either live off the land or starve off the land,” Drich once recalled. But they managed to stay afloat. Drich tapped a spring on his property to provide electricity, and Di was a potter and set up Snake River Pottery in their home studio. It brought in some income. Drich also taught schools in Bliss and Buhl to pay the bills.
But the couple never left the theater. They set up the Antique Festival Theater, presenting plays in the old restored movie theater in Buhl called The Ramona. They also took theater on the road. In a converted school bus with the scenery tied to the roof, the couple, along with Shakespearian actor Paul Kliss, traveled to every town and Indian reservation in Idaho and northern Nevada to present free plays.
“We got theater students in New York City each summer to help with the plays,” Drich said. “We either made theater people out of them or we convinced them once and for all that plumbing was a fine profession!”
But theater wasn’t all he did. Drich was a conservationist, a teacher, a potter, an inventor and a genuine people person.
Drich died on January 16, 2007. He was 91 years old.
I’LL SMOKE THE F@*&ING CIGAR!
By Marc Johnson
(Editor’s note: Marc Johnson left Idahoptv and Idaho Reports in 1986 to join then-candidate for governor Cecil Andrus’ campaign. He later served as Andrus’ chief of staff. After leaving the statehouse, Marc joined Gallitan Public Relations. He still does a public affairs (and baseball) blog called www.manythingsconsidered.com.)
I have a few overriding memories regarding my time at Idaho Public TV.
The first is that we had such independence and support from the management. I can’t remember a manager ever asking what we were planning for a given evening. They trusted us – perhaps more than we deserved – to do as well as we could, be fair and try to make good television journalism.
That was remarkable and had the effect of both making us more responsible and more willing to take on a tough issue. We went to the Soviet Union in 1984, did political debates when that was still a novelty, and interviewed some major characters. I still remember author, essayist and avid environmentalist Edward Abbey in the Moscow studio with me in Boise ready to do a one-on-one half hour. He was smoking a cigar and one of the camera people asked in a too-loud whisper if he needed to put it out before we rolled the tape.
Abbey rather loudly said: “I smoke the f@*&ing cigar or I don’t do the f*#@ing interview…”
We did the interview…and he happily puffed away.
Second, I remember how hard we worked, but also how much damn fun we had.
In my “old days” we did five shows a week, 52 weeks a year. We did some re-runs, of course, but it was a daily meat grinder. You would sometimes come to work not knowing what show would air that night.
Exciting, demanding and fun. We did a few clinkers, but most nights we went home feeling like we had done something good and important for a statewide audience.
We improvised a lot. Three-way conversations, for example, among guests in Boise, Moscow and Pocatello when that was a major technology challenge. We did lots of “live” TV – what could go wrong? We got a lot of television out of very little hardware because people really wanted to do something new and good.
Finally, I remember, of course, the people: Erich Korte, my first real collaborator. Peter Morrill, my alter ego, great friend and the master of all things. Ricardo Ochoa, grumbling his way to doing the impossible and always well. The happy-go-lucky pro Jeff Tucker. Jean McNeil, the best reporter to ever cover JFAC. Bruce Reichert, the intern who became the star. Gary Richardson joined our happy band and added some much needed intellectual heft as well as a dogged determination to convince every prospective guest that appearing on Idaho Reports really was in their best interest. Engineers – too many to name – who didn’t always appreciate what we were trying to do, but used enough gaffing tape to get us on the air.
And Jack Schlaefle and Dan Everett, two guys who gave me a lot of chances, help and support. I’m neglecting many others, but it was (almost) always a great, great crew. A special word about Jack: he hired me twice. Once from Channel 2 to begin a regular public affairs program and when I stupidly left to go (briefly) to Channel 6, he hired me back. Who says you can’t go home again. Hell, I even met the love of my life at KAID and we just celebrated 30 years.
I also remember and have been forever thankful for the opportunity (if not the small paycheck) that went with being part of Idahoptv. When I was hosting Idaho Reports five nights a week and doing whatever I thought was important or interesting, I had the best job in journalism in the Northwest. What a great experience that opened a thousand doors for me.
Happy 50th anniversary Idaho Public Television! – Marc Johnson
DREAMERS SEE AN IdahoPTV
By Royce Williams
Before any Idaho public television station came close to going on air, something like what it turned out to be was being thought about and talked about at places like Boise Junior Collage (BJC).
Out of the fog that sometimes hides and distorts history came a small collection of Encyclopedia Britannica films that ended up in an early 1940s school district library headed up by a BJC staffer O.D. Cole. As the fledgling library slowly grew, it was overshadowed by the severe financial difficulties of the college.
A 3-person committee was set up and headed by Connin Mathews to try to pull the small college out of the funding hole, a problem that wasn’t getting a lot of notice as World War II grabbed all the headlines. Mathews got the job done and while he was at it, he hired Ace Chatburn to oversee the Education Department on January 1, 1945.
In a 1992 oral history interview, Chatburn said he expanded the film library, “which became the Educational Film Library serving 20 school districts.
“Our audio-visual library was an ox cart version of enhanced learning,” Chatburn said. “The dream was always to take advantage of a brand new technology – television – that I first saw in 1944 in New York City.”
Then Gordon Law was hired in the 1960s at the University of Idaho to start an Educational Television station, and Herb Everett started it up at Idaho State University shortly after that, Chatburn recalled. He remembered Law as “a very innovative man.”
At about the same time, Chatburn took on the job of Director of Educational Services, a support unit that included the library and film services.
“Dr. (John) Barnes told me to do everything possible to enhance the educational process,” Chatburn said. “And Governor Don Samuelson also made an important hire.”
A retired Naval officer D.E. Colwell became Samuelson’s director of communications for Idaho.
“He convinced Samuelson that Idaho needed to establish a statewide telecommunications system,” Chatburn said. “As chair of a committee including Gordon Law from UI, Herb Everett of ISU and myself of BSU, he was the catalyst who got the warring factions in Boise, Moscow and Pocatello together.”
BSU applied to the Educational Broadcasting Facilities Program at the US Department of Health, Education & Welfare, for a grant of $339,626.78 to build the KAID-TV facility. Also, BSU had received a state appropriation to expand the university library, and allocated $225,000 of that money to the television facility, “calculated to give the station 10,000 square feet at $25 per square foot.”
Chatburn said he convinced President Barnes that the studio should be built in the library expansion “in order to provide an integrated approach to educational support services.”
“I recruited Bill Shankweiler, a professor of speech and English at BSU and had worked in television, and Harold (Teddy) Toedtemier, chief engineer at Channel 7-Boise, to help me design the new facility,” Chatburn recalled. He added that Georgia Davidson, Channel 7 manager, was supportive of the project, and allowed Teddy the time during work hours.
The grant was written by Law, Everett, Shankweiler, Teddy and myself, Chatburn said, “and we got $334,000.”
It was Davidson who introduced Jack Schlaefle to Idaho. Davidson, committed to educational television, had met Schlaefle at the Rocky Mountain Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Denver. Davidson’s commercial station in Boise had carried Sesame Street before KAID signed on. The show listed Eddy’s Bread at the beginning and end of the programs as underwriters for the Boise showing.
When KAID opened for business on New Years Eve 1971, the station had five employees: Jack Schlaefle, station manager; Vaun McArthur, chief engineer; Howard Hansen, scenic-graphic artist; Bob Pyle, producer-director; and Cecil Cope, staff engineer. Schlaefle died in 1984, but the other four worked at IdahoPTV until they retired.
SOMEBODY SHOULD LOOK INTO THAT
By Royce Williams
College students have a knack for going where angels fear to tread.
Bless their hearts!
Some of the University of Idaho communications students got early Idaho public television in some – not boiling water, but into water too hot for a bath.
The students fell in love with documentaries. Never mind that the equipment was too cumbersome to take out of the studio and never mind that weather was something to take note of before you left. Reaction to the work, too, didn’t dawn on the documentarians until it was too late to think about it. They also didn’t check to see how much ammo they had stored in the armory if somebody attacked their work.
But when Congress set up the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the legislation said it was necessary to take risks with programs. A covey of young producers, directors, cinematographers and writers at the University of Idaho took the act at its word. You still can hear the names mentioned occasionally around the campus: Mike Kirk, Don Adair, Tim Coggins, Bill McMillin, Joyce Campbell, Rebecca Newton, Alan Bell, Del Roby, Lynn Hardy, Lincoln Pain, John Gray and more.
The documentaries they produced and put on television were thought too complicated to get across on the small screen; too cumbersome or difficult to shoot; and subjects had unwritten immunity to questions about anything they did. This last obstacle was the one that caused the greatest turmoil, for the producers asked two legs of the state’s economic 3-legged stool – mining and timber – questions nobody before them had ever asked.
The first documentary to air was about lead, the refined product in everything from gasoline to paint. A lot of it came from Kellogg, Idaho, where a smelter smokestack tall enough to crash an unwary airplane pumped out a sulfur smelling effluent that turned the hills brown. Not a green thing grew around the town. At times the lead leaked into the Coeur d’Alene River and turned the water milk white. A miner could make a living at the smelter, but there was no place to do the living that wasn’t dangerous, and the worst danger was to children. Lead levels in Kellogg children were well above the rates outside the valley, and it was destroying brain cells.
The documentary, produced and hosted by Mike Kirk and titled Kellogg: The Best To You Each Morning, had to hide some miners’ faces and alter their voices to protect them from retribution. The smelting plant later closed down after knowledge about the threats of lead poisoning became clearer and demand went through the floor. The area became one of the most expensive clean-up sites in the nation, all of it done at taxpayers’ expense. The miners were long gone.
Just a year later, the second hot topic became fodder for a documentary. The show had the same producer and the rest of the cast was similar, but the subject was a volcano that hadn’t yet erupted – homosexuality. Titled Sweet Land of Liberty, the show interviewed members of the Moscow-Pullman gay community. Gay people willing to talk on camera were interviewed about losing jobs, about losing apartments, about being generally excluded from most of what the rest of the community took for granted.
Phones were ringing off the hooks even before the credits rolled. But the resourceful crew took that as grounds for doing a follow-up program. They sat pro- and anti-gay people face to face and asked each side to confront the other. For a talking heads show, it was more scintillating that most. The highlight moment was when one vehemently anti-gay guest did a 180-degree on-camera opinion change about gays.
The next controversial documentary was produced and hosted by Rebecca Newton, and it listened to some North Idaho independent sawmill operators about the shortage of cedar timber for their mills. Cedar logs were being taken from cut-over timber sales and turned into poles and rails, shakes being too labor intensive for the small crews of the independents. Thus the documentary name: Cedar Thief. Taking the cedar was called stealing, but the independents called it salvaging.
It didn’t help the independents when the Carter Administration responded to a national need for lumber by allowing much larger timber sales on the national forests. The independents couldn’t hope to compete in bidding with timber companies like Potlatch. That company was asked repeatedly to respond to the allegations made by the independents but turned down the requests. The result was the company looked a lot like silent bad guys.
Even before the credits rolled on this one, legislators were contacted with the resulting blows to a fledgling public television network. One positive that came from the show, however, was standardizing of log scaling sticks used statewide. Before the change, the amount of lumber lurking in a log depended on how the measuring stick was being read. Sometimes, it could be read short to give the buyer a break; sometime it could be read long to throw off a buyer. Independents thought the stick-wielders in the St. Joe Valley were giving them the shaft and routing more lumber to the corporate side.
But Newton didn’t leave the subject of trees. In The Last Stand she tackled the conflicting opinions about what should happen to nine million acres of Idaho Forest Service land that still had no roads. Years in the making, the 1977 Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE II) was ready for public comment, and Newton’s documentary made the huge discussion-debate something the average person could get his head around.
Then Newton went hunting – elk hunting in the Selway-Bitterroot. The Game was about the loss of income to the state from the dwindling elk herds in the rugged country. Historic fires had opened the area to sunshine and the resulting good elk pasture. But time was taking a toll; trees and brush were coming back, and the resulting loss of elk was making Idaho $5,000 poorer with each missing elk. Newton rode a mule into the area with guides and cinematographers to document her work.
Other documentaries were less controversial but no easier to get done. When Alan Bell decided the follow Ballet Folk of Moscow to nearly every one-horse town in Idaho, it was rough on both the dancers and the producer-cinematographers. A bus crammed with dancers, plus everything a dancer needs, plus lots of luggage and props can make people touchy. Add camera equipment, lights, tripods, etc. to the mix…. Compatible people are very important.
Bell called the show Ballet, Ho! The bus traveled to Arco, Challis, Salmon and a few towns in between on this trip, but the most poignant segment was shot at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind. The dancers were a bit nervous and so were the kids, but the blind kids could hear the music and the toes touching the floor. Deaf kids could see the colorful costumes in Stravinsky’s Firebird, and got the rhythm in movement.
Then it was Bill McMillin’s turn. He decided to do a doc on the remaining cowboys from Paisley, Oregon to Northern Nevada. Called simply Buckaroo, it told the story of the modern cowboy’s life. It was a life with a lot of the trappings of the last cowboys of the 1880s but tried to find the changes since then. The television crew didn’t find a lot that was different.
Cowboying is a hard life, with low pay, contrary horses, expensive gear, hard, dirty work, and a lot of riding, since each cow needs 50 acres of ground.
One part of the documentary raised some eyebrows. A few viewers were slightly taken aback when McMillin did interviews with the women in town that they cowboys visited on the rare occasions when there was a let-up in the work. To a woman, they all praised the cowboy character and wished all men measured up to them.
But documentaries didn’t always work. Take the total eclipse of the sun on February 26, 1979. Crews from KUID-Moscow went to the top of Moscow Mountain in the early morning to wait for the shadow’s crossing. They were to send their pictures to Boise’s ABC affiliate (KIVI, Channel 6) to be shown nationally.
Everything went wrong. The snow was deep and more of it was coming down. It was pretty foggy and cold as blue blazes. The rest of John Gray’s crew was supposed to get to the mountaintop early, but their snowmobile turned sluggish, then stopped. It took a long time to get it started again. Meanwhile, everyone, including cameras, was freezing.
Soon it became obvious that the eclipse was not going to be visible, and ABC abandoned the Moscow crew and switched to a station in Montana that was saying it had the shadow in site just touching the sun.
So much for going live….
NOT A DRY EYE IN THE HOUSE…
No one who hears the letter read or reads it themselves can do so without tears.
It is the letter Civil War Major Sullivan Ballou of the 2nd Rhode Island wrote home to his wife Sarah in Smithfield, R.I. in 1861.
It was included in the 12-part Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War that aired on Idaho Public Television in 1990. The letter encapsulates the courage and the loss experienced in every war before and after its writing. Major Ballou was stationed in Washington, D.C. when he wrote the letter and he was killed in the first battle of the war at Bull Run just a week later.
People rode horses and in buggies to the battlefield on July 21, 1861, to view the spectacle, but were shocked that soldiers fell in the battle and did not get up again. Ballou was seriously wounded by a cannonball that killed his horse. The defeated Union soldiers left the ground to the Confederates with Ballou lying wounded. After the rest of his leg was amputated, he died.
The letter is read on television by stage, movie and television actor Paul Roebling. Here is the letter:
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more…
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt….
Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God Willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed.
If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. Forgive me my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness…
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you, in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights…always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall by my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again…
YOU SURE THERE’S A FUTURE IN THIS?
BY GLENN MOSLEY
2005 Director of Broadcasting,
School of Journalism and Mass Media
(This article is reprinted here with the permission of the University of Idaho Alumni Magazine “Here We Have Idaho“, Spring 2005 edition. Changes have been made by Royce Williams to update the story.)
Marty Peterson remembers vividly election night 1966—he was anchoring the live election coverage on KUID-TV in Moscow. The station then was just about one year old.
“We were broadcasting from a local car dealer’s showroom,“ Peterson recalls. “We were down about half the time with blown circuit breakers because the showroom circuits couldn’t handle the lights and our cameras.
“To get the signal up to the transmitter on Moscow Mountain, we did a feed through the local cable TV system from the showroom back to the KUID-TV studio. It was all pretty primitive, but great experience.“
Now retired special assistant to University of Idaho President Tim White, Peterson still talks passionately about his days as an undergraduate Radio-Television major learning the ropes at KUID-TV/FM.
“I can remember dragging cables out of the building to help set up a live baseball game broadcast. We used a single RCA Vidicon camera with a telephoto lens to shoot from the front porch of the KUID studio to the baseball field about 300 feet away,“ he said with a smile.
Peterson’s stories are among many told by the students, faculty and television professionals who have clipped film, edited tape, hosted programs, produced award-winning documentaries, and worked in the remote broadcast truck through the years at Idaho’s first public television station.
KUID went on the air in 1965, and grew to become a nationally recognized television station, winning dozens of awards including a regional Emmy award for Skydiving in 1977 and a national Gabriel Award for Iran, Religion, and World Conflict in 1980.
The birth of KUID-TV was the crowning moment of a broadcast media renaissance at U of I in the early- to mid-60s. Students had been taking broadcasting courses on campus since 1945, and many had gone on to successful careers. But the establishment of KUID-FM in 1963 and then KUID-TV in 1965 at the university’s Radio-TV Center took the academic program — and the university — to a new level of excellence.
Professor Peter Haggart arrived in 1963 and watched the radio and television stations grow. He says students were integrated fully into station operations from the very beginning.
“It was an exciting time to be at the U of I,“ he remembers. “Students got a good education and some real-time practical experience at KUID-FM and TV.
“The weekly Vandal sports shows, nightly news shows and documentaries on public affairs issues consumed the time of TV staff,“ Haggart said. “But there were also plenty of documentaries on the arts and culture.“
The two policymakers most responsible for bringing both stations to life were Gordon Law, then head of the Department of Communications, and Boyd Martin, head of the College of Letters and Science.
Law was, in many ways, the godfather of public broadcasting in Idaho,“ Haggart said. Law was “the driving force... he had the contacts and political savvy to make a lot of things happen.“
Law remembers Haggart’s contributions as essential, and says Haggart himself was “quiet, steady, loyal and committed.“ So were the students.
One of those students was Alan Bell, producer for Ballet, Ho!, a 1980 documentary on the Ballet Folk of Moscow. Taking a camera crew aboard the troupe’s bus, Bell followed the ballet company to several of Idaho’s small towns. It gave rural people, especially children, the only exposure to ballet they would have in their lives.
Especially poignant was the troupe’s dancing before the students at Idaho’s School for the Deaf and Blind. Deaf students could see the dancers and the movement but couldn’t hear the music to Firebird. Blind students couldn’t see the dancers but could hear the music and some of the footwork.
This and other work at the station, wrote Lewiston Morning Tribune columnist Ladd Hamilton in 1978, had “imagination and guts.“ Students never were far out of the mix, whether they were in class being taught by KUID personnel or actually working for the station. One experience fondly recalled by many students was working in the station’s remote truck, built by station engineers and used for years to produce broadcasts from sporting events, county fairs and other venues.
KUID- TV quickly became a station deeply committed to covering issues of significance to the community and the state, and university officials found that the station extended U of I’s outreach mission to an even wider audience.
Creative, original programming was the hallmark of KUID. Early examples include the statewide airing of a debate between U.S. Senate candidates Frank Church and George Hansen in 1968, the first live broadcasts of Memorial Gym graduation ceremonies, and live coverage of Borah Symposium forums from the Student Union Building.
“We did everything,“ recalled Jeff Kimberling, a 1986 graduate and later head of Sound, Production and Lighting on campus. “We ran cables, took stats, operated the cameras, announced the games.... It was a lot of work and great fun.“
But things began to change in the early 1980s. State tax shortfalls and problems and controversy over some of the documentaries led to the legislature cutting PTV funding to the bone. The three universities lost control of Idaho’s fledgling public television stations when the legislature created Idaho Education/Public Broadcasting Service (IE/PBS). The network was still a statewide one, but placed under the State Board of Education.
The move gave the legislature more control over the network, and there was a clear warning that the state would pick up the costs it could for the Idaho Education portion of the name. The Public Broadcasting Service was on its own for funding.
Much of what had been award-winning work ended when the funding disappeared. There was simply no one left to do it. It took years for the station to regain lost ground and begin again at making award-winning television. Also, in the down years, students graduating with too little hands-on experience would be less competitive in the television job market.
4 a.m. — THE BEST TIME TO WRITE
BY TOM NUGENT
Here We Have Idaho writer
(This article is reprinted here with the permission of the University of Idaho Alumni Magazine “Here We Have Idaho,” Spring 2005 edition. Some changes have been made by Royce Williams to update the story.)
It’s 4 o’clock on a weekday morning, and documentary filmmaker Michael (Mike) Kirk is about to begin another typical day on the job.
Armed with a mug of strong coffee and a tall stack of research notes, the award-winning PBS producer-writer-director sits contemplating his computer screen. How to begin?
Frowning, he asks himself for at least the thousandth time in his remarkable filmmaking career: What’s the best way to hook the TV audience into his story? How can he focus their attention in a few dramatic seconds — while also setting up the 90-minute PBS FRONTLINE documentary that will follow?
Poised above his keyboard, the veteran of more than 100 national television productions takes a long, slow breath.
Then he takes the plunge. All at once his fingers are flying over the keys.
Audio: While the nation watched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he was fighting another war.
Video: U.S. night-bombers thunder down the runway of an aircraft carrier.
Audio: A war to control the Pentagon. Taking on the generals, and taking on the press. Confronting the Congress and also Colin Powell.
Video: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scowls angrily, chews out reporters at a Pentagon press conference.
Audio: Tonight, FRONTLINE and the Washington Post go inside the battle at the Pentagon — inside Rumsfeld’s War!
Ask nationally renowned documentary-maker Mike Kirk to describe his work, and the Peabody Award-winning journalist responds bluntly. Creating a 90-minute documentary, such as the PBS FRONTLINE exposé on the Pentagon titled Rumsfeld’s War demands every ounce of energy, persistence and intellectual courage a producer can bring to the table.
“Making a documentary is extremely formidable, and trying to understand something as complex as the Pentagon can be daunting to say the least,” Kirk said.
“In many ways, putting a TV documentary together is like knowing you’re gonna have appendicitis for a couple of months, while you’re doing the reporting – and that when the time comes to do the actual writing and editing, you’re gonna have to perform the [appendectomy] operation yourself.
“Getting it right, which means getting it accurate, is extraordinarily difficult – and I guess that’s why I hurl myself at it. It’s also why I get up so early in the morning, and why I work so hard to understand my subjects.
“Over the years, I’ve discovered that I can write eight hours’ worth of stuff in two hours, if I start at 4 a.m.
“For me, the focus is much better at that early hour, and I can often write an entire day’s television production – about four or five minutes of the actual documentary – within half an hour.
“I’ve also learned that if I try to write that same segment in my office, with the phones ringing and sunlight streaming through the windows, it will probably take me all day!”
A co-creator of the famed PBS FRONTLINE documentary series back in the early 1980s, Mike Kirk has produced, written or directed scores of hard-hitting, often controversial documentaries during the past three-plus decades.
His story begins at a small public television station in Moscow, Idaho, where Kirk was lucky enough to be part of a brand new station with leaders who actually let students touch the cameras and other editing room equipment. Few, if any, early stations let students near equipment.
Kirk worked on several of the early-day documentaries in Idaho, including one titled Kellogg: The Best to You Each Morning, a look at lead poisoning in the Silver Valley. Fearing for the safety of some of the people interviewed, their voices were altered and their faces never appeared on camera. The show looked hard at testing that showed a build-up of lead in young children in the valley, a build-up that was well above what was considered safe levels at the time.
Kirk also produced and hosted Sweet Land of Liberty, a documentary about members of the gay community in the Pullman-Moscow area. The show dealt with all aspects of gay life, including discrimination in housing, jobs and general lives of exclusion. The show brought a backlash from some parts of the both communities, but Kirk simply turned that into a reason to do a follow-up discussion show with proponents and opponents facing each other. While on the air, one opponent did a 180-degree turn in his opinions about gays.
Both documentaries and others of the period put questions to one of the state’s major industries, something that had never been done. They also took seriously the directive of the US Congress when it created public television — report on the underserved and minorities, especially children.
After graduating from U of I and work at Harvard, Kirk stayed with the extended or long- form news programs, turning out some of FRONTLINE’s most viewed documentaries. There was Waco: The Inside Story, which won a coveted Peabody Award in 1995; The Navy Blues, a 1996 Emmy-winner that looked at problems of sexism in the US Navy; and Rumsfeld’s War, which offered viewers a troubling autopsy of flawed Pentagon decision-making during the run-up to the Iraq War.
More recent efforts include Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA; League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis; Money, Power and Wall Street; The Anthrax Files; Caring for Your Parents; The Way the Music Died; and Misunderstood Minds about learning disabilities in children.
So how did this high-flying Idaho native and former KUID- TV student intern manage to transform himself over the years into one of America’s most admired documentary filmmakers?
Ask Kirk to reflect on his high-octane TV odyssey and he’ll tell you that it all began back in the late 1960’s, after he landed on the U of I campus and signed up for Intro to Journalism with legendary Professor Bert Cross.
“One of the best things about Bert’s class was the freedom he gave his students,” recalls Kirk. “I remember being amazed by the fact that you could argue with him in the classroom, and he didn’t seem to mind.
“He was very generous in that way, and so were most of the other journalism professors. They let us report stories our way – provided the stories were accurate and well written – and that encouragement inspired a bunch of us to kind of take over the student newspaper.
“The paper we put out was cheeky and uncontrolled. It was a place where we could practice the journalistic ideal of telling truth to power – and it was Cross and his colleagues who gave us the freedom to do it that way, rather than clipping our wings”
After his stint at KUID, Kirk would move on to TV news reporting in Seattle and eventually to Boston, where he now directs the Kirk Documentary Group. Kirk’s high-powered and quick-footed company produces TV specials and documentaries with journalistic partners scattered around the globe.
Like dozens of projects before it, the Rumsfeld documentary was an “exercise in storytelling,” says Kirk. “What I’ve learned over the years is that I have to build each documentary around a strong, central character. Then I’ll go ahead and tell the story as much as possible from that central character’s perspective.
“For me, it’s always a character-driven narrative, and the narrative keeps telling me what to do next. I never argue with that character, and I always do my best to keep my own politics out of the writing. I think my job on that last documentary was to try and understand Rumsfeld’s perspective on the Iraq War, and to present it as honestly as I could.”
According to many American TV critics, Kirk’s narrative approach to documentary filmmaking has worked splendidly over the years — while allowing him to produce a series of gripping docs that opened new windows on subjects as diverse as pornography in America, sexism in the Navy, and the troubled career of assisted suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian.
Says the super-intense Kirk, while meditating on his long career as one of America’s most influential TV producers: “I feel an enormous sense of gratitude for the freedom I’ve been given — the freedom to be able to take this first cut at writing history, and to tell these stories as honestly as I can.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s a great privilege – and it makes me want to work even harder at producing compelling documentaries.”