On the air . . . for now: KUID in Moscow continues role with Idaho Public TV despite proposal to cut state funding

Holly Bowen
January 30, 2010
Moscow-Pullman Daily News

With screens lining the walls and wires coming out of just about every direction, Idaho Public Television's Moscow station is a bit of a history museum.

The master control room, for example, features the latest digital equipment from 2008 alongside the still-functioning switchboard-looking relics of 1960s television.

If Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's budget recommendations for this year come to fruition, it could spell the end of a television era for Moscow and the state of Idaho.

Otter's proposal would cut Idaho Public Television's budget by $400,000 each year for four years. At that point, the state-supplied money would dry up, and IdahoPTV would be forced to rely on viewer donations alone.

Peter Morrill, IdahoPTV's general manager, has said 82 percent of the agency's donations currently come from southwest Idaho, and populations in other parts of the state would be unlikely to raise enough to support stations outside of Boise.

That's an unsettling prospect for staff and students who spend their days working at KUID, IdahoPTV's Moscow station. It's only one of three public television stations in the state, the others being KAID in Boise and KISU in Pocatello.

KISU, which recently received a studio upgrade on the Idaho State University campus, also is threatened by the proposed budget cut.

But the prospect of IdahoPTV going away is especially unusual in Moscow, where KUID has operated from the University of Idaho campus since 1965. It's housed in the small Radio-TV Center behind the Administration and Albertson buildings and next to the Shattuck Arboretum.

"The first public television station in the state of Idaho was right here," said Kris Freeland, station manager of KUID.

Back then, the three stations operated independently, and KUID produced its own original content until 1982, when IdahoPTV became a statewide network.

"Michael Kirk was a producer here, when we had producers here," Freeland said. "And now, he's at (PBS) 'Frontline.' "

Now the Boise station is responsible for most of IdahoPTV's programming, Freeland said, but KUID plays a major role in the distribution of nonprofit educational content throughout the state.

Freeland said she helps coordinate short, educational programs that air in the early morning hours. They're meant to be recorded by teachers to be replayed later in the classroom, free of charge.

KUID also broadcasts some professional-development programs for educators that instruct them on everything from how to teach reading to how to conduct research.

Freeland even has something up her sleeve for parents who find themselves awake with a baby in the middle of the night.

"I actually have some parenting programs I run about 4 a.m.," she said.

While KUID, as an entity of IdahoPTV, doesn't produce its own content, broadcasting and video production students in the UI's School of Journalism and Mass Media use the station to create two original television shows: "Mostly Moscow" and "UI Voices."

Freeland said the UI-produced content isn't available on the over-the-air broadcasts that go out from KUID's transmitter on Paradise Ridge. Instead, about four hours of UI programming is shown every day on the Channel 8 feed of KUID on Time Warner Cable in Moscow.

Hundreds of students each year spend large chunks of their semesters in KUID's newly upgraded digital production control room, studio and master control room.

Ken Segota, KUID's chief engineer, started working at the station in 1967 when he was a UI student.

The station was so important to him, he began working there full-time and ended up two credits shy of his bachelor's degree in video production. He took the final steps to graduate about five years ago, when the station was celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Segota still spends his days in the studio, but now the tables are turned, and he's the one helping students "whenever they've got a lab in here, usually three times a week," he said.

His job includes maintaining the station's equipment, and he occasionally travels to transmitter and translator sites with a field engineer, especially in the winter.

"In case something happens, two of us can die out there," he joked.

Because the UI owns much of the video equipment at the station, students could still have some access to portable field cameras if KUID shuts down, Freeland said. But without engineers like Segota, there's no one to troubleshoot or fix technical problems when they arise. Students may also not have access to in-studio cameras if funding dries up.

Instructor Denise Bennett's introduction to video production class met Thursday afternoon at the station. She gathered students in the studio in front of the large green screen and gave them instructions before they split into several groups.

Because it's early in the semester, and the class is meant for beginners, the students were becoming acquainted with the video equipment, taking test shots to make sure the cameras were working correctly.

"We're doing a small scene, and then we're going to cut it together" as a beginning project, said Nate Moore, a junior who was playing the role of videographer on Thursday.

Freeland said it's fun watching the students try out the different types of equipment. She said Bennett has them take turns on the machines so they get a feel for each of them.

Gus Simpson, also a junior, is one of the teacher's assistants in the introductory class, which he took as a student last spring.

"I spent a lot of time in this room last semester," he said of the studio with the green screen. He said the room is too small, and "we always ran out of space when producing stuff."

Freeland said the conversion to digital equipment from analog reduced the amount of free space in the studio. But it's not exactly feasible to ask for more space when the powers that be at the state level are threatening to take away the money the station needs just to survive.

Segota said the green screen - which can make it appear as if a show host is standing in front of background that's not really there - is a big attraction to tour groups, such as some young Cub Scouts who recently were fascinated by the technology.

"It was like somebody poured sugar down their throats," he said.

That excitement easily transfers from child to student to professional, Freeland said. She said it's fun to see students start out at the station and then get jobs. When they come back to visit as professionals, she said it's evident just how important KUID was to their education and their eventual careers.

"They all have good memories of where they started," she said.

Holly Bowen can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at hbowen@dnews.com.

Originally posted at http://www.dnews.com//story/local/48801/

The News Story posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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