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Not so local anymore

May 4, 2012
KVOS building

The KVOS building on Ellis Street is for sale (Orin O'Neill photos)

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it was still sad to see the real-estate sign at the KVOS building. Media consolidation in the U.S. marches on.

Bellingham actually has two TV stations: KBCB, which is ShopNBC, 24/7; and KVOS, which was recently sold to a company controlled by Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Computer.

As you can see in the Bellingham Herald article, KVOS has a long, colorful history dating back to the 1920s, when, like a lot of TV stations in the U.S., it started as a radio station. When I first became aware of it, KVOS was a CBS affiliate (a “12” icon appeared next to the “7” icon in TV Guide’s prime-time listings for Seattle). It has now devolved into a portal for something called MeTV, which consists of old network reruns that have bounced around other cable and satellite channels.

KVOS satellite dishes

The building is situated next to several satellite dishes, which were once used to obtain the station’s programming. Distribution of TV programming is via the Internet these days—the programming lives on digital servers. Video tape and film are consigned to station archives or museums these days.

KVOS dish drive

The dish had to be positioned just right to receive the signal, and this is how it was rotated. The condition of the chain shows the dish hasn’t been used for quite a while.

KVOS grill

The space in amongst the dishes is grassy, and I’ll bet there’s lots of shade. Perfect for an employee cookout.

Except the new ownership canned everyone except a handful of ad salespeople. Back in the day, the FCC required people with FCC-issued licenses to be on site while the station was on the air. Now, remote control is allowed, in this case, from Seattle. The news operation ended a long time ago, and there hasn’t been any local programming to speak of for quite a long time, either.

KVOS microwave

In the center of the pic is a microwave tower. This is how the programming gets to the transmitter. I’m not sure where KVOS’ transmitter site is; such things are often far from the studios, so as to cover the most possible area. TV is still available over the air, at least for now.

KVOS’ most recent previous owner, Newport Televison, owns 56 TV stations in 20 U.S. markets, all of which were acquired from radio behemoth Clear Channel. When I worked in radio, one company could own five TV stations in the whole U.S. Likewise, back then one company could own seven AM and seven FM radio stations, nationwide. Now, one company can own eight radio stations in a single market; TV-station duopolies are allowed in the U.S.’ largest markets.

When the Communications Act of 1934 was still in effect, holders of broadcast licenses were obligated to operate in the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” Local programming was required, but then most TV and radio stations were locally owned.

While the passing of that media ecosystem is sad, it was unique. Most everywhere else in the world there’s television, there are only national networks, in some cases supplemented by regional ones. In France, for example, France 2/3/4/5 shares the TV dial with privately-owned channels from France and Luxembourg. Europe goes more for satellite than cable, but much of that programming is CNN, CNBC, ESPN and other stuff we get in the U.S.

Once the KVOS building gets sold, it will probably get knocked down. It really wouldn’t be useful for any other purpose (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t work all that well as a TV station, honestly).

But I’ve driven or ridden by that building so many times, more than I can count. I guess this is progress. Time marches on. Favicon


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