Wednesday, February 20

Proud to Serve...

I posted yesterday about Elden Hale, and his genius for reaching out to an audience. I mentioned that Elden, more than anyone else and before anyone else, saw the Wikes-Barre/Scranton market as not just just Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. I probably didn’t go far enough in recognizing the profound changes—cultural and economic—brought about by the simple phrase, “Proud to Serve Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania.”

If you lived in that area for any length of time you’d know that in the old days Scranton and W-B weren’t just separate cities, they seemed like separate universes. It’s not that they had some rivalry, that they hated each other: heck, the residents of each just didn’t know the other existed. If you lived in Wilkes-Barre, “Scranton” was just a word that probably had no more meaning than “New York” of “Philadelphia” or “Bangkok.” You had a concept of Scranton, but most had never been there.

Heck, if you lived in Wilkes-Barre, there’s a good chance you might never have been across the river to Kingston (300 yards away!).

It’s one of the most clannish areas I ever encountered. “Why should I go to their city? I’ve got everything I need in my city. My church is here, and my kids’ school. There’s a store where I can buy underwear, and a barbershop, and a car dealer. My two favorite restaurants are here—and my three favorite bars. Why should I go to (fill in the blank)?

Two things changed that attitude, at about the same. One was the construction of shopping malls like the Wyoming Valley Mall and the Viewmont Mall. For the first time there was a reason to go someplace else: I could get something there I couldn’t get in my town.

Second was regionalism, as first preached and practiced by WNEP. The station served the entire region (as you can see from this old coverage map)—and got the whole region to recognize it as the hometown station. Covering the news in all those counties--and parades, and telethons, and sporting events and making personal appearances--got people thinking regionally for the first time. Elden drummed it into their heads over and over and over again. It sure-as-hell-wasn't the folks who ran 22 and 28 pushing for broader boundaries. You can almost hear them saying, "What are those 16 people doing in Tunkhannock?" While they were waiting for black-and-white to come back, Elden and the Shelburnes were pulling away. Now it's too late for a even a dramatic comeback to make 'BRE or 'YOU competitive.

The “drawback” of not being located in (or identified with) one of the two big cities in the market later turned out to be a huge advantage. So big an advantage that when Elden (by that time GM) picked a site for a new building, he didn’t want it to be in one big city or the other. Even though the land on Montage Mountain Road appeared on the maps as being in Scranton, Elden saw to it that it got a Moosic mailing address. That kept WNEP from being a “Scranton Station” or a “Wilkes-Barre Station,” even if you were just sending in a postcard for the snow-thrower contest.

The same game plan, forging a regional identity, has been tried elsewhere. KLSA, in Shreveport invented (if I’m not mistaken), the term “The ArkLaTex” to describe its coverage area (Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas). I don't know if that's been a uniying force like "PTS" has been, though.

And just today, on ShopTalk, one of the news-business sites, came this news release from KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

"Young Broadcasting Inc., has promoted long-time KELOLAND TV executive Jay Huizenga to president and general manager as he’s about to complete his 27th year in broadcasting at KELOLAND. Mr. Huizenga’s promotion comes less than one year after the company named him as station manager of KELOLAND. The appointment, which is effective immediately, was announced today by Deborah McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting Inc."
I know the stated purpose of this blog is to share my experiences in television news. How does “KELOLAND” qualify?

Well, I just experienced throwing up in my mouth—just a little bit.