Great Falls Tribune from Great Falls, Montana on December 29, 1985 · Page 37
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Great Falls Tribune from Great Falls, Montana · Page 37

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Great Falls, Montana
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Sunday, December 29, 1985
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Page 37
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TRIBUNE MONTA Section E Sunday, December 29, 1985 State mews network in uphill battle MTN works to overcome changes in headquarters, ownership and anchors Stories by Charles S. Johnson Of the Tribune Capitol Bureau BILLINGS The Montana Television Network, which spans the state through four stations, has struggled for its identity and share of the viewers for its newscasts the past year under both a new owner and new anchor team. Gone is Joe Sample, the paternalistic Billings businessman who founded MTN. Sample dreamed that statewide network television newscasts might help bridge the vast geographic barriers that separate Montanans. If Billings viewers, for example, could also watch the important news from Great Falls, Missoula and Butte, Montanans might be able to better understand and agree on major issues without the rancor that has characterized the state's history, he believed. Starting in 1957 with KOOK TV (now KTVQ) in Billings, Sample bought a station at a time until he finally had his statewide network with Great Falls (KRTV), Butte (KXLF) and Missoula (KPAX) and launched the MTN news broadcast in 1972. Sample, now semi-retired, sold MTN in 1984 to George Lilly, a New York broadcasting executive for a price rumored to be anywhere from $17 million to $30 million. Gone, too, is Ed Coghlan, MTN's respected news director and anchorman for nearly a decade who guided its news operation into respectability. Coghlan left MTN in April 1984 to become news director of an independent TV station in Los Angeles. Although he received a lucrative job offer, sources say Coghlan's decision to leave also was influenced by the new management's plans to strip him of some authority and autonomy. The MTN stations are doing well financially under the new ownership, despite Montana's economic problems, Lilly said. The financial success of the MTN stations enabled him and other investors to buy a Fayetteville, N.C., TV station, he said, and they are completing the purchase of TV stations in Syracuse, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa. But by most accounts, the transition from the Sample-Coghlan era has been a rocky one for MTN news. Some current and former MTN news employees complain privately about low morale and lack of direction. The camaraderie and loyalty that Coghlan inspired is gone, they said. They agreed to talk only on the condition that they not be identified. An' J Anchorman Dean Phillips Phillips denies he's arrogant9 BILLINGS Montana Television Network anchorman Dean Phillips is bothered by viewers criticism that he's arrogant because he says it isn't true. "It's very difficult to get around it, that perception," he said in an interview. That perception of arrogance has dogged Phillips nearly since he arrived In Montana in September 1984 to become MTN's anchorman and managing edi-1 tor at age 32. He moved from Colorado, where he'd been news director and anchorman for an Aspen station that went bankrupt. He also has worked for the Public Broadcasting System in Washington, D.C., and TV stations in ' See PHILLIPS, 4-E Salaries remain low, with college graduates hired as reporters for only $10,500 a year. Turnover is reported higher than normal for Montana TV jobs, they say, with even more MTN employees looking for jobs elsewhere. Some would be looking to move up anyway, one source said, but dissatisfaction with MTN is speeding up some people's job hunting. The latest to leave MTN are its Helena bureau chief Ian Marquand, who is moving to the Helena TV station; weekend anchorman and reporter Mike Huckman, who is working for a Boise station, and morning anchorwoman Susy Roesgen, who has taken an anchor job in North Carolina. Despite heavy promotions, MTN's newscasts trail rival KULR's in Billings, the state's largest TV market. MTN also was behind in Billings when Sample owned the network, but the new regime has clearly made Billings its top priority by moving its headquarters there and spending more money there, MTN employees say. In the No. 2 market of Great Falls, MTN news lost its longstanding ratings leads, in large part, observers say, because it moved its headquarters to Billings and lost Coghlan. Ratings in western Montana can't be compared directly because MTN and its main competitor, Eagle Communications Network, run their newscasts at different times instead of head to head and not all viewers in some areas receive both newscasts. MTN executives, however, remain pleased with the network's showing in western Montana and say they are winning there. MTN also has had trouble finding the right anchor team, an all-important combination in the cutthroat world of TV news ratings. Dean Phillips, Coghlan's successor as MTN anchorman, appears not to have caught on with many Montanans yet, despite MTN's repeated promotions billing him as "the Visible Difference." Some critics and some MTN employees see Phillips as arrogant, and condescending, although he and MTN executives adamantly disagree. MTN also had to replace two other popular anchormen who left to join Coghlan in Los Angeles, sports-caster Steve Jahnke and weatherman Mike McKay. Jahnke's replacement, the flip- In Great Great Falls television news ratings have flip-flopped completely over the past year as KFBB-TV newscasts are now clearly the top choice of most Great Falls-area viewers. Ironically, some observers believe KFBB has pulled ahead of KRTV in large part because of actions by KRTV's owner, the Montana Television Network, that have hurt the Great Falls MTN station. Others cite KFBB's emphasis on local news and the return of a popular former anchorman, Dick Pompa, as factors in KFBB's gains. Until mid-1984, KRTV had consistently won the newscast ratings for a number of years. But the latest ratings give KFBB comfortable leads at both 5:30 and 10 p.m. Arbitron ratings for November 1985 showed that 43 percent of the viewing audience in the Great Falls And in Billings Billings" kulr tv, or Straight 8 as it's known here, has been on a roll in the Billings area for years. Straight 8 has consistently topped its local rival, the Montana Television Network's KTVQ, in the newscast ratings, regardless of MTN's anchormen or news format. But KTVQ is challenging Straight 8's supremacy, at least in the 10 o'clock newscasts where it has narrowed Straight 8's lead in the latest Nielsen and Arbitron ratings. Straight 8 remains well in front in the 5:30 ratings. Straight 8's news has been on top for at least the past decade in Montana's top television market. The station shows the trappings of success, including a sparkling new headquarters, opened last December, that looks like the home of a big-city station. It was the first Montana TV sta l4ik Sal ... I :- rw st "a ", V I ,' - " " '''' - -r h"11ir-TA t---- -- - -- -..V. ,..- ..-. ...... ...; Susan Chisholm opens the Great pant, wise-cracking J.J. Davis, was a flop. Davis was yanked from the air in October, within hours after MTN received an audience survey that, among other things, showed how intensely Billings-area viewers disliked him. The new MTN regime also shuffled the format of its 5:30 and 10 p.m. news, a move that has drawn mixed reviews. Local news now runs first, a move designed to help the local stations compete against their rivals, although critics complain that more important state, national and world stories often get buried. Owner Lilly defended putting local news first, calling it the "singular best decision" the new management has made. Greg MacDonald, a University of Montana journalism professor, praised MTN for putting local news first as making good sense. But, he said, "the down side of that is that they've put all of the resources in Billings," to the exclusion of other stations. Phillips called the old MTN format "very strange," with state and national news running first, followed by weather and then local news. "You could have a murder in your Falls Ratings flip of Coghlan, area watched KFBB's 5:30 newscast, compared with 28 percent who tuned in KRTV. The Nielsen ratings showed KFBB with a 42-34 percent lead at 5:30 p.m. The 15-point difference in the November Arbitron ratings held steady at 10 p.m., with KFBB grabbing 40 percent of the viewing audience, compared with KRTV's 25 percent. Nielsen ratings put KFBB's lead at 43-30 percent. KRTV's ratings slide began soon after Ed Coghlan resigned as MTN's news director and anchorman in April 1984 to join a Los Angeles TV station. Coghlan, who began working part-time for KRTV as a college student in 1969, was based in Great Falls and closely identified with the city. "You can't take a guy like Ed Coghlan who'd been here for 12 years and replace him and expect things to be the same," said Pete Friden, tion to base a full-time reporter in Helena to cover state government and politics. By all accounts. Straight 8's anchorman and news director, Dave Rye is an extremely popular and respected figure in Billings, a hometown boy made good. A former radio broadcaster in Missoula, Glasgow and Great Falls and newsman for KFBB-TV in Great Falls, Rye has been at the Billings TV station since late 1980. Although Rye takes his job seriously, he said he's probably more informal than most anchorman, especially MTN's Dean Phillips. "I have a reasonably good sense of humor and a joie de vivre," he said. "I guess that perhaps communicates itself on TV." Much of the debate has centered on the rival anchormen. "Anchormen in big cities are Falls segment of the Montana town and it would be the third thing you heard," he said. For their part, MTN executives remain confident ratings will improve as Montanans get used to the anchor team. All that's needed is time. "We're committed right now to making the network concept work," Lilly said. "We'll work like heck to improve our product." But if ratings don't become as competitive as MTN would like, Lilly said he reluctantly would consider dismantling the news network in a year or so. This would enable each MTN station to produce its own local newscast. Stations would exchange stories, but each could pick and choose what it wants for its newscast, which would be tailored exclusively for its local audience. Phillips, for one, prefers the statewide network, calling it "an unbe-lieveable advantage." MTN's top news executives, all of whom came from out of state, have been somewhat puzzled at Montana's viewers' criticism of their news team and newscast. They believe they are offering some of the finest TV journalism Montana has ever seen, yet MTN re - flop with loss move to Billings KRTV's general manager and an MTN vice president. KRTV was dealt a second blow when MTN's new owner, George Lilly, moved the network's news headquarters, where the news originates, from Great Falls to Billings. MTN news had originated in Great Falls for technical reasons. It then was the only place where the microwave system linking the four MTN stations could be based, Friden said. Friden understands why Lilly moved the network news operation to Billings, where the new owner is based. "If I were the owner, I'd want the news operation next door to me, " he said. Lilly acknowledged the move led to a "difficult marketing situation" for Great Falls. See GREAT FALLS, 4-E MTN station still No. 2, hut gaining ground on front-runner dark-haired, wavy-haired, extremely handsome, deep-voiced, all of which Dean is," Rye said. "I'm not. I come across as one of them, rather than someone who's up on a pedestal looking down, which is how I think he probably comes across." Straight 8's newscast is a quick-paced affair with plenty of footage and usually more but shorter stories than MTN. Unlike some MTN stations, Straight 8 regularly mixes world and national news with state and local news, sports and weather. By contrast, MTN often devotes six or seven minutes of its newscast to a live interview by Phillips. Rye said this is fine if Phillips has a "dynamite" subject to interview but a big mistake to incorporate as a regular feature. Although Straight 8 has won the See BILLINGS, 4-E Television Network's nightly news mains in second place in Billings and Great Falls. MTN is gaining ground in the 10 p.m. ratings in Billings. MTN has run more live "Night-line" type interviews and has done single-topic newscasts linked to TV movies about youth suicides and other issues. It ran a special newscast on Montana's Vietnam veterans, a show Phillips called "as good a product that's ever been turned out in this state on television." "I think the accomplishment that we're most proud of is that we feel we're giving a better news show, a better news product, ... a more professional product," said news director Jim Davis. At the same time, some current and former MTN reporters complain that newscasts have lost their emphasis on breaking news in favor of a predetermined theme of the day and Phillips' live interviews that gobble up much of the news time. MTN has missed some major breaking world and national stories, critics said, because they didn't fit the theme of the day or took a backseat to local news and sports. Peggy Beltrone, fired last spring as MTN's Great Falls bureau chief, recalled how MTN ignored India S " xV i ' k." ' , Ql. ,jUii,mU.liiii..ii) '"'. ? ii $ i . tf 7J'fJfttS a hi. . 5:30 p.m. news I 10 p.m. newt KRTV (MTN) KFBB I KRTV (MTN) KFBB The graphs depict the percentage of viewers, as measured by the Arbitron Ratings Co., tuned to newscasts in Great Falls and Billings during 10 rating periods. "Share" is the percentage of TV sets actually in operation during the rating period. ' : -V , ' - Raws 5,30 p.m. newt I I " 'Li'ir'S: fXX I jZZ :. -I 1 1 1 m i 1 1 1 KTVQ (MTN) KULR n Tribune Pholoi by Wayne Arntt broadcast. Prime Minister Indira Ghandi's assassination last year, although the story broke during the newscast. Beltrone said she protested the next day to an MTN official, who said: "It did not fit our theme of teen suicide." UM's MacDonald said MTN has shifted away from using the "local talent" that made their stations "strong news organizations." "They've moved people who don't know Montana in too fast and haven't given them a chance to learn," MacDonald said. "All of their mistakes are up front." MTN officials expect gradual rating improvements because, as Lilly said, "Viewer patterns do not change overnight unless there is a drastic change." Davis sees "a two- to three-year battle." "It wasn't a Cakewalk like we thought it would be," Phillips said, adding that TV news audiences "change their viewing habits like glaciers move." Even its critics acknowledge that MTN produces a flashier, technologically superior newscast, with slick hi-tech graphics. Some viewers, however, wonder See NETWORK, 4-E 1 . i.l " V V ' " lUi 'i " i.iwnnt t I S ""'I j-1 'vn t'ti 7. ti uj 'i ! . i J-3 I 1 0 p.m. mwi v.i 71. ' Vit W I'm. OH i- O v kj .1 I KTVQ (MTN) KULR

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