News anchor makes the Web her lifeline

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

For the February book, CBS-owned WCCO-TV, Minneapolis, tested the Internet’s usefulness by creating an “e-partment.”
On Feb. 1, weekend anchor Randi Kaye brought a suitcase and a computer to an empty apartment to see whether she could live there through Feb. 16 with a computer as her sole resource. Using the Internet, she furnished the apartment, bought food, adopted a cat and did not leave the building until the experiment was over.
Besides doing live shots for every newscast, Ms. Kaye has chronicled her experience on the station’s Web site, Channel4000.com, and has received more than 6,000 e-mails from viewers, some as far away as Japan, Australia and France. She also conducted daily chat sessions on the station’s Web site. In her spare time, she has answered almost every e-mail.
“I slept on the floor for only one night, luckily, until I got a bed,” Ms. Kaye said last week from the apartment. “I slept by the light of my computer monitor.”
She figured out how to make calls using the Internet-by going to Dialpad.com, which she said changed her life.
“You can make phone calls using a microphone on your computer. You can make phone calls across the world, and it doesn’t cost anything,” Ms. Kaye said. “But I didn’t have that until the third day, so food was a struggle. I had to eat pizza for three days, via Food.com.”
WCCO streamed live video of the apartment’s living room between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to cover the delivery of products Ms. Kaye ordered.
“With all of the promises of the Internet, we wanted to see if all of those promises were true,” said WCCO News Director Ted Canova. “She was such a novice to the Internet, just like a typical viewer. She has become almost a computer geek.”
Ms. Kaye said doing the piece increased her confidence about the Web. She figured out how to send a voice e-mail by downloading a program from Talksender.com.
The only glitch she encountered was when she ordered a lobster for dinner Feb. 14 and it was delayed a day because it got bumped off a FedEx plane and was stuck in Memphis. So instead of lobster that night, she found a local caterer online who came over and made her dinner.
One day 500 viewers sent her e-mails on what to name her cat, who is now called “Browser.”
Mr. Canova said the franchise may continue in some capacity. Ms. Kaye has an interest in doing more Internet-related articles.
“There’s almost a cult following because of this story,” Mr. Canova said. “People wrote testimonials [on] how they were afraid of the computer before. I’m surprised at the overwhelming viewer response. They feel we helped humanize the Internet.”
Some viewers asked whether WCCO could re-create the e-partment for the state fair in August.
“People are saying, `I don’t want this to end.’ They want to have me live in a glass bubble,” Ms. Kaye joked.