Fire Darkens Colo. Stations

Jan 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Hoak Media Corp. is optimistic it is about to restore the local signals of CBS-affiliated KREX-TV and Fox-affiliated KFQX-TV in Grand Junction, Colo., little more than a week after a Jan. 20 fire burned the stations’ studios, but not their transmitter, to the ground.
“We’re cobbling together a plan of attack to get us not only on the air but operating and providing news and weather services,” Hoak Media President Eric Van den Branden said late last week.
Hoak owns KREX and operates KFQX for Parker Broadcasting under a local management agreement,
The duopoly’s news operation had moved into technical and office space leased from the public broadcasting station KRMJ-TV and Western Colorado Community College. Station vendors had begun delivering replacement equipment within days, an appreciative Mr. Van den Branden said.
“We’re beginning to find out exactly what it is that we have and what it is that we need and to piece that equipment back together in temporary facilities next to our tower,” he said. Hoak had given permission for cable and satellite operators in Grand Junction to import CBS and Fox signals from Denver in the interim.
Hoak moved quickly to assure employees their jobs and salaries were safe, though it would be days before it was known whether any equipment other than the transmitter had survived the fire in the sprinkler-free, seven-decade-old facility that originally was built as a radio station.
Reporters Lauren Dirks and Michele Fralick, two of the handful of employees in the building at the time of the fire, had whisked critical newsgathering equipment out of the building. “They grabbed our field cameras, tripods, microphones, battery chargers and light kits,” anchor-reporter Stan Bush wrote in the fire blog that has become part of the station’s general news coverage, which has continued online.
“Our news department is back in force and we’re simply distributing news content over our site until we get our signal back on the air,” Mr. Van den Branden said.
Working From Home
On Thursday, Mr. Bush and anchor-reporter Peter Schaller blogged: “We’re mostly working from home. The news you see on our site and this blog are written on our own laptops from couches, beds and kitchens. It’s hard to imagine how any of this would be possible if we didn’t have some basic training in all forms of media. Technology is fueling our rapid recovery. Had this fire happened a decade ago, there’s no way we’d have this kind of momentum.”
The stations had completed the transition to digital broadcasting, which Mr. Van den Branden said neither helps nor hinders the recovery effort. “We obviously had more equipment than we otherwise would have had in the building,” he said.
The Sunday morning fire wiped out five decades of recorded history of the area in Western Colorado, as well as reels of tapes that reporters and the news operation had saved of their best work.
But “luckily, our organization there was pretty thorough. We’re properly backed up through [late in the week before the fire] in terms of traffic and billing, etc. We have adequate records. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of records here at the Dallas corporate office; the public file, for example, was saved, so we’ve got a lot of that information that is being duplicated and put back together,” Mr. Van den Branden said.
Initial reports estimated the losses at $6 million. Mr. Van den Branden said that figure did not come from Hoak, which feels it would be foolish to put a price on the damage so quickly after the fire.
“Clearly, there’s a loss, a significant loss. Our structure is completely destroyed. Master control, our set, everything is gone. Luckily all our employees are safe. We’d be having a very different conversation if that were not the case,” he said.
“We’re evaluating, obviously, all of our options right now. One of the options is rebuilding right where we are. That’s where our tower has been for over 50 years. That would be at the top of our list, but when something like this happens you would be foolish not to evaluate all of your possibilities,” the Hoak president said. “I guess the beauty of this situation, if there is one, is we get to build a first-class facility and start all over and design something exactly how we want it.”


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