KIDK-KIFI: How does this marriage work?

By Joan Cartan-Hansen

On January 1, 2011, the Idaho Falls-based KIFI-TV, Local News 8, officially took over operations of its cross-town competitor KIDK-TV.  Under an Operational Shared Service Agreement, Fisher Broadcasting will still own KIDK, but KIFI will provide sales, promotional, administrative and operational support services for both companies. The newsrooms also were combined. “It has been a whirlwind,” says Mark Danielson, KIFI General Manager.

KIDK-TV started as an offshoot of KID radio in 1953, and enjoyed high ratings through the 1980s. But in recent years, it has been trailing behind its competitors and had fallen on tough economic times. A few weeks before Christmas, Fisher Communications informed its 43 employees that it would be turning its operations over to Local News 8, a subsidiary of Missouri-based  News-Press and Gazette Co., and laying off about 27 employees.

Danielson says it took about a month to physically combine the two staffs at KIFI’s Yellowstone Highway facility. KIFI owners had to make major technical upgrades so employees could control six stations out of the KIFI building. Those six stations are KIFI, an ABC affiliate; KIDK, a CBS affiliate; Telemundo; CW; NOW, a 24-hour news channel; and KXPI, a My Network.

According to Danielson, they want to keep KIDK’s identity intact as much as possible. KIDK has its own on-air talent, its own on-air look and its own sales staff, but reporters’ work appears on both stations.

Danielson describes the complex technological choreography that happens in order to broadcast different newscasts from a single studio: KIFI’s talent does a newscast from 5:00-5:29 p.m. At 5:29, sets change, graphics change, and KIDK’s talent takes the desk for their newscast. When they finish at 5:59, everything flips back for KIFI’s 6:00 p.m newscast. That’s right – they’re one-minute changeovers.

KIDK’s on-air talent then produces a newscast at 9:00 p.m. which airs live on KXPI and is taped delayed for airing at 10:00 p.m. on KIDK. KIFI’s staff then produces a live newscast at 10:00 for its viewers.

Not everyone is happy about the change. Bob Ziel, a retired KIDK reporter laments the station’s loss. “I worry about the loss of competition,” says Ziel. “Very often, the lead story is the same. They have essentially blended into one.” Danielson says much of the news content is the same between the two stations, but different on-air talent can provide their own unique material.

Competition is an issue in the Idaho Falls market. KPVI, the Pocatello-based station in the market, currently has no reporters in its Idaho Falls bureau, leaving KIFI as the dominant TV station. One public relations officer joked that now when he calls a press conference, he is lucky if one photographer shows up. The change may also impact competition in the Boise market. Because of the combined newsroom, KIFI can share its stories with KBOI and KIVI, its sister affiliates, but not with KTVB, as it once did.

And what do viewers think about the change? So far, Danielson says he hasn’t received many calls or emails.

Ziel worries about the people who were laid off and wonders what will happen to KIDK’s building. The old station sits on valuable property along 17th Street, one of the city’s busiest roads.

Danielson hopes the shared services agreement will lead to a better product for viewers. “It is complicated, but it were easy it wouldn’t be fun,” he said. His goal is to make KIDK a strong competitor, and if that happens, he said he’ll see the marriage of these two stations as a success.

Joan Cartan-Hansen is a producer, reporter, writer and host for Idaho Public Television, and is the treasurer of the Idaho Press Club board.