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KBDI Offers Broader View


Alternative public TV outlet thinks globally as digital age nears

KBDI-Channel 12 is ready to take on the world. Literally.

Since going on the air in 1980, the "alternative" public television station (chartered in Broomfield but now based in Denver's Five Points neighborhood), has tried to distinguish itself from the other local PBS station (KRMA-Channel 6) by larding its schedule with independent programming. Only 25 percent of the station's schedule comes from PBS.

Since 2003, it's taken the alternative concept a step further by offering digital programming on three multicast channels. This means you can find newscasts from Russia and Germany, along with Spanish-language versions of Sesame Street, and in-depth documentaries on everything from animals to the environment.

Some of this programming shows up on KBDI proper; much of it does not.

"This is a continuing effort to brand KBDI as a special television service," said Willard "Wick" Rowland, president and CEO of the station. "We've always been an alternative public television service, and we're one of many in the country.

"We're part of a movement in public television to differentiate ourselves, especially in a community where there is more than one PBS station. This is part of the challenge and opportunity of the digital conversion."

In other words, KBDI is getting a jump on changes that every TV station in the country will face in the near future. The multicast movement comes in anticipation of Feb. 17, 2009, when the federal government has mandated the end of all analog broadcasts. That means you'll no longer be able to get TV shows with rabbit ears. Even cable and satellite feeds will require TVs to have a digital converter to capture the signals.

Even as it programs three digital channels, KBDI is also revamping its broadcast schedule, the fruits of which will be seen beginning Tuesday. Among the changes:

  • Colorado Inside Out - Live, formerly hosted by Peter Boyles, has been renamed Studio 12. It will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday with alternating hosts: KOA's Steffan Tubbs and freelance journalist Tamara Banks.
  • More block programming. Food shows, for example, will dominate the schedule between 3 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, including America's Test Kitchen and New Jewish Cuisine.
  • More international news. That includes Russia Today, noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and fresh editions of BBC World News at 6:30 and 11 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can find DW-Journal, a German news show, at 11:30 p.m. daily, and France 24 News at 5 p.m. daily. All shows are aired in English.
  • From 7-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Channel 12 will air a block of documentary programs on the analog channel. On Friday the emphasis will be on feature films, while on Saturday it will be environmental in nature.
  • A greater emphasis on Spanish-language programming. This includes Hablamos de Salud at noon Saturday, a call-in health show, and Plaza Sesamo, the Spanish-language version of Sesame Street, at 11 a.m. Saturday. The English-language version will air 10-11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

The station also will continue to air some traditional PBS fare, including Charlie Rose, American Masters, History Detectives, Nova, Frontline and Nature.

KBDI has 30 full- and part-time staffers and a budget of $3 million. Most of its recent efforts have been to ready itself for the digital revolution. All three of its digital channels are available via broadcast.

Do Channels 12 and 6 see themselves as competitors?

"Our focus leans more toward international news and public affairs," said Kim Johnson, vice president of Broadcast Operations for KBDI. "We take some chances, and we've gotten dinged for that on occasion.

"We're trying to offer distinct programming from what is already available on the Front Range."

Digital days

Federal law requires that all U.S. TV broadcasters convert from analog to digital signals by Feb. 17, 2009. Viewers will need a digital converter box, not a new TV. (The boxes are expected to cost about $100.) KBDI-Channel 12 currently programs three digital channels, 24 hours a day.

  • KBDI-DTV: Digital version of the KBDI analog signal
  • KBDI-DOC: Documentary channel. Feature programs such as the film Winged Migration and other nonfiction shows from around the world.
  • KBDI-MHZ: World view channel. News and programming from India, China, France, Britain, Russia and elsewhere.
  • On Tuesday, KBDI will revamp its analog schedule, including expanded world programming and more "block" programming, where shows with a similar theme are grouped together throughout the day.

Mike Pearson is the Cultural Currents Columnist for the Rocky Mountain News. This column is reprinted courtesy of the Rocky Mountain News.

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