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12 Talk: Why Two Public Television Stations in Colorado?

Diversity . . . in programs, in people, and in providing access and service to a wide range of interests and needs in Colorado. That, coupled with a strong, steady commitment to vigorous public debate and examination of sometimes difficult, but key local social and political issues, characterizes the special, distinctive raison d’etre for Colorado Public Television (KBDI, TV/12).

KBDI is a PBS member station, but it airs only 25 percent of the PBS service each year. Another station in the community (KRMA) carries nearly all the national PBS schedule every evening. There is no need for KBDI to duplicate it, but there is need for complementary programming.

KBDI’s motto is World View, Community Voice, and its mission is grounded much more in local and community service, in programming that brings us together and engages us in a common civic purpose and international news. KBDI aims to serve under-represented voices and to present diverse points of view on issues from the local to the global.

Here are a few examples of the services that set KBDI apart in Colorado television:

  • Local Public Affairs – KBDI currently airs nine locally-produced series a week: Colorado Inside Out, Colorado Inside Out Live! (with Peter Boyles), The Aaron Harber Show, Independent Thinking (with Jon Caldara), Global Agenda (with Reggie Rivers), Colorado Out Spoken, Hispanos Americanos, City Club of Denver and Latin View (with Sherri Vasquez). Collectively these feature a wide range of Colorado voices and add up to over twenty hours a week.
  • Locally Produced Specials – KBDI’s regular weekly series are complemented by special productions with which the station has sought to serve particular segments of the community that historically have not had access to thoughtful, noncommercial media. The topics of such programs have included community health, minority social struggles, disability problems, and youth affairs.
  • Election Coverage – KBDI offers by far the greatest amount of election coverage in Colorado television. In every election season KBDI’s Colorado Decides series, produced in partnership with CBS4/KCNC and the Rocky Mountain News, provides unparalleled exposure to the candidates in local, state, and federal races and to the proponents and opponents of the principal ballot initiatives.
  • Independent Film and Video – KBDI offers regular access to a wide array of local and regional independent film and video producers. Many of those programs have been recognized with local and national awards and have gone on to be aired by other public stations around the country.
  • International News – KBDI is the only local television provider of daily international news, three times a day from the BBC, plus news programming from the public broadcasting services of other nations, including Germany and Ireland.
  • Latino Initiative – KBDI airs two weekly public affairs programs produced and for the Latino and Hispanic communities. KBDI is the only public television station in Denver offering such service.

Some have answered the question “Why two public television stations in Colorado?” with another question, “Why not three or four?” In all other industrialized democracies there are a minimum of three or four distinct public television channels or services. For instance, in Britain BBC 1, BBC 2, Channel 4 and the Open University are available throughout the country. In Canada every citizen has access to English CBC 1 and 2 and French CBC 1 and 2, plus one or more provincial educational stations. Meanwhile, throughout the U.S. public radio provides distinct multiple services in each community. In Colorado a multiple-service structure has emerged whereby nearly every community has a minimum of three distinct public radio stations.

The reasons for such multiplicity of services abroad and in U.S. public radio have to do with the variety of public interests and program needs that are not served by commercial, for-profit broadcasting and that are wider and more diverse than any single public television channel can serve. Over the years the federal government has recognized that problem and has reserved multiple channels for non-commercial stations throughout the nation. Nearly all major cities in the U.S. have two or more public television frequency assignments, and over sixty percent of the population can now receive at least two such stations.

Closer to home, the telecommunications industries now provide Colorado with approximately one hundred commercial broadcast or cable signals–not one of which has as its primary mission the delivery of high-quality noncommercial, educational programming. How unreasonable is it then that within that large commercial matrix there should be two distinct public television services, one of which is heavily dedicated to local community needs?

For over twenty-six years viewers in the Denver Metro area and all up and down the Front Range have looked to KBDI to provide a strong, independent source of programming that complements other commercial and non-commercial stations. The station has become a civic, cultural and intellectual resource unlike any other in the community–performing an essential service that is simply not otherwise offered–and it has become a model for alternative differentiated public television service in other parts of the nation. Throughout the nation viewers are acquiring more and more access to multiple public television services. KBDI has been a pioneer in that movement, and its many thousands of regular viewers have recognized the value of that additional dimension of broadcast service. The challenge for KBDI now is to move ahead, to continue strengthening its unique, diverse services in the new digital era and to make them available throughout the state for all the citizens of Colorado.

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