Television journalists around the nation still fondly recall the often-harsh lessons they learned in Medford from their mentor, KOBI GM Bob Wise, considered the ultimate pro by his rival peers.
// Photo by Jamie Lusch
As it now stands, Medford television viewers continue to reap the benefits of William Smullin’s obsession with building a broadcast empire. With a population of 75,000, it’s home to four network affiliates, a PBS station and a Telemundo Spanish language station. The stations and the companies that own them represent a substantial generator of local wealth and jobs, while the market’s viewers enjoy a free-of-charge news and programming menu usually found only in much larger markets.
Medford is considered a small broadcast market, ranking just No. 140 in the Nielsen ratings. Yet its ranking is about the same as those of Amarillo, Bakersfield and Topeka, all of which have substantially larger populations. At No. 118, Eugene ranks much higher, yet has the same number of “free TV” stations as Medford. Bend is smaller and has fewer stations.
The larger Medford TV market, estimated to include some 172,000 TV-viewing homes and as many as 500,000 viewers, is one of the biggest geographically in the nation. It stretches across 12 counties from east of Klamath Falls, west to Coos Bay, north almost to Bend, and south into northern California. Although the area is difficult to serve because of the mountains along the Oregon-California border, men like William Smullin and women like his daughter have gone to great lengths to train their signals into every town within their reach. As a result, its market ranking rivals that of, for example, Bakersfield, population 347,000.
But a shrinking of the market could be at hand, thanks in large measure to the recession and the high cost of purchasing the equipment needed to compete in today’s television industry.
Kingsley Kelley, general manager for KTVL, believes “consolidation is inevitable,” although he stopped short of predicting a station might go away. “I think there will be some consolidation in markets our size,” says Smullin.