KDRV technical director Nick Blenkushi manages the live recording of a program. Costly equipment poses a financial challenge to small-market stations.
// Photo by Jamie Lusch
Several nonprofit managers and supporters say the presence of three community-minded stations has been a huge factor in fundraising, recruiting volunteers and simply getting their message out to the community.
“Supporting nonprofits is the norm here, it’s just part of the Medford media culture,” says Barbara Johnson, who is affiliated with several Medford-area nonprofits. “It’s a conscious choice they make,” says Sue Mendenhall, program director of Children’s Miracle Network. “As long as they can find a way to bring our story into the newsroom, they will cover it. All the stations do it.”
Beyond their news strategies, each station owner has pursued a distinct strategy for making ends meet in the small middle-class market. While the market hasn’t grown in terms of number of households in the last decade, neither has it shrunk significantly. The recession clearly drained wealth away; the flood of California retirees flush with cash who once flocked to the region has slowed to a trickle. Yet there are pockets of affluence, such as Ashland, that remain poised for growth.
Smullin, like her chief competitors, remains in the end stubbornly optimistic about Medford’s future in broadcast. But she acknowledges that the landscape is everchanging, and that to stay profitable the stations will have to constantly adapt. “Partnerships are the name of the game now,” she says. “I don’t make any unilateral decisions anymore. Everything involves a partner. It’s how we survive.”
In all likelihood, the survival of the major players in Medford’s combative free TV broadcast market is assured for years to come. What survival looks like is another matter. As Smullin points out, partnerships — with advertisers, community groups, stations in sister markets and even competitors — may well be the key. For as long as the stations’ signals can hop over mountains and across state borders, people will watch, and someone will pay the bills.