Pat at the board on his very first radio gig, with KGRL in his hometown of Bend, OR.
When Larry Coffman asked me to write something for this retrospective issue, I had only two questions: 1) Who are you? and 2) Why me?
He was only able to answer the first one—and, even then, seemed uncertain.
But he was pretty insistent about wanting me to write about the change in media over the 30 years since MARKETING began.
“Pen something,” he said. Since I’m one of the few remaining people still owning a pen, I agreed.
Perhaps the first medium was prehistoric Paleolithic cave drawing—creators unknown. Even then, parents worried that their impressionable youngsters where spending too much time staring at the wall art. “Don’t sit so close! It’ll ruin your eyes!”
Some 3.7 million years later, when I landed a job at KING-TV (1980), I had no idea what an esteemed deity it was. Dorothy Bullitt, who bought the station in 1949, was a big believer in the public-service obligation of local television—even though her station was the only one around then.
So, when I waltzed through the door (dancing was encouraged in the early ‘80s), KING and all the other TV stations in town were very much locally focused. KING was airing two daily talk shows (Seattle Today and Seattle Tonight, Tonite—offering viewers two spellings of the same word).
They also were producing kids’ shows, like How Come? (which I always thought would be a good name for a newscast). KING even offered a live five-minute exercise show in the wee hours of the morning (Five minutes of exercise always seemed about right to me.)
Across town, all the other stations also were doing fine local productions. Ranger Charlie’s Kids’ Club on KSTW was a favorite of my kids. And the Elvis of kids’ shows, J.P. Patches, was still doing his extraordinary thing on KIRO.
There were local documentaries, specials, interview shows and nationally lauded news coverage. And local sports. When the hydro races happened in the Summer, KING, KIRO and KOMO all carried live coverage.
Mt. St. Helens blew its top on May 18, 1980—and local TV news was spectacular—particularly KOMO’s Dave Crockett, who—as brave as his namesake—continued running with his camera, even as he wandered in the darkness of the falling ash.
It was a tremendous time for broadcasting—radio very much included. Most stations were locally owned. Excellence was rewarded, innovation was exalted—and the coin of the realm was creativity, personality and commitment. I guess that’s three coins.
Of course, it’s natural to look back more fondly on past times than the present—and there is great risk of looking like a hopeless old fogie in doing so. (Are there young fogies?)
In fact, just because there was a greater quantity of local programming 30 years ago doesn’t mean there was greater quality. But there certainly were more opportunities for young people to step into the business. Or am I wrong?
The 30 years since MARKETING began publishing have seen enormous changes in the local broadcast scene. (Gee, Cashman, that is a brilliant observation! What were you going to write? “The 30 years since MARKETING began have seen nothing much happen?”)
But generally, Puget Sound radio is far less local these days—with lots more syndicated offerings, supplanting many hometown voices. It’s economics, right?
Seattle has gone from two major daily newspapers to one since MARKETING began publishing. (Some say it’s MARKETING’s fault for being such a rigorous competitor. I blame the Little Nickel.)
Meanwhile, Seattle stations switched from analog to digital signals seven years ago—or, as I like to think of it, they went from blurry pictures to crisp. (I prefer crisp as a viewer; blurry when actually appearing on television.)
Meanwhile, experts (who are not an endangered species) are saying that the future of network television is in doubt—and perhaps suggesting that local TV stations will begin generating more of their own home-grown content. Back to the Future?
In fact, online news platforms, like Facebook Live, quickly are making the old TV models look increasingly outdated—and the changes that MARKETING chronicled in the first 30 years may very well be exceeded in the next five. Or one. In fact, expect it.
Kudos to long-time baseball fan and publisher, Larry Coffman—and to MARKETING—for bringing a wonderful array of fastballs, curves and sliders to the Northwest media scene for 30 years.
But get ready for a lot more change ups.
Pat Cashman is a long-time Northwest television and radio writer and performer. He can be seen on the sketch show, Up Late NW, which airs Saturdays and Sundays on KING 5, throughout Washington and Oregon. He also co-hosts a weekly online talk show, Peculiarpodcast.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.