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When Digital Trend Began in Bend

cover story late last month touted newbie WMBF Myrtle Beach as what many believed to be the first fully digital, hi-def station built from the ground up. Not long after that issue dropped, B&C was alerted that an upstart in the No.192 Nielsen DMA had, in fact, launched a fully digital station a year earlier.

“The station is completely tapeless and HD, from ENG to broadcast,” wrote former KOHD Bend (Ore.) technical director Rion Seick, who concluded: “There is more to the TV world than just the top 100 markets and those of us in the smaller sectors of the business are still able to do great things….”

KOHD launched September 27, 2007, out of its 11,000-square-foot facility in northeast Bend. (The station had rebroadcast the signal from sibling KEZI Eugene on a digital channel for about a year before that.)

KOHD is part of Chambers Communications. President Scott Chambers says the strength of KEZI, which built what he calls “one of the most sophisticated media facilities, probably in the world,” back in 1998, paved the way for the KOHD launch. KEZI, located a little over a hundred miles west of Bend, central casts all but the KOHD local programming. (Both are ABC affiliates.)

The facility took six months to build. Installing analog gear less than 18 months before the digital transition didn't make sense for the company. KOHD general manager Jerry Upham says Scott Chambers was also determined to make a lasting first impression on viewers. “Scott wanted to do it right, right from the beginning,” he says. “He wanted to come on air with the best possible product, and not have to convert it later.”

As it approaches its first anniversary, the 35-employee KOHD outfit has made its mark in Central Oregon. The station airs two hours of morning news, 90 minutes in the evening, and an 11 p.m. news, in addition to weekend newscasts. In April, it was nominated for “Station Excellence” by the Northwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Bend is a tricky 3½ hour drive through the Cascades from Portland. The DMA has grown from No. 210 to No. 192 in recent years. Tourists flock to the region for the skiing and fishing, though both gas prices and the mortgage crunch have crimped the local economy.

KOHD won't be the new kid in Bend for long; New Vision is slated to launch the CBS affiliate KBNZ soon. The market is dominated by News-Press & Gazette (NPG), which owns NBC affiliate KTVZ, Fox outlet KFXO, and CW and Telemundo affiliates. KOHD's arrival compelled KTVZ to speed up hi-def plans; it unveiled HD days before KOHD's launch. Chris Gallu, general manager for NPG's Oregon stations, gives KOHD mixed marks on its first year. “From a technical standpoint, they have all the new bells and whistles,” he says. “Regarding talent, they have a ways to go in terms of establishing their identity with the community.”

Chambers says KOHD, in second place in terms of ratings, claimed 18% of the market's revenue in year one, and is slated to grab 25% in year two. The Chambers principals say they've heard from other station managers looking for pointers on launching a digital facility. Upham says it can be easy to overlook vital details when you're building something of such magnitude. “You really have to try to think everything through,” he says. “Since it's HD, everything's a bigger file—you need bigger and better everything.”

For many in the launch team, KOHD's birth was a once in a lifetime experience. Chambers recalls other 100-plus stations ordering a new Sony HD switcher at the 2007 NAB show, but says the very first one sent from Japan arrived in Bend to help KOHD meet its debut date. Seick, who's since moved to KNDU in Kennewick, Wash., says the buzz around the launch was palpable. “Watching everything go up was amazing, as was that feeling the day we went on air,” he says. “We were all very proud to be a part of that.”

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