KSKC-TV celebrates 25 years of service
PABLO — Salish Kootenai College has been the home base for the first (and still only) tribally owned public television station in the United States. With its first broadcast hitting the airwaves in 1988, KSKC-TV has since produced and broadcast 3,500 hours of television programs ranging from sports coverage to cooking shows to kids programs.
And, according to one of the founding members, Dr. Frank Tyro, “We feel like we’re prepared for another 25 years.”
Tyro said he got his start in the broadcasting industry while working as an apprentice engineer at Montana State Television Center. It was there that he fell in love with PBS.
“The beautiful thing about PBS is that it creates a beautiful array of programming, from ‘Frontline’ to the ‘Masterpiece Theater’ and various other things,” Tyro said. “So many things that really are produced for very little money compared to what commercial networks spend. I think it’s a wonderful service that would be missed if it weren’t here.”
While working at the Montana State Television Center, Tyro said every day around 2 p.m. all of the engineers took a break and watched “Sesame Street.”
“I still get hooked,” Tyro said with a laugh. “It’s one of the most creative programs I’ve ever seen.”
At this, Tyro referenced the cable program “Baby Einstein.” The program was designed to be a learning tool geared toward children between 3 months and 3 years old. For many, the promise seemed too good to be true: Just sit your baby in front of a television, throw in a DVD and your baby becomes smarter.
According to several recent studies, however, “Baby Einstein” programming actually did the opposite, inhibiting young viewers by delaying language development.
“Around 90 percent of the people who work at the ‘Sesame Street’ workshop are educators. They understand how to enhance learning and challenge children. It’s actually the most researched television program ever,” Tyro said.
And with so much creativity, variety and hard work going into every broadcast, it’s no surprise the station would celebrate 25 years of work with several tours of the station early in the week and a birthday party at SKC’s Vic Charlo and Johnny Arlee theatre.
The station, located beneath SKC’s library, saw many visitors during an open house event. Tyro took curious residents through an explanation of the station’s workings, frequencies, equipment and history. Curious SKC faculty and residents alike stood in awe as Tyro pointed out 25-year-old cameras and sound recording equipment that have been used daily and never serviced since the station opened, and are still in working condition.
SKC math instructor Dan Patrick said he watches the local PBS channel frequently and was excited for the station’s 25th birthday celebration.
“I was impressed,” Patrick said of the tour. “I’ve worked with Frank for a while, helping him raise funds for the station, but this is the first time I’ve checked out the technical and historical side of things. It’s pretty cool.”
Friday, many of the same residents who’d taken tours of the KSKC facility stopped by the theater to say “thank-you” one more time. After a short dinner and many smiling faces and congratulations, those in attendance sang a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” The object of the song? KSKC-TV and everyone who works so hard to keep it going. As the birthday singers cut the cake, Montana PBS-Bozeman General Manager Eric Hyyppa looked on with a smile.
“They’re a completely independent station, we’re just kind of the source for their PBS programs they broadcast,” he said. “(The event) is very cool, and they’re very unique. I work with our colleagues from around the country, and KSKC’s model is very unique. They should be proud that they’ve done as well as they have for as long as they have.”
Tyro can still recall the station trying to find its voice in the early years. “Pretending to be a station in Philadelphia or Spokane didn’t work for our audience,” he said.
The moment of change came when the first president of SKC and another college employee, Bob Fouty, were trying to solicit donations for the station during a television program. The pair were dressed in suits and ties and, as Tyro recalled, being far too serious. The donations were not coming in.
“So, on a break, Mickey went over to his office and got a rubber chicken, Groucho Marx moustache and tennis balls and started to improv on the air,” Tyro laughed. “That lead to various other characters that entertained and brought in donations for many years. Really, that goes back to the unique character of our station and a few others like us. We’re focused on our viewers. Major PBS stations, because they cover large areas of the population, ... can’t focus on individual ideals in a small community. That’s what makes us local.”