Leading by example: Anchorage business woman builds successful television station
by Pamela Eldridge
Carol Schatz says she selected the call letters of KYES for her locally owned television station because they sounded upbeat, but they could also represent Schatz’ personality. From her start as a volunteer disc jockey on KYUK radio in Bethel, to owning KYES UPN 5 television in Anchorage, Schatz meets challenges with a “yes” attitude. Schatz spoke at the Alaska Press Women’s October luncheon meeting about how she and husband Jeremy Lansman became owners of the only locally owned television station in Anchorage.
Barbara Brown presents Carol Schatz with an Alaska Press Women mug.
In the beginning, though, Schatz thought her first night at radio station KYUK in Bethel would be the end of her fledgling career. Around midnight, Schatz heard the only other person in the office leave for the night and realized she didn’t know what to do when her shift was over. Schatz ran outside to ask her departing co-worker for instructions when she heard the door lock behind her. Eventually, Schatz found a way inside. “I was sure this would be the end of my broadcasting career; that I’d never be allowed back into the building. But a few years later,” Schatz said, smiling, “I ended up being the general manager of the station.”
In 1983 Schatz moved to Washington, D.C. to be near family, and found work with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Schatz had met Jeremy Lansman by this time. Lansman, in Anchorage and who had radio experience in Alaska, learned the FCC had made five stations available for permitting, including television channel 5, formerly reserved for military use. Lansman asked Schatz if she wanted to apply for the station permit. “Sure,” she said, and without knowing what owning a commercial television station meant, she bought it.
Lansman moved from Anchorage to Washington, D.C. to work in consulting, and Schatz and Lansman eventually married. The couple began learning what they needed to start the station and Schatz researched how to purchase commercial television programs. “I had no experience with commercial television. I had never been in a commercial television station. I’d watched a lot of TV as a kid, though,” Schatz said. She laughed.
The FCC assigned call letters for the new station, but Schatz thought they were dull and uninspiring. Because the Anchorage economy in 1985 was in a downturn, Schatz wanted call letters that sounded positive. While still in D.C., Schatz and Lansman researched for better call letters. When they discovered KYES was available, they jumped at the chance to register it. “With everything so bad in Anchorage some upbeat call letters (were) like “YES!,” Schatz said. “So I got on the Metro, ran over to the FCC, and did whatever I had to do to claim KYES.”
Schatz and Lansman arrived in Anchorage ready to begin work. First on the list was an antenna site and they found one in Eagle River. Lansman took care of equipment acquisition, while Schatz purchased their first programming. “I looked for programs that I could get for barter or for very little cash because the economy here was so bad that there was very little hope for selling a lot of commercials.”
In 1992, the cable company gave them coverage, but KYES was unfavorably placed on channel 53 and later moved to channel 51. Schatz recalled one attempt to get the cable company to move the station to a better placement. “There was a big meeting in Boston. I had pizzas delivered to them where I had people take out a piece of each pizza so they could see that without including us there was a missing piece of the pie.” Her efforts worked, and now KYES UPN 5 is at channel 5 on the cable lineup.
Their big financial break came in 1995 with their first big risk; they made a major investment in programming with Buena Vista’s Home Improvement. She recalled thinking how much they had just paid for this program and wondered if they could make the payments. What Schatz didn’t know at the time was that by airing this popular program in prime time, the station ratings went up and national advertisers began calling her. They said something surprising; they didn’t even know channel 5 existed until she bought Home Improvement. Advertising revenues went up.
About this same time, UPN started offering programming. Schatz said they made “an agreement with UPN to run their network, in large part because they were going to have Star Trek Voyager. I wasn’t going to pass that up.”
Becoming an affiliate with UPN gave the station solid evening programming. Soon, however, Schatz faced a serious threat. Station consolidation into broadcast groups began at this time and independent stations found themselves cut out of some opportunities to purchase quality programming. “For a while I thought I couldn’t compete (with groups) so I just grabbed everything I could. I became very aggressive,” Schatz recalled. “The result is we have a lot of great syndicated programs; Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends, Frazier, Fear Factor. I got all of these because I thought, “I’m not going to let them beat me and cut me out of the market.”
“Advertisers are the lifeblood in commercial television,” said Schatz, and she keeps this in mind with every programming decision. Only once did an advertiser temporarily pull their ads, and none permanently. Some advertisers request their ads not be shown with certain programs. This has resulted in careful programming decisions and reduced risk taking.
The future of broadcast is wide open with digital television and radio on the horizon. Schatz explained they can probably take risks she has not felt comfortable with in the past because digital channels offer “several programming streams,” enabling them to maintain solid relationships with advertisers for traditional programming, while being able to try new things through the digital channels.
KYES UPN 5 has met the current FCC requirement to have a digital signal; they broadcast on channel 22, and have an Internet radio station using equipment Lansman set up in their garage and on the roof. Schatz said she gladly accepts the challenge of digital broadcasting. If her past successes of meeting challenges is any indication, her future has no boundaries.