The first step in an ambitious, two-pronged plan to establish a new statewide radio news network will be taken today with the broadcast premiere of "CALNET," a half-hour California news magazine patterned roughly after National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
The Monday-through-Friday news program debuts at 5:30 p.m. over KLON-FM (88.1) in Long Beach, where the operation is based, and will be picked up in early January by several other Los Angeles public-radio stations--including KUSC-FM (91.5) and KCRW-FM (89.9).
In addition, another half-dozen California public radio stations from San Diego to San Francisco have also committed to carrying "CALNET," said Rick Lewis, KLON's general manager and co-creator of "CALNET."
In all, Lewis said, he expects the "CALNET" network to grow to include about 18 public stations from Oregon to the Mexican border.
"California is bigger than a lot of countries. One of the big problems is going to be making a story from San Diego interesting to someone in the Bay Area," Lewis said. "No one is dying to know on one end of the state what is going on at the other end. So we're going to have to create an appetite for that."
Ideally, "CALNET's" full-time staff of six and its several dozen free-lance contributors will "hold up a full-length mirror to the state," according to Lewis.
They will have two years to hold up that mirror and create the appetite. That's how long Lewis and the other "CALNET" founder, KUSC general manager Wallace Smith, have budgeted time and money for the experimental news network.
Two corporate underwriters--El Paso Natural Gas Co. and the James Irvine Foundation--have put up most of the $1.25-million "CALNET" operating budget, and new production facilities are currently being prepared at "CALNET" headquarters on the campus of Cal State Long Beach.
In addition to an anchor and two staff members in its Long Beach/Los Angeles bureau, "CALNET" will also have full-time correspondents in San Francisco and Sacramento.
"This amounts to a reinstatement of a statewide news-gathering operation at a time when commercial broadcast operations have given up on their out-of-town bureaus, including Sacramento," Smith said.
Last month, NBC affiliate KRON-TV in San Francisco became the last out-of-town broadcaster in the state to shut down its capital bureau. KRON's dismissal of producer Don Fields and correspondent Ginger Rutland followed the recall of sister station KNBC-TV's Doug Kriegel by six years. Kriegel is now KNBC's Los Angeles-based business reporter.
All-news KFWB-AM (980) laid off veteran capital correspondent Tom Woods three years ago, leaving KNX-AM (1070) with Los Angeles radio's only Sacramento correspondent--a part-timer, Pat Davis, who works on a story-by-story basis.
Public radio hasn't had a capital correspondent since 1983, when Gov. George Deukmejian cut state subsidies of the now-defunct California Public Radio network from the state budget. Since then, public-radio stations in California have had scant reporting on state or regional issues.
"We're not looking for any funding from the state," Lewis said. "We don't want the same thing happening to us that happened to California Public Radio."
The second half of the master plan concocted by Lewis and Smith involves the debut of a new national business program that will begin airing over the American Public Radio network on Jan. 2.
Like "CALNET," "Marketplace" will be produced and sent out by satellite each afternoon from the Long Beach studios. The half-hour program will replace CBS Radio's "Business Update," which is currently sold to 75 public stations via the American Public Radio network. "Business Update's" final day on the air will be Dec. 31, Smith said.
" 'Marketplace' and 'CALNET' mark the establishment of a major West Coast news-producing establishment that will not be under the influence of the East Coast media establishment," Smith said. "While there have always been bureau stories (about business and breaking news) from California, the control has always been out of New York or Washington.
"If we can establish that there is a Western perspective on the news centered on Pacific Rim relationships, then we can move forward."