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Countdown to Air Time for Broadcast News Team : KADY-TV, once known for its forgettable lineup of reruns, has launched the area's only locally produced news program. Can the scrappy, family owned operation succeed where others have failed?

July 01, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is the second week of June, and John Huddy is staring out of his KADY-TV office in Oxnard at a decidedly unglamorous sight: A wire fence encircles a neglected lawn, where his family's two dogs--who double as the station's security force--have been digging deep holes all morning. But Huddy, who looks out over the scene this warm day in a finely tailored dark suit and elegant red tie, seems not to notice.

He has other things on his mind.

On June 28, the television station once known for its forgettable lineup of "Lost In Space" reruns and scratchy prints of "The Cisco Kid" will be launching the county's only locally produced regional news program. Five days a week, 10 staff reporters will fan out from Simi Valley to Ojai, bringing viewers--lots of them, Huddy hopes--the day's top events during half-hour newscasts at 6 and 10 p.m.

It will be, he says, news that viewers can use. News that is straight. News that turns its back on the hyped style prevalent on Los Angeles newscasts, where distinguishing between the evening's news broadcasts and movies of the week becomes increasingly blurred.

Huddy, a big, charismatic man, is heralding his station's undertaking with a characteristic lack of understatement. Earlier, in a control booth down the hall, a technician showed Huddy the newscast's splashy opening graphics for the first time. Across the screen it came, an expanse of unidentifiable cities by night, and big, bold letters above: VCNN. Ventura County News Network.

Yes, Huddy said as he watched it, that was the look he wanted. That was the image he wanted from the start.

"We want this to be the best local news coverage in America," Huddy says now, tapping the end of his pen on the edge of his desk. "This will not be 'A Current Affair.' What I want to say is: 'We will give it to you straight, exclusive, and we will take on the L. A. Times.' "

If anyone doubts the seriousness of purpose of this former Miami Herald entertainment editor-turned-executive producer of CBS News in Washington, Huddy is prepared to let his actions do the talking.

He moved to Ventura County with his wife to manage the station in 1988, laying his family's fortunes on the line when he purchased KADY two years ago from tycoon Meshulam Riklis.

He secured what many see as unusual cooperation--not to mention financial backing--from a major cable company at a time when the national climate between cable companies and local broadcasters was--and still is--generally viewed as combative.

And he has added to his payroll 24 reporters, camera operators and interns from throughout the United States, most of whom will be arriving in a few days and be scrambling to familiarize themselves with the area while also nailing down places to live.

But plenty of obstacles remain. And as the countdown to launch day nears--and engineers at the station work feverishly to make sure all the technical bugs are worked out before live air time--questions still abound.

Can this scrappy, family owned station survive among the wolverine networks? Can its news program compete with the likes of Connie and Dan a few channels away, or with the glitzy Eyeliner News? Will local advertisers cough up the money to produce video commercials when local newspapers in the county abound?

Or will VCNN go the route of two previous local news programs--one a few years before on a previous incarnation of KADY--that placed their tails between their legs and disappeared with a whimper?

Stay tuned.

Video and Juliet

The station's director of programming moves gracefully down the KADY hallway, passing the unfinished news set where two large tarps are spread over furniture and the control room where an open floor reveals coils of cables yet to be covered by workers. When she reaches Huddy's office and finds him conversing with his news director, she waits for a moment before turning away.

Better to come back later.

"I wait in line for him just like anyone else here," the programming director--who also is Huddy's wife of 24 years, Erica--says later. "It has to be that way. It couldn't work otherwise."

The "it" in question is delicately balancing family ties and professionalism, of working side by side--and sometimes angry forehead to angry forehead--with spouses, children, parents and in-laws.

In addition to John and Erica Huddy, there is the couple's 23-year-old daughter, Juliet Green, who works as the station's promotions director and hires the interns. Juliet's husband of one year, Dan Green, 30, is the station's newly appointed news director and also VCNN's soon-to-be anchorman.

"He was an anchor for a station in Missouri and I was a poly-sci student at the university," Juliet Green says of her husband. The two moved to Ventura County in October. "I fell in love with him on TV," she says. "Then I met him at a bar. I didn't want to sound like a groupie, but he was so cute that I just had to go up to him."

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