NoCo 5 on launch pad

FORT COLLINS – After a three-month-long hiatus, Cheyenne-based KWGN Channel 5 will resume Northern Colorado television news coverage Sept. 15 with a new cable agreement and an expanded staff at a downtown Fort Collins headquarters.

The ambitious goal is to provide Larimer and Weld counties with exclusively regional content, covering news, sports and weather at 6 and 10 p.m. daily as Northern Colorado 5.

“In my lifetime, I’ve never done anything like this,” KGWN news director Tregg White said. “It’s starting a whole new operation from the ground up. We’ll just keep putting one brick in front of the other, and keep building. We want to generate more Northern Colorado content than ever before.”

The rollout comes with a new branding effort featuring a striking red, blue and yellow logo, a new tagline – “Real News for Northern Colorado” – and a new Web site at www.noco5.com.

The Northern Colorado 5 venture began in earnest three years ago when the station opened a Northern Colorado bureau on East Mountain Avenue in Fort Collins and staffed it with a reporter and sales team. The same year, Sagamore Hill Broadcasting, Channel 5’s Augusta, Ga.-based owner, moved to crack the Comcast cable TV lineup so Northern Colorado viewers would have greater access to the station’s programming.

What followed was a costly and time-consuming legal process, a “must-carry” petition to the Federal Communications Commission, to force the cable company that serves Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley to add the station’s signal to its lineup.

Comcast yielded earlier this year, putting KGWN’s programming on Channel 250 in the three municipalities and agreeing to move the channel to the single digits, or close to them, in February 2009 when over-the-air television broadcasters go exclusively digital.

“That agreement really paves the way for us,” KGWN general manager Joan Turner Doyle said. “That’s what makes all of this possible.”

Comcast understanding

Sagamore Hill president and CEO Louis Wall said the Comcast agreement came more as a result of an understanding between the cable carrier and Channel 5 than from FCC pressure.

“We went back and forth with the must-carry proceedings, but we also had direct conversations with Comcast,” Wall said. “I think Comcast decided it was in their interest, and in the community’s interest, to work something out. The people at Comcast have turned out to be helpful and agreeable.”

The Comcast agreement runs through 2012 and gives Channel 5 access to almost 70,000 households in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley. Wall said he would pursue similar agreements with satellite providers Dish Network and Direct TV that could add as many as 30,000 households to Channel 5’s potential viewership.

Northern Colorado 5 has so far earned a warm reception from the community as it prepares to reconfigure and expand its regional coverage. Wall said that Colorado State University, for example, took the initiative to approach the station’s management to determine whether Channel 5 and CSU athletics would be a good fit for one another.

“They came to us first,” Wall said. “The athletic director and the assistant athletic director reached out.”

White said regional sports coverage would make up a sizable measure of the station’s content as Northern Colorado 5 ramps up. He acknowledged that the number of athletic programs in the region, with two major universities and more than a dozen high schools, would challenge new sports director Ben Howell and the station’s resources.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover,” White said. “We know we have CSU and the University of Northern Colorado, but we also have high school sports, and we don’t want to forget that. One of the first thoughts that we had going into this was that sports would be a very high priority.”

Local coverage

Part of the reason for the scholastic sports emphasis is that Denver television stations, although they maintain Northern Colorado bureaus, cannot commit time to sports coverage beyond the higher-profile university programs.

Likewise the station’s news coverage will include local news that, while important, does not show up on the Denver broadcast radar.

“If we have good content, and I think we will, people will come to us,” Wall said. “If we don’t, they won’t.”

Reporter Tom Livingston said he and other staffers feel the pressure to put a quality product on the air beginning Sept. 15, but said the team was up to the task.

“We know that we’ve got a lot to do,” he said. “But we’re excited about it. We really look forward to this challenge.”

Declining advertising revenue in a slumping economy has caused the television broadcasting industry nationwide to tighten operations, in some cases trimming staff and narrowing geographic scope.

Wall said that investing in Northern Colorado 5 at such a time is a gamble that he feels sure will pay off.

“These are turbulent economic times,” he said. “It’s not the easiest time to expand. But I think we’ll produce a product that people want, and that will keep us going. Just watch us grow.”