The Best TV Station You're Not Watching

The motto of UWTV’s new line-up could be ‘Produce locally, broadcast globally’
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It’s not that people didn’t want to watch The State of the Prostate (Parts 1, 2 & 3) or Clearing up Controversies in Ankle Fracture Management. It’s just that that’s not all they wanted to watch when they tuned in years ago to Channel 27, the University of Washington’s noncommercial, educational TV station. The UW has been broadcasting since 1988, when it launched CableLearn, a station that allowed current and continuing-education students to catch up on missed classes or attend classes from home. It also offered scores of medical videos for laypeople as well as professionals, for those who have a more than a passing interest in root canals, say, or those who like to pass the time watching other people have knee-replacement surgery. This was a fine model at first; a top-tier local university sharing its wealth of knowledge with the community via cable television.

But this was before broadband and the Internet blew open the possibility of broadcasting more content to more households in the region. Suddenly, the university had a means of reaching out to the community; to use UWTV to help sing the praises of its faculty and programs to interested viewers not only locally, but all over the world. Now the university could easily blend academic content with an entertaining format in order to share its resources and tell its story.

“UWTV was seen as an underutilized asset,” says John Haslam, general manager at the station and a former media consultant and communications executive who worked on developing Comcast’s on-demand service, among other things. He was brought on board in 2009 as a consultant, then hired to help steer UWTV in a new direction. Haslam’s strategy—to help UWTV better connect with community—seems to have worked: Viewership has nearly doubled in the past three years, to 245,000 viewers per week. The station is now available to 1.2 million households in the state, via Comcast, and around the world, via satellite and online.

Compare this to other university-run TV stations, which may run as part of student coursework and not necessarily as a professional station. Stations that offer comparable programming, such as those at Brigham Young University (BYU-TV) and the University of California (UCTV) also put up strong audience numbers, but UWTV’s numbers are impressive relative to state population.

Haslam credits the jump in viewership to a few simple changes: “We established a more predictable schedule, and we worked hard to make people aware of UWTV.” It putting advertising on bus boards.” It used to be that a viewer tuned in and had to watch whatever medical procedure or collegiate sporting event was showing at the time, but now shows air in predictable slots, and the online archive allows viewers to catch up on missed programs. “The university tried to be more strategic in the type of program it produced,” says Haslam, by learning about viewer preferences and developing programs based on audience data, as mainstream television networks do.

One popular show that airs at Sundays at 9 p.m. (and then reruns; find show times and view back episodes of all programs at uwtv.org) is UW 360, a news magazine hosted by Carolyn Douglas, the former KING-TV anchor. This show features people and topics from the UW community—everything from scientists studying how to protect the local oyster industry to a profile of RAVEN, a new surgical robot. UW 360 was picked up in syndication by KOMO-TV and aired for 13 consecutive Saturdays in a prime 4:30 p.m. slot last spring, which Haslam says potentially puts it in front of 10 times more viewers.

Also added based on audience data were more live Husky sports events that were not being broadcast on other stations. For example, last year the station a more predictable schedule, and we worked hard to make people aware of used to be that a viewer tuned in and had to watch whatever medical procedure or collegiate sporting event was showing at the time, but now programs air in predictable slots, and the online archive allows viewers to catch up on missed programs. “The university tried to be more strategic in the type of programs it produced,” says Haslam, by developing programs based on audience preferences and data, as mainstream television networks do.

“UWTV is yet another opportunity to engage people in a dialogue,” he says. “It’s a virtual watercooler.”

One popular show that airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. is UW 360, a news magazine hosted by Carolyn Douglas, a former KING-TV anchor. This show features people and topics from the UW community—everything from scientists studying how to protect the local oyster industry to a profile of RAVEN, a new surgical robot. UW 360 was picked up in syndication by KOMO-TV and aired for 13 consecutive Saturdays in a prime 4:30 p.m. slot last spring, which Haslam says potentially put it in front of 10 times more viewers.

Also added based on audience data were live Husky sports events that were not being broadcast on other stations. The popular “Husky Classics,” an archive of classic games, was created to fulfill the public’s desire for more sports feature programming as a way to draw more viewers. Other new programming based on audience input include Fostering Leadership (Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.), which presents interviews on business strategy with local business leaders in partnership with the Foster School of Business; and Backstory: The Filmmaker’s Vision, which invites local independent filmmakers to submit films. When films are chosen for broadcast, the filmmakers are interviewed on camera by Andrew Tsao, an associate professor in the School of Drama. Backstory (Saturdays at 9 p.m.) offers the kind of exposure most independent filmmakers can only dream about, and offers viewers the chance to see films that might not be available even at a film festival, such as Ellen Frick’s Another Side of Peace, a documentary about a bereavement group for Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost children in the ongoing conflict; or George’s Bag, a feature comedy written, produced and shot by UW students.

These successful new shows are a direct result of the station’s interest in airing what people want to see. “Some of our initial audience feedback noted that we did not have much programming in the way of arts and humanities,” says Tory Hernandez, UWTV’s communication and marketing specialist. “In response, we created both Backstory: The Filmmaker’s Vision and Chamber Dance (a presentation of past performances of the popular Chamber Dance series at Meany Hall). In addition, our business-focused programming was lacking, and we noticed a positive response after the Fostering Leadership program aired.”

Four Peaks, a monthly current-affairs show (first Tuesdays at 7 p.m.) that brings area activists, visionaries and storytellers together to discuss topics of local and global interest, is in many ways the most emblematic of the shift in thinking at the station. “Four Peaks is one of a number of shows that, together, have raised the awareness and popularity of the station,” says Hernandez. “As we bring in more programs that move away from the lecture format, we bring additional audiences who are curious about those subjects and more engaged with the station.”

Hanson Hosein, director of the UW’s Master of Communication in Digital Media Program, formerly with NBC News and MSNBC.com, began hosting the show in 2010 when it was known as Media Space, with programming specific to media and technology. That show was hugely successful, Hosein says, but the university wanted to widen its scope, to go beyond technology and look at the future of the region. The new Four Peaks format began airing in October 2011, bringing together innovative thinkers to encourage viewers to think more broadly about the region and its impact on the world. It’s like a televised version of the “idea sharing” gatherings popularized in Seattle by groups like Four Peaks, TEDxSeattle (Hosein is a co-organizer) and Ignite. Sometimes recorded in front of a live audience, Four Peaks encourages people to join the discussion via social media and periodic roundtable discussions. Recent topics have included “Hacking Edu,” which explores the relevance of the traditional university model in a time when so many classes are available for free online; and an exploration of the phenomenon of “Seattle nice.” “In the past three years, we have started showing compelling content that you can’t get anywhere else,” says Hosein.

Next up for the station is a Native American film series, Voices of the First Peoples, slated to begin this fall (Sundays at 7 p.m.). This will feature contemporary Native American films and interviews with their creators, produced in conjunction with the UW’s Department of American Indian Studies.

Also on the horizon—for those who still want to dive deep into academic territory—UWTV will offer a “cabled observatory” from the Ocean Observatories Initiative; footage from an axial seamount that has been installed on the ocean floor on the Juan de Fuca Plate. This will allow viewers access to all the data collected by UW geologists, biologists and environmentalists as they monitor climate change, ocean currents and changes to the sea’s ecosystem.

Both Haslam and Hosein agree that the UW’s support of Channel 27 not only presents the university in a favorable light, it engages the community and reaches out beyond local borders. Haslam points to the reason the programs have seen such a boost in viewership: “It’s local, it’s independent, the university is integral to the region, and there are thousands of people with connections to the area,” he says. Hosein points out that television continues to be a conversation leader, especially among young people who carry out those discussions via social media. “UWTV is yet another opportunity to engage people in a dialogue,” he says. “It’s a virtual watercooler.”

2016 Crosscut Courage Award Winners

2016 Crosscut Courage Award Winners

The 2016 Crosscut Courage Award winners don't walk away from difficult conversations and challenges
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Back row: Honorees Richard Romero, Courage in Business, and Stephen Tan and Joey Cohn, Courage in Culture. Front row: Colleen Echohawk, Courage in Public Service, and Martha Choe, The David Brewster Lifetime Achievement Award

A trailblazing public servant who has spent decades in government and philanthropy. A banker who has given immigrants a foot in the door toward citizenship. A nonprofit leader who works to better the lot of Native Americans. And a thousands-strong community group that came together to save a beloved public radio station.

What do they all have in common? When faced with the choice between dialogue and rhetoric, between engagement and flight, they chose to stay and to talk—to struggle through difficult conversations in order to make things better for all. That’s why they’ve been selected as the winners of Crosscut’s 2016 Courage Awards.

Seattle magazine is proud to partner with online news journal Crosscut (crosscut.com) in recognizing these local leaders whose personal and professional dedication is making our region more vital, equitable and inclusive.

Courage in Culture Honoree
Friends of 88.5 

Last November, Pacific Lutheran University announced it was selling local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KPLU-FM to the University of Washington (UW). KPLU’s newsroom would be disbanded and its jazz programming absorbed into KUOW-FM. For the leaders of the 50-year-old KPLU, it would have been easy to just fold up the microphones and send the staff to look for work elsewhere: The $7 million deal was all but done, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

But that didn’t happen. Instead, bowing under immense community pressure, the UW granted the station’s members a moonshot chance of matching the university’s offer and buying the station themselves. They had six months to do it.

Working under the banner of Friends of 88.5, a nonprofit created in a matter of weeks out of the vestiges of KPLU’s community advisory board, supporters and station leaders—including Joey Cohn and Stephen Tan—organized rallies across the region, including a KPLU day in Tacoma. They took to the airwaves, conscripting Audie Cornish, Quincy Jones and others to make their pitch. And they organized groups of longtime donors to provide matches of as much as $500,000.

Today, KPLU is KNKX, an independent nonprofit. The station is not totally out of the woods yet: It now needs to rebuild its reserves and find enough money just to operate. But amid a sea of dismal news about the decline of journalism, the Friends of 88.5 are a life raft.

Courage in Public Service Honoree
Colleen Echohawk

Soon after accepting the post of executive director of the Chief Seattle Club two and a half years ago, Colleen Echohawk realized that the organization had to do much more to address the multiple traumas faced by American Indian and Alaska Native people in Seattle. 

These populations suffer from a whole range of ills, from poverty to addiction to homelessness. Last year, 16 native people died while living on the streets or facing housing instability. Echohawk needed resources, but she had no experience with fundraising and found the idea of approaching groups like United Way frightening.

Today, United Way is the club’s biggest funder, and the Chief Seattle Club, a presence in the city since 1970, has become a larger force in promoting public safety and solving the crisis of homelessness. The club has added weekend hours, and the staff has grown from seven to 15, including a case manager to help with housing for the 100 members it sees daily, most of whom experience chronic homelessness. 

“She has got this way of being very positive and constructive,” says Mark Putnam at All Home Seattle, the organization coordinating homeless efforts in King County. He praises Echohawk’s ability to build strong relationships while also pushing issues, including awareness of the extreme racial disparity in homeless rates.

While Echohawk loves the many ways she has seen Seattle respond to her club members’ needs, she thinks it’s particularly hard for them to face isolation and homelessness in a city whose name honors a native leader. “This city,” she says, “is losing out on incredible people.” If Echohawk has her way, that will change.

Courage in Business Honoree
Richard Romero

For many immigrants, the path to U.S. citizenship is a difficult one. To get there, they must wait in a long line in which their nationality can determine their priority. They must learn about our system of government, memorizing more than many natural-born citizens actually know. And at the end of it all, they must hand over a hefty amount of cash.

To go from holding a green card to becoming a naturalized citizen, an individual immigrant must pay a $680 filing fee. For families, the fees can add up to thousands of dollars. That’s a tall order: As many as half of King County’s 100,000 immigrants eligible for citizenship may be impoverished, according to Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. 

Under the leadership of CEO Richard Romero, the Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union has begun helping with this final hoop via a novel partnership with the City of Seattle that provides loans to immigrants. The city’s main role is to communicate with immigrant populations about the availability of the loans. The credit union takes care of the rest.

While there’s been lots of bluster this year about building walls and turning immigrants away at our borders, Romero’s initiative honors one of our country’s core values and lends a helping hand to those seeking a better life.

Lifetime Achievement Honoree
Martha Choe

If you spotted her on the bus in the morning, with her low-key, unassuming manner and neatly parted hair, you might not guess that Martha Choe is one of the most influential people in Washington’s recent history. But Choe has been a trailblazer for both women and people of color in Washington. 

From her terms on the Seattle City Council and work in state government to her leadership in the banking sector and global influence as the chief administrative officer of the Gates Foundation, Choe has embraced a leadership style that prioritizes compromise and getting things done over popularity and easy point scoring. 

Leadership requires both “vision and reality,” Choe said in a recent talk at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation. “Leadership involves people, not just org charts and boxes. Learn, listen and understand different perspectives.”

Choe used this approach to get Asian at-risk youth off the streets by investing in community centers. She helped revive Seattle’s downtown by reopening Pine Street to cars and bringing more than 1 million square feet of retail space to downtown Seattle between 1996 and 1998. And she spent a decade overseeing the operations of large portions of the Gates Foundation—including human resources and the hiring of staff—building the philanthropic powerhouse into its present form. 

As someone who has dedicated her lifetime to public service and steady leadership, Choe exemplifies what it means to be an involved, courageous citizen of the Pacific Northwest.