After nearly 60 years on the air, after winning numerous awards in its heyday, and after playing a surprisingly large role in broadcast history for a small station in Bellingham, KVOS-TV appears headed for a future with its operations based in Seattle.
In the latest of several ownership changes over the decades, OTA Broadcasting of Virginia is expected to win federal approval soon for its purchase of KVOS from Newport Television.
KVOS will be the third station bought recently by OTA, along with KTLN in San Francisco and KFFV in Seattle.
In an email, Todd Lawyer, the company's chief executive officer, said OTA anticipates hiring a total of 10 employees from KVOS offices in Bellingham and Vancouver, B.C.
"We intend to retain the station's commitment to the community through local programming," he wrote. "In addition, we will seek to improve the performance of KVOS TV, which has been unprofitable over the past several years. ... Because the assets of KVOS TV are expected to be combined with those of KFFV TV in Seattle, we will improve the operations and long-term prospects of both stations."
Deb Slater, an on-air host who has worked at KVOS for three years, said she and 11 other employees in Bellingham have been told their jobs will end March 6.
"Some of these people have been here over 30 years," she said.
Four local employees, have been told they can keep their jobs, she said.
News shows and other community-oriented content have shrunk over the years at KVOS and other stations, a victim of tight budgets in the new universe of cable TV and other digital communications.
"Small TV stations are becoming a thing of the past," Slater said.
Slater is best known at KVOS for her "Experience Northwest" program, a weekly interview show. The program was canceled a year ago. She now produces short reports about community events.
KVOS broadcasts throughout southwest British Columbia and much of Western Washington. It's now affiliated with Me-TV, which broadcasts such classic shows as "Bonanza," 'Gunsmoke" and "Cheers."
KVOS began as a Seattle radio station owned by Louis Kessler, with the call letters reportedly standing for "Kessler's Voice of Seattle." He moved the station to Bellingham, but it failed financially and Aberdeen businessman Rogan Jones bought the station in 1929.
Jones put Bellingham on the broadcasting map with his innovative work in radio and television.
Decades ago, news organizations like The Associated Press refused to sell stories to radio stations. So Jones initiated three shows a day in which a newscaster read stories from The Bellingham Herald and the Seattle dailies.
The AP sued, accusing Jones of pirating the news. In 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out AP's lawsuit on a technicality, opening the door for radio stations to join AP and other news services.
With commercial TV on the horizon by the 1940s, Jones created one of the first cable-TV networks in the country, stringing cable from poles to trees to garages because TV channels had a tough time reaching Bellingham.
By 1953, Jones had a broadcast channel from the government and launched KVOS-TV that June with BBC coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. From the beginning, KVOS paid attention to its Canadian audience.
In the early 1960s, KVOS was sold to a Florida firm, Wometco Enterprises, signaling a stretch when the station won several Emmys. KVOS produced a weekly news magazine show, a nightly news report, a children's show, and special coverage of state government.
"We did long-form documentary, '60 Minutes'-style programs," said Lynn Rosen of Bellingham, who worked at KVOS for 36 years.
But bumpier times were ahead. In 1984, KVOS canceled its nightly news show and fired 22 staffers, citing low ratings and high costs.
Six years later, under new owner Ackerley Communications, coverage perked up with a half-hour news show weekday mornings.
"We really were out in the community and on top of things that people cared about," said Amy Cloud, who worked at KVOS from 1985 until 2004 is now spokeswoman for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.
"There's still talent and capability there," she said. "It's really sad to see them shut down."
Five years ago, KVOS dropped its morning news show, again citing a lack of advertising support.
More and more, for small stations like KVOS, strong local programming belongs to the past, not the present.
"If these walls could speak," Slater said. "Really interesting history."
Amy Cloud is collecting stories, artifacts and photographs for a possible book or documentary about KVOS-TV. To contact Cloud, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than a dozen KVOS-TV news segments from the 1960s are viewable at The Bellingham Herald's history channel on YouTube. Segments include a show about the 1964 Alaska earthquake, and interviews with civil rights activists Julian Bond and Dick Gregory.
Reach DEAN KAHN email@example.com or call 715-2291.