Kiro-TV Awaits Its Fate In A Competitive Arena

Having won the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award for a number of years running, there might be no newsroom in town more qualified to speculate and fret than that of KIRO-TV (UPN), the station for sale or trade for the second time in two years.

With its owner, A.H. Belo Corp. of Dallas, buying KING-TV (NBC) parent Providence Journal Co. of Rhode Island, KIRO has to be thrown back, as Daily Variety put it. The metaphor was supposed to be of fishing, but the staff of KIRO-TV surely realizes the situation is more literal than that.

Simply put, in today's television world they don't come any better than Belo in practicing some semblance of good TV journalism.

"It's hard to win the lottery twice," said one KIRO-TV staffer.

Since federal regulations allow ownership of only one TV station per market, last week's announcement came with word that KING would be the keeper - a no-brainer considering it is top-rated in news and entertainment.

And it has occurred to the staff at KIRO that, well, it might not be in Belo's best interest to sell to a strong competitor, one that is serious about local news.

Notwithstanding a promise by Belo broadcast president Ward Huey to find a worthy buyer, newsies wrote a joint letter to him and others in Dallas, thanking them for a wonderful 20 months and urging them to do the right thing.

"Since you will be choosing your own competition in the Seattle market," states the letter, signed by most of the staff, "we ask that you live up to your stated commitment to bring in not only a strong competitor but a company that will allow us to carry on what we have started" under Belo at KIRO-TV.

And who might be that competitor?

The speculation is rampant, and some of it is even plausible. But as KIRO-TV general manager Glenn Wright notes, "You really can't speculate because it's endless. I sit down and look at the list and there are so many scenarios. Every rumor you've heard is a possibility."

The list of rumored potential buyers includes Westinghouse-CBS, News Corp., Tribune Co., Viacom Inc. and Hearst Corp.

Hearst would have to unload the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. You can't have both TV and a newspaper in the same market. The P-I has a complicated joint-operating agreement with this newspaper. Hmmm.

Daily Variety reported Monday that UPN owner Viacom, which recently sold its Seattle radio stations, would like to swap St. Louis station KMOV-TV (UPN) for KIRO-TV.

And what about price? Belo bought KIRO-TV for $162.5 million in 1995. Stations were going for about 10 times cash flow then, and now they're going for about 12 times cash flow. If you extrapolate that, the asking price today might be around $195 million.

And that's before people like Rupert Murdoch, who owns News Corp. and Fox Broadcasting Co., start bidding up the price.

KSTW turns to talk

KSTW-TV (CBS) moves into weekly public-affairs programming with a Sunday-morning talk show, "Chronicles," which starts this week at 9:30 a.m., following "Face the Nation."

Former KOMO-TV (ABC) anchor Jeff McAtee, Seattle Times editorial columnist Michelle Malkin and former KIRO-AM talk-show host Bill Gallant are the primary faces each week as the show tackles a single topic and invites others directly involved to join in.

`Pictionary' on TV

Rob Angel, a Seattleite who co-invented Pictionary, watched the board game come to life in Los Angeles last weekend as game-show pilot.

The program will be available in syndication next fall. Alan Thicke is the host.

Web site of the week

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TV-Radio Beat appears every Friday in The Seattle Times. Electronic-media reporter Chuck Taylor can be reached at (206) 464-8524 or on the Internet at