Back in 1974 I signed on as a unpaid stat boy for Rich Bailey at Sunflower Cablevision. The cable operation has served my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas for more than 40 years. This week, the Simons family sold Sunflower to a company called Knology for 165 million dollars.
People in Lawrence loved to bitch about the media monopoly the Simons enjoyed because they also owned the local paper, The Lawrence Journal-World. The sale means one of two things. Either the kids want to divest themselves of their many media properties and this is step one or more likely, they need the cash to keep their dying newspaper alive.
Lawrence stands to lose a lot in terms of local programming. Sunflower offered a local cable newscast and a ton of homemade programming, some of it quite good. It all started with their sports productions which I had the privilege of working on back in the day. We were good enough to compete for national cable awards. The new owners are going to take a hard look at some of these local productions. Those that make money will survive, like sports, other will likely not, like the news. I hope I'm wrong.
The other albatross hanging around the Simons family's neck is Topeka's KTKA. They purchased the ABC affiliate in 2005 and hired me to help start up a news operation with grand designs of becoming the information company for Northeast Kansas. Unfortunately they overpaid for the station, hired a general manager who spun a lot of lies to the family, and never grasped the economic complexities of broadcasting. I bailed out after a year because I could see the trouble coming. They tried to sell the station about 18 months after that, right when the nation's economy tanked.
Right now they probably can't give the station away. It probably bleeds the family on the order of a quarter million dollars or more a year. I remember the hubris of Patrick Knorr when he told me the station would break even in three years. Having worked in Topeka before and knowing full well the allocation of advertising dollars I laughed at him and told him seven years minimum. But that's another blog for another time.