Local News

Sitka television pioneer on sidelines of broadcast dispute

Despite his near-mogul status, Etulain says "TV is my hobby." (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Despite his near-mogul status, Etulain says “TV is my hobby.” (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Anchorage television station KTUU and GCI have reached a tentative agreement to keep KTUU news programming on the air in rural Alaska at least through December 6. See the story from KTOO’s Rosemarie Alexander here.

The dispute over rural television coverage started over 14 months ago, when GCI began negotiating for the purchase of the two NBC stations in Southeast, and one CBS station in Anchorage.

At least one individual deeply involved in that transaction is surprised that GCI and KTUU are struggling to reach a deal.

“It was so simple, we thought. Just send a check,” says Dan Etulain, the Sitka businessman who founded KATH-TV in Juneau, and KSCT-TV in Sitka, and who sold both to GCI on November 1 of this year.

While Etulain is content to be on the sidelines of this particular contest, he’s still in the middle making television. He owns one other Anchorage television station (KACN), and in Sitka he’s seldom seen without a video camera, providing 24-hour content for the local public access channel. He spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey.

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Although his empire is smaller, he may be the closest thing we have in Southeast Alaska to our own Rupert Murdoch.

But Dan Etulain isn’t in the news – he’s too busy making it. Selling the two stations is his version of scaling back.

“My primary interest is community TV. Actually NBC here was primarily a translator of our Juneau station – it just repeated. I didn’t have much to do with it. Also, we could pay off a few bills. And my wife has move to Bellingham, so I go see her about three or four times a year.”

That would be Kathy Etulain, the former director of the Sitka Campus of the University of Alaska Southeast. And Etulain’s inspiration for KATH-TV in Juneau.

“And so it was a matter of convenience. And I still own the station in Anchorage, and spend a lot of time making trips to Anchorage. And the station you own is which? The call letters are KACN. And it’s a very small, independent station.”

And when Etulain is not taking care of his remaining television station, he’s filming meetings, concerts, school programs – just about anything – and putting it up ‘round the clock on cable channel 11 in Sitka. Something he’s done for the last 16 years.

But even back then, Etulain was no newcomer to media. He first bought the now-defunct KIFW-TV in 1983.

“So I started TV 30 years ago. And this was your second career? Yes, I came to Sitka to be the first full-time dean of students. And that would have been in 1974? 1971.”

And also, 31 years ago, Dan Etulain became a founding member of the board of KCAW-FM, Sitka’s public radio station. A seat which he still holds.

Throughout our conversation, Etulain never mentions the “R” word.

“I’m not interested in retirement. I like what I do. It’s not only a job, it’s kind of a fun thing to do. It’s my hobby.”

Rupert Murdoch should be so lucky.

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