After 45 years of local cable news reporting and programming, the screens at Channel 6 will soon go dark.
The channel’s new owner, Midco, announced Tuesday that it will discontinue Channel 6, 6News and its associated news website and expand Midco’s own sports network in Lawrence. Following its recent acquisition of WOW, Midco officials said the decision to close Channel 6 was based primarily on market competition.
“The main product of Channel 6 news was the 6 o'clock daily and it was competing against ABC, NBC, Fox and two CBS affiliates, so there was a lot of competing news at the time,” said Pat McAdaragh, Midco president and CEO. “And we really kind of had to make a decision: Do we want to go that route?”
Midco currently employs 72 people as part of its Lawrence operations and McAdaragh said 15 employees will be laid off as a result of the transition. Ten of those layoffs are the result of the closure of Channel 6, he said. The layoff figures account for five Channel 6 employees who will be hired for Midco Sports Network’s local coverage.
“We've done sports everywhere, we're good at sports, we kind of know what to expect from the community and from advertisers,” McAdaragh said. “So we decided to stick with what we know best and do that.”
The sale of WOW to Midco was announced in October, and the acquisition was finalized in January. Channel 6 airs daily news, weather and sports, and local shows “The Not So Late Show,” “Living Local” and “Jayni’s Kitchen.” The channel will operate through Aug. 4, McAdaragh said.
Beginning Aug. 5, Midco Sports Network coverage will include area high school sports, youth sports, syndicated sports-related programming and a live half-hour show, McAdaragh said. The show will be a sports highlight show that covers sports from the upper Midwest region, including mid-major college sports.
As part of its purchase of WOW, Midco takes on more than 30,000 cable, telecom and internet customers in Douglas, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties. The final changeover from WOW services to Midco will occur at the end of June, McAdaragh said. He said customers’ services and pricing will not change as part of the conversion and and will remain intact for the “foreseeable future.”
Midco is a regional cable, internet and service provider with businesses in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota that serve 350,000 customers. McAdaragh said Midco plans to roll out additional services and improvements in the Lawrence area over the next 18 months, including faster internet.
Gigabit-speed broadband internet service — at a cost of $99 per month — will be available to Midco customers in the Lawrence area in mid-2018, McAdaragh said. He said fiber-to-the-premise gigabit service is already available for businesses and larger institutions, but enabling higher-speed service citywide will require new modems and a major equipment upgrades at the Lawrence technical hub.
“The main hub site needs to be upgraded in downtown; that’s the major event that needs to happen,” McAdaragh said.
Other plans are also in the works. For this year, Midco’s plan for the Lawrence area is to offer TiVo, video on demand, TV Everywhere and whole home Wi-Fi services. For next year, the plan is to become a 100 percent digital video service and increase the number of high-definition channels. Enhancement of the Lawrence plant to make it more resilient and robust will be ongoing, according to the plan.
McAdaragh said that for the time being, the Midco Sports Network will be housed in Channel 6’s downtown building, 644 New Hampshire St. He said Midco’s offices will move from the Riverfront Plaza to a location near the intersection of South Iowa Street and W. 31st Street.
McAdaragh said Midco anticipates growing its Lawrence business over the upcoming months, likely requiring staff additions for field operations and sales.
“We’re excited to be here,” McAdaragh said. “We’re glad to get through this phase and be ready to really engage in the community and make our mark.”