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New owners to close longtime cable news channel this summer; one of city's largest employers gets new boss

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Lawrence soon will be losing its local equivalent of a television news channel. Officials at 6News have announced that the new owners of the cable system have decided to close Channel 6 and its associated news website, 6lawrence.com.

According to what the company has posted on its website, look for the shutdown to occur later this summer. The new owner of the cable system is Midco, which is a cable and broadband provider that owns several systems in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

As part of its operations, the company currently operates a channel called the Midco Sports Network. Based on its website, it looks like you can find all the North and South Dakota sports coverage that you would want. According to the 6News story, Midco plans to expand that sports network to the Lawrence market later this summer. I would assume the expansion would mean that the network will begin carrying some Lawrence area sports because I can’t imagine the demand for Dakota sports is too high in Lawrence.

I’m guessing the closure will mean some job losses for some news and production people at the station. I’ve got a call into an official at Channel 6, but haven’t yet heard back. Perhaps some of the sports staff will stay on board, but that is just a guess on my part. Sports Director Kevin Romary is the longest tenured on-air personality on the channel. I haven’t heard word of what his future involves yet.

The closing of Channel 6 will bring to an end a longtime venture. The channel is celebrating 45 years in operation. The channel has never been an over-the-air broadcaster, but rather has always been part of the local cable system, which includes Lawrence, Eudora, Tonganoxie, Basehor, Linwood and Piper.

Full disclosure, some of us at the Journal-World have a history with Channel 6, including me. The former owners of the J-W — the Simons family — also owned the cable system and started Channel 6. For a longtime, Channel 6 and the Journal-World shared a newsroom, and it wasn’t uncommon for newspaper reporters to do a few television stories. (It was learned that my face was so ill-equipped for TV that it was more effective to apply the makeup directly on the camera.) The Journal-World, though, ended its relationship with Channel 6 in late 2010 when the Simons family sold Sunflower Broadband to Knology Inc.

Since then, the Lawrence cable system has been on a bit of a merry-go round. In 2012, the entire Knology company ended up being bought by WOW Internet Cable and Phone based near Denver. But it did not seem that the Lawrence market really fit with WOW’s plans. WOW in October announced the sale of the Lawrence operations to Midco. Technically, Midco took over operations of the system a few months ago, I believe, but there has been a transition period where the WOW brand is continuing to be used in the Lawrence market. You may look for that to change in the future. (The service trucks of the cable company have been repainted more times in the last couple of years than any vehicle in town).

We’re reaching out to officials in Midco’s corporate offices to learn a bit more about what the company’s plans are for Lawrence and the reasoning behind shuttering Channel 6. We’d also like to get an update on whether the company is serious about bringing gigabit broadband service to Lawrence.

According to the company’s website, it has launched gigabit internet service in Fargo, Sioux Falls, Grand Forks and Rapid City since late March. The company at one time said it was exploring offering the super fast internet service in Lawrence, but we haven’t heard an update for awhile.

Now that the company is launching service in other communities, there may be additional details available about what the service includes and its pricing. When I was looking around on the company’s Fargo, N.D. page it looks like stand alone gigabit Internet service for a residential user costs about $100 month. It appears the gigabit service is for download speed. Upload speed — like if you want to post a large file online to share with others — is limited to 20 Mbps, according to the information on the website.

I don’t know whether the Fargo system would be similar to one in Lawrence or whether such discussions are still occurring with Midco. But if we hear more, we’ll let you know.

In other news and notes from around town:

• One of the largest employers in Lawrence has a new person in charge. Hallmark has announced that Steve Eck has been named production center manager for Hallmark’s large plant at 101 McDonald Drive. Eck replaces David Millen, who retired in March.

Eck has been with Hallmark since 1999 in a variety of engineering roles. He most recently was operations director, dealing with supply chain management issues for the company.

Hallmark probably exports the most famous-made Lawrence product that doesn’t involve a basketball. The 650,000 square-foot plant and warehouse near I-70 produces most of the Hallmark greeting cards sold in North America. Spokesman Andy DiOrio said the Lawrence plant actually produces and packages about 70 percent of all greeting cards for Hallmark.

“Each week millions of cards are produced in Lawrence, including the Shoebox humor line, the Sunrise brand and cards for Hallmark’s DaySpring subsidiary,” DiOrio said via email.

I’ve long thought that Lawrence tourism leaders ought to do something to highlight Lawrence’s Hallmark connection, especially near the Christmas holiday season. Lawrence: The Capital of Christmas Cards. We could do something fun with that. (The other famous product produced in Lawrence is Kibbles ’n Bits dog food, but it doesn’t have the same Christmas appeal. Trust me, kibble was not as popular as I had hoped that year I burnt the turkey.)

But Hallmark has a lot of devoted fans, especially for its Christmas ornaments and other collectibles. Lawrence legitimately can say it has been a Hallmark town for a long time. The Lawrence plant was opened in 1958, just four years after the company changed its name from Hall Brothers to Hallmark. Maybe Hallmark could loan us some of its Norman Rockwell originals to be on display in downtown Lawrence, which many feel is one of the few downtowns that still have a Norman Rockwell feel to it, especially around the holidays.

Regardless, Hallmark’s biggest impact on the town is the number of jobs it provides. DiOrio said the Lawrence plant now has about 800 employees. That number represents a good increase from the past few years. In 2013 we reported how Hallmark was closing its Topeka location and would transfer some jobs to the Lawrence plant. In 2013, the company had about 500 workers at the Lawrence location. It had estimated the total could grow to about 700. So, those estimates have been exceeded.

As for Eck, who also will oversee the company’s Leavenworth plant, he received his industrial engineering degree from Kansas State. But don’t worry, not all the greeting cards are going to come out purple. Eck has his MBA degree from KU.

Steve Eck. Courtesy: Hallmark Cards

Steve Eck. Courtesy: Hallmark Cards by Chad Lawhorn

Comments

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 days, 20 hours ago

That's too bad. When we switched to Uverse years ago, I really missed Channel 6. It's too bad they were never able to negotiate some kind of deal with other cable providers. I usually watch Channel 9 in KC, because it gives a lot of Lawrence news. Weren't cable companies at one time required to provide some local programming? Or am I thinking of something else?

Amy Varoli Elliott 6 days, 18 hours ago

I think they only have to carry the "real" local channels (PBS, ABC, NBC, FOX) not just the ones that didn't have the magical three letters

Jj Lawrence 6 days, 20 hours ago

As long as Midco can bring some faster internet to town, I'll be happy. WOW promised 2 years ago that they would be bringing 300mbps and it never happened. I've been stuck paying $80 ($100 before I called and was able to get a discount) for 110mbps service, which is ridiculous. After failed promises by both Knology and WOW, it'll be interesting to see what Midco can do.

Tony Peterson 6 days, 16 hours ago

WOW never lived up to the name. Just doubled the price for everything while at the same time cutting services and channels.

Cary Ediger 6 days, 13 hours ago

Right before the sale to Knology, Sunflower Broadband was getting ready to beta test with a few employee's faster speeds. At that point as I recall (it has been 8 years) it was just for nodes (areas of town) upgraded for telephone service.

I think at this point I should be safe to comment as the company has been sold 3 times since I was downsized and laid off along with 80 other co-workers.

Thomas Sadler 6 days, 19 hours ago

It would be nice if Midco would actually reach out to their existing customers. My statements still come from WOW and have heard nothing at all from them. Any information we get is through the LJWorld and I have become pessimistic regarding their service. I'm ready to jump to the first new company offering higher speeds.

Jj Lawrence 6 days, 19 hours ago

Couldn't agree more. Midco's website says, "We’re working diligently to start serving you in summer 2017 and will share more details soon." But it'd sure be nice to get an update. I talked to a WOW sales rep a couple of weeks ago and he said they were targeting June 1st for the turnover but who knows.

Ken Schmidt 6 days, 18 hours ago

I talked to a MidCo rep yesterday about my business account and was told that it would be later in 2018 before gigabit service would be offered in Lawrence. FYI.

Kevin Surbaugh 6 days, 18 hours ago

They (and the Journal) never paid attention to press releases sent to them anyway. Still it will be sad to see them go.

David Teska 6 days, 17 hours ago

Sunflower had great customer service (IMHO) but it went downhill when it got sold. We bailed on them and went to UVerse and then DIRECTV which has it's on host of problems that come with dealing with an large and impersonal corporation.

Rick Aldrich 6 days, 17 hours ago

As long as it's not a home owned cable company they'll CONTINUE to SUCK. R.I.P. Channel 6

Dave McClain 6 days, 17 hours ago

The Channel 6 news feed was really the only reason we kept cable with Knology and WOW. We tried Uverse for about 3 months, but came back to WOW because we missed the local news. Too bad that the local network is shutting down. Time for me to move (oh, I already did!)

Ralph Gage 6 days, 17 hours ago

This is just plain sad. 6News once won a Cronkite Award, among many other honors of distinction. Was a vital source for news in Lawrence, and was especially important when Sunflower, the Journal-World and the online operation were converged. This decision shows two things: Midco does not understand this market, and if local advertisers and subscribers do not support local media, eventually things spiral downward. Good luck to all my friends at what once was Sunflower Broadband and Channel 6. They deserve better.

Andy Craig 6 days, 17 hours ago

This is when Sunflower Broadband Man returns to save the day!

Richard Heckler 6 days, 14 hours ago

Midco has acquired cable TV, internet and phone systems in Lawrence, Kan. from WOW for an undisclosed sum, the companies announced today.

With the agreement, Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Midco will enter the state of Kansas for the first time, serving more than 30,000 customers across Douglas, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties. Midco is also purchasing Lawrence’s only local TV broadcast station, WOW Channel 6.

"While Midco is not about growth for the sake of growth, we are always interested in acquiring quality systems that are consistent with our style of operation," Tom Simmons, senior VP and chief of staff for Midco, told FierceCable.

"When the Lawrence system became available, it piqued our interest immediately. We know WOW to be solid operators, and when we checked out the community we felt a sense of pride not unlike that of the towns we currently serve.

We were impressed with the Lawrence area’s diverse economy, the University of Kansas, and Forbes recognition in 2015 as the No. Best Small Place for Businesses and Careers in the nation.

Our operations headquarters is in Sioux Falls, SD and ranked No. 3 on the same list. Cultural is very important to us and our CEO, Pat McAdaragh, said this acquisition 'just feels like the right cultural fit.' Our history proves that we take a great deal of pride in our customers and communities, and we tend to serve them for a very long time."

WOW Lawrence passes 67,000 homes and businesses. Up until 2010, it operated as Sunflower Broadband, an independent, locally owned telecom company. The deal is still subject to regulatory approval.

RELATED: WOW product VP: 'Video will continue to be key category'

Midco currently serves 350,000 customers in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. It operates a regional sports network focused on high-school athletics, Midco Sports Network.

Denver-based WOW provides TV, internet and voice service to 20 markets in states including Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. In August, Wow acquired Georgia cable operator NuLink for $53 million.

In January, Midcontinent Communications rebranded itself under its nickname Midco and began to roll out 1 Gbps services to its entire serving area. That project is set to be completed by the of 2017.

http://www.fiercecable.com/cable/midco-buys-wow-s-cable-system-lawrence-kansas

Christina Podany 6 days ago

Really hoping Midco will offer new cable boxes. These original ones are terrible and the technology/graphics/abilities are at least 10 years old! I had VerizonFIOS on the east coast and it was amazing - really wish they would come here!

Brandon Devlin 5 days, 22 hours ago

I don't know. . .NDSU football is a lot more entertaining to watch then KU football.

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