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