“I have never had one discussion since Jon [Ralston] has been there [at Channel 3] about content, that he should or shouldn’t ask these questions, that he should or shouldn’t have these people on, because I think it’s very, very important that ownership not try to interfere with content at all,” he continued.
What makes this programming plethora notable is the fact that, here in Las Vegas, the trend at other local TV stations is to provide less, not more, public affairs coverage to viewers. Neither the CBS nor ABC affiliates in Las Vegas produce any public affairs broadcasts.
The television landscape is a bit fuller in Reno, Nevada’s other metropolitan area. In addition to the daily mix on Rogers’s NBC affiliate, both the CBS and ABC stations carry weekly 30-minute programs—a larger commitment than many stations around the country.
“In the public affairs programs, you get more than just a sound bite,” noted Ray Hagar, political reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal. “You can listen to a detailed explanation or answers to some complex questions about politics or the economy. You can really get a sense about the person.”
Hagar, who co-hosts “Nevada Newsmakers” about once a week, said that TV can offer him a better opportunity to nail down a politician who wants to waffle.
“You can ask a follow-up and keep grilling them until they answer the question,” he pointed out. “When you interview someone for the newspaper, they can quickly pivot away from the question and they can even say, ‘That’s it. The interview’s over.’ On TV, they can’t say that.”
The various shows are all ad-supported, like the rest of the commercial programming on Intermountain’s stations. But Rogers insists that, at least when it comes to public affairs programming, it isn’t about the ratings or the dollars.
“I’ve told our people we’re not going to start changing the content of our programming based on whether you do a 2, a 2¼ , a 3 (share) or whatever,” he said. “I want them to stop looking at the ratings and stop adjusting what we do based upon the ratings.”
“I don’t think he does it to make money,” said Hagar. “I think he does it because he believes in the old 1930s design. It goes back to radio [when you had] to do something for the public good.”
In a phone interview from his Montana ranch, where he escapes Las Vegas’s sweltering summers, Rogers agreed with that analysis.
“When television and radio started out, the objective was that the stations would be locally owned and would respond to the local needs of the community and could do so because ownership was local and could understand what the local needs were,” he said. “I wish that all of the stations across the country were owned by people in the communities where they broadcast. I think if that were so, you’d see a lot more participation by ownership.”
In practice, of course, that would force Rogers to sell off his stations that aren’t in Nevada, his primary home for the past 60 years. And his views put Rogers at odds with critics of the FCC’s latest push for localism.
Rogers said, in practicality, it’s impossible for CEOs at corporate owners to understand the political scenes in Poughkeepsie, Peoria, and Portland—and that connection is key to helping to foster public debate.
“I believe very strongly in open discussion about any and all issues. I think that’s my obligation as a broadcaster,” he says. “I’ve always done that and I intend to continue until the day they put me in the ground.”