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Tuned In: Viewers can voice their opinions with YOUtv

Thursday, August 30, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

It's all about you and your opinions. That's the mission of KDKA's new YOUtv kiosks, which pose a question on a screen and ask for a response from passers-by. A video camera records the answers to tape.

Teaser promos for YOUtv have aired for several weeks, and it's expected to become a regular feature on the station's 5 p.m. newscast early next month.

YOUtv president David Peacock said airing the public's answers to questions is a way for TV stations to create a sense of community involvement with viewers.

"If you want the viewing audience in your local market to associate with your station, then put real viewers on the air in a way that's unmediated," he said.

Unmediated, that is, except for editing the responses for "television appropriateness."

KDKA executive producer Anne Linaberger said the kiosks will pose two questions relating to a current event followed by an opportunity for respondents to sound off on anything. KDKA employees will collect the tapes and select which answers make it into a newscast.

"Is the bulk of what's collected useable? No," Peacock said. "But out of what's collected that's useable, based on the time constraints of television, you'd only use six to 10 minutes a week anyway."

Linaberger said initial questions posed by YOUtv will be more serious. That's a wise move that should help mitigate some of the profanity-filled responses the kiosks will likely generate.

Linaberger said that as of yet she doesn't know other ways YOUtv will be used locally, but she cited examples of how it's been used elsewhere. A Las Vegas TV station used the kiosks to allow citizens to pose questions to the city's mayor. The citizens' questions and the mayor's answers were edited together and broadcast.

In other markets, YOUtv has generated story ideas.

"We saw in one market people in a neighborhood were angry because a developer was coming in and kicking out a small produce stand everybody loved," Linaberger said. "The station saw it and did a story on it."

The YOUtv kiosk has been featured on a few KDKA newscasts already and will be on hand again at the Heinz Field Great Hall during tonight's Steelers game.

KDKA will have three kiosks total. Sometimes a kiosk will be carted to specific events, but other kiosks will have more-or-less permanent homes that haven't been determined. (The CBS station in Denver put YOUtv units in shopping malls.)

Linaberger previously worked at WTAE, where she launched Channel 4's Feedback line several years ago. She sees YOUtv as different because it will show peoples' faces and their voices.

"It's a lot less anonymous," she said.

That should mitigate the number of yahoos who abuse the machine for fun.

"We're not asking people something that we'd normally do in a story," she said. "We're giving an opportunity for people to tell us something. It's not just voice and a name. It's, 'Here I am, I'm putting my face to my opinion.' It makes for a lot more impact."

CBS purchased YOUtv for all its owned stations from a Canadian company that sells the technology, hardware and marketing materials.

YOUtv's Peacock said the concept began about 10 years ago with Toronto's Citytv, where a booth called Speakers Corner became a huge success.

"It's no longer a question of 'Do we keep it on the air?' If we ever took it off the air, there'd be a riot," Peacock said. "It no longer belongs to us. It belongs to the people of Toronto."

Not content to conquer North America, YOUtv kiosks have either been installed in or will soon be added in Helsinki, Bogota and Barcelona.

Richert going to radio?

Rumors, stoked by the refusal of KDKA radio executives to comment, continue to swirl that television weathercaster Larry Richert will move out of TV and back to radio where he started.

Richert wouldn't comment, either.

This is all tied to KDKA-AM's "big announcement" coming Sept. 6 that may involve the retirement of morning radio host John Cigna. If Richert is part of the plan, which seems likely, he may replace Cigna. Or perhaps afternoon radio host Fred Honsberger will take the place of Cigna and Richert will replace Honsberger.

Whatever the combination, Richert's days as primary weathercaster on KDKA appear to be numbered, judging by recent KDKA-TV promos. Some feature only Jeff Verszyla and Bob Kudzma.

Another clue: Verszyla's appointment to the WNPA 10 p.m. news didn't make a lot of sense on the face of it. (Why take him off the weekend? Why not just add that newscast to Richert's duties?) But if Richert's departure was in the works, it's a logical move that paves the way for Verszyla to take over all evening weather on both stations.

Off the air

Same station, same result, different cause. WCWB, which went through a spate of programming interruptions last year due to power losses, went off the air Tuesday afternoon because of a lightning strike.

WCWB regional manager Dick Singer said lightning hit the microwave receiver on the station's tower in Monroeville. Channel 22 remained off the air until yesterday afternoon.

A backup generator was installed earlier this year that will keep Channel 22 on the air during power outages.

'Big Brother' pre-empt

KDKA will again pre-empt Thursday's prime-time CBS lineup for a Steelers preseason game, including the live eviction episode of "Big Brother 2." "BB2" will instead air at 8 p.m. Friday.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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