NP marks 60 years of KNOP

December 8, 2018 GMT

On Dec. 15, 1958, North Platte’s first television station went on air for the first time.

It’s been 60 years of changing technology, changing faces, a couple buyouts and there’s a new terrain ahead. Longtime station leaders past and present spoke of all that, as well what will never change in the local television market.

More than a year before the station went on air, 60 North Platte men and women approved incorporating North Platte Television Inc., on Nov. 19, 1957, according to a Telegraph-Bulletin story the next day.

One month later, the group purchased the interests of Goldenrod Tele-Radio Corp. of Pueblo, Colorado.

The purchase deal included Goldenrod’s construction permit, the Federal Communications Commission’s assignment of channel 2 and the initial call letters of KSWL-TV. But the commission later agreed to allow North Platte Television to change the call sign to KNOP, according to Telegraph records. Rush Clarke, an attorney for North Platte Television, said that the call sign had been used by U.S.S. Harry Rush before it sank in 1942, during World War II.

Final FCC approval came on May 2, 1958. The first TV signal came from a studio on the top of a hill just off of North U.S. Highway 83, 5 miles north of North Platte. The studio moved in 2015, but the transmitter is still there.

In the newer studio at 402 S. Dewey St., Jacque Harms still anchors a midday show and works as news director for the TV station. In April, Harms will celebrate 25 years at the TV station.

For many, KNOP came to life when Richard Shively of Indiana purchased the TV station in 1968, and he knew just the man to run the station: Ulysses Carlini. That year, Carlini moved his family from Evansville, Indiana, to North Platte.

“Ulysses really, probably saved the station,” Harms said.

She remembers hearing stories from him about having to let people go and making tough business decisions. Ulysses Carlini’s son, Lewys, said that to some, it appeared that a man from the Chicago area was walking into a North Platte TV station and cutting jobs. Staff at the time “were doing things they weren’t trained” to do, Lewys said. He added that Ulysses “hired people to their specific trade.”

Lewys worked at the TV station from the time he was a kid. His first jobs included cleaning toilets.

“You moved up to vacuuming,” he said with a laugh. “Then working cameras.”

Lewys always knew he wanted to work in communications, and likely with his family at the TV station. He worked there through high school. He made it his career after studying at Mid-Plains Community College. He eventually worked his way up to become station manager.

Before the world became digital, Lewys remembers tape and film arriving to the station, and sending it back to the company after a newscast ended.

“There was a lot of shipping,” he said.

He remembers using two-inch video tape, manually loading it into a projector, and how great of a development it was when ¾-inch tapes were implemented.

By the time the TV station became his career, “I already had a layup,” Lewys said. He remembers broadcasters who were older than him being leery of his work in high school, so young and the son of the station manager.

“You prove yourself,” he said.

Hoak Media bought KNOP in 2005. After the 1997 football season, NBC lost its NFL contract, so KNOP bought the “low-power” UPN Network, in part to stream NFL, which was on ABC and CBS until early 2003.

Ulysses never pressured his kids to work in TV, only to do their best. He loved starring in commercials, and wouldn’t completely retire until the mid-to-late 2000s, Lewys said. Ulysses died in August 2014.

Lewys was let go in September 2014, shortly after the station sold to Gray Television, according to a Sept. 9 Telegraph story that year. At the time he was general manager, he would still film and produce his own commercials, he said.

Neither he nor Harms could comment on the staffing changes after Gray’s purchase, but Lewys said he knew he wanted to stay in both communications and North Platte. He was thankful for the opportunity as general manager of Eagle Radio, where he works now.

This week, at the newer station location in town, Harms and Kent Winder, a 25-year employee of KNOP who anchors and reports on the news, visited with the Telegraph.

“Gray purchased us in 2014, and invested in new, state-of-the-art technology, and in this building,” Harms said.

With new software came new capabilities to go live on the air. With all the changes over the years, technology sped up the most “in the last 10 years or so,” Harms said.

Social media is now a must for individual employees and the station as a whole.

“We’re definitely busier,” Harms said with a laugh. While journalists are never “off the clock,” social media makes it easier to know what’s going on outside of the office, Harms said. Still, sometimes it means you can’t get away.

“In some ways, it’s made our lives easier, and in some ways, it’s made our lives more complex,” she said.

Winder added that now, the station can “grab” a news story from another town’s TV station digitally, giving viewers more regional news. There’s also more training and guidance from the larger company, Harms said. Still, the staff at KNOP chooses which content it posts on the station’s social media.

Winder and Harms are the two longest on-air employees at the station, as many reporters and anchors have moved away from North Platte to advance their careers.

“This is a place where you get your first chance,” Harms said. “You get your foot in the door. We consider that an honor and a privilege.”

She named stations where she’s seen her former employees land: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Waco, Texas; and Knoxville, Tennesse, to name a few. Social media has also helped keep up with the changing faces who move on, Harms said.

And while Lewys’ brother, Ulysses Jr., was the only one of Lewys’ seven siblings to stay in communications, he now works in Panama City Beach, Florida, Lewys said.

Like Lewys, Harms and Winder have made their homes in North Platte. Harms, who grew up in Stapleton, said she’s had opportunities to move on over the years, but the timing never worked out.

“I’ve never sent a tape anywhere,” Kent said. The Hershey native likes living close to family and has come to embrace the North Platte community.

Despite changes over the years, Harms said the station still has high ratings and “extremely loyal” viewers.

“With those ratings come a great responsibility,” Harms said.

Viewers can now stream the news on major streaming services, find stories on social media or watch the newscasts on the website.

Harms said the pressure has increased, but the station still places pressure on itself to be right, first and fair — something that has never changed over the years.

“I think the future of KNOP will be quality journalism,” she said.