Sitka television pioneer on sidelines of broadcast dispute

Dan Etulain recently sold the two NBC stations to GCI, but he’s is still shooting video of Sitka events for the local cable access channel. Photo by Robert Woolsey.

The dispute between GCI Cable and Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU started more than 14 months ago, when GCI began negotiating for the purchase of  two NBC stations in Southeast, and one CBS station in Anchorage.

Dan Etulain, of Sitka, founded KATH-TV in Juneau, and KSCT-TV in Sitka, and sold both to GCI on Nov. 1.  He’s surprised GCI and KTUU are struggling to reach a deal.

“It was so simple, we thought. Just send a check.”

While Etulain is content to be on the sidelines of this particular contest, he’s still in the middle of making television. He owns one other Anchorage television station, and in Sitka he’s seldom seen without a video camera, providing 24-hour content for the local public access channel.

KCAW’s Robert Woolsey met recently with Etulain and has this profile.

Although his empire is smaller, he may be the closest thing we have in Southeast Alaska to our own Rupert Murdoch.

But Dan Etulain isn’t in the news – he’s too busy making it. Selling the two stations is his version of scaling back.

“My primary interest is community TV. Actually NBC here was primarily a translator of our Juneau station – it just repeated. I didn’t have much to do with it,” Etulain said. “Also, we could pay off a few bills. And my wife has moved to Bellingham, so I go see her about three or four times a year.”

That would be Kathy Etulain, the former director of the Sitka Campus of the University of Alaska Southeast. K-A-T-H-Y: Etulain’s inspiration for KATH-TV in Juneau. But, I digress:

“And so it was a matter of convenience. And I still own the station in Anchorage, and spend a lot of time making trips to Anchorage,” he said. The call letters are KACN. And it’s a very small, independent station.”

When Etulain is not taking care of his remaining television station, he’s filming  meetings, concerts, school programs – just about anything – and putting it on cable channel 11 in Sitka, something he’s done for the last 16 years.

Etulain first bought now-defunct KIFW-TV in 1983.

“So I started TV 30 years ago,” as his second career.  He came to Sitka in 1971 to be the first full-time dean of students at Sheldon Jackson College. (The college closed in 2007.)

Also, 31 years ago, Dan Etulain became a founding member of the board of KCAW-FM, Sitka’s public radio station. A seat which he still holds.

Throughout our conversation, Etulain never mentioned the “R” word.

“I’m not interested in retirement. I like what I do. It’s not only a job, it’s kind of a fun thing to do. It’s my hobby.”

Rupert Murdoch should be so lucky.

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