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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

‘NW Profiles’ features good things going on

By Mary Stamp

The “Northwest Profiles” show on KSPS-TV explores stories of artists, organizations, museums, hobbyists and more within the station’s coverage area from Western Montana to Central Washington and from Oregon north to Central Alberta.

Bob  Lawrence

Bob Lawrence found his passion in 30 years of work at KSPS-TV.

Interviewing people for stories for more than 30 years, Bob Lawrence says people’s passions keep him and viewers intrigued about what they are doing and why.

“It’s enlivening.  Our viewers hunger to learn about people’s passions,” he said in an interview last spring, after he had interviewed The Fig Tree on its 30 years.

“I hope the profiles we do are feel-good stories that feature good things going on in the viewing area,” Bob said.  “With our feature-story format, we feed a niche, and ‘Northwest Profiles’ is popular.”

Bob, a 1973 graduate of Lewis and Clark High School, attended Western Washington College one  year, picked apples, did construction and was a vocational trainer for mentally handicapped adults before earning a four-year degree in 1983 from Eastern Washington University and finding his own passion in TV production. 

He interned at KSPS as a production assistant and was hired as producer-director in January 1984. 

When he started, Bob wrote scripts for short documentaries and 30-second promotions. Everything was on videotape.  He loaded the machine and pushed the buttons to put videos on the air, including recorded programs from PBS.  Thirty years ago, he used heavy, big shoulder cameras.  The station progressed to use small camcorders.  Now all is electronic.

KSPS was first a school district entity, producing education-based programs, before joining PBS. 

He is one of six producer-directors who have been at KSPS over the past 30 years.

“I attribute the commitment to our being non-commercial and not having instant deadlines,” said Bob, who is also pledge producer, heading on-air fund raising at the station, choosing the message points, and coaching and training the on-air hosts.

Bob, who helped start “Northwest Profiles” 27 years ago, said it’s an icon show for KSPS.

With “Northwest Profiles,” four people work regularly, and others freelance.  Bob produces one of four shows, aired at 7 p.m., last Thursdays from October to May, and rebroadcast the following Sunday evenings.

“We cover what people aspire to do, and how they succeed in quiet and lofty ways,” Bob said.

“We do human interest stories,” he continued, “presenting a person without inflicting our own thoughts about the person.  Our role is to present their stories in the most interesting way.

“Stories take me out of the building to speak with artists and people with interesting hobbies,” he said.  “We try not to make it an ad for books, art or tickets, but have it be about people, their projects and their background.

“Artists are good, because there is a visual aspect and they are articulate.  To profile organizations and museums, we find someone to talk to make it personal.  We find people, and crawl around their lives for a day looking for a hook to start the story and then find the meat of the story,” Bob said.

“I have learned there are many creative, innovative, observant quirky people,” he said.

“The production department meets to discuss ideas from viewers.  Sometimes we decide an idea will not fly with our audience.

“We wondered if The Fig Tree would be a story.  We needed photos and the anniversary event for there to be enough visuals, in addition to talking to someone.  It’s too big a topic to do it justice in six minutes.”

About 20 years ago, Bob interviewed a man with a collection of psychedelic rock records that he had bought while serving in the Navy in Europe.

Another story was on the Society for Creative Anachronism, who recreate Middle Ages encampments, dressing and acting like people in that era.  They meet monthly for an authentic dinner.  Each has a persona and name. 

Another feature was on a professional musician from the 1950s who plays music in his retirement home.

Bob previously did “On the Road” with stories throughout the region. 

In the 1990s when the economy was more robust than now, KSPS produced one-hour documentaries.  Bob worked on a documentary about living with volcanos in the Northwest, Japan, the Philippines, Mexico and California.  He had the opportunity to travel for that and a few other programs.

He also did a full-length program about the Sisters of Providence who traveled in the area and established Sacred Heart Hospital, and travelogues that took him to Calgary, Edmonton, Richland, Davenport and around Spokane.

“Canadians love what we do and strongly back our programs financially,” Bob said, estimating that KSPS-TV’s funding hovers around 50-50 Canadian and U.S.

“People who support us see a need met through our programs,” he said.

The mix of funding includes approximately 10 percent from the government, 72 percent from individuals, and the rest from foundations, grants, underwriters and corporations.

“Advertising on commercial TV delivers eyeballs to advertisers,” Bob noted.  “We deliver programming to the minds and hearts of viewers without the onus of the bottom line.  That gives us more freedom in what we can offer.”

Bob likes PBS because it has shows on nature, history, biology, cultures and more. 

“The best TV makes people feel something and then desire to follow up and take action.  It touches people.  It could be strictly entertaining,” he said.  “Viewers offer suggestions.  We do not follow a particular agenda of what we put on the air.  We do not focus on hot button issues, like gun rights, abortion or global warming.”

For example, he said, “News Hour” includes people with different views discussing issues.

“Many media inject a point of view.  Headlines give so little they indirectly seem to tell us what to think,” said Bob, pleased to have an audience that has an attention span and wants to know more.

He quoted news commentator Mark Shields who said that many people watch news for ammunition, not information.  Many want news in their image.  With the choice of media and channels, that’s possible to do.

“Life changes because of TV shows,” Bob said.

One example is “Sit and Be Fit,” which originated in 1987 with host Mary Ann Wilson in Spokane and was offered free to other stations nationwide. It offers slow, gentle exercises for the elderly, accident victims and those who have not exercised for a while.

He knows that the hour-long, live, call-in “Health Matters” program helped one woman prevent a heart attack.

Bob likes working at a small TV station, where “I’m not pigeonholed” but can do everything: conceive ideas, contacts, interviews, shoot video recordings, write a script, announce, edit, have a music library, do graphic work, direct and sometimes be seen on camera.

“People do things they are drawn to do and are better for it,” said Bob.

“We entertain, but not just to entertain.  We want to present heart and soul of the community and region,” he said. 

“People make things happen,” he said.  “We present something people can connect to or start something similar.”

For information, call 443-7800 or email  boblaw@ksps.org.



Copyright © September 2014 - The Fig Tree