I n a move resembling a fast-paced game of scrabble, two Fresno television stations have changed their call letters. KJEO 47 changed to KGPE, and on Monday, September 26, KMCF 32 took on KJEO

The change took place for two reasons. Channel 47 has been purchased by the Ackerley Group of Seattle Washington. In an act that leaves several local television industry officials scratching their heads, Ackerly changed KJEO to KGPE. According to a press release from Ackerley, the change will reflect the company's mission statement, "Grow. Protect. Enjoy."
Boost The Ratings.

The call letters will be just one of the many changes at 47, such as: automating the newsroom and controlling it remotely from Bakersfield with a robotic news system. Said Denni Curley, co-president and chief operating officer at the Ackerly group.

"We expect the personnel and technology we devote to KGPE will improve its local newscasts, which will increase ratings, which will enhance our ability to generate advertising revenue."

Channel 47 has had trouble maintaining competitive ratings for its evening newscast.

The second reason for change is Gary Cocola, president of Cocola Broadcasting Company. Cocola owns 20 television stations, 10 in the Fresno area, including channel 32. Cocola says he can't imagine Fresno television being without the call letters KJEO.

The KJEO call letters have been a fixture in Fresno television since 1953, when the late Jack E. O'Neill established one of the earliest local television stations, giving it his own initials, JEO. In 1963, Walt Disney learned of the station from his son-in-law who lived next door to the parents of one of the station's employees. Disney's Retlaw company (Walter spelled backwards) bought the station and later sold it to Fisher Broadcasting. Fisher sold the station to the Ackerly Group for a reported $60 million this past August.

New Home For An Old Name

Last week, attorneys for Cocola were in Washington, D.C. at the Federal Communications Commision to secure the KJEO call letters for channel 32

"The move was challenging, but worth the time and effort," said Cocola. "I'm doing this in memory of Mr. O'Neill and the role he played in Fresno's television history. He was a giant in the area, and a giant of a man."

O'Neill was a self-made man. He came to California from Canada as a teenager with virtually nothing, building his fortune on cattle ranching and cotton. He served as president of the American Automobile Association, was instrumental in establishing the West Lands Water District and actively participated in charitable institutions including Valley Children's Hospital and Guidance Clinic.

O'Neill also had an eye for trends, which led him to television. In a 1953 interview, he stated (if not quite on the money, certainly close to the possibilities),

"Television will play an important part in developing the culture and education of this area. It will be a strong factor in bringing religion into the home. I think it will improve the general standard of living." 

Saving the KJEO call letters was as act of passion for Cocola. Among Cocola's childhood friends was Edwin R. O'Neill, son of Jack. The two were junior high school students when KJEO signed on to the air.
Currently, Cocola is the largest television broadcaster in the valley. He began his television career in 1956 as the on-air host of Al Radka's TV Record Hop, which aired for an hour Saturday evenings on channel 12 KFRE-TV. He continued this role until 1964 when he joined his father, the late Morris Cocola, in the family produce business.

First Love

In 1985 Cocola returned to his first love, television, and established his own station. This rapidly led to owning more over-the-air stations offering programming from home shopping to pay-per-view music videos.

"I've always seen television as a way for people to reach out to the broader world and as a way for the world to reach people who might be far removed from it," said Cocola.

Channel 32 is a free, over-the-air station. All that's required to recieve to recieve the signal is an antenna, it's not available on the cable network. The "New KJEO's" programming is nostalgia-oriented, airing shows like: The Lucy Show, Bonanza, and McHale's Navy. Observant viewers will know that the Clampets brought $100 million with them to Beverly Hills. Classic movies starring the likes of Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor are also featured.

"Channel 32 is the perfect venue for the KJEO call letters," said Cocola. "What better way to link our new slogan? KJEO, television the way you remember."

Business Journal article by Don A. Wright
reprinted with permission