Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dallago offers his perspective

Today last airing of issues-oriented TV show

Express Staff Writer

Gene Dallago will air the last episode of ?Perspective? today. After four and a half years on the air, Plum TV has pulled the plug on the show. Photo by Mountain Express

You've seen him take a peek behind the curtain of last fall's immigration raids. You've watched him dig into affordable housing issues, the economic survivability of the Wood River Valley and most every issue in between. For four and a half years Gene Dallago has made regular appearances on local television fleshing out issues important to the people who live here, but that's all about to change.

Today, Dec. 12, Dallago, 53, will run his last airing of the poignant, opinionated and issues-oriented program he brought to local viewers. It's called "Perspective," and Dallago sat down Friday, Dec. 7, to share his perspective of his time behind the camera and the 16 years he's lived in the Wood River Valley.

"The show is coming to an end. My last kid is about to graduate from The Community School," he said. "Everything is sort of falling into place for the next chapter."

Dallago said Plum TV, which acquired KSVT about a year ago, cancelled the show, which Dallago had underwritten since its inception.

"They were very frank," he said. "They said it doesn't fit their programming model. What they're doing is probably smart. Their whole focus is to capture the 1 percent of the American public who has 33 percent of the wealth. It's basically by rich people, for rich people, sold to rich people. And that's what they're selling to advertisers."

But Dallago subsidized the program throughout its existence and said he believes television is an important forum for public discourse. The need for a local, issues-oriented television program will now become a vacuum in the Wood River Valley, and the prospect of a public access television channel will be the topic for Dallago's final program.

"I've spent seven years on the radio and television just sort of shouting into the wind," he said. "But if my parting shot for the valley was to set the groundwork in motion so that a station happens—we need it. We deserve it. And it would just be a tremendous asset. I can't stress that enough.

"That's my thesis: to see these types of public forums survive and expand and flourish and multiply."

He said he's written and produced "Perspective" entirely out of affection and adoration for the community, but he also pointed out that it's a community in transition.

"I've been so frustrated by the decline in community and the demographic changes over the years," he said. "Ketchum has changed so dramatically since I came. I got here just on the tail end of old Ketchum. It really was a turning point."

Dallago plans to move this spring away from the Wood River Valley, a place he reiterated has changed dramatically in a relatively short time.

"A lot of people disagree with me, but I'm a realist by nature, and I tend to be pragmatic," he said. "I envision Ketchum today and try to envision the path it's on, and it becomes clear to me that we are becoming much less of a community and more of a recreation facility. I've gotten to a point where I've said, 'embrace it.'"

More than 84 million baby boomers turned 65 last year, he said, and they're turning 65 at something like 17,000 per day.

"I'm convinced that those people are going to come to places like Ketchum as they retire. They're going to have the recourses to buy into the place, and they're going to be in search of quality of life, and we offer both.

"Honestly, I think the outlook for Ketchum, at least in terms of local economy, is pretty bright. You've got to have the patience to hang in there because it's going to be three to five years before we're going to start seeing that influx."

The 16 years Dallago has lived here and the journey therein is what brought him to his public personality as investigator and community pot-stirrer.

"When I first moved here (in 1991) I for years didn't feel connected to the place," he said. "I was just another transplant, and my world revolved around my kids and The Community School."

But in December 1999 Dallago began co-hosting a radio program on KECH called "The Talk of the Valley." It was a precursor in a sense to Perspective, the audio-version cousin to the eventual television program.

"When I began doing 'The Talk of the Valley,' it just opened my eyes to what an extraordinary community of people this valley really is. I know it sounds trite, but there are unsung heroes, people who care so much about various causes here."

The former San Francisco resident moved to the Wood River Valley in 1991 to raise his two children and settled into the routine.

In the autumn of 2001, however, Dallago, still feeling somewhat disconnected from his community, faced an obstacle that changed his outlook. He had just finished a radio program featuring candidates running for mayor of Ketchum and walked out of the studio with a raging fever. He was subsequently diagnosed with intestinal cancer.

A relatively easy operation isolated the cancer and brought Dallago back to full health, but it was a life-changing event.

"Leading up to that I really thought I was going to die," he said. "To wake up and have them tell me I was done really changed everything and precipitated some major life changes. That's when I started going for the television thing with a vengeance."

As an interviewer Dallago has an undeniably opinionated style, but that hasn't deterred some high-profile guests, who have run the gamut from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to then-Rep. Butch Otter, now Idaho's governor.

"Hands down the most interesting guest I ever had was (green architect) Bill McDonough," he said. "He was just a fascinating guy with an intriguing mind.

"The Kerry program was neat. It was an honor to interview him, but I ended up leaving the studio in tears. I wept for what could have been. It was so striking speaking to this intelligent man, and then thinking about what we ended up with in the White House."

Dallago said there is no denying his own liberal slant and said it is by circumstance and design.

"It's just my nature and my political leaning," he said. "But I offered the chair to any voice and any political persuasion."

Dallago is a well-spoken man of many opinions and his Friday conversation covered a lot of ground. But there is a theme that threaded his work behind the camera.

"I do get frustrated," he said. "Time and time again I see profit trump common sense and the public good. If there's been one constant throughout my experience doing these programs it's that. And I suppose that's America, but it troubles me."

Finally, Dallago stressed that he was never paid for his work on the television program and was never an employee at the television station.

"The really important thing here is I feel that what I began with these programs is a valuable thing. It's a valuable forum, and it's a public forum. I would just hate to see that go away simply because I'm unwilling to subsidize it anymore. And that's why I feel so strongly about getting this public access television station going."

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