By Bryant Million: PNT Staff Writer
Donald Criss has hosted KENW’s tele-auction for the past 30 years and has seen the program evolve from its not-so-well-organized beginning into the popular local event it’s become today.
The first tele-auction was held in June of 1975 in order to raise funding for the station to buy programming, according to Criss, the director of production services at KENW located on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. Criss said the first auction was held on two consecutive Saturdays with chalkboards used to keep track of bids. He said phone operators shouted out bid amounts at them, and they didn’t decide on what to sell until 15 minutes before they went on air.
One of Criss’ fondest memories of the tele-auction was during the third year when a donor had given a go-kart. It was not getting high enough bids, so Clyde Powell, the co-host, began to drive it around the studio to show it off to the audience. He eventually became tangled in his microphone wire.
“I was laughing so hard I was unable to speak into the cameras and update the audience on the bids,” Criss said.
Three years ago there was a tornado warning during the tele-auction broadcast, Criss said. Many people in the studio were panicked and worried because of the 280-foot tower outside the building. Criss had found a safe room with four interior walls in case of the worst and so the tele-auction continued. Criss said he remembers standing outside and watching for the tornado.
“The tele-auction has always been a highlight of the programming year,” Criss said. “It is very successful in fund-raising and helps the station look good because people look forward to it.”
Director of Marketing Sheryl Borden said the auction is a fun fund-raising event because it is so interactive. She has produced the tele-auction since 1988.
Another advantage of the auction is that it is a chance for ENMU broadcasting students to experience live television production. Criss said KENW used to have live children’s programs, news and a two-hour music program on Saturdays, “but now live TV has almost disappeared except for sports.”
Borden said that Criss has always helped students and children become involved in TV production and broadcasting.
“He loves to teach,” she said.
Criss is looking forward to next year when ENMU’s new communication building is complete. He said it will have new offices, studios and equipment will be soundproof with the building’s hardened walls.
The current KENW studios have “outside noise” such as trains, jets and even lawnmowers.
He said the new equipment will also help attract more students. KENW will have new labs and computers for audio and TV production as well as five new cameras. One studio will even be able to broadcast in high-definition.
“It’ll be like trading in an old, beat-up Ford pickup for a brand new Cadillac,” Criss said.
Criss was born in Penfield, N.Y., and graduated from Palmyra-Macedon High School. He graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in 1967, majoring in theater, and then went on to work at a CBS affiliate in Odessa, Texas. He returned to Portales and helped create KENW in 1974.
His wife Paula is from House. They have a daughter, Lisa, 36, who lives in Woodlands, Texas, and a son, Martin, 32, who lives in Portales.
Criss is a scholar in the New Mexico Humanities Council and is involved with its Chautauqua program, in which for the past four years he has gone to schools around New Mexico and has told stories to children while portraying either George Washington or Johnny Appleseed. He said he also enjoys telling Bible stories to children Sundays during the services at University Baptist Church.