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The music of the Coffee House players of New London will be featured during a segment of Pioneer Public Television's "Postcards." Here, Don Schuck performs with the Coffee House players. Submitted photo

Pioneer TV turns its cameras on its rural, but largely undiscovered turf

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Wouldn't it be fun to roam about and discover new people and places, and send postcards back home to tell friends about it? Welcome to Eric Olson's new gig as executive producer for "Postcards.''

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"I love it,'' Olson said of Postcards, a new show that Pioneer Public Television will premier at 7 p.m. Sunday.

The weekly, 30-minute show will feature art, history and cultural topics from the Pioneer Television viewing area. That gives him a backyard to explore that ranges from points north of Detroit Lakes to the Iowa border.

It's a rural region without a large urban center, and consequently television cameras have only rarely focused on the people or places to be found here. Olson couldn't be happier. It gives him lots of new territory to mine as a reporter.

He's also in the enviable position of creating a new show and helping set its course, but it comes with challenges. Pioneer Public TV has limited infrastructure for producing a weekly show requiring lots of taping and production outside the studio.

Olson feels up to the challenge: He comes to Pioneer TV with 20 years of television experience, including an 11-year stint as an Emmy-award winning reporter with KARE 11.

Legacy funds are making the show possible. They've helped make it possible for the station to add three positions. Olson is joined by Andy Garske, camera and editing, and Robert Kiefert, web production, as newcomers to the station.

Other public television stations are using Legacy funds to focus mainly on the music and arts in the areas they serve. Pioneer TV took on a bigger challenge by featuring segments on the history and cultural heritage of the region as well.

It's looking to tell the region's stories as well as affirm the value of this region and its rural heritage, according to Les Heen, president and general manager of Pioneer Public Television.

Olson said he brings to the region a fresh set of eyes and most important of all, a reporter's instincts for a good story.

The stories are certainly here for the telling, sometimes in places unexpected. Olson said an upcoming show tells the story of a farm family, as only they can tell it while doing chores in their barn near Foley.

He will also take viewers outside to the sun-splashed lakes of Alexandria. It's where he discovered a tourism boom in a town that was nearly named "Hicksville.'' One of the town's founders had the name of Hicks, but the nod went to co-founder Alexander when it came to choosing the town's moniker.

We won't get into the story of how a village settled by Scandinavians in Chippewa County was named after a city in Italy. Readers should know that Olson paid Milan and its nationally-known rosemaling artist Karen Jenson a visit for one show. He made his way to Kandiyohi County on three different occasions. Upcoming shows will feature the Coffee Time Players from New London, basket weaver Jan Olney of Willmar, and Pillsbury Bake-Off contestant Michelle Gauer of Spicer.

The suggestion for the show's name came from Tim Bakken, production director at Pioneer Television. Bakken is a life-long resident of the region, and has been an invaluable guide to it, said Olson.

Bakken is also something of a history buff, and led Olson to Morris. He will be telling the story of the 1912 Stevens County farm exposition that attracted 20,000 people.

One of the biggest concerns of the time, Olson said he discovered, is still the lament of today: Young people leaving the farm for urban jobs.

Olson has lots of fun leaving his Appleton office following up on tips about great stories, but he admits that sometimes the best discoveries still happen by accident. He peered into the Whistle Stop diner on a visit to Benson one day and by sheer accident happened on the Scandinavian fare of ''klub.''

He liked it.

He's betting viewers will also like seeing and learning about the stories of their region in a quick and visual, postcard style.

Pioneer Television will be airing the show each week in its prime, 7 p.m. Sunday slot, and repeating it for broadcast at 12:30 p.m. Mondays and 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

The shows will also be available after broadcast on the Pioneer Public TV website.

The shows will also be made available to other public broadcast stations in the state, and segments could be aired over the Twin Cities public television system.

"It's an exciting time,'' said Heen. "We've wanted a show like for this for a long time.''

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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