Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Channel 25 needs cable visibility

        Ten years later, the questions are still the same for WBQC-TV (Channel 25), the Tristate's low-power UPN station in Golf Manor.

        How can we get Channel 25? Why isn't Channel 25 on Time Warner cable?

        “The questions are always the same,” says Elliott Block, owner and general manager of Channel 25, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Friday.

        “Some people move here from another city and are trying to find UPN shows. Others ask us, "When are you going to be on cable?' ” he says.

        It's been an uphill battle for the low-power station, which boasts 20 new series this fall and beat WB (Channel 64) programming in primetime ratings on Sept. 18.

        In January, after more than nine years of lobbying, Channel 25 was added to Insight cable serving all of Northern Kentucky. Channel 25 also can be found on Aldelphi Cable in western Hamilton County.

        But not on Time Warner, the Tristate's biggest system (340,000 homes).

        “We'd love to be on Time Warner,” Mr. Block says. But he's never been close to a deal with Virgil Reed, Time Warner's Cincinnati Division general manager.

        Here's the problem: Channel 25 is a low-power station, with a signal that fails to reach everyone inside the I-275 loop. (The full-power TV stations reach 19 counties in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.)

        Cable systems are not required by the “must carry” rule to pick up low-power stations. So Time Warner doesn't do it here, although cable systems in Dayton, Toledo and other parts of Ohio do.

        According to Mr. Block, Time Warner offered in July to lease a basic cable channel to WBQC-TV for $113,531 a month, or $1.36 million.

        “That's an unrealistic amount for us. That is much more than we make in a year,” says Mr. Block, whose station became profitable in the past year.

        “Time Warner isn't doing anything illegal. They're not doing anything wrong,” Mr. Block says. “It's more the case of them not doing something right. We're not "must carry.' We're "should carry.' ”

Difference of opinion

        Mr. Reed says Channel 25 could lease a Time Warner channel for as little as $70,000 a month, or $840,000 a year. That's still too steep for Mr. Block, who points out that the full-power stations here don't pay a penny for Time Warner to carry them.

        “He (Mr. Reed) makes us look like we're too cheap to buy a channel. He makes me look like the bad guy,” Mr. Block says.

        Mr. Block is willing to give Time Warner his signal for free. Mr. Reed doesn't want it. Mr. Reed says Time Warner customers only want two UPN shows, Star Trek: Voyager and WWF Smackdown! He's willing to carry those two, or all UPN shows, but not the whole station.

        “They don't have programming on a 24-hour basis to justify me kicking something off (basic or standard service tiers). That's not in my customers' best interest,” Mr. Reed says.

        Knowing that the stalemate with Time Warner won't end soon, tiny 25 has declared war on Goliath on its Web site ( Channel 25 viewers can click on an icon called “The War” and send an e-mail to Mr. Reed. His direct office line also is listed on the site.

Stronger lineup

        Mr. Block wishes that Time Warner would take another look at Channel 25's lineup of UPN, PAX and syndicated shows.

        His weekday schedule includes Touched by an Angel (10 a.m.), Judge Mills Lane (11 a.m.), Seventh Heaven (4 p.m.), Clueless (5 p.m.), Blind Date (5:30 and 7:30 p.m.), Change of Heart (6 p.m.) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (10 p.m.).

        On Monday, Disney's Buzz Lightyear cartoon debuts at 8:30 a.m. weekdays, following Recess (7 a.m.), Pepper Ann (7:30 a.m.) and Sabrina (8 a.m.) cartoons. Also joining the schedule are three new syndicated series, Moral Court (11:30 a.m.), Sex Wars (1 p.m.) and Street Smarts (6:30 p.m.).

        New Saturday series include Better Homes and Gardens (8 a.m.), Soul Train (10 a.m.), New York Undercover (7 p.m.), Beastmaster (8 p.m.), Outer Limits (9 p.m. Saturday), and the Women of Wrestling (midnight).

        Bob Buechner's Greater Cincinnati Business Review returns for another season on Oct. 8 (11 a.m.). UPN's Freedom and Level Nine dramas premiere Oct. 27 (8-10 p.m.). Channel 25 also will broadcast Ohio State and Indiana University basketball, plus a Big 10 doubleheader every Saturday this winter.

        Thanks to WWF Smackdown!, “UPN and we are finally turning things around. Our programming is getting better and better,” Mr. Block says.

        Gone are the days when the old W25AI-TV filled the airwaves with black-and-white westerns, Charlie Chaplin shorts, and ancient black-and-white Ozzie & Harriet, Dick Tracy and Dragnet reruns.

        “For the small station that we are, we're doing pretty good — particularly for a station started by a guy who didn't have any television experience,” Mr. Block says.

        “Now we're a real station,” he claims. “We're just like all the other TV stations in town — except to Time Warner.”

John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.