The nation's four largest public television stations will begin publishing a glossy program guide in September with an intital circulation of more than 650,000 public television contributors.

The approximately-100-page magazine will contain roughly 24 pages each month of local public television listings, local advertising and local editorial content from the member stations -- WETA in Washington, WNET in New York -- KCET in Los Angeles and WTTW in Chicago -- surrounded by national advertising and "reportage about things in society that will be on the same level of curiousity as the Bill Moyers' Journal or the macNeil-Lehrer Report," according to the magazine editor.

The magazine, named the Dial, will begin publication with a low-interest $1.5 million loan from a New York-based foundation and contributions from the member stations. In the case of WETA, for instance, the station will pay 50 cents a copy to send the magazine to the approximately 90,000 viewers who have contributed $20 or more to the station. The magazine will be available only to subscribers.

Within three years, the magazine hopes to make a profit and turn some money back to the stations for increased programing after the loan is repaid.

"If you could advertise on public TV, would you?" the magazine asks in a pitch to prospective advertisers. The rate for a one-time, full-page, black-and-white ad is $9,425, and the rate for a one-time, full-page, color ad is $14,610, for national advertising. For local ads, the rates are $1,570 for black and white and $2,240 for color, to reach approximately 90,000 readers.

In contrast, a one-time full-page black-and-white advertisement in the Washingtonian, with 95,000 subscribers, would cost $2,505.

Besides reaching "an elite club of opinion-makers -- legislators, corporate officers, college presidents and the like," the Dial will reach "people who shun advertising" but who have a wad of money to spend, according to the Dial's promoters.

The idea for such a magazine "has been around public television for awhile," said editor Don Erickson. The four stations involved came together within the past year and decided to move forward, he said. Erickson, former editorial director of Esquire magazine, was hired last October.

The loan to help get the project under way is from the John Ben Snow Foundation, a small organization that donates funds to the arts and to educational projects, according to Erickson. The loan, which is at the prime rate, will be repaid when the magazine begins to make money, he said.

In the long run, other public television stations are expected to join the enterprise, Erickson said. Circulation for existing public television program guides (such as WETA's viewer's and listener's guide, which this will supplant) is 2.2 million.

The figure still is substantially short of the 19.5 million circulation of TV Guide.

"The magazine will be both allied to the programming and separate from it," said Erickson. "A list of upcoming features includes "the truth" about America's attention span," "Blanchine's great dances for men," "questions the candidates didn't want to answer," and "Will Dan Rather be a disaster?"

The editorial offices for the magazine are located in New York, with the printing done near Chicago. The Dial is published by a nonprofit corporation called Public Broadcasting Communications Inc.

The local edition of the Dial also will include listings for public radio.