Several District-based companies are among the competitors in a race for licenses to run possibly six new television stations in the metropolitan area.
The D.C. area is just one of the locales in a battle now going on at the Federal Communications Commission and already moving to the federal courts for hundreds of new low-power televisions stations (LPTV).
The players ranger from Turner Broadcasting System, the broadcasting firm owned by Atlantan Ted Turner, to Community Television Network Inc., (CTN) a District company owned by three black former FCC officials.
And the differences between those two examples of LPTV competitors is typical of the variety found in the thousands applicants for the new services. What is at stake is cities like Washington that have been slow in bringing to town the diversity of cable television service is an opportunity to expand quickly and relatively inexpensively the programming options available to television viewers.
Low-power stations to be broadcast on available slots between Channels 2 and 69 became a serious possibility when the FCC lifted restrictions on signal separation. Low-power stations don't have the range of conventional stations, but applicants expect to be able to send strong signals at least as far as the Beltway. The FCC says an operator can have a signal over the air for as little as $24,000.
To potential licensees, such as James L. Winston, one of the partners in CTN, getting a low-power station here is an opportunity to make some money and to address the historic void in minority television opportunities in cities such as Washington.
"In Washington, you get all the black programming there is in the country and it's not much," Winston said recently. "The black community is woefully underserved."
According to the current FCC plan, there appear to be six new channels available in this area: channels 12, 30, 42, 48, and 62. Winston's company, which he formed with former FCC staff members Booker Wade and Samuel Cooper, is after the license for Channel 12 here and for 10 other stations around the country. Their hope is to set up a national network focusing on programming directed to minority group audiences.
"We think we have a very good prospect for getting the license for Channel 12," Winston said, noting that from CTN's reserch, they are, so far, the only applicant. "This is an ideal market because we're talking about minority programming to a city which is 70 percent minority."
Financing for their progect comes in large part through a contract with Golden West Broadcasters, a subsidiary of former actor Gene Autry's broadcasting firm, which is getting into the subscription television (STV) business. The agreement calls for CTN to receive an annual franchise fee of $4.15 million or 6 percent of gross STV subscriber revenues, depending on which is greater.
The plan is to offer a combination of pay television fare and news and public affairs programming, not unlike the operation of Channel 50, which is expected to offer a similar format later this year. Local businessman Theodore Ledbetter, in conjuction with a subscription television operation owned by the Texas Murchison family and Field Enterprises Co., hopes to have that station on the air this fall.
In addition to seeking their own venture, CTN has helped 39 minority individuals and organizations in filing 81 licenses for these new stations. Seventeen of these applicants have agreed to cary CTN programming if they win the licenses.
Nationally, there have been more than 3,000 applications filed for the new stations, and the problems with logging those forms has made it difficult to assess accurately the candidates for the Washington area. But there are at least eight applicants for the new local stations.
In addition to CTN's bid for Channel 12, Turner's firm is after Channel 42, as are the Community Telecommunications Development Foundation, a District-based coalition of nonprofit groups, including the National League and the National Council of Negro Women; the National Innovative Programming Network of Reno, Nev., and Translator TV Inc., of Santa Ana. Calif., a division of Trinity Broadcasting, a religious group.
Urban Community TV, a group of three local citizens, and Communicast Corp. and Cintronics Inc. are seeking the license for Channel 42. Hld & M Communications, a local black group, is seeking Channel 62.