An article Monday about the new television station on Channel 14 reported incorrectly that it would be Washington's first minority-owned and operated commercial television station. WCQR-TV, Channel 50, which went on the air in 1981, is minority-owned.
It's been more than a decade since WFAN-TV collapsed under the weight of financial problems, leaving Channel 14 dark in the Washington area.
Save for occasional Spanish-language-network and Channel 53 programs that have been broadcast on the channel at low frequency in the interim, the first spot on the UHF spectrum here has been without a fulltime station since 1972.
But now, a group of area broadcast veterans may be just a couple of legal steps away from getting a license to operate the station. A Federal Communications Commission administrative law judge last month recommended the group, which calls itself Formula Telecommunications Inc., over several other applicants for the station. The final decision rests with the full FCC, which will hear appeals from the losing applicants.
It's too early to tell exactly when the station would begin broadcasting, but if its application is approved, the group could get the go-ahead to begin construction of the station within the next few months. Studios would be located in Washington and a transmitter and tower in Bethesda.
Because it's not uncommon for the FCC to overrule a preliminary grant to an applicant, the principals in the Formula Telecommunications group are reluctant to discuss their plans for the station in detail. They say, however, that they are already looking into possible programming and taking care of other matters, which include picking call letters for the station--a new station in Melbourne, Fla., has already applied to the FCC for the group's first choice, WSCT-TV.
One important distinction about Formula Telecommunications' application for Channel 14 is that, if approved, it will give Washington its first minority-owned and -operated commercial television station. Corbin and several other officials of the planned station are black; the station manager would be Hispanic.
Although the Formula Telecommunications application to the FCC emphasizes the group's commitment to minority programming--including a plan for 20 or more hours a week of Spanish-language programming--George C. Corbin III, Formula Telecommunications' president, says he hopes it will to appeal to all possible interests.
"Clearly, we will have concerns that we will be fully integrated as a television station," says Corbin, a former studio coordinator for ABC Television who has also worked at several Washington stations. Channel 14 hopes "to be as competitive a television station as any station in this market," Corbin says.
For viewers, that means that Channel 14 will likely offer a lot of the usual independent TV station fare: reruns of network programs, old movies and independently produced programming. Formula Telecommunications, though primarily involved in winning the Channel 14 license, has already produced the pilot of a discussion program on foreign affairs called "International Assignment," which would be shown on Channel 14 and syndicated to other stations.
Formula Telecommunications is also hoping to use the channel to tap the lucrative Pay-TV market, and has filed another application with the FCC to run Channel 14 as a subscription station--with a scrambled signal that would need special decoders paid for by viewers--for six hours each evening. The company hopes to use subscription TV movies and programming supplied by American Television and Communications (ATC), a Time Inc. subsidiary that is one of the nation's biggest Pay-TV and cable-television operators.
Corbin, though acknowledging that the Pay-TV service would be a revenue source for the new station, downplays its importance to the fledgling station. But the company's application to the FCC for Channel 14 says, "The subscription television arrangement with ATC will provide income stability to WSCT-TV during its early years of operation. . . . It will assure the station of a financial base to develop its programming to meet the minority and special interest needs of the community."
But Corbin says the station can run without Pay-TV, if need be, and is adequately financed. "We've never had financial difficulties," he says. Start-up costs and first-year operating expenses will be several million dollars, according to the company's application to the FCC; Corbin would not be specific about costs.
The venture is being financed from a variety of sources, including area banks and Syncom Capital Corp., a local firm that has provided financing to a variety of minority-owned broadcast outlets around the country, including radio station WOL-AM in Washington. Syncom will provide up to $500,000 in financing in exchange for warrants that could be converted into equity in the new station, according to Herbert P. Wilkins, Syncom's president.
Sturdy financing for the station would be a change from the circumstances of Channel 14's last proprietor. United Broadcasting closed WFAN-TV in 1972 after losing $2 million over nine years, partly blaming the financial difficulties on a weak signal that hurt the station's ability to attract advertisers.
Corbin's group originally tried to buy the station from United, but failed, and entered the derby for the Channel 14 license, a field that at one point was crowded with about a dozen applicants.
Formula Telecommunications won the nod of the administrative law judge because its owners would be so closely involved with the operation of the station. By the judge's reckoning, about 92 percent of the new station's ownership would be involved in its management, a figure far higher than the other applicants offered.
Corbin is convinced that there is room in the Washington market for another major television station and for more pay television service, even though cable television has taken hold in the Northern Virginia suburbs and will soon come to Maryland.
"I think it's foolhardy for any broadcaster to fear the encroachment of cable," he says. "There's plenty of room. Everybody was scared at one time when there was AM and FM radio and television came along.
"We're approaching this station in a way that will be accepted by this market," he adds. "We do believe that we can carve out our piece of the pie."