Raymond K.K. Ho sits behind his desk in the executive offices of Maryland Public Television listening to -- what? -- WETA-FM. He smiles. No matter that the pleasant music emanates from a branch of a competing Public Broadcasting Service station. To Raymond Ho, MPT's president and chief executive officer, the world is his marketplace and he has big plans.

Ho, 39, a soft-spoken but intense man who has himself and MPT on a fast track, believes the future is in programs produced with international partners for international audiences. He means for MPT to be a player in that game.

"We have to look at the world, not just where we work," said Ho. "It is changing very quickly, very significantly. Cultural boundaries are coming down along with economic boundaries. Satellites don't stop at the boundaries of any nation. All this has completely redefined the notion of what is a market ... With satellites, the world is the market. So, much of what we are doing is driven by a strategy of being a global producer."

Leo Eaton, Ho's vice president for national/international productions, puts it another way: "Our entire future depends on it. Everybody knows we're in a global marketplace. We are one global village and it's television that has made it that."

So during 1990 and 1991, viewers around the world will see three new major productions from Maryland Public Television with international partners:

"After the Warming" (Nov. 21), a two-hour special written and hosted by James Burke that looks at the effects of global warming in the year 2050, made with Film Australia and Principal Film Company, Ltd. of the U.K.

"Minidragons" (late winter), a four-part series about the rising economic powers of Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, made with NHK Japan and Film Australia in association with InCA (International Communications Associates Inc.);

"Legacy: Origins of Civilization" (fall 1991), a six-part series written and hosted by Michael Wood and produced with Central Independent Television of Great Britain.

In addition, this fall MPT will offer "Our Beautiful Planet," made with NHK Japan, TV Ontario, ZDF of West Germany, TTV of Taiwan, Australian Broadcasting Corp., and Channel 11 in Thailand, airing live by satellite hookup with featurettes by each contributor (MPT will do segments on rain forests and Chesapeake Bay pollution).

"Caught in the Crossfire," four one-hour installments tracing United Nations peacekeeping efforts and made with Stornoway Productions Inc. of Canada, will air during 1991-92. And "Timeline," Eaton's dramatized-history series, is preparing its second season to be shot this time in China and India, with a field production base in Singapore. Also in the works: "The Literature Project," 26 half-hour programs made with a $1.3 million Annenberg grant and partners including the Southern California Consortium.

As Ho and Eaton see it, from a financial point of view, co-productions are the only way to go. By signing up partners, Maryland will produce "Minidragons" for less than one-third of its $2 million cost, retaining controlling interest as originators and serving as presenting station to PBS.

An MPT-Turner co-production, "The Voice of the Planet," hosted by William Shatner and shot partly in MPT's studios, airs on TBS in October and on MPT later.

"Without his financing, we couldn't have created this multimillion-dollar series," explained Ho. "We have to recognize that as far as our viewers are concerned, first or second is not necessarily the only consideration, because in this highly fragmented market, only 2 or 3 percent will have seen it, but 97 percent will not have seen it. I think it's important that our viewers get to see good programs."

Fortunately for Ho and Eaton, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Maryland legislature agree with the approach, providing MPT with $750,000 a year in research-and-development funds for three years. That's part of the state's $12.9 million contribution toward this year's $22 million budget for MPT (Channels 22 in Annapolis, 28 in Salisbury, 31 in Hagerstown, 36 in Oakland, 62 in Frederick and 67 in Baltimore).

About 14 percent of the budget comes from viewers, who this year contributed a record $3.2 million. Earlier this spring, Ho said in an interview, "Public television will have to make its future the old-fashioned way: You earn it. It has to provide a service that people would actually want to pay for, and that is forcing public television to be much more competitive, much more responsive."

This month, however, marks MPT's final on-air pledge drive. Ho has listened to viewers who don't like lengthy interruptions to programs and has decided instead to air short messages throughout the year and try mail solicitation.

The balance of the budget comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (about $1.5 million), corporate and foundation support, sales of transcripts and fees from locally produced programs and televised courses. MPT also rents out its facilities for show productions, most often to Discovery Channel. (Ironically, Discovery's recent series on the state of the oceans, "Blue Revolution," would have been an MPT production, but after Ho had announced that MPT would join in producing the series, he encountered funding problems and had to drop out.)

Well aware of increasing competition from cable, Ho plans to increase revenue by selling his products to telecasters in other countries and to the videocassette market, as well as trim costs by sharing with production partners, a method long used by producers worldwide.

Among major PBS stations, those in Boston, New York, Washington, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles have established track records that impress corporate funders. Maryland is a contender for that money with an important switch: Unlike stations that seek funds to finance a production, MPT will have already begun the production with its seed money. Funds that come in from underwriters will be used to begin new productions. Call it venture capital.

"One thing Maryland is trying to do is selectively, very, very carefully, pre-fund budgets, only those we can afford to do out of our own cash flow," said Eaton. "But this is giving us a tremendous competitive edge because most PBS stations don't even try to. By putting two shows into production, without waiting for the underwriting, we moved quickly and we did what PBS has to be able to do: create its own product. That meant I could immediately go to foreign partners and say we have a commitment. The advantage it gives us is that now we've got until those shows are on the air to cover our bets. Money that comes in doesn't have to go back to fill a hole.

"MPT is in a very interesting period in its development," said Eaton. "We have effectively challenged the Big Three {Boston, New York and Washington}. We're doing doing major documentary series, the sort of project which in the past was always done by New York or Boston. We've got to make these work, because if they don't work, people will say, 'They're not really in that league.' When we go to any of the major corporations, they say, 'Why isn't WGBH doing this?' because those are the people they know, the people they're used to ... Perception takes a long time to change. So until January of next year, we're on the split. If we can make it work, then we've proved our point. We've started the process that gets the funding in for future projects."

Eaton prefers to call what MPT is doing "a risk. I think a risk is more a calculated move than a gamble."

Maryland's image as an international producer is driven by Ho and Eaton, both schooled in England and both comfortable on the international scene.

The highly competitive Ho -- his initials stand for Ki Kit, "the great" -- springs from lineage both aristocratic and entrepreneurial. His paternal grandparents, among the last of China's feudal aristocrats, fled their home in Canton before the Communist revolution to relocate in Hong Kong. His mother's father founded China Motorbus Co. of Hong Kong, still in the family.

At 14, Ho was sent off to a boarding school in the English Midlands that he described as "very rigid, highly structured -- every morning they checked to see whether you're wearing your garters." But when he applied to universities, he looked west and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

"This was during the Vietnam era," recalled Ho. "At that time, I think, our generation was rebelling against the system, and in those days the system included the three commercial networks." His future, as it turned out, would be in public broadcasting.

Arriving in Madison, Ho was stunned to see what he thought was the U.S. Capitol -- it was the state capitol building -- and thought that he had taken the wrong plane.

"The next impression was that everything was so big, and I never forgot that: Everything is bigger. I was coming from Hong Kong, where everything is, like, miniaturized. Even England is small."

Ho reveled in what he called "a newfound freedom. It was such a great thing to ... come to the United States, to be like a Renaissance man, where you can take courses in the symphony and psychology and sociology. I just went wild and I just took everything, and that is truly a liberal education. I think a lot of Americans wonder what is a liberal education for, but years later when you're in a business like ours, suddenly that background in history or psychology all comes into play."

At Wisconsin, Ho, wearing a goatee and long hair, earned a degree in history, with a dual major in communications. In an American history class, he met Claire Katz of Rochester, N.Y., whom he married after their graduations in a Jewish ceremony. Ho converted to Judiasm shortly before the wedding; his own father had converted to his wife's Roman Catholicism. The couple produced a daughter, Leslie, now 6. Their marriage has recently ended.

In graduate school at Syracuse University, Ho studied radio, TV and film and worked as a production assistant at WXXI-TV in Rochester where, against some opposition, he produced a local documentary that then won awards. He went on to become associate director of the 10-station North Carolina Public Television network; program manager of WOSU-TV/AM-FM, Columbus, Ohio, and director of programming at KOZK-TV, Springfield, Mo.

In 1984, at 32, he became the youngest chief executive of a public television network when he took over the five-station Arkansas Educational Television network, a network generally considered to be in disastrous shape. Within three years, Ho said, he quadrupled the network's fundraising, doubled viewership and state funding, and boosted its local underwriting income to put the station among the top 10 public TV networks.

When he was hired by MPT in 1986, he joined a regional network with a $16.7 million budget. Within three years, MPT's revenues grew more than 30 percent, viewership increased by 78 percent, and MPT became the fourth largest supplier of programming to PBS.

In 1966, the Maryland legislature passed the Maryland Public Broadcasting Act, paving the way for the fledgling Maryland Public Television and authorizing funds for its 50,000-square-foot office and studio facility in the bucolic Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills. Three years later, the Center for Maryland Public Broadcasting opened; WMPB (Channel 67) went on the air in October 1969 for classroom programming. The center produced "Hodge Podge Lodge," a five-day-a-week children's program carried on PBS for almost 15 years, and in 1970 began Louis Rukeyser's "Wall Street Week," a program that became a staple of the PBS prime-time schedule. Specials on Nov. 16 and 19 will mark the series' 20th year.

By 1981, MPT had added its sixth station and nearly doubled the size of its facilities with a 40,000-square-foot addition. With five more transmitters, MPT now reaches viewers in the District, northern Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Its average viewership in 1989 was 869,000 homes.

Until 1983, when he left to become president of WHYY in Philadelphia, founder Frederick Breitenfeld had run MPT. Under lawyer Stephen H. Kimatian, who followed Breitenfeld, its producers earned an Emmy Award for "Wolf Trap Presents the Kirov: Swan Lake." But when Ho arrived in October 1986, the operation was in what he called "a lot of turmoil. It was a network that was struggling and saying, Where do we go from here in this new environment?"

Where Ho wanted MPT to go was both to the communities it served and outward, making deals with international partners. He wanted to make MPT a production house, creating programs for PBS and generating revenue to make more shows.

The key would be to build a fund of money so that MPT could act quickly when a project was offered. Ho began what Eaton calls "slimlining" measures, getting rid of the executive parking lot and boardroom, sharing his secretary, condensing layers of management and cutting productions that were low in audience ratings or underwriting (including a magazine-format show called "Weeknight Alive"). Such moves also reduced a staff of 303; the current staff numbers 272, of whom 207 are state employees, the rest on contracts.

The efforts were not without negative effect: A disgruntled employee slashed the tires of Ho's car in the MPT parking lot. One producer described Ho as "so intense, he can be exhausting to be around."

Then Ho began the internationalizing of Maryland Public Television. He hired Leo Eaton, who had experience both at Britain's commercial network, ITV, and in the United States, to be his vice president for national/international productions.

Eaton, educated at Marlborough College and Oxford University, started his television career in 1966 when he worked as an assistant director on "The Saint," "The Avengers" and "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines." He also served as British representative on the European Economic Community's international film committee.

After living in Mexico, Greece and Portugal, Eaton and his Texas-born wife Jeri returned in 1981 to that state to write, produce and direct films. In 1988 he became executive producer of "Timeline," a series co-produced by MPT with American, Spanish, Turkish and British partners.

At MPT, Eaton found a facility so well-equipped with high-tech hardware that the station publicist calls it "perhaps the best equipment outside of New York." It already produced regular weekly shows for PBS such as "Motorweek," "Wall Street Week," "New Country Video," "Pierre Franey's Cuisine Rapide," and "Madeleine Cooks." Its local programs, such as "State Circle," "Outdoors Maryland" and "Crabs" and specials (recently on drugs, education, and talks with school superintendents and mayors), are the responsibility of Michael B. Styer, vice president for broadcasting.

MPT also initiated news updates during prime-time largely because Ho thought that "if the world was coming to an end, you wouldn't know -- you'd probably die watching public television."

A bit of a maverick among conventional PBS types, Ho feels strongly that public television has to change its ways in the face of competition from cable services and microwave dishes, VCRs and other technological developments; more commercial broadcast channels, sky channels and cable in Europe, and regulatory changes both here and abroad.

"I think public television is at a crossroads. There are those who want to stick to what we've done and remain the same, and at that point, I think, we're going to be crushed by the competitors ... and become a footnote in the history of broadcasting. The other option is to change, reorganize, restructure and consolidate, to aggregate our money and put our money behind the programming on the screen and compete. And that's going to lead to a lot of restructuring, both here and nationally."