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January 03, 1998

Classic Arts Showcase provides a midwinter cable treat

Viewers in upgraded American Cablevision zones may have noticed
it already: In the last two weeks, some sort of classical-music video
jukebox has taken over Channel 17, the local educational access
channel operated by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Classical-music lovers will find it hard not to get roped in by
the mix of ballet, operatic singing and instrumental pieces, most of
them culled from old film stock or European music videos.
Yes, many of the selections are beyond the familiar - Pavarotti
singing the "Ave Maria," I Musici belting out a "Four Seasons"
suite - but unlike a certain radio station in town, there are no
annoying commercials or announcers to disrupt the relaxing ambiance
on this TV channel. There's even the occasional vintage film clip
from Alfred Hitchcock or Buster Keaton.
This video treat that Channel 17 is carrying is called the
Classic Arts Showcase, a free, nonprofit program service of the Lloyd
E. Rigler Foundation of Los Angeles. Rigler, 81, co-founder of the
Adolph's Meat Tenderizer empire, bought a 10-year lease on a
satellite orbiting the earth. His nephew programs the service and
Rigler makes it available to whoever wants to carry it on their cable
system at a loss to the foundation of about $ 75,000 a month.
"He wanted somehow to get a new audience for the arts, because
they're dying out," said Rigler's assistant, Jay Francis. "He
figured the best way was to buy a transponder and put it on air 24
hours a day in hopes of getting a new, younger audience."
So far, Classic Arts Showcase is in 43 million homes, mostly
through educational-access channels such as UMKC's. (If you own a
"big dish" satellite you can dial it up on Galaxy 1, transponder
5.)
The service is especially popular on the East and West coasts,
according to Francis, who said he gets 100 letters a day from
enthusiastic viewers.
"You wouldn't believe how big it is in Mexico. It's piped into
the schools there," said Francis.
Beginning each Friday night at 10, eight fresh one-hour programs
are uplinked and then recycled - never in the same order - throughout
the week. Because of copyright issues, no video appearing on Classic
Arts Showcase can run longer than seven minutes.
That makes it difficult for an outfit this size to assemble more
than its current weekly load of 150 new selections. The foundation's
video library is now at 4,000 clips and growing.
The foundation relies mainly on word-of-mouth and occasional
mailings to cable system operators and PBS affiliates to expand the
service's reach.
"Mr. Rigler doesn't do any advertising because he doesn't
believe in marketing a free product," said Francis.
That's what Tom Brenneman wanted to hear. He's the founder and
director of UMKC's IVN network and the programmer for Channels 17 and
18.
With classes out of session and NASA-TV unavailable until the
next space shuttle launch, Brenneman was looking for other program
sources for Channel 17. He previewed Classic Arts Showcase and found
it to be sufficiently nonpromotional.
"There are a lot of things that say they're educational but
there are lots of advertisements embedded in them, or they're trying
to sway your opinion, and I won't put those on," Brenneman told
TVKC.
Classic Arts Showcase will air continuously until Jan. 12, when
the winter terms at Penn Valley Community College and UMKC begin and
Channel 17's schedules will fill up with video classes.
StarTouch: 889-7827 and enter 8852. E-mail: writeme@tvbarn.com

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