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Pair Seek Angel for Their Christian TV, Radio Guide

May 25, 1986|JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer

Judging from the current size of their business, the Boatwrights would seem to have little more than a prayer of accomplishing their ambitious plans.

Phil D. Boatwright and his son, Phil M. Boatwright, are trying to launch a nationwide publication designed to be the Christian equivalent of TV Guide. But right now, their venture is as modest as its headquarters: a small upstairs bedroom in the younger Boatwright's Calabasas town house.

Nonetheless, the two are determined to publish a glossy, 28-page, picture-filled magazine that every month would list religious programs and include articles about gospel singers, television preachers and born-again celebrities.

The Boatwrights have developed a prototype that features a cover photograph of Pat Boone, a Christian TV crossword puzzle (one typical clue reads: "The Jewish wife of a Persian king, she saved her people from slaughter"), a review of Christian programs and a shrimp-broccoli casserole recipe from gospel singers Dottie and Buck Rambo.

Would Replace Predecessor

The magazine, Christian TV News and Radio Guide, would replace a monthly television listing by the same name that the Boatwrights have published for four years. Their current publication resembles the kind of newsletter-style television listing frequently given away at supermarket checkout stands. About 65,000 copies are distributed free in seven states. Last year, the Boatwrights said, the business broke even on about $250,000 in advertising revenue.

Launching the new publication, the Boatwrights estimate, will cost at least $250,000. They believe it can succeed only if they sell control of their company, Christian TV News, to a firm with more financial muscle. The Boatwrights are trying to negotiate that kind of transaction with two publishers they declined to identify.

If they fail to bring in an investor, the elder Boatwright said, "it'll take an angel" for the magazine to prosper.

"It's going to be national," said the elder Boatwright. "I may not live to see it, but it is going to work."

The Boatwrights, who expect to publish the guide even if they sell control, acknowledge that they are entering a risky, highly competitive arena. The field includes listings in local newspapers and in TV Guide, which has a weekly circulation of about 17 million and publishes 107 regional editions.

"I hope they have a lot of money because it's tough to get into this business," said James Haughton, TV Guide's publicity manager.

"We already devote a good deal of space to coverage of Christian broadcasting and we have no plans to do anything differently."

The Boatwrights, however, believe that existing listings of religious programs are inadequate. They plan to sell subscriptions to their magazine through churches.

Some leaders in religious broadcasting agree that a need may exist for such a publication.

Ben Armstrong, executive director of National Religious Broadcasters, a trade association based in Morristown, N.J., noted that standard television listings often fail to list religious programs on cable channels.

Armstrong and the Boatwrights also cite an increased viewing audience for religious programs. One A. C. Nielsen survey conducted last fall for the Christian Broadcasting Network, the largest of the religious networks, found that about 40% of the nation's households watch a religious television program at least once a month.

'Now Is a Good Time'

"Now is a very good time to initiate such a project because the interest in religious broadcasting has never been higher," Armstrong said.

He said he has known of only one other guide for Christian television programs, a Chicago-based publication that failed about 10 years ago, apparently for lack of financing.

The Boatwrights plan to list CBN programs as well as those of PTL, Trinity Broadcasting Network, American Christian Television Systems and the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Broadcasting Network, known as NCN until Falwell bought it earlier this year.

They also plan to list local Christian programs available on non-religious channels. They say they have advertising commitments from two of the large Christian networks, although they refuse to disclose which ones.

Younger Boatwright's Idea

The idea to publish Christian television listings came from the younger Boatwright, 33, an actor whose credits include playing a waiter in the soap opera "Days of Our Lives," an extra in the Charles Bronson movie "Death Wish II" and the manager of a McDonald's in a television commercial.

He said he became frustrated about four years ago when he couldn't find the listing for a Christian movie he was in that was appearing on a Los Angeles UHF station. He decided to enlist the aid of his father, 65, a retired NCR executive then working as a sales executive for TV Fanfare, the Valencia-based publisher of "TV Movie News," which is given away in supermarkets.

Well aware of the possible pitfalls of their venture, the Boatwrights regard it almost as Christian missionary work.

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