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Eclectic TV : KSCI's Programming in 14 Languages Offers News, Entertainment, Comfort to Ethnic Communities

June 15, 1986|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

Standing beside banks of television monitors and control panels, Parvis Afshar waved his arms furiously, like the conductor of a recalcitrant orchestra, as he directed assistants switching between videotapes and live broadcasting for his morning Persian-language news show.

"And the clip is ready on Beirut?" Afshar barked, while advertisements aired for Southern California businesses owned by Iranian refugees.

The camera picked up anchorman Nouri Sabet-Imani for a report on a bomb explosion that had rocked the strife-ridden streets of Lebanon's capital. As he spoke, a film clip came on the screen showing tangled automobiles and medics carrying injured people.

Afshar's show is part of a hodgepodge of programming in 14 languages on KSCI-TV (Channel 18), licensed in San Bernardino but available by cable or UHF throughout most of Southern California.

KSCI's unorthodox approach to broadcasting--based on a search for unfilled niches, tolerance of a fragmented station identity and readiness to sell air time to the highest bidder--has almost by accident given it a major role in the cultural life of many of the region's immigrant communities. It is the predominant outlet for Asian-language television.

Many immigrants, especially elderly people who have not learned English, get much of their entertainment and news from KSCI, thus finding partial escape from homesickness and the isolation of life in a strange land.

Japanese and Korean viewers can watch same-day network news from their homelands, while satellite transmission of footage from the London-based World Television Network to KSCI for use with local voice-over enables small producers like Afshar to create international news programs.

"We do a lot of things in the morning even before the networks do. We are very proud of that," said Afshar, who before fleeing from the 1979 revolution spent a decade hosting a sort of Iranian "Tonight Show."

Much like American television, the quality of the programming on KSCI ranges from superb to terrible. Shoestring budgets and shortage of personnel place limits on quality.

Sometimes, shortcuts seem necessary.

"Today's Beirut incident was important and we didn't have a film clip, so we used that (film) from the archives," Afshar said after his morning show. "The incidents in Lebanon mostly are alike."

A typical Sunday broadcast day on KSCI begins at midnight with a two-hour Chinese program introducing scenic sights, handicrafts and sports events of China. Next comes 3 1/2 hours of lectures in heavily accented English by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru of transcendental meditation who became famous in the 1960s when members of the Beatles rock group briefly studied under him. A Spanish public affairs show and religious programs in Korean and English follow.

Armenian, Persian and Chinese shows aired during midday present music, dancing, news and soap operas. Next is a program on Israel in English and Hebrew, news from Thailand and a Middle Eastern variety show. The evening hours include Japanese historical and family dramas with English subtitles and a Cantonese music and drama show from Hong Kong.

Weekday shows include Spanish programs in which viewers call a toll-free number to ask on-the-air advice from experts in psychology, law, medicine and astrology. These shows offer an alternative to the soap operas and movies featured by KSCI's Spanish-language competitors, KMEX (Channel 34) and KVEA (Channel 52).

The station also airs shows in Arabic, Hindi, Russian and Vietnamese.

With production studios in West Los Angeles and San Bernardino, KSCI provides some of its own English-language programming, and also sells air time for financial and religious broadcasts in English. The station produces about 24 hours a week of Spanish-language shows, including call-in programs, game shows and news. Programming and commercials in the other dozen languages are provided by 22 independent ethnic companies that buy air time from KSCI.

KSCI's signal reaches more than 5 million households from Ventura County to the Mexican border, an area with more than 1 million ethnic Asians and more than 4 million Latinos, but because of the fragmented nature of its programming there are no ratings of audience size. Advertisers buy commercials simply because they believe the shows draw significant audiences or because they can see the results.

"It helps," said a clerk at Milano Furniture, a store in Hollywood that advertises heavily on Armenian shows. "That's how we get our customers."

Andy Dourandish, owner of Capitol Immigration Center in Los Angeles, said he advertises for Iranian clients on Persian television because "that's what they watch."

"I believe that between 100,000 and 150,000 (Persian-speaking) people watch regularly," Dourandish said.

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