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TV Network Debuts on Low Funds, High Hopes

June 17, 1986|DANIEL AKST | Times Staff Writer

This is how low budget the Nustar Television Network is. One night, after the new, Tujunga-based satellite broadcasting system was trying out its signal, a man called from Holmen, Wis., wanting to know what would be on next.

The night watchman, who also was running the studio after hours, asked him what he wanted to see, and the caller suggested "Rage at Dawn," a 1955 Western starring Randolph Scott. The guard obligingly rooted around in the cassettes, turned up a copy and popped it into the player.

Shoestring budget notwithstanding, Nustar started broadcasting Friday with what it contends is the only 24-hour, nationwide satellite broadcasting system offering diversified programming.

Nustar won't likely be confused with the Public Broadcasting System. The current program list includes "Yuk Yuks Tonight," "Classified Lonely Hearts," "Date Who We Tell You," "Hollywood Asylum," "Garage Sale for the Rich and Eccentric," "This Week in Real Estate" and "Discover the Martial Arts."

May Add Roller Derby

Its program director says Roller Derby may be added too. But executives of the fledgling broadcast concern insist that the programing will get better, if only by virtue of all the talent available in metropolitan Los Angeles.

Nustar's goal is to persuade the nation's 401 commercial UHF stations and another 141 low-power outlets to carry its shows, which it plans to get from local producers who will pay Nustar undetermined fees to run them. So far, the network has a single affiliate, in Boston.

The broadcasting concept is similar to one used widely in radio, where satellite-delivered programming is used by stations all over the country. Nustar and the producers each will get four minutes of advertising time per half hour, and stations running the shows will get 30 seconds or a minute.

And since Nustar isn't scrambling its signal--a step recently taken by some major satellite broadcasters--the nation's approximately 1.3 million satellite dish owners should get to watch its programming free.

"We are going to make a major difference in what the viewing audience will see," said Thomas F. Haller, Nustar's chief financial officer.

The hourlong kickoff program aired live at 7:30 p.m. Friday (it started half an hour late), began without sound and went on to feature a variety of entertainers from a doo-wop band to bikini-clad mud wrestlers. The telecast's comedian was a relative of chief financial officer Haller, and the master of ceremonies was Nustar's marketing director.

Then Nustar aired its first movie: "El Cid," with Charlton Heston.

All this was broadcast from the Nustar Media Center, formerly a shuttered and vandalized office building on Foothill Boulevard in Tujunga, where Nustar was able to rent space partly in exchange for stock.

Company officials, who hope to raise money by selling T-shirts on the air, have disclosed few details about finances. They say Nustar went public in May by merging with a Utah shell corporation, Boston Investments. Denny Nestripke, Boston Investments' former president, said the firm has about 46 million shares outstanding, most of them held by insiders. He said only about 8 million shares trade publicly, and Edward Brown Securities, a Salt Lake City broker, said the shares had a bid price of 5 cents Monday.

Satellite Payment Deferred

Nustar clearly managed to begin broadcasting on relatively little capital. For example, renting part of a satellite around the clock usually costs about $100,000 a month, industry sources said. But a Nustar spokesman said the network arranged a deal in which payment was deferred for six months. Nustar broadcasts on a rented satellite dish.

Nustar is the brainchild of Peter A. O'Neil, 23, who holds a majority stake and whose earlier cable television venture failed, company officials said. O'Neil's press material says, "His training under Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders gave him the knowledge and experience in national marketing necessary for a career in the entertainment industry."

But the Raiders say O'Neil worked for them as a part-timer for just about a year, and didn't hold a high position.

"He was not an assistant to Al Davis," said Tom Grimes, a senior administrator for what are now the Los Angeles Raiders. "Actually what he was was a gofer."

Has Many Competitors

Nustar has a number of competitors, although none appears to offer a schedule of varied, 24-hour programming day in and day out. For example, Wold Communications in Westwood syndicates 21 hours of television programming daily via satellite, including major shows like "Entertainment Tonight" and the "Merv Griffin Show." Wold's sales last year approached $28 million, chairman Robert N. Wold said.

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