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THE BIZ : The Little Station That Could

April 04, 1993|Bill Manson

John Willkie had long dreamed about breaking into TV. Last October, his dream came true. He didn't get a call from "NBC Nightly News" and he didn't sell a pilot. Instead, the former free-lance journalist started his own TV station based in an office near downtown San Diego, one of several dozen low-power stations in California.

Willkie's 814-watt UHF signal, Channel 63, covers less than half the area of a typical high-power station. "We are local. We are community," says Willkie, 38.

They're also unconventional. Bay-63's first ad was from Condom Kiss, a store in Pacific Beach. "It's a start," he says. "Do you know any other TV station advertising today's condom fashions?"

But Home Shopping Club is the station's main source of income and his programming mainstay.

"It's the bread and butter," Willkie admits, "but the rest of the day is mine." And he fills it with an eclectic variety of shows--an English-language news program from a German news service, a hairdo show called "Hair Max" and some academic competitions. More mainstream offerings are "The Wall Street Journal Report" and "The Minority Business Report." He's currently negotiating to buy a show from the Canadian Broadcasting Co. called "Street Legal." "It's sort of a street-level 'L. A. Law' with sexier women," he says.

"Outside Home Shopping, I have up to eight hours a day to fill," Willkie notes. "Sometimes, I just point the camera out the window and broadcast the sunsets."

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