BERKELEY, Calif. — They're putting an antenna on the ivory tower.
Starting this month, the University of California is beaming into living rooms across the country with a new satellite channel aimed at the scholarly sofa surfer.
"The idea is to get the life of the university out to the people," says Todd Greenspan of UC headquarters.
UCTV, which made its debut Jan. 7, is broadcast on channel 9412 on the EchoStar Dish Network. It got the slot through a Federal Communications Commissions requirement that EchoStar set aside 4% of its airtime for public interest education programming.
Commercial TV it's not. You'll see real operas, not soap operas; doctors, not actors. Friday's offerings, listed at http://www.uctvonline.org, included a cinema roundtable featuring "four distinguished European film scholars," a seismic structure test and "In Utero: How Health in the Uterus Affects Adult Life."
Currently broadcasting in 8-hour blocks, UCTV will eventually go to a 24/7 format, showing lectures, interviews, conferences and artistic performances. The channel has an initial budget of $1 million.
Is there an audience for a channel broadcasting all university, all the time?
"You know what's interesting? People do watch it," says Lynn Burnstan, acting director of the new UCTV and managing director of the 7-year-old cable broadcast channel at UC San Diego upon which UCTV is modeled.
UCSD-TV reaches about a million homes in the San Diego area and prompts about 2,000 calls a year from interested viewers.
"Every once in a while we blip on the Nielsen [Media Research ratings survey] and they call us and say, 'What are you guys doing?' " Burnstan said.
Although UCTV has only been running for a week, already there have been a few e-mails from people who've stumbled across it.
"People really like the idea of getting unmediated information. Even if it can seem dull sitting in a lecture hall, it's good information," she said.
"The people who are going to be watching our programs are people who are interested in things and want to learn about things. Sometimes they learn about things they don't even know they want to learn about. There are times I will . . . be mesmerized by somebody talking about water issues in California."
UCSD-TV has brought a little celebrity to some of the faculty who have appeared in its shows.
"I think that's actually the thing that gives our faculty the biggest charge, when somebody comes up to them and says, 'Hey, I saw you on TV last night,' " Burnstan said. " . . . I think it really is breaking down the ivory tower a bit."