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Financial Channel Sports a Face Lift

After months of delays and setbacks, KWHY-TV Channel 22 today is unveiling a $2-million face lift that station executives claim will enable the all-business channel to provide the most extensive stock market and financial news on television.

The station had intended to debut its “new look"--generated by the same computer graphics hardware used on the space shuttle to send back high-resolution pictures from space--last July. But installing a new studio and new set and training its engineers to operate the sophisticated video computers took much longer than expected.

Channel 22, which will also rechristen itself “the Business Channel,” has been providing stock market information to local investors weekdays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. since 1968. It sells half of its air time to various brokers, who hawk their own financial products, and uses the balance of its broadcast day to keep viewers up to date on the latest business news.

To date, the station’s only real competitor is cable’s Financial News Network, although NBC is planning to launch a new consumer news and business cable channel next year.

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“We needed to update our look because our equipment was old and could not handle the large increases in the volume of stocks traded each day or the huge fluctuations in stock prices,” said Burt Harris Jr., president and general manager of Channel 22. “And we felt it was time to improve the on-air look and service to our community in order to compete in this market.”

Initially the station simply intended to replace the manually operated clacker boards it has been using to display stock prices, so as to avoid the embarrassment of having to tape numbers on the boards when market activity overwhelmed the station’s antiquated facilities. But the facelift soon evolved into a refurbished control room and set, Harris said, complete with state-of-the-art sophisticated--and expensive--video equipment.

Harris’ initial budget of $500,000 soon ballooned to $2 million. The station’s shareholders, Harris said, approved and loaned KWHY the money.

“In retrospect, I probably could have gotten away with spending half that amount,” Harris conceded. “But in making such a major overhaul, we couldn’t go halfway and risk people saying, ‘I don’t like it. That looks terrible.’ People are used to seeing displays on television that are slick and attractive, and we wanted to make the market information more user-friendly.”

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While the new machinery will enable the station to display more information about the day’s financial events, even Harris admits that no one will turn to a business channel simply for the “glitz and glamour” of its video effects.

“To be perfectly honest,” Harris said, “we’re not going to change our viewer base.”

However, he does believe that the $2-million worth of additional equipment will attract some viewers from FNN and enable KWHY to push back the challenge of NBC’s new channel.

Harris also said that the slick production facilities, which enable the station to vastly improve the kind of programs it can produce, will double or even triple the revenue the station will generate from selling air time to outside brokers.

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The station will extend its programming day until 7 p.m. before the end of the year, thus greatly increasing the amount of time it can sell, he said.


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