Monitor broadcasting to gain TV station and shortwave radio

The Christian Science Monitor has agreed in principle to buy an independent Boston television station, continuing the newspaper's growing involvement in broadcast journalism. The $7.5 million deal with WQTV-TV, Channel 68, has not been completed. But managers of The Christian Science Publishing Society say that ownership of the station will be transferred by early fall -- or perhaps by summer's end. That is when the Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve the sale.

The station will not be used primarily as a religious outlet, managers say, but more as a means of broadening the reach of the Monitor's brand of journalism.

``It's not a new mission, a new activity, but an extension of our commitment to quality journalism,'' says John H. Hoagland Jr., manager of the Publishing Society.

It's also not the Monitor's first foray into the electronic media. Nor is it likely to be the last.

Nine years ago, the Monitor established a news service for commercial radio stations. Two years ago, the Publishing Society initiated MonitoRadio, a one-hour weekly program on American Public Radio (APR). Last year, MonitoRadio began broadcasting on APR for half an hour each weekday as well.

The daily program is heard in 97 locations across the United States, the weekly show in 191.

Another radio program, ``Conversations With The Christian Science Monitor,'' was launched last year as well, along with a monthly television public affairs show, ``The Christian Science Monitor Reports.''

During the next 12 months, says Mr. Hoagland, bolstering the TV news program will be the primary task of the Monitor's television division. On July 4, the show will become a weekly program. And a year from now, Hoagland hopes to see it become a nightly newscast.

``We'll have a lot of learning to do about television,'' says Katherine Fanning, editor of the newspaper. ``The fascinating challenge will be to have all three media work together effectively -- especially while we're on a program to expand and enhance the quality of the paper.''

``When you start talking about moving toward a daily program, that's when you have to have a great deal of discretion,'' says Robert C. Nelson, editor in chief for television and co-anchor of the program. But Mr. Nelson feels that switching to a more regular show will give viewers a sense of connectedness -- and staffers a feeling of momentum.

In addition to the Monitor's increasing investment in print and television, radio has also been moving into new areas of programming.

Now the push is for shortwave radio to match the paper's worldwide coverage. The Monitor will bring news and religious programs to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa when its first shortwave radio station (in Olamon, Maine) begins broadcasting in early 1987.

Negotiations are under way for a second shortwave site in Saipan, in the Marianas Islands, for broadcast to the Far East. A third shortwave facility may be situated in Texas for broadcast to Latin America.

Says John Parrott, editor and director of radio broadcasting, ``The world service of The Christian Science Monitor will take the truly independent nature of Monitor reporting that's been established by the newspaper and bring it to the airwaves of the world.''

As for television, says Hoagland, by the end of the first year the primary focus will be on converting the current monthly news program to a daily show.

There are no foreseeable hitches in the FCC approval process for the shortwave facility. But the local acquisition did raise some questions from outside observers. They note that the FCC forbids a newspaper to buy a television station in the same market, to avoid the possibility of a media baron monopolizing the airwaves.

But that stipulation should not trip up the approval process, says Brooks Helmick, director of finance and operations at the Publishing Society. He notes that the newspaper is clearly a national publication, while the TV station would have only a regional audience.

In fact, says Hoagland, it's the regional element that makes the acquisition exciting. ``The Founder of our newspaper [Mary Baker Eddy] felt very deeply about her region -- Boston and New England,'' he says, noting that the station broadcasts not just to the Boston area but to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

``We see this as a way for The Christian Science Monitor to provide a public service in its own region,'' says Hoagland.

Local programming, as well as a selection of religious shows, will eventually become a central part of the station's menu, but probably not until ``The Christian Science Monitor Reports'' has made the transition from a monthly to a daily show.

Right now, however, there are mountains to move.

``For independent stations, it's very difficult to compete with other local stations,'' says Les Brown, editor in chief of Channels magazine. ``You'd have to be pretty remarkable to do first-rate news and get noticed with that kind of competition,'' he adds. But Hoagland says the operation will continue trying to appeal to audiences ``through the essential tone and character of the Monitor rather than trying to attract a specific market.''

``The market is not too crowded,'' says Cliff Curley, the current station manager at WQTV who will stay with the station when it comes under Monitor ownership. But he's ``absolutely pleased'' about the sale, he says, because the Monitor has always been ``unquestioned in quality.''

``There's plenty of room for constructive and sensible broadcasting -- and the Monitor could fill that gap,'' says Bernard S. Redmont, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University.

``Networks have fallen down on their obligation of providing public service,'' Mr. Redmont says. ``There is a real need for public-service broadcasting.''

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