A Wizard of Telecom Creates New Networks

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Interested in revisiting an old episode of Soupy Sales? Maybe a good spaghetti western is
really what you have in mind. If viewers are looking for classic television, then Henry Luken’s foray into media will probably appeal, especially since this programming is free.

These vintage favorites are now showing on networks that include RTV, My Family, Tuff TV, the PBJ Network and My Car TV—just a few examples of the growing list of networks Luken is developing. “Basically, we go out and get content and find a TV station to carry it,” he says.

Locating and purchasing television shows for a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars each might sound like an eccentric millionaire’s hobby, but Henry Luken has a plan. It has taken three years to get the infrastructure set up and the plan rolling, but Luken’s 70,000-square-foot fortress at Eighth and Lindsay will be one of the largest satellite broadcasting facilities in the world, running 24-hours a day. The old American National Bank processing building, with its steel-rein- forced concrete walls, is being successfully
repurposed. None of the Luken Communications’ multitude of data- banks are underground, so there is no danger of flooding. Aluminum plates cover most windows, and back-up generators offer security at the facility which accesses not one, but two, EPB grid systems.

Telecom pioneer Henry Luken discusses his vision for the networks.

Telecom pioneer
Henry Luken discusses his vision for the networks.

One must remember that Henry Luken has built a number of telephone companies so handling data on a large scale is not intimidating to him. In fact, nothing seems to be. The Kentucky native and married father of four doesn’t seem to bat an eye at numbers. But in this case, he thinks the numbers look particularly good for advertisers.

“We have over 300 feeds going out of one location—that’s more than any other location in North America, maybe the world,” says Luken. He has assembled a cadre of young, talented tech- types for monitoring, editing, transferring tapes and scheduling. And, although the company does not produce content yet, with its high definition green-screen studio set, it is completely possible. It has been used for only one telethon- type live broadcast, to date.
The real jaw-dropping spot in the facility is the NOC room or Network Operating Center, where dozens of flatscreen tvs are mounted into the walls of the room so that supervisors can monitor the satellite feed to stations across North America. There are over 330 affiliates so far.

“We want to give viewers options,” adds Luken. “I want to do what Ted Turner did with cable, only with satellite. I can offer hundreds of programs for free.” Viewers will have plenty of entertainment options via the company’s affiliate stations and with so much satellite feed coming from a bank of computers in the five-story building, there will be many more viewers to see those advertisements. Viewers will experience fewer breaks in their program. In most cases, there is only a two-and-a-half minute break for ads during a 30-minute show, plus a few minutes of airtime between shows. The neighborhood stations and the Luken-owned networks will divide the advertising time. Each network will be able to run about 5,000 commercials each month.

Aside from an obvious gift in math and science, Luken, who pioneered low-cost long distance telephone service in the 1980s, has a bold strategy. He is confident. “When I go back to look at [television]history, I can buy the programs I know were hits, but they aren’t on the networks now,” he says. “And, it’s a buyer’s market!”

Some of the shows are newer than others and have never been seen in the states before. He recently secured an agreement for a Canadian series that is similar to the forensics show, Cold Case Files. He is contacted frequently by artists directly, since the word is out about his broadcasting powerhouse. And by the end of the year, he expects to have a total of 10 networks. Selling affiliates on a service that has such appeal to advertisers and viewers alike, is good for the entertainment business, say supporters.

A technician edits programs.

A technician edits programs.

In a Times Free Press article from last October, Luken Communications consultant Neal Ardman was quoted as saying, “Henry is a genius when it comes to computer software and technology and he’s figured a way to deliver content in a much better way than other networks.”

Luken first bought the defunct Equity Broadcasting’s Retro Television Network and its licensed television shows from the 1970s and 80s a couple of years ago. Renamed RTV, it includes old favorites like the Rockford Files, Dragnet and Magnum P.I.

Tuff TV was launched last year, featuring sports and adventure programs and PBJ, a children’s network, debuted recently. Details are being finalized to reintroduce the Nashville Network and its programs. “We are trying to be as family-friendly as possible,” says Luken.

WRCB-TV3 in Chattanooga has been a leading partner station for Luken’s networks, making additional digital channels available. With $70-$100 billion spent in television advertising each year, Luken expects that his potential share is impressive. Luken networks are available in more than 140 u.S. markets with a total of over 80 million viewers. Luken Communications has the capacity to build its own hardware and software solutions. Since start-up, his company has purchased two low-power stations in the Chattanooga area, Channel 6 and Channel 31, converting them to digital format.

Aside from the known popularity of a large percentage of the programing, the sluggish economy has made free satellite-fed options a bit more appealing than paid cable service. Luken, the telecom wizard himself, thinks everybody will soon be doing the math.

For more information about RTV go to www.myretrotv.com

Also see www.lukencommunications.com

This article was originally published in the 2011 August/September Issue. 

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Debbie is the retired Editor of Chattanooga Magazine, and ongoing contributor.

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