Truckers get their own TV network 4 Md. truck stops sign up for service

September 29, 1992|By Leslie Cauley | Leslie Cauley,Staff Writer

Think of the Cable News Network. Then think of 18-wheelers and CB radios (10-4, good buddy, come on back). Now put the two together.

What you get is the American Trucking Television Network (ATTN), the world's first TV network for professional truck drivers.

The network is scheduled to be launched from Washington on Oct. 18 to more than 50 truck stops in the United States and Canada, including four in Maryland.

ATTN plans to provide the latest in news, weather, general information and entertainment. A comedy sitcom geared around trucking, dubbed "Truck Stop Comedy Cafe," is planned, along with special reports on equipment, road safety and regulatory updatesfrom Washington.

"Everything we do will be for and about truck drivers," says Tom Hauff, ATTN's executive producer and a former truck driver.

Programming will be carried by satellite to small receivers atop truck stops, a technological trick known as direct broadcasting. ATTN will show up on special television monitors in lounges, restaurants and fuel stations.

By this time next year, ATTN plans to be broadcasting to more than 1,000 truck stops in the United States, Canada and Mexico. ATTN hopes to be near the 2,000 mark eventually, putting the all-trucking network in almost half of the estimated 5,000 truck stops in North America.

ATTN officials hope to take the network overseas within 18 months, beaming its brand of trucking news to Europe, Africa and Australia -- and anywhere else where overland trucking is big business.

It is part of ATTN's master plan for becoming the CNN of trucking.

"We hope to bring this concept to a number of other places that have big trucking industries," says Steve Cohen, ATTN's chief executive officer. Mr. Cohen, a veteran of CBS news, worked most recently as executive producer of cable's Courtroom Television Network.

Bringing the ATTN concept to life hasn't been cheap.

Investments in ATTN, a wholly owned subsidiary of ATTN/Aveca Inc., a holding company based in Alberta, Canada, have totaled about $7.5 million over the past two years, Mr. Cohen says. Most of it was culled from a handful of private investors. By 1994, he says, those investments are expected to reach $10 million.

It is too early to tell how successful ATTN will be in attracting advertisers over the long haul. But early indications look promising.

Although no contracts have been signed, several major advertisers, including American Telephone & Telegraph Co., Mack Trucks and Kenworth, have expressed interest in the fledgling network.

And no wonder.

An estimated 3.2 million truckers spend an average $25 billion a year at U.S. truck stops . One industry survey found that truckers spend an average $25 a day on phone calls home, food and clothing. Truckers can also influence major purchase decisions by their employers. ATTN should be a good vehicle for reaching that audience, says John Doyle, public affairs director for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in Arlington, Va.

ATA, an industry lobbying arm, typically takes out ads in industry publications to get the word out to truckers about new rules, regulations and the like. But that approach he says, is hit-or-miss at best, because those publications often end up being read primarily by managers, not drivers.

ATTN is the latest in a string of networks targeted to specific audiences to hit the satellite airwaves.

George Bryant, a spokesman for Satellite TV Week, a publication in Fortuna, Calif., that tracks the industry, says such "narrowcasts" -- the industry term for networks built around single themes -- have been an enormous hit with viewers and advertisers alike in recent years.

Indeed, there are currently 256 satellite-based television offerings that specialize in subjects that are as varied as the interests of the people who watch them.

The Airport Channel is crammed with news for air travelers and is beamed to airports; the Check-Out Channel is targeted at people waiting in line at grocery stores; and the Science Fiction Channel, launched just last week, is geared for sci-fi buffs. AgNet, short for the Agricultural Network, caters to farmers.

ATTN is scheduled to go on the air next month with six hours a day of original programming -- 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.

One of the first to sign up for ATTN is the Liberty Bell 76 truck stop in Elkton, an outpost off Interstate 95 that serves about 1,000 truckers a day.

Marshall Moore, general manager of the truck stop, says the availability of ATTN should go a long way toward keeping truckers up to dateabout life off the road while they're on the road.

"A lot of these people are on the road for weeks on end, and their hours vary, so it's hard to keep current on any news, including news in their own field," Mr. Moore says.

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