MPT chief has an ambitious agenda

On the Air

April 13, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Robert J. Shuman wants MPT to be more than just Maryland's public television station.

Six months into his job as head man at MPT, he wants to do more than just provide Marylanders with news, information and entertainment via the airwaves. He sees MPT's future as an information provider in all sorts of ways: via computers, mobile facilities, civic boosterism, maybe in ways that haven't been invented yet.

Last week, Shuman unveiled a list of eight initiatives, the first real indication of where he'd like to take public television in Maryland.

The initiatives included a nightly news and public-affairs show, slated to debut in September; electronic town meetings, in which viewers will be able to question politicians and policy makers via telephone and e-mail; a production studio in downtown Baltimore; and new technology designed to expand MPT's presence and influence throughout the state.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Shuman discussed where he sees his new charge headed.

The answer, he said, is in directions that make it clear this will no longer be your father's MPT.

"What public broadcasting is going to be in the next 20 years, I think, it's going to be a bit different than what it's been in the past 20 years," he said.

That means shifts all over the place, he explained: away from reliance on government dollars, away from the traditional view of public television as TV for intellectuals, even away from television as we know it.

"MPT has to position itself as a content provider," Shuman said. "We need to think of ourselves not only as a broadcaster, we need to look at all these different technologies."

By way of example, he noted that MPT has access to an optical fiber network that connects 80 communities across the state, that electronic field trips can take schoolchildren to educational sites and museums without their having to leave the classroom, that interactive television will give state officials the opportunity to train teachers and other workers without having to travel all over Maryland.

The possibilities are nearly endless, he said. But clearly, the one that gets him most excited is the potential for working with children. Having recently become a grandfather for the first time, Shuman, 52, believes organizations like MPT have a responsibility not only to educate the young, but protect them as well.

"There are a lot of places on the Internet where we don't want our children necessarily to go," he explained. "What we have to have is alternatives for them. We need to begin developing a place for families and children to go."

Money, of course, is the most likely roadblock for Shuman's plans. With an operating budget of $30 million, MPT gets $7.6 million from the state. That first figure will almost certainly increase, probably faster than the second. Where will the additional money come from?

There are the traditional sources, such as shows MPT can offer for national pick-up. Wednesday's announcement included two new programs: "Boatworks," a 13-part life-on-the-water series, with Robert Urich as host, and "Health-week," to focus on the region's health-care resources.

There are also those viewer favorites -- pledge drives.

The folks at MPT seem to have those down pat: Last month's drive was a record-breaker, raising nearly $900,000 in pledges and challenge grants -- well above the $750,000 goal. Those results mean that MPT has raised more than $2 million during the current fiscal year, also a record.

Shuman sees an even bigger cash cow in the business community, one he plans to court by emphasizing how much better MPT can make Maryland, as a place to live and work.

"I'm going to challenge our business community to support our activities," he said. "Schools, quality of life and culture are things that bring new businesses to states, and I think we can be a very important resource to help. What I would look for in return is for our business community [to] help us do that."

But the good MPT can do, he added, extends even further.

"If the kind of programming we develop helps teach our children, in terms of conflict resolution, not to be shooting each other but to resolve their differences in other ways we create a quality of life that helps [businesses] and supports their interest."

A 'Titanic' show

For a look at how Gregory P. Andorfer, executive director of the Maryland Science Center, spends his off hours, check out the Discovery Channel at 9 tonight.

Andorfer served as executive producer of "Titanic: Anatomy of a Disaster," which tries to get at the whys behind one of history's most disastrous seagoing accidents. For years, people have debated how the allegedly unsinkable Titanic was sunk by an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912.

Last August, Andorfer led a team of oceanographers, architects, archaeologists, engineers and historians on an exploration of the sunken ship.

Heavenly radio

Congrats to the folks at Heaven 600 (WCAO-AM), which has been rated as one of the nation's top-10 gospel stations by Religion and Media Quarterly. Based on Arbitron ratings for spring and summer 1996, the station was rated No. 5 among AM gospel stations and No. 2 among contemporary gospel stations.

Mixing up WWMX-FM

A few old faces are moving into new places at WWMX-FM Greg Carpenter, who holds down the station's afternoon drive-time slot (3 p.m.-7 p.m. weekdays), has been named music director.

Carpenter, a graduate of Towson University and alumnus of WCAO/WXYV in Baltimore, has been with MIX since March 1994.

Mac Watson, a part-time disc jockey since 1995, moves to the weekday evening (7 p.m.-midnight) and Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.-7 p.m.) slot. A Baltimore native and graduate of Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, he has worked in Washington, Westminster and York, Pa.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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