New Catholic TV Channel Is Planned by Familyland

BLOOMINGDALE, Ohio— A new Catholic television channel set to begin airing in September shows how evangelizers can use new technologies to reach more people.

Familyland Television Network — “fl-TV,” for short — will be carried 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and draw on a library of more than 15,000 shows, series and lectures. It will be carried on the Dominion DBS Sky Angel Satellite Television and Radio System. Programming will originate directly from Catholic Familyland in Bloomingdale, Ohio.

Jerome and Gwen Coniker said they are launching fl-TV to promote the enduring virtues of the family and citizenship, and to encourage devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Conikers are parents of 13 children and grandparents of 45. Television “has been used to tear down the family,” Jerome Coniker said. “We're going to use it to rebuild the family.”

He attributes the Familyland channel to God's providence. “We don't have any money,” he said. “All this is through the grace of God.”

The new channel shows how modern technology is making it easier and cheaper to create channels and programming that would be difficult to air on the major networks.

Coniker says his start-up costs are about the same as the cost of a few minutes of advertising during a major network sporting event. That's because Familyland network has been given exclusive rights to the Catholic satellite channel by the Dominion DBS Sky Angel television and radio system of Naples, Fla., one of only three such satellite direct broadcast systems licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and the pioneer in the field of high-powered DBS technology.

All that viewers virtually anywhere in the continental United States and in some areas in Canada and Mexico need to receive the station is the modest, 18-inch DISH brand antenna (a DBS satellite receiver) available from the company and stores such as Sears and Sam's Club.

The system eliminates the local commercial and cable TV middlemen that can exert controls over religious programming using “must carry” laws. The system thereby eliminates hundreds of millions in operating costs also. Nominal viewer charges to receive the channel (about $4.50 monthly) create revenues so that the air time is free for broadcasters like Familyland TV.

But Familyland Network still needs donations for equipment, for instance. Already there's a 30,000-square-foot conference and TV facility with a seven-camera shoot and acoustics that singer Dana has told them are among the finest she's encountered, said Coniker.

Would Familyland divert contributions from places such as National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Catholic Communications Campaign?

“That's never the attitude and never has been the concern,” said William Ryan, deputy director of communications for the bishops conference.

“The more people see what's being accomplished in a particular field of communications, the more they're likely to support other efforts rather than withhold funds. There's no rivalry emerging out of this new enterprise.”

Sky Angel itself is a pro-life, family-oriented network with a mix of Christian ministry and wholesome family programming, according to Robert Johnson, founder and chairman of Dominion Sky Angel. Fl-TV will be its only Catholic programming and will broaden audience reach, he added.

With Sky Angel's system, parents can block any channels and particular shows. The unique blocking protocol allows “total freedom to pick and choose,” explained Johnson. “If [viewers] want programming strictly from the Catholic doctrinal point of view, they can subscribe to Familyland Network only.” Acquainted with Coniker since 1986, Johnson added, “Jerry has a wonderful ministry there [at Familyland].”

The Programs

As a program host, Coniker knows the power of TV to reach people. Since 1981 he's had several series on Mother Angelica's EWTN, the national Catholic cable channel.

“We welcome anything Jerry is doing,” said EWTN's president, Deacon Bill Steltemeier. “I think his faithfulness to the Church and his reputation will enhance what he's now doing.”

The programming “is designed to reach the masses,” said Coniker. Religious programming will be interspersed with family entertainment. Regular features will include weekly Mass, nature shows, “Be Not Afraid Family Hours” and movies. The channel has obtained rights to such classics as Black Beauty and Little Women; and literary and history films like Oliver Twist and Christopher Columbus. “The Lone Ranger” and “Andy Griffith” shows will also be part of the mix.

“Everything will come back to the spiritual,” said Coniker. Movies “will be used a springboard into faith” because they'll include commentaries and lessons on how they impact Judeo-Christian culture and life.

Much of the programming has been taped for video release starting in 1981, when Mother Teresa of Calcutta was featured in the Coniker's first production. Mother Teresa then inspired the making of the “Be Not Afraid Family Hours” feature and prompted these taped teachings of the faith to be aired in churches before the Blessed Sacrament where she said they could be even more effective.

The many videos Mother Teresa made for the apostolate over the years, including the last major taped appearance she made before she died in 1997, are among 15,000 shows, series, lectures, and teachings stockpiled in the apostolate's library and ready to be aired on the new station. Alone, they can provide unrepeated, nonstop programming for over 20 months.

“We're at a critical turning point for America, and we can't continue to live, to kill the innocent, like we are,” Coniker said. To combat the “culture of death” it is necessary to build a “culture of life and hope,” he said. He hopes the new network does just that.

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.