By Alan Pergament
A Lockport police officer who nearly died a decade ago in a shootout is behind a low power TV station that may debut as many as six channels as early as Feb.1.
Steven Ritchie was granted FCC approval to take over the license for WBXZ-TV, Channel 56, in August after purchasing it from a Syracuse owner of several low power stations for $25,000.
Ritchie said the station has been around for about 20 years and has carried home shopping and music channels before.
He has bigger plans. His goal is to carry five or six standard definitions channels by next month if weather permits the installation of the equipment needed to send them from a tower on top of the HSBC building in downtown Buffalo.
If the name Ritchie sounds familar, it is because on Feb.9, 2003, he was so seriously injured during a shootout at a Lockport mobile home park with a man who then killed himself that many people didn't expect him to live.
Here's what was written about Ritchie in an October 2003 story in the Buffalo News about his recovery: "The fact he is even here ... is nothing short of miraculous to doctors who worked on him and police officers who saw him. It is not a stretch to say that his colleagues thought the 40-year-old, 18-year police veteran was going to die."
Now on the Lockport force for 29 years, the 51-year-old Ritchie said he plans to retire in 2014 and he bought WBXZ to have something to do after his retirement.
The idea came from two places -- a fellow police officer in Cincinnati who bought a low power station and Ritchie's own dream as a young man.
"I always wanted to own a TV station when I was kid," said Ritchie, who realized that was impractical at that age and instead became a policeman.
One of the six channels that he plans to carry on Channel 56 is Retro TV, which he said used to air locally on WNGS and a WGRZ digital channel and carries classic television programs. Retro TV will be the third classic TV channel here, joining WBBZ-TV programming and Antenna TV on one of Channel 2's digital channels.
In addition, Ritchie plans channels that carry home shopping, kids programs, country music, programs geared to men, and possibly a channel devoted to movies.
Ritchie said the channels have the capability of being seen on digital sets or with digital antennas in homes in most of Erie County and a large part of Niagara County.
However, he said his primary audience will be with the 10 percent of Western New Yorkers who don't have cable, satellite dishes or FiOS since low power stations don't have to be carried by those services.
Ritchie isn't expecting to get rich by his operation, which currently is run from his home.
"I'm not in it to make money, I'd be happy to break even," said Ritchie.
He doesn't have a sales team and any money he will make initially will come from his share of direct response advertising revenue he will share with the owners of the programming.
His expenses won't be high. He isn't paying for programming. He is paying rent of about $1,200 a month for renting the tower and will get an electricity bill once the station goes on the air.
Eventually, he wants to have a studio and carry local programming.
"I want to be a step above local access at the start," he said. "I have a lot of respect for what (WBBZ Owner) Phil Arno is trying to do with local programming. That's what I want to do without as much overhead and without worrying about ratings."
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