'If you had asked me 18 months ago what Channel 25 was,"
Ned Kandel said, "I would have said: 'Oh, they show soccer on Sunday - and they
have French news on.'"
Most New York area residents probably knew even less about the
noncommercial station - call letters WNYE - that is licensed to New York City's
Department of Education. Its schedule for years was a hodgepodge of low-budget
local productions, foreign- language newscasts and PBS staples that viewers
could also see on the better known WNET/ 13 or Long Island-based WLIW /21.
The ethnic newscasts are still around - Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian,
they're a big reason why WNYE is 95 percent self-supporting. There are some
PBS children's shows as well. But last November the station underwent a radical
makeover under new general manager Kandel, a commercial-television veteran
whose producing credits include the long-running Nickelodeon series "Are You
Afraid of the Dark?" and "Baseball, MN," an FX series about life in the minor
leagues. Kandel and his team reenvisioned WNYE as New York City's cultural
channel, and now it has no superior in broadcast or cable when it comes to
delivering arts programming to city and Long Island residents.
Tuesday nights on WNYE are set aside for musical concerts, mostly
classical. Wednesday nights are for opera, Thursdays for dance, Fridays for
documentaries and Saturdays for foreign films. Each of the 8 p.m showcases,
rerun the next afternoon at 3, has an expert host. For instance, F. Paul
Driscoll, executive editor of Opera News, introduces the productions and
interviews cast members. Susan Jaffe, former principal ballerina of the
American Ballet Theatre, and Dance magazine editor Wendy Perron share the
hosting chores on dance nights. The publications also help choose what's shown
and kick in some funding.
Kandel, 53, boasts that they're "doing an entire year of cultural
programming - that's 26 times 5, 130 nights, plus wraparounds, plus interviews,
plus some support stuff - for less than it costs to do an opera on 'Live From
The secret? Knowing where to find great buys on second-hand programs. "You
just have to know how to do it," he said. "Any TV pro could do what I'm doing."
Some programs WNYE runs have never been shown in this country. Others still
bear the logo of ARTS, a cable cultural channel that was merged more than a
decade ago into what we now know as A&E. There are even PBS leftovers.
"What we really are is the TBS of PBS," Kandel said. "We went out and got
the greatest hits. You know how WTBS does reruns and movies? That's what PBS
needs, just on a more cultural level. They've been doing operas and plays for
35 to 40 years. Just because you played something once doesn't mean it should
Kandel has no designs on supplanting PBS, but he would be happy to augment
it, perhaps via the digital channels public-TV stations are all allotted. He
also has some ideas percolating about how to do original arts fare on the
That he sometimes sounds like the proverbial kid in the candy store is
somewhat ironic given that he insists he had never even seen an opera before
happenstance brought him this gig. He's a friend of David Klasfeld, who was
then deputy chancellor of the New York school system under Harold Levy. As
Kandel recalls it, "David said, 'I have this television station and it's a
mess.' I said, 'You have a television station?"'
When Klasfeld asked him if he would like to try to create a new, distinct
identity for WNYE, Kandel said yes and proposed cultural programming as the way
to go. "If you ask anybody why they live in New York, they all say, 'For the
culture,'" he said.
As noted, WNYE is not wall-to-wall fine arts. Leasing time slots to ethnic
groups pays most of the bills. And the needs of the school system can't be
ignored. Along with educational daytime series ("GED Connection," "Standard
Deviations School"), WNYE now offers a Monday-night lineup that includes a
surprisingly snappy quiz bowl called "City Smarts"; "IMNY," a magazine series
that spotlights accomplished students, and "After School," which profiles or
interviews alumni of New York high schools.
"The schools love us," Kandel said. No doubt. And as more viewers discover
WNYE, the admiration society is likely to grow.