The Homeless Channel the Rev. Larry Rice Is Building a Broadcasting Powerhouse on Behalf of and with the Help of the Homeless and Dispossessed. Is Anyone Watching?
Story John M. McGuire Photos Kevin Manning Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Ted Turner, he's not. Though you can make some comparisons.
Ted's stations make money. So do Larry's, but not the Ted Turner way. Rice's income comes mostly from donations - and complicated split-barter arrangments with program syndicators - and fees paid by televangelists and ministries who buy air time. It's a charitable, not-for-profit enterprise, although the stations are commercially licensed.
Ted's got a network that spans the globe. Larry's got one that covers a whole lot of Missouri and a bit of Arkansas. He may own more low-power broadcast properties than anyone in the state of Missouri.
Ted's outspoken, ubiquitous and not-at-all camera shy. Larry . . . well, Larry schedules himself on KNLC (Channel 24) on a typical day for 30 minutes each at 6:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 10 p.m., and 3:30 a.m. And that doesn't include a variety of shorter spots throughout the day.
Now here's where the comparison really disintegrates. Rice owns no ballclubs, would never be caught doing a tomahawk chop and has had fantods over civic support for our beloved Rams. And then there's the network staff. No suits in suites, no Larry Kings nor Wolf Blitzers, no James Earl Jones voiceovers.
Rice is fond of saying "a man and his wife, a blind woman and 15 homeless people" run the Homeless Express Television and Radio Network.
It's a statewide system of low-power TV stations extending well beyond the homeless shelter and TV station at Rice's New Life Evangelistic Center at 1411 Locust Street in downtown St. Louis.
Rice and his wife, Penny, are the couple behind the station. And the blind woman is Judy Redlich, a former gospel-folk singer, now director of sales and development for Channel 24. She's also the wife of the Rev. Ray Redlich, vice president of New Life. The Redlichs also run the family shelter at 5811 Michigan Avenue in south St. Louis.
The homeless include such people as Victor Anderson, who came through the New Life program out of Illinois and now is on the KNLC payroll, as program director.
KNLC and KNLJ (Channel 25) in Jefferson City, operated by Penny Rice, are full-power TV stations. Rice's little media empire extends to Eureka Springs, Ark., where he has a TV station and a radio station featuring gospel music.
He's building two more low-power stations, in Joplin and Aurora, Mo., to go with his homeless network outlets in Jefferson City-Columbia, Branson, Springfield, Marshfield (where he also has a radio station), Lebanon and Osage Beach. Many of the stations also have shelters. The homeless who work and train for outside employment at the stations are not paid. But they are given room and board. Media Mogul?
All this leads to speculation about Rice's net worth. He finds it amusing.
"You want to see the network presidential suite?" he asks, unlocking the padlock and opening the door to a fairly monastic second-floor room at the Locust Street shelter, a well-used building frayed at the edges.
A double bed with pink bedspread and an old dresser are in the room, and two windows look out into a courtyard. This is where Larry and Penny Rice stay when they're not at their new house and TV station in New Bloomfield, 10 miles northeast of Jefferson City on Highway 54.
According to Rice, here's the '94 balance sheet for his operations, both TV and his ministries:
"In the black, but we're very close," says James Barnes, the man who runs the St. Louis station and has the title media consultant.
Rice calls Interstate 70 his home. He drives a used, black Ford Taurus with 113,000 miles on it; with a car phone, files and Bible, it's his office. His old white Taurus was decommissioned with 220,000 miles on it. Rice estimates he drives 60,000 to 65,000 miles a year - between his shelters and free shops, to his TV and radio stations, and on frequent prison visits. …