Out of the basement, onto the airwaves
He has made Methodist TV ministry a globe-spanning production house,
and now a full-service broadcast station here
By Mitch Clarke - Macon Telegraph, April 15th, 1991
When Donald R. Wood came to Macon in 1977 to run the fledgling Good News Television Ministry, he had to borrow a camera and a basement to get the ministry's religious based programming on Cox Cable.
Now 14 years later, the ministry owned by the Macon District of the United Methodist Church goes worldwide to produce videos for churches and other non-profit groups.
And in November, Wood changed Good News TV, a service only available on cable, into a full-service broadcast station, WGNV-TV/Channel 64. It is shown on Cox Cable Channel 7.
"We always knew the the frequency was there," the 43-year-old Wood said. "After so many years of running a cable operation, we decided to apply."
The station signed on without fanfare on Nov. 30, 1990. Cable viewers noticed little difference, which made Wood happy. But now Wood and others at the station are ready to promote Macon's fourth -- and probably last -- broadcaster.
"We didn't tell anyone when we turned it on," Wood said. "A television station is much more labor intensive than cable, and we wanted it to look good before we started calling attention to ourselves."
Wood has dual titles with the ministry. He's general manager of Channel 64 and executive director of Good News Television Ministry, which he called "a fairly well-kept secret."
The ministry began 16 years ago, and Wood arrived on the scene two years later. "We all saw the possibilities for the church to use video as a tool to get the message out," Wood said.
A native of Pennsylvania, Wood was a student pastor when he took a master's level course in photography. "I was smitten," he said.
After leaving the seminary, Wood came to Macon to take over the Methodist Church's TV ministry.
"I thought I would be here a couple of years then move on," Wood said. "I couldn't have dreamed I'd have been here this long.
But he has no plans to leave now. "It's been good here. I don't think I'll leave now. I enjoy what I'm doing, and it's been successful in helping the church."
Wood said the production house has produced videos in 20 countries, on every continent except South America. Trips are planned in the next three months to Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Singapore.
Wood said the production house makes informative videos for groups like the Heifer Project, which teaches people in underdeveloped countries how to breed and raise livestock, and Map International, which provides medical supplies to hospitals overseas.
"We feel we're making this a better place for people to live, no matter what confines they find themselves in," Wood said of Good News' work.
While the production house was thriving, the cable station, Good News TV, was plodding along "kind of like an ugly stepchild," Wood concedes. When the production house got new equipment, the cable station got the hand-me-downs.
Community, family focus That's one of the reasons Wood pushed for the new television station. Wood said the focus of Channel 64 will be community-oriented programming. Although much of the station's schedule is religious-based, Wood said other "family" programming will be offered.
For instance, Saturday afternoon's line-up features a block of outdoors programming, he said.
"We'll continue to add more family programming that we feel fits our mix," Wood said. "probably we'll have less religious programming, but not to the exclusion of it. We really haven't run into anyone who does what we do."
Locally, Wood said the station produces three local programs -- and more are planned. "Open Line," hosted by George Foster, airs weeknights 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and allows viewers to call in with questions about that night's topic.
Sondra Jones hosts "Good News," a half-hour interview program that airs at 9 a.m. and is re-broadcast at noon and 8:30 p.m. And once a week, Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wood airs "Pacesetters," a program aimed at senior citizens.
The station also produces a weekly newsmagazine program for the Methodist Church. That program airs on five broadcast stations and 12 cable systems in Georgia.
"Our thrust is to be community-oriented," Wood said. "We feel that's what we're here to do. That's not a slam at the other stations here. It's just a different set of economics."
Wood said the station is on the air from 7 a.m. until midnight every day but Saturday, when it signs on at 8:30 a.m. "that's the day we sleep in," Wood joked.
Channel 64 has a range of about 45 miles and is available in 75,000 cable homes, said Wood. Its antenna is 700 feet hight, attached to WGXA=TV/Channel24's tower.
"We did it to be nice," said Ken Gerdes, general manager of Channel 24. "They've carved out a niche for themselves, and they deserve a chance."
Wood credits both WGXA and Cox Cable for helping get the station become operational. Both companies are committed to the goals of Channel 64.
"They've nurtured and helped us," he said. "They felt we were providing a valuable service to the community. I have no idea where we'd be as a broadcast station without them."
Both the production house and television studios are located on the corner of Beech Avenue and Patterson Drive in Macon. A former Mormon church and youth center, the building has undergone extensive renovations to accommodate the ministry, Wood said.
"It was just basically an empty shell, Wood said of the facility. "We have come from a facility that had a really small studio. The control room was more like a closet. So this is so much nicer."
Although he still has plans for the production house, his big concern now is getting Channel 64 going. The station now employs 12 people, including four who were hired during the transition from cable to broadcast.
"It's gone really well," he said. "It never goes as fast as you think it will, but we've made good progress. We're totally committed to it. I see it as a growing phenomenon and we want to be ready for it."