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Chattanooga's Luken TV is returning to New York City by broadcasting its Retro TV network on WJLP-TV's channel 33.5, beginning Saturday.

The arrival marks the network's return to America's biggest television market after leaving New York in 2017. Luken also announced Friday it is adding another affiliate, WBNM-TV in Louisville, which is adding Retro TV on Sept. 1.

With its debut, Retro TV's programming will be available free of charge over the air to New York and Louisville viewers as well as on its new web site, www.MyRetroTV.com, and new computer app.

"Fans in New York have been clamoring for Retro TV to come to the Big Apple for a long time and we're finally arriving on WJLP-TV's channel 33.5," said Joel Wertman, president and the Chattanooga-based Luken Communications, which broadcasts Retro TV and four other networks across the country from its headquarters in downtown Chattanooga. "It's going to make a major difference for us."

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File photo / Luken TV CEO Joel Wertman

Originally launched in 2005 as the original digital broadcast network, Retro TV was the first of the extremely popular genre of classic television, featuring classic sitcoms and dramas from the 1950s through the 90s. Retro TV features a variety of vintage TV shows from the late 50s to the 90s, with such shows as "Doctor Who," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Green Hornet" "One Step Beyond" and others.

"We believe viewers will be engaged by the variety and quality of Retro TV's highly entertaining line up of classic television programs," said Lee Leddy, general manager for WJLP.

WJLP is licensed to Middletown, N.J. and blankets the entire New York area with its broadcast signal emanating from the top of Times Square in Manhattan. The full-power TV station is is owned and operated by PMCM TV, LLC based in Wall Township, N.J.

With its sister networks, The Action Channel, The Heartland Network, The Family Channel and the automotive-themed Rev'n, Retro TV offers viewers a wide range of TV programs from the past for a variety of tastes.

Collectively, more than 100 million Americans can access one of the Luken TV networks and Wertman said viewership has increased during the coronavirus pandemic as more people are staying home and TV viewers continue to cut the cord of traditional cable TV providers.

The largest TV antenna-maker in the U.S, Antennas Direct, reports a surge in online sales as the economy struggles this year.

"A lot more people are calling our phone lines saying, 'I can choose between cable or groceries,'" Richard Schneider, president and founder of Antennas Direct, recently told The Cord Cutting Report. "I think 2020 will be looked at as the year we turned into a normal mainstream thing instead of something just for the hardcore techies."

A study by Leichtman Research Group, Inc. estimates the top seven cable companies lost 1,56 million video subscribers in 2019, while satellite TV services lost about 3.7 million subscribers and the economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic is expected to accelerate the drop in cable and satellite users.

Schneider said economic circumstances may already be accelerating cord cutting strictly out of necessity.

"In the last six to eight weeks. it's brought an entire new demographic into the cord cutting world," he said. "This has been the shove that a lot of people needed. It's made it more mainstream."

Luken TV channels provide programming on low-power and other broadcast TV outlets that don't carry the major TV networks. Additionally, Wertman said Luken began streaming services online earlier this year and earlier this week debuted a popular new show "Operation Repo" _ a half-hour reality show about the car repossession business.

While the station and program additions are helping to drive up television viewership, Wertman acknowledged the advertising market upon which Luken is dependent is the toughest this year in the three years since Wertman has headed the company.

"It's very challenging right now," he said.

Wertman joined Luken TV as CEO in 2017 after the broadcast network emerged from bankruptcy three years earlier. The TV networks were formerly owned by businessman Henry Luken, who bought the network and its portfolio of old TV classics to air on low-power and other independent broadcast TV stations around the country.

While the Luken name remains on the business, the company is now owned by the Reach High Media Group, which includes an ownership share by Forrest Preston, the founder and owner of Life Care Centers of America headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee.

From its downtown Chattanooga headquarters on East Eighth Street, Luken TV and its sister company, Digital Networks, has about 40 employees that operate the five networks and some of the first of up to 78 low-power stations the company has licenses to build across the country.

Wertman said Luken TV is preparing to move out of its Eight Street headquarters in downtown Chattanooga, which was once used as a support center for the former American National Bank, now SunTrust. He declined to reveal any new location for the broadcast company.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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