A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Why do WTBS shows start at :05 and :35 past the hour?

Dear Straight Dope:

Can you tell me why superstation WTBS starts their programs at 5 minutes after the other programs? I used to think it was because it was a cable channel, but none of the other channels do it.

Close but not quite, Big.

It's because WTBS is a cable channel owned by Ted Turner.

Robert Edward "Ted" Turner III took over the family billboard business, Turner Advertising, when he was 24 after the death of his father in 1963 (who at the age of 53 shot himself with a .38-caliber pistol). Ted quickly revived the business, then turned his eye toward television. He purchased a local Atlanta TV station, Channel 17, in January of 1970, renaming it WTCG (for Turner Communications Group).

"We were a local independent UHF station," says Bill Burke, current president of the station. "Ted got this wild idea to put it up on the satellite and call it a superstation." On December 17, 1976, Turner's wild idea became reality.

When Turner first purchased the station, WTCG's signal was so weak, Turner himself couldn't get it on his own television. When its signal was beamed via satellite in 1976, it reached four cable systems with 24,000 households. Today, WTBS (the name change came in 1979) is in more than 75 percent of the television households in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and in Canada -- which translates into more than 74 million homes.

One of the many inspirations which contributed to WTBS' success was the introduction of "Turner Time" June 29, 1981.

"Turner Time" was the practice of starting WTBS programming at :05 and :35 after the hour. Why? For the simple reason that once you started watching something on WTBS, it would be darned difficult to switch easily to another channel or program. Once something on WTBS was over, the program on the other channels had already begun, so why not just keep it tuned to WTBS?

Of course, Turner's media empire today is so vast, it's almost always Turner Time. You can't help but watch something he owns or has an interest in: Time Warner cable networks (including TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network, CNN/SI, Headline News, TBS Superstation, Turner Classic Movies and TNT), HBO, Cinemax, Warner Brothers International Networks, Comedy Central, Court TV, Castle Rock Entertainment, New Line Cinema and Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks NBA professional basketball team.

Will the world ever see the end of Turner Time?

In Turner's own words at the 1980 launch of CNN: "We won't sign off until the end of the world, and we'll cover that live!"

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