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City revives kids' PBS channel

Concerned about the quality of children's programming on cable television, WGBH-TV (Channel 2) and Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced yesterday that Boston is relaunching one of its cable access channels to offer educational PBS programming for prekindergarten children 13 hours a day, seven days a week. The rest of the air time will be devoted to adult education shows.

The announcement was made days after a nationwide study reported that children 6 and younger are spending as much time with TV, videos, and computer games as they are playing outside.

The study, by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the philanthropic research group, also found that 26 percent of children younger than 2 have a TV in their bedroom, a practice specialists have long discouraged.

In an interview yesterday, Menino defended the decision to launch "Boston Kids & Family TV," saying it would be a positive addition for the city because the state has cut funds for many after-school programs. "I would rather see kids outside playing," Menino said. "But the reality is kids are watching TV because their parents are busy or working. This channel will give young people an opportunity to watch something positive. This is part of the solution. It's not the whole solution."

"Boston Kids & Family TV" is now available on Channel 22 for Comcast subscribers and on Channel 3 for those with RCN. These channels previously were airing public-affairs shows, footage of city-sponsored events, and the mayor's press conferences. Some of that programming has been shifted to the city's education channel (Channel 24 on Comcast, Channel 83 on RCN).

As of yesterday, WGBH began providing programs such as "Arthur," "Between the Lions," "Sesame Street," and "Zoom" from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, on the city's channel. WGBH, by contrast, cuts off its children's programming at 6 p.m. on weeknights and offers no kids' shows on weekend afternoons.

Jon Abbott, WGBH's general manager, said the PBS affiliate will adjust its schedule so no programs airing on Channel 2 or WGBX-TV (Channel 44) are simulcast on cable. "This gives families and child-care providers in Boston a third choice," he said. Children who have outgrown toddler shows such as "Dragon Tales" will have an option to watch on cable a program targeting older kids such as the reading show "Between the Lions," he said.

"Boston Kids & Family TV" will have at least one fan. Cheyanne Perryman, a 6-year-old Roxbury resident, said she always watches the Disney Channel in the evening but now will tune into her favorite show, "Between the Lions," instead. "I like it when they practice the words," she said.

Menino said he was inspired to approach WGBH a year ago, after spending some time at home with his five young grandchildren. "Watching TV with them was frustrating because there was nothing on besides PBS that was educational," he said. "The one thing I noticed about PBS was that my grandkids were singing along . . . and trying to spell out words."

For adult viewers, WGBH said it will air a repeating roster of shows at night including "Connect With English," a drama designed to help viewers master English as a second language. "Destinos" is a Spanish-language "telenovela" designed to teach Spanish to English speakers. "TV411" teaches adults basic reading, writing, and math skills. Those programs, which are also being aired on WGBH, will be shown from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

This is WGBH's first entree into the realm of cable. Abbott said WGBH has no plans to launch additional analog cable channels, although it will unveil new channels in digital television next year. "Our documentary and nonfiction programming are going to be one focus" of the new channels, he said.

Globe on NECN

Here's what's happening on "Around the Globe" today on NECN:

* 12:30 p.m.: "Globe at Home" -- City Editor Marilyn Garateix and state Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan talk about Halloween safety.

* 4 p.m.: "Around the Globe"

* 6:30 p.m.: "New England Business Day"

* 8 p.m.: "NewsNight"

Schedule is subject to change.

Talk of the dial

2 p.m. WROL-AM (950) -- "The Frankie Boyer Show." Dr. Rene Thomas discusses healthy treats for Halloween.

Other radio highlights

Noon WUMB-FM (91.9) -- "Live at Noon." Guest: Ellen Schmidt, songwriter.

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