By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment
One of L.A.’s legacy broadcasters of Japanese programming will sign off for the last time this weekend.UTB Hollywood will air its last program Sunday night. However, a new television venture will fill – and hope to expand – UTB’s current time slot.
Opening for business in September 1971 as United Programming Corporation, the station was the first on the U.S. mainland to offer a regular schedule of Japanese and Japan-related programming. Company president Yasushi Haneda finalized an agreement to have the two hours and 15 minutes programs broadcast on Sundays, over KWHY, UHF Channel 22.
Along with the now-defunct Asahi Homecast and other stations, UTB aired community-based programs and shows from Japan, and helped to maintain a cultural connection for immigrants and those with an interest in all things Japanese.
At its broadcasting height, UTB had the ability to bring 24-hour programming over the air. Following the switch to all-digital broadcasts in 2009, the station occupied a sub-channel of KSCI Channel 18, and aired local features, travel shows and popular dramas from Japan.
In 2016, however, lingering confusion and technical issues about over-the-air broadcasts, combined with declining advertising revenue within the quickly evolving transformation of television itself, forced UTB to abandon its 24-hour schedule. Channel 18 has since replaced nearly all of its multicultural programming with infomercials.
Now, UTB’s ownership, headed by multi-faceted businessman Hisatake Shibuya, have decided to pull the plug on the station altogether. The last broadcast will be the airing this Sunday of the finale of the drama “You Always Haunt My Heart,” at 7 p.m.
On UTB’s website and Facebook page is a posted statement thanking viewers for their support over the years. One comment from a longtime watcher reads, “There are too much (sic) memories of watching UTB in my life, I am very sad, please don’t stop broadcasting.”
Another post read simply, “Thank you for great years.”
Toru Mihara, president of UTB for the last 10 years, told The Rafu that Shibuya has a great deal of remorse about the station’s demise, and that ownership has gone to great lengths to explain the move to all parties involved.
Shibuya is also the founder of ESP Guitars and the for-profit school Musicians Institute, the latter of which shares its Hollywood Boulevard campus with UTB. Both of those companies continue to do solid business and will not be in any way affected by UTB’s closing.
On April 15, Mihara will launch a new broadcast station, Japan Hollywood Network. He will head the operations that will begin with a two-hour presentation of the World-War II-era documentary “Toyo’s Camera,” directed by Junichi Suzuki.
The following two Sundays will feature documentaries from the same series – “442: Live with Honor, Die with Dignity” on April 22 and “MIS: Human Secret Weapon” on April 29. All three programs begin at 6 p.m. on KSCI Channel 18.
Beginning May 6, the Sunday evening broadcasts will revert to one hour of airtime, with a drama series from Japan to be determined. For the time being, JHN will continue on Channel 18.
Earlier this week, Mihara issued a statement about his fledgling company, writing, “Through Japanese TV broadcasting, video production and event production businesses, I and Japan Hollywood Network commit to all of our clients and our community to provide quality service, and continue our mutually beneficial relationship.”
The popular “SoCal Japan” community news program will continue, on the fourth Sunday of each month.
More information will appear as it becomes available on the new station’s website, jhollywoodnet.com. Mihara said the site is still under construction and will be expanded in the near future.
Channel 18 is a free, over-the-air signal that does not require a cable TV subscription. However, it is included on most cable systems.
Other providers of Japanese programming in Southern California will continue as scheduled, including NHK World, Ch. 28.4, KXLA Ch. 44, and the pay service TV Japan.