Out of the past, onto the Net: Vintage TV has a new channel with TV4U

Tom Ficara is convinced the computer and television will be one and the same in three years. A close look at what he's up to today leads me to believe the merger has already happened.

With about 7,000 classic television programs clawing to make their way out of the vault and into the latest online video format, Ficara has launched an on-demand service tailored for baby boomers. TV4U (www.tv4u.com) has 28 categories of programming, ranging from the moving-lips animation of Clutch Cargo to vintage commercials featuring the Hamm's Beer bear.

There are Westerns, comedies, infomercials, game shows and just about anything else those of us old enough to remember the days before cable or color TVs. Yep, kids, there was a day when the TV had a dial with channels 2 through 13 and UHF was the newfangled technology.

Adobe Flash breathes new life into the small-box classics, and Ficara is once again bringing them to the masses. It's a case of history repeating itself once again.

Ficara began his love affair with TV reruns back in cable's early days, when in 1970 only 1.2 million American homes were wired for the service.

"I was working for Gold Rush Junction, owned by the Cleveland Browns and Art Modell. He had half interest in a cable system in Gatlinburg (Tenn.). I worked in (public relations) at Gold Rush Junction and putted around in the cable system.

"I thought, 'Geez, somebody should be doing programming,'" he said. "I tried to get the Buck Owens show, but the station in Knoxville threatened to cancel if I got it."

Ficara decided to go after sports broadcasts.

"People thought there was no rerun value in sports," he said. "I ended up with a few thousand games. I would buy libraries of games from the networks. They didn't care and they were happy to get a hundred dollars for a show, as long as they could get their two-inch tape back.

"I would copy it on some newfangled thing -- three-quarter-inch U-Matic. That was really the first home video tape, but not a lot of people had them," he said. "We just collected the libraries and got in the business."

Cable evolved to pay-per-view and that carried into Video Home System (VHS) tapes featuring Ficara's extensive video library. His company produced the first live Internet show -- the 40th anniversary of the Whiskey A-Go-Go, which caused systems to crash across the Web due to high demand and low bandwidth.

The 56-year-old Henderson businessman is confident he's in the right place at the right time.

"We launched March 27 and our traffic is up tenfold since then. It's not brain surgery. We put up shows people like.

"It beats working for a living ... it's a tremendous amount of fun, and most importantly, there's no Anna Nicole (Smith)."

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