Ted Koplar’s body language reflects unbridled enthusiasm about his latest venture within the world of communications. Sitting at Baxter’s Lakeside Grille for lunch recently, the president and CEO of Koplar Communications International, Inc., picked through his turkey Rueben and coleslaw, stopping frequently to emphasize a point about the television station he plans to bring to the Lake early this year. He pushed back in his chair; he crossed his legs with fork in hand; he talked.
Taking a page from President John Kennedy, Koplar speaks of vision and motivation for a lake based television station:“Ask yourself how something can get done, not why it can’t.” That’s advice he has shared with his children, and it reflects the philosophy that has driven his business and creative acumen. Koplar’s rise to head of the Communications Company came naturally. The Koplar name is synonymous with communications as well as real estate and the hotel business. Harold Koplar, Ted’s father, was a pioneer in the early development of the Lake of the Ozarks opening the award-winning Lodge of the Four Seasons, and developing Horseshoe Bend and Shawnee Bend into a world class destination resort areas.
Harold also owned the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel, one of the forerunners of fine dining, entertaining and socializing in St. Louis. In 1958-59, he founded KPLR-TV Channel 11 in St. Louis and that’s where Ted learned the ropes. Koplar began working behind the scenes in the mid-1960s at KPLR Channel 11 in St. Louis producing sports programming and developing the station’s first regular newscast. Koplar became president and chief executive officer of Channel 11 in 1979, and gained complete control of the station upon his father’s death in 1985. Koplar Communications sold KPLR to ACME Television Holdings in 1997. Ted skirts any comparison to his father, saying he thinks family traits sometimes skip generations. Koplar says his dad was in a league of his own, a visionary and a pioneer. “He went through hard times and good times, but he had his eyes on the prize all the time. I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned from him,” he said. “I don’t think I’m as flamboyant as my father,” Ted added. “He was a true genius, with great people skills. In terms of demeanor, I think of myself as reserved and observant. Honestly, I tend to tune in and tune out of conversations to a fault. If I had to make any comparison from a personality point of view, I would probably say that I am a little more like my grandfather than my father.” And there is a lot going on in Ted’s life today.
There’s Koplar properties, the parent company of Maryland Plaza Corporation, which in 2007 completed a $20 million redevelopment in the historic, architecturally-significant section of midtown St. Louis known as the Central West End. This charming cosmopolitan area is characterized by stately mansions, trend-setting upscale retailers, and sophisticated dining at a variety of restaurants including Koplars’ award-winning Scape. His son Sam is actively involved in the real estate company, with a bevy of development plans ahead.
There’s World Events Productions, LTD., founded in 1982 to meet the ever-growing need for the development of quality television entertainment. World Events produced and syndicates some of the most internationally recognizable animation brands including Voltron: Defender of the Universe, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Saber Rider and The Star Sheriffs, Vytor: The Starfire Champion, and Voltron: The Third Dimension. Koplar’s son Bob is now actively working in leading the company’s efforts.
There’s Veil Interactive Technologies that got its start behind the imagination of Koplar. VEIL (Video Encoded Invisible Light) technology allows digital information to be inserted into an ordinary television’s video image. By riding on the active video signal, the data can be transmitted via broadcast, cable, DBS, or home video, and received by low-cost detection devices anywhere a television monitor can be seen. The endeavor that will affect the Lake most is the construction of a new digital, full-power television station — KRBK Channel 49 — in Osage Beach that serves the Springfield, MO, television market. The station is especially close to Koplar’s heart because its call letters represent the initials of his deceased brother, Robert, and because the station will use state-of-the-art interactive VEIL technology.
“There are things in Osage Beach and Springfield from a communications perspective that justify the idea of putting a television station here,” Koplar said. “The Lake has some wonderful attributes, stories and events that only need a window of exposure which I hope the station will provide. There are great people here, with interesting stories and ideas that can be marketed not only to visiting guest, but to Springfield, the state of Missouri and, if compelling enough, to the global market.”
The entire demeanor of the Lake has changed over the years, he pointed out. The Lake of the Ozarks used to be a “hub” for activities such as Ozark Opry, soldiers on leave for a weekend, parties on The Strip and Ron’s Townhouse below Bagnell Dam. “We’re turning a corner into a new phase in which some of the original things that made the Lake so popular are moving to Branson, and that has taken some of the spotlight away from here,” he said. “My intention is to meet other visionaries at the Lake, with the goal of working with them to sow the seeds of what makes this Lake happen and move forward, creating effective vehicles for promoting this area as a leading destination retreat.”
Ted’s sister, Susan Brown, maintains the family image as owner with husband Peter of The Lodge of Four Seasons, of Harold Koplar’s namesake HK’s Steakhouse, of three golf courses The Cove, Seasons Ridge, and The Club at Porto Cima, a private Jack Nicklaus course on Shawnee Bend. The properties are recognized by a population of premium home and condo owners not only from St Louis and Kansas City, but from all over the United States who have discovered the beauty of Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks.
The Browns share Harold’s vision for the area and the community, as they have developed property on the east and west sides of the Lake, and most recently completed an upscale condo development near The Lodge. “This region is very dear to our family,” Ted said. “Susan and Peter have done an outstanding job meeting the challenges. I’m very proud of Susan and of everything she has accomplished. And she and Peter have a great family. Their sons, Mark, Peter and David, are all involved in the business; they represent the next era of Four Seasons’ growth and development.
The Koplar family heritage can be cited for many of today’s successes. But it’s the individuals who make the difference. Ted said the excitement of a new project that embodies innovation or a new approach is what motivates him to keep pushing the boundaries of technology and communication. “I guess the best way to describe it is this way: When a good artist paints a picture, he knows the subject well, and has a vision in the back of his mind of the end result that he will try to achieve. He is the creator of the painting and has the ultimate responsibility. A lot of people looking at the work in progress might become very skeptical of the end result, but the artist vision becomes his guide. The good ones survive. “In business there are similarities. The most important thing is finding people who buy off on the same vision, contribute ideas, and who have the expertise and experience to help make it happen,” he explained. “It’s the team that counts. The greatest gratification is the motivation that you’re doing something that can make a difference. Innovation has its own parameters.”
As Koplar tackles his newest venture, the roots of his motivation might also lie in experiences during high school and early adulthood. He recalls as a youth getting “sicker than a dog” when he flew. He grew up in the era of prop planes and took trips on TWA Connies, which couldn’t reach high altitudes and often flew through storms that “would shake the hell out of the plane.” That anomaly stumped him. When he got into high school, he decided to figure out why he got sick and took flying lessons “to under- stand what was going on with the plane. So, when I did understand what was happening, it really wasn’t an issue anymore. It calmed me down.” Owning a Volkswagon station wagon as a teenager probably helped him work toward owning a more upscale type of vehicle. “I wanted a Thunderbird, but that didn’t happen,” he laughed.
At 19, he opened his own nightclub, Chavala Phase 1 with bandleader Bob Kuban in St. Louis’ Spanish Pavilion. With one hand in the entertainment business, he started at the television station and began working his way up. Two years of college in the states and two years in Paris also helped shape his adult life. In an environment where nobody spoke English, he was forced to learn a second language. “I didn’t go with any friends and was in a small class of foreign students,” he said. “I think the biggest thing about the experience was that I found myself, that I learned more about myself than anything else.”
From St. Louis to Paris to the Lake of the Ozarks, Ted Koplar is leaving a mark. He’s making a difference. He is busy, but gets to the Lake’s often as possible. “It’s one of the hidden secrets of this world,” he said enthusiastically. “Talking to people and enjoying people is very relaxing,” he explained. “I do enjoy getting out and flying once in awhile. I tried my hand at golf, and I’ve been asked to leave the golf course a few times,” he laughed. He also enjoys boating. “But, actually, my favorite thing to do is just relax with my wife Nancy and my children Emilee, Bob, Sam, Alison, Kevin (whenever available) and enjoy the peace and quiet of the Lake.”
That’s a challenge for a man who has his hand in cutting-edge technology and communication development and a new television station at the Lake of the Ozarks. Tackling obstacles and persevering, whether flying to overcome motion sickness or working to communicate in a foreign land, reflects the true talents of a success.