Local innovator makes an impact


Edward J. “Ted” Koplar happened to be born into a well-known St. Louis Jewish family. His grandfather, Sam Koplar, a Russian immigrant, built the Park Plaza Hotel in 1929. His father, Harold Koplar, started KPLR-TV in 1959, added the Chase Hotel and Maryland Plaza to the family holdings, and built the Lodge of Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks in 1965. But Koplar’s success in broadcasting, entertainment and property development (as president and CEO of Koplar Communications International, Inc.) is the result of his own vision and spirit.

“Ted comes from a long line of innovators,” says Koplar’s long-time friend and attorney Joseph Lehrer of the Greensfelder law firm. “While I’ll get into the technical details of a project, Ted’s interested in the special amenities and how it will look. I always say, a lot of people pride themselves on thinking outside the box. Ted denies the box even exists. He’s an extremely creative guy and he’s having a great time.”

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

Success with Voltron

Koplar studied business at the University of Missouri-Columbia and spent a year in Paris, supposedly to learn French, he says. When he came back, he booked performers for the Chase and opened a popular nightclub downtown, Chivala Phase I, with band leader Bob Kuban. At the same time he started working for the family TV station, KPLR Channel 11, the first independent television station in Missouri and the fourth in the nation. “Our very first broadcast was on April 28, 1959 — St. Louis Cardinals baseball,” Koplar says. He found his niche at the TV station, where he produced programs and directed Blues hockey and the beloved Wrestling at the Chase program.

“We had to program the station from sign-on to sign-off without the benefit of having a network affiliated with us, so it was very challenging,” Koplar says. He became president and CEO of KPLR in 1979 and along the way developed the station’s first newscast, which became the top independent television newscast in the nation. Under Koplar’s leadership KPLR frequently was ranked the number one independent station in the U.S. Koplar sold KPLR to Warner Brothers for more than $100 million in 1998.

However, even before the sale, Koplar was involved with TV from the programming side. In 1984, his World Events Productions, LTD, introduced the animated mega-hit, Voltron: Defender of the Universe, which aired in more than 80 countries.

“At the time, we thought, ‘Where can we get new ideas for programming that haven’t been exploited in the U.S.?'” Koplar says. He sent representatives to an international programming convention, “knowing that 99.9 percent of the shows wouldn’t work in the U.S. market, but we were hoping to find the point-one-percent that might just work,” he says. The reps found several intriguing Japanese animation shows. Koplar combined three shows into the amazingly successful original Voltron series. In the 1990s, World Events produced a computer-generated upgrade of Voltron which is distributed internationally. What’s more, Koplar notes, “You know how Transformers became a major motion picture…Well, we’re in discussions right now about doing that with Voltron.”

World Events also produces Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, Denver, The Last Dinosaur and Vytor: The Starfire Champion. The shows are marketed globally, leading to some memorable experiences for Koplar. “On a flight from Paris to Nice, a mother and her little girl sat behind me, and all of a sudden the little girl started singing, in French, ‘Denver the Dinosaur, he’s my friend and a whole lot more,’ the show’s theme song,” Koplar recalls. Another time, he was touring the dinosaur display at the British Museum in London when he heard the actual Denver theme song. “They were using a clip from the show in the exhibit at the British Museum,” Koplar says. “I thought it was pretty neat!”

In 1996, Koplar’s next venture was forming VEIL (Video Encoded Invisible Light) Interactive Technologies, which developed a technology that imbeds hidden information in video transmissions that can be used to make toys talk, among other things. VEIL technology was introduced to the consumer market in late 2004 in Mattel’s TV-Activated Batmobile and Batlink Handheld Communicator, which interacted with Warner Brothers’ animated “Batman” series. The Batmobile is activated by what’s happening on-screen, and, using the handheld communicator device, viewers can download new weapons and villains to play with later.

“We’re working on the idea of getting viewers more actively involved, not just passively watching something on TV,” Koplar says. “For example, I can see this technology used to allow viewers to play in real time against contestants on TV. Certainly in this era of trying to draw attention to content, this is an innovative way to do it that’s exciting for both the content provider and the viewer.” Koplar says technicians are working on new VEIL technology applications that were introduced in the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Changes in the CWE

Koplar’s most recent endeavor has been Koplar Properties’ $20 million restoration of several buildings in Maryland Plaza. “What we’ve tried to do in the Central West End is bring it back to its former opulence,” Koplar says. “The area lost a lot when Saks Fifth Avenue left. We’ve been in gridlock because of parking, but now that the Argyle Garage has opened, there are a lot of opportunities.”

Koplar describes the newly renovated area as an “experiential neighborhood,” marked by the landmark fountain, which has been rebuilt and redesigned by the same company that created Bellagio’s famed dancing waters in Las Vegas. The showpieces of the restoration include the upscale casual restaurant ~scape and The Creperie, both developed by Koplar Properties and Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, owned by former St. Louisan Larry Levy (who attended Ladue High School with Koplar).

“The neighborhood was missing something like this, a destination restaurant,” Koplar says. “The name, ~scape, is interesting because we are trying to create culinary landscapes for people to dine in. And The Creperie next door, besides European-style crepes and pastries, will serve breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 at night.”

Located in the former Medical Arts Building, Koplar notes the 2,700 square-foot ~scape features an “innovative kitchen” on the second floor, where he’d like to offer a Great Chef Series, “kind of like a Great Speakers series.” The restaurant also features a “European backstreet” for parties and outdoor dining. In addition, the renovated buildings are home to retailers, a beauty salon, advertising and PR agencies and more, plus a spectacular glass chandelier that must be seen to be appreciated.

“I like to say you can gain 5000 calories between Kingshighway and York Street,” Koplar says. “Also it’s very exciting that the Chase Park-Plaza soon will be lit from top to bottom like a beacon for the neighborhood. Truly, the Central West End is one of the great walking neighborhoods in the City.”

Jack Galmiche, president and CEO of KETC-Channel 9 and a friend of Koplar’s, recently returned to his native St. Louis. “When I left more than 20 years ago, the Central West End was at a very different place than it is now and I always thought it had been such a wonderful part of St. Louis,” he says. “To see what Ted has done to bring back Maryland Plaza is so exciting and one of the real accomplishments I’ve seen since I’ve been back.”

With his roots in the Central West End and his office located downtown, Koplar definitely is a St. Louis booster, but a realistic one. “In my mind there have to be a lot of changes in order to make the city great,” he says. “I tell my children, St. Louis has its faults, but those faults are opportunities, and you can make a real difference here, unlike New York or Chicago. I hope the next generation will take what we’ve done and make the city even better.”

Koplar says he never seriously considered leaving St. Louis. “I like communications and entertainment and our family was involved in that here in St. Louis,” he says. Growing up, he spent a lot of time at the Lake of the Ozarks and still frequently flies to his home there in his Beech Bonanza airplane (he’s been flying since the late 1960s). His sister Susan Koplar Brown manages the Lodge of Four Seasons.

Bicycles and Boards

Koplar is close to his children and quite proud of them. “I have a great wife, Nancy, and three sons and two daughters who all are very bright and doing well, and a new granddaughter, Caroline Grace, born in September,” he says. His son, Sam, works for Koplar Properties. Every other year, the entire family takes an international bicycle trip. “We’ve bicycled in Australia, Switzerland and France,” Koplar says. “It’s ten days of biking and getting very close to the family and to nature. You see things you would never see from a car.”

Koplar serves on the boards of the Washington University Entrepreneurial Council, KETC-Channel 9 and the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. In the past he’s been a member of the board of Junior Achievement of Mississippi Valley, the Muny, the St. Louis Executive Council of Boy Scouts of America and an advisor to the Dean of Engineering Management at the University of Missouri-Rolla. Koplar also supports Democratic Party politics; in fact, he and Nancy recently hosted 150 guests at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in their Ladue home.

In addition, Koplar says he supports the Jewish community through the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. His family belongs to Temple Emanuel. “What I enjoy about Judaism is that it’s an everyday religion. What I mean is I can live my life and there are no mandatory things that must be done in order to consider myself a religious person,” he says. “As far as practicing the religion is concerned, I don’t go to temple very often. But I have good values thanks to my parents and I try to instill that in my kids.” He adds, “I deeply care about human beings and I feel that we really need to listen to God’s message about all human beings getting along.”

Koplar says he’s having too much fun to think about retirement. “It may sound corny but I like dealing with the people I work with every day. I wish I could say I came up with a lot of these ideas, but it’s a group dynamic, talking and thinking things through and coming up with new directions,” he says. Right now Koplar says his team is “trying to figure out where the world is going. We’re all competing for eyeballs through TV, web sites, broadcasts, podcasts. But I think the future of TV probably lies in the ability to develop programming and shows, just like we did at KPLR 40-plus years ago,” he says. “I think we’re going full circle.”

Published Feb. 13, 2008