Concern growing for future of local TV news

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Advocates want to keep TV 40 on the air

U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo

LINWOOD – U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo is concerned about local television coverage in light of the recent sale of WMGM-TV NBC 40 in Linwood.
The Republican congressman sent a letter Feb. 11 to Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spelling out his concerns about the station’s continued coverage of news in the Atlantic City market.

Access 1 Communications entered an agreement on Oct. 10 to sell WMGM TV 40 to LocusPoint Networks for $6 million. That sale was completed Jan. 28. LocusPoint has purchased other smaller market stations over the last several years, according to published reports.

“We have publicly stated that we are committed to supporting the station as NBC40, for as long as NBC will continue the NBC40 relationship,” Bill deKay, a spokesman for LocusPoint, wrote in an email Tuesday. “We look forward to a great year ahead in serving the community.”

A news report on speculators in advance of the FCC’s spectrum sale listed the company as one of three that have been buying up small market stations since 2010.

Roger Powe, WMGM 40 general manager, said Access 1, the now-former owner of the station, has an agreement in place to operate the station through the pending spectrum auction. Asked about what happens after the auction, Powe said, “LocusPoint has made it clear they are a speculator and they are participating in the spectrum auction. We are looking to relocate on the spectrum and to rebrand. LocusPoint owns the name and the call letters.”

The station general manager said he is in ongoing negotiations with Comcast for a regular channel, not just a local access channel.  

LoBiondo is particularly focused on reports that the sale of small-market stations across the country is a speculative purchase of the frequency in hopes of turning a profit from the FCC’s planned spectrum sale in 2015.
According to the FCC, the sale will provide more room on the electromagnetic spectrum for the growing demands of the wireless industry. According to a summary of the proposal, the lack of available broadcast spectrum will soon be a major challenge for continued expansion.

“Like the railroads in the 19th century, and the electrical grid in the 20th century, our mobile broadband networks are primary economic engines for our country,” reads part of the FCC summary on the issue. “Spectrum is a critical building block for these networks.”

But LoBiondo expressed concern about what that will mean for small TV stations like TV 40 and others. He is not alone in that concern. A website has been launched, www.savenbc40.com, that praises the station’s local news coverage, particularly during Hurricane Sandy, and suggests that the purchaser plans to sell the frequency for the expansion of cell phones and wireless devices.

The organizers of the campaign want supporters to contact the FCC, as well as LoBiondo and Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, along with other officials, to seek a buyer that will pledge to keep NBC 40 on the air.
No one immediately responded to an email sent to a contact address listed at www.savenbc40.com.

Some local municipalities have also called for the station to continue to broadcast. Wildwood Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 12 urging Access 1 and the FCC to find a buyer for NBC 40 that will keep the station on the air. “Losing NBC40 would be a great loss to South Jersey in many ways, but none as important as the vital role it plays in public health, safety, and welfare, particularly in weather emergencies,” the Wildwood resolution reads.

The commission called NBC 40 “the only true source of local television news and information.” It has served South Jersey for 45 years. Commissioners also asked that a copy of the resolution be forwarded to all of Cape May County’s municipalities. 

Somers Point City Council also passed a resolution Jan. 23, 2014 supporting WMGM Channel 40 as a continued reliable source of local news.

LoBiondo posed five questions to the FCC in his letter to Wheeler with a request for information. In the letter, LoBiondo said he was writing to express concern with the recent sales of small-market television broadcast stations in relation to spectrum speculation and to request information from the FCC on the factors that are considered during the sale of a small-market television broadcast stations.

“As you well know, television stations in small markets serve a critical and essential function for the public.  With the recent sale of several small-market television stations such as WYCN-TV in Nashua, N.H. and WMGM-TV in Atlantic City, N.J. concerns have been raised that the purchasers are not truly interested in serving the community or the survival of the station,” LoBiondo wrote. “Some have said the purchasers are accumulating small-market television stations only to speculate and profit from the spectrum available during the Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction.  Should this be the case, it seems likely the speculator would sell the station immediately or even close the station post-auction.”

Jason Galanes, spokesman for LoBiondo, said investors purchasing smaller market stations in order to accumulate spectrum space are a concern nationwide, not just in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

The FCC’s Wheeler has said the spectrum auction is planned for mid-2015. It had originally been set for June.
– Staff writer Christie Rotondo contributed to this story.


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