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Published: Tuesday, 3/27/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

FCC approves Channel 36 sale; 63 layoffs loom

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The WTOL building in Toledo. The CBS affiliate has bought former local rival WUPW Channel 36. The WTOL building in Toledo. The CBS affiliate has bought former local rival WUPW Channel 36.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The sale of a Toledo TV station that could result in as many as 63 layoffs was approved Monday by the Federal Communications Commission.

WUPW-TV, Channel 36, has been purchased by American Spirit Media from LIN Media in a $22 million deal.

Courtney Guertin, a spokesman for LIN Media, said in an e-mail Tuesday morning the sale has yet to close.

A service-sharing agreement with WTOL-TV, Channel 11, attached to the sale, allows the stations to share news staff and broadcasts.

In addition to news, WUPW and WTOL will share access to studios, technical facilities, maintenance, and promotional efforts.

Because the stations will share services, fewer employees will be needed. American Spirit Media has the option to rehire the laid-off employees, but it's unclear how many of the 63 people could be retained, if any.

LIN Media filed a layoff notice in February with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services saying the layoffs are slated for sometime between April 24 and May 8.

It's unclear how many people are employed at WUPW because the station's employment numbers are not included in reports filed with the FCC.

C.J. Hoyt, WTOL's news director, declined to comment about changes at Channel 11 or Channel 36. A formal announcement from WTOL, including the details of the stations' shared-services agreement, is expected early next week.

Steve France, WUPW's news director, did not return phone calls from The Blade.

The contract between WTOL and WUPW is for at least eight years, and American Spirit Media will pay WTOL more than $1.3 million the first year of the agreement. That amount would be adjusted for inflation in subsequent years.

WTOL is a CBS affiliate. WUPW is affiliated with FOX. Prime-time programming likely won't be affected.

Service-sharing agreements, which are on the rise in small and midsized markets, often lead to the shuttering of news departments and layoffs. The practice is being reviewed by the FCC, which has rules that prevent one company from owning multiple TV stations in markets such as Toledo.

Thomas Henson, the head of American Spirit Media, has consolidated at least three newsrooms across the country in similar deals with Raycom Media, which owns WTOL. Those consolidated stations are in Ashland, Va., Columbus, Ga., and Wilmington, N.C.

Calls made to LIN Media, Raycom Media, and American Spirit Media by The Blade were not returned Monday.

In the most recent ratings period, the February sweeps, WTOL posted impressive numbers for its seven newscasts, winning five of its six head-to-head time slots over WTVG-TV, Channel 13, in total viewership. WUPW showed improved viewership from the November Nielsens, with an increased total audience of 1,000 for its 6:30 to 7 p.m. newscast, and an increase of 4,000 for its 10 to 11 p.m. newscast.

Channel 36 does not compete head to head with any local news broadcast.

Free Press, a Washington-based group that promotes media transparency, reports that almost 500 people have lost their jobs as a result of service-sharing agreements across the country. Corie Wright, senior policy counsel at the organization, said the deal most likely will result in similar broadcasts on Channel 36 and Channel 11.

"First and foremost, about 63 people will be missing out on their jobs," Ms. Wright said. "I've certainly seen Raycom, who is the parent owner of WTOL, involved in these arrangements all over the country.

"If that's any guidance, the public that's served by these stations can expect a lot more duplicate news programming."

Staff writer Kirk Baird contributed to this report.

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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