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Published: Monday, 1/3/2011

Church sells long-disputed TV station WMNT

A Toledo businessman and an Atlanta-based media consultant have teamed up to purchase low-power TV station WMNT from Cornerstone Church, which acquired the station in 2009 after a lengthy legal fight with its previous owners.

The Rev. Jerry Jones, 69, a local minister, business consultant, and retired Blade sales executive, partnered with media expert Jesse Weatherby to buy the station from the Maumee megachurch for an undisclosed price.

Mr. Jones said he and Mr. Weatherby, operating as Community Broadcast Co., have begun upgrading the programming on WMNT, an 11,000-watt signal that is broadcast over the airwaves on Channel 48 and is carried on Channel 58 on Buckeye CableSystem.

The station features a mix of mainstream sitcoms and dramas including Monk, Everybody Hates Chris, According to Jim, and some CSI series.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Weatherby had run the station for the last four years as executives with Matrix Broadcasting Inc., a Cornerstone Church subsidiary.

The Rev. Robert Pitts, the church's associate pastor, said Cornerstone decided several years ago to get out of the media business and sold its two radio stations in 2008.

Although terms of the sale of WMNT were not disclosed, Mr. Pitts said that the church considered its radio and television interests to be one media company and that the church made a profit on the combined sales.

"We felt that the season was over for us owning media properties," Mr. Pitts said. "When you feel that the Lord's put an end to it, it's over."

The Sunday and Thursday services at Cornerstone, featuring preaching by Bishop Michael Pitts, are streamed live over the Internet on the church's Web site, he added.

Cornerstone bought WMNT-TV for nearly $914,000 in 2006 at auction after the station was turned over to a court-appointed receiver. The church had been embroiled in nine years of legal motions and lawsuits with the station's previous owners, Lamaree "Marty" Miller and his wife, Linda Miller, in a dispute that reached six county, state, and federal courts.

The Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the FBI also were involved in the ownership controversy.

Mr. Weatherby said he and Mr. Jones feel they are "turning the page" on WMNT and are excited about its future.

"I see tremendous growth potential, not only in Toledo but in the entire market," Mr. Weatherby said. "We're looking to get as involved as we can with local schools, communities, and sports programs. We're hoping to improve our local and national programming."

WMNT is signed to a long-term affiliation with MyNetwork, a network that is owned by Fox Broadcasting, Mr. Weatherby said.

The station has 11 employees, all from the Toledo area, and plans to add to its sales and administrative staff, he said.

Although Mr. Weatherby lives in Atlanta, he said Community Broadcast Co. is headquartered in Lakeland, Fla.

Mr. Jones, who retired nine years ago from The Blade, said he is working as a consultant for a number of local food companies and restaurants and is working on multimillion-dollar alternative energy projects in Nigeria, Ghana, and India.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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