WMGM-TV40 will lose its NBC affiliation and network programming when its contract expires at the end of the year.
For area viewers, this will mean NBC programs such as “The Tonight Show” and “The Blacklist” will be seen just on NBC10-WCAU. And it could mean that South Jersey eventually will have to rely on Philadelphia’s networks for televised news, weather and sports.
Former TV40 general manager Ron Smith, of Egg Harbor Township, said NBC recently informed the station that it would end its 48-year relationship at the end of 2014. The information was confirmed by two other sources. Smith worked for the station for 22 years, including the last 10 as its general manager, before retiring last May. He was replaced by General Manager Roger Powe III, who declined to comment.
WMGM-TV is New Jersey’s only NBC affiliate. NBC programming for the rest of the state is broadcast out of Philadelphia and New York by stations owned by NBC-Universal, making the Linwood-based station redundant in the eyes of NBC, or worse, a competitor for advertising revenues, Smith said.
Smith said viewers in Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties rely on the region’s only local TV news broadcast for morning and evening news, weather and local sports. Broadcast stations in Philadelphia do not cover South Jersey in nearly the same depth, he said.
“I think we’d lose a lifeline. I think that’s a huge loss,” he said.
“The weather here is much different many times than it is in Philadelphia,” Smith said. “In times of emergency, Channel 40 has stepped up. The best example was during Hurricane Sandy. Dan Skeldon was the only meteorologist who accurately predicted where Sandy would hit.”
The station employs about 60 full-time and 12 part-time workers.
WMGM’s affiliate contract with NBC-Universal expired in 2012, but NBC granted a two-year extension to the station’s former owner, Access.1 Communications, while Access looked for a buyer. Access sold the station in December for $6 million to LocusPoint Networks, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.
LocusPoint spokesman Bill deKay this week declined to comment.
“Our agreement with NBC-Universal is confidential, and therefore we’re not at liberty to discuss it,” he said.
Likewise, NBC’s corporate office in New York declined to comment this week.
Smith said he learned of NBC’s intentions while inquiring about the station’s management future.
“I have longtime relationships with NBC. I was trying to get someone else to take the station over as a community service,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, met in Linwood with station management last week, LoBiondo spokesman Jason Galanes said.
Galanes said he could not divulge the content of the discussion, but said LoBiondo has expressed concern previously about losing small-market stations to investment firms that buy them for the express purpose of selling off their valuable allotment of broadcast spectrum.
Congress in 2012 passed a law allowing the FCC to hold auctions to buy or sell space on the broadcast spectrum to make room for wireless broadband services. The FCC is planning the auction to meet booming demand for online bandwidth as Americans gobble up data on phones and tablet computers.
Large wireless companies are competing for access to broadband to provide high-speed service to more customers.
This broadcast spectrum auction has helped make stations more valuable to speculators, said Ellen Goodman, a professor at Rutgers School of Law who specializes in spectrum and media policy.
Frequencies in Chicago and along the East and West coasts are the most desired, making these small-market stations most valuable to buyers, she said.
“If you look at the valuation of broadcast stations, they’ve gone up on the expectation some of these are worth more for their spectrums,” she said.
NBC does not need FCC approval to modify or end its affiliation agreements with stations, FCC spokeswoman Margo Davenport said.
“It’s a private contract between the network and the TV station,” she said.
She said viewers who object to losing their local NBC affiliate do not have much recourse since the FCC licenses individual stations, not networks.
“The Communications Act requires broadcast stations to serve the public interest and the needs of the community,” she said. “Members of the community can file a complaint concerning the renewal of the license. But our authority over content is very limited. We can’t require a station be affiliated with a network.”
Staff writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
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