2013-06-12 / News

Channel 8 merger will have local impact

By Michael Buettner

A deal announced last week will return a Chesterfield County TV station to local ownership for the first time since the 1960s and will mark the return of a local media pioneer to the Richmond-area market after a year’s absence.

Richmond-based Media General announced last week that it has signed a deal to merge with New Young Broadcasting Holding Co. of Nashville, Tenn., the owner of WRIC-8 in Chesterfield’s Arboretum complex off Midlothian Turnpike.

The combined company, which will own a total of 30 TV stations in 27 media markets, will keep the Media General name and will be headquartered in Richmond.

In a prepared statement announcing the deal, Media General Chairman J. Stewart Bryan III said, “The business combination of Media General and Young is a transformational event that will benefit shareholders, employees and the communities we serve.”

It will also return Media General to the Richmond-area market, which it had left last year when the company sold most of its newspaper holdings – including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the company’s oldest asset – to investing legend Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway for $142 million in cash.

It’s not the first time Media General, or one of its predecessor companies, has owned a broadcast outlet in the Richmond area. In 1997, the company acquired Park Communications, the longtime owner of WTVR-6. Because of federal regulations that bar businesses from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market, Media General traded WTVR later the same year for three other TV stations in Georgia and Mississippi.

Even longer ago, though, the Times-Dispatch – which dates its first predecessor company to 1850, the date the Richmond Dispatch began publishing – owned one of Richmond’s early radio stations. In 1937, the newspaper launched WRTD on AM frequency 910. After World War II, the station operated as WRNL, named for the Times-Dispatch’s sister evening paper, the Richmond News Leader.

Media General, which was formed as a holding company in 1966, sold the local radio station in 1970 to Rust Communications. Today, it’s still broadcasting under ownership by national radio giant Clear Channel Communications.

Media General’s first foray into TV broadcasting came in 1955, when it created WFLATV in Tampa, Fla. The company also owns the Tampa Tribune newspaper, which was not part of the sale to Berkshire Hathaway, making Media General one of the rare companies to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market, under a longstanding exception granted by federal regulators.

WRIC was also launched in 1955 as WXEX-TV by Thomas Tinsley, who also owned Richmond radio station WLEE-AM. The TV station’s studio was in Petersburg and its transmitter was located near Chester. Originally the Richmond area’s NBC affiliate, it traded networks in 1965 with WRVA-12 (now WWBT-12) and became an ABC affiliate.

Tinsley sold both WXEX and WLEE in 1968 to Nationwide Communications. The TV station’s original studio burned down in a spectacular fire in 1969, and it moved to another location in Petersburg.

In 1990, Nationwide changed the station’s call letters to WRIC and moved it to its present location in Chesterfield County. It was acquired in 1994 by Young Broadcasting.

In 2009, Young filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after a deal to buy a California TV station went sour. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as New Young Broadcasting under ownership by a group of its largest creditors.

During that period, the company ran up delinquent property taxes in Chesterfield to the tune of about $88,000. It’s now current on its taxes, according to the county Treasurer’s Office.

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