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3 Daughters Media of Forest is protesting plans by Mel Wheeler Inc. to purchase Lynchburg's WLNI-FM.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Roanoke radio company Mel Wheeler Inc. wants to buy a Lynchburg talk-radio station, but a rival company has filed an appeal with the Federal Communications Commission to try to block the deal.
Earlier this year, Wheeler filed paperwork with the FCC to buy WLNI-FM (105.9), a station that features news and politically conservative radio titans such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. WLNI is currently owned by Centennial Licensing LLC, a company based in Clemmons, N.C., according to documents filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The sale was delayed, however, when the owner of 3 Daughters Media in Forest filed a challenge with the FCC.
Gary Burns, president of 3 Daughters Media, contended in his Petition to Deny that if Wheeler bought WLNI, the company would exceed the number of FM stations it can own in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market under FCC rules. Burns said that if the sale were approved, it would “upset the competitive balance in the market.”
The FCC denied 3 Daughters Media’s petition in August, but Burns appealed that decision Friday.
Leonard Wheeler, owner of the company that was started by and is named for his father, said on Tuesday that he is confident that the FCC will eventually approve his company’s purchase of WLNI.
“We would not have pursued this in the first place without being confident,” he said.
One of Burns’ chief objections to the deal is that he believes the FCC has erred in its counting of radio stations in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market. According to FCC rules, if a market has 45 commercial and noncommercial radio stations, one company can own up to five FM stations in that market.
The FCC ruled in August that the Roanoke-Lynchburg market has exactly 45 stations, which would allow Mel Wheeler Inc. to acquire WLNI. Wheeler already owns four FM stations — K92 (WXLK-FM, 92.3), Star Country (WYYD-FM, 94.9), Q99 (WSLQ-FM, 99.1) and The Vibe (WVBE-FM, 100.1/97.7, 610 AM).
In his appeal, however, Burns said that the FCC has miscounted the stations in this market. He said the FCC is including at least one station that “is off the air and should not be counted.” That station, WODI-AM, is licensed to Brookneal and owned by a company with an address in the Virgin Islands. A telephone number listed for the station did not work.
Burns also contends in his appeal that Mel Wheeler Inc. is already at its ownership limit of five FM stations. Burns argues that the two FM frequencies for The Vibe should count as separate stations, which would put Wheeler at the five-station cap. However, one of those frequencies is licensed to Montgomery County, which the FCC does not include in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market.
Burns’ appeal also states that, if the sale is approved, Wheeler stations will account for more than 50 percent of the market’s advertising revenue. In a later interview, he said that Mel Wheeler Inc. and Clear Channel Communications, which owns six Roanoke-Lynchburg radio stations, would account for about 90 percent of the market’s listenership and revenues if the sale goes through.
“To ignore this evidence of competitive harm is arbitrary and capricious,” Burns said in his appeal.
A spokeswoman with the FCC said that the appeal is not yet in the agency’s database. It was unclear when a ruling would be made.
“I don’t know what happens next,” Burns said. “I just could not live with the initial decision.”
Leonard Wheeler would not say what his plans are for WLNI, should the sale be approved. The FM station’s format is similar to the Wheeler-owned WFIR-AM (960). Both stations usually hover near the top 10 in Arbitron ratings surveys.
“I don’t know what to expect” from the FCC, Wheeler said. “The first application took eight months. I did not believe it would take that long. The process has very much slowed down.”
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