Color me surprised at the reader reaction to Tuesday’s column. It raised and debunked a reader-voiced theory that Carilion Clinic removed MSNBC (but not Fox News) from Roanoke Memorial Hospital’s cable-TV lineup as some kind of patient-brainwashing technique.
MSNBC was indeed off Carilion’s cable lineup some days last week. But that was because of a computer glitch that also sidelined three non-news channels at the hospital. The glitch has been fixed. MSNBC is back.
That column may have answered one question, but it prompted many more among TV-watching readers. Some questions concerned MSNBC, a cable news outfit that (justifiably, in my mind) has been highly critical of President Donald Trump.
Other readers raised hackles about Fox News, which often defends the president. It plays on TVs in too many public spaces, such as restaurants and hotels, they said. One reader in Franklin County was more concerned with when he would once again be able to receive the signal from a Roanoke TV station.
Let’s tackle the latter complaint first.
Marvin Perdue of Rocky Mount wanted to know why he hasn’t been able to pull in WDBJ-TV (Channel 7) with a digital antenna since September.
Back then, “I read that they were constructing a new broadcast tower and were operating on reduced power, but haven’t read or heard anything since. Can you please find out when we, in Franklin County, can expect to see WDBJ-7 again?” Perdue asked.
He’s correct the station has been operating on reduced power, said Matt Pumo, WDBJ general manager. The Federal Communications Commission required WDBJ to change frequencies in September. Since then it’s been using a temporary, auxiliary antenna to broadcast its signal.
The temporary antenna reaches only 60% to 70% of the geographic area the previous broadcast tower covered, Pumo told me. He added that work on the station’s new antenna atop Poor Mountain is nearly complete.
“We need two dry days in a row” to get the new antenna-transmitter going, Pumo said. It’ll have a 1 megawatt signal, which Pumo said “is the strongest WDBJ has ever had.” It sounds like that could be up and running this week.
Bill Hackworth is a Cox cable subscriber, and his question concerned MSNBC. The Raleigh Court resident and retired Roanoke city attorney said he’s noticed recently that channel’s video and audio on his TV stutters annoyingly, especially at the beginning of its prime-time programs.
It’s enough to make viewers change the channel to something else, Hackworth noted. He’s noticed the issue only on MSNBC.
“It’s probably a technical glitch or something,” Hackworth said. “But it made me suspicious. Lawyers are inherently suspicious.”
I passed his complaint on to Margaret-Hunter Wade, a Cox Communications spokeswoman.
“We checked our monitoring tools and do not see any issues with MSNBC over the past week and similarly have not heard an elevated level of customer concerns regarding their MSNBC feed,” she reported back. “I would encourage Mr. Hackworth to call our customer support team and they can troubleshoot any issues with his equipment over the phone or schedule a technician if need be.”
Roanoke County resident Darnell Glover told me he believes some businesses are biased against MSNBC.
“Dropping MSNBC has been increasing the last eight years at a lot of southern business[es],” Glover wrote in an email. “I’m positive of it because it has now become one of the thing[s] I check when I have an automotive repair or stay at a hotel. Based on ownership a number of hotels and resorts do not provide MSNBC. I have become accustomed to verifying before booking.”
Richard Evans, former chairman of the Roanoke County Democratic Committee, told me he believes one local fast-food franchisee is biased in favor of Fox News. Evans termed it “force feeding misinformation to our children.”
He identified the franchisee as MKG Enterprises, which operates every McDonald’s in the Roanoke Valley except for the outlets on Franklin Road in Roanoke and on Hardy Road in Vinton. Those outlets are run by a different franchisee.
Evans told me he discovered the Fox News-only policy “about a year and a half ago,” at the Oak Grove McDonald’s in Roanoke County. He asked an employee to change the channel to another station. According to Evans, the employee demurred and cited company policy.
Evans said he subsequently visited a handful of other McDonald’s and found Fox News on TVs in each of them. Then Evans called MKG Enterprises. “I confirmed this fact with the owner,” he added.
I was skeptical, so Tuesday, I called MKG and spoke to two different employees. I related what Evans told me and asked if they had a Fox News-only policy. Neither was willing to speak on the record.
Wednesday, I visited the McDonald’s on Apperson Drive in Salem. One of its four TVs was tuned to Fox News. I also dropped into the McDonald’s in Oak Grove. All three of its TVs displayed NBC.
Oddly, Tuesday’s column also drew the interest of a 2020 presidential candidate whom you’ve probably never heard of.
His name is Shawn Howard and he’s a wealth management adviser who lives near Fort Myers, Florida. He filed his Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in March.
“Funny story about the conservative conspiracy at Carilion. You had me laughing,” Howard wrote in an email. “I guess people see what they want when it comes to cable news/political channels.”
I called him Wednesday morning and asked how a presidential candidate from southwest Florida found himself reading a column in a Virginia newspaper. The answer, of course, was the internet.
“I was purposefully searching on ‘impeachment’ or ‘2020 elections’ and it popped up,” he replied.
Howard, 46, is married, has two kids, and grew up in Massachusetts. He’s running as an independent because, “I’m trying to get the [Democrats and Republicans] to work together. They’ve been diverging and playing to extremist elements on both sides.”
We spoke for a while about the current political division in America. On the phone, Howard sounds downright sane and reasonable. He acknowledged he’ll have an uphill battle just to get on the ballots in many states next year. All of them have different petition-signature requirements.
“Do you honestly think you have any chance at all?” I asked him.
“You never know,” Howard replied. “Right now, we have a reality TV host as president. I suppose anything’s possible.”