Shortly after NABOB Executive Director Jim Winston proposed a potential policy shift in an ex parte filing with the FCC that might help the state of African American commercial television station ownership via JSAs and JSAs, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai met with WLOO-TV (My TV network) in Jackson, MS. He sang the praises of how a JSA with American Spirit Media’s WDBD-TV (Fox) has worked well for the station. Said Pai:
“Last week, I had the privilege of meeting Pervis Parker, the General Manager and Chief Creative Officer of WLOO TV. WLOO serves the Jackson, Mississippi market and is owned by Tougaloo College, a historically African-American college founded in 1869. WLOO is one of the few African-American owned television stations operating in the United States today.
During our conversation, Mr. Parker recounted with great pride all that his station had been able to accomplish since it was acquired by Tougaloo College in 2012. WLOO now broadcasts in high definition. It airs exclusive coverage of local high-school sports. It provides hands-on experience for Tougaloo students interested in entering the communications industry. And it is launching its own locally-originated programming.
All of this, Mr. Parker told me, was made by possible by WLOO’s Joint Sales Agreement (JSA) with another Mississippi station, WDBD. As Tougaloo College has put it, “the JSA has permitted WLOO to become a real success story, enabling a new, minority station owner to reinvigorate this station and
expand its local services.” Indeed, given the equipment failures that recently hit the station, Mr. Parker indicated that WLOO probably wouldn’t be on the air today but for its JSA.
Mr. Parker therefore stated that he was very concerned about what would happen to WLOO if the FCC were effectively to require the station to terminate its JSA. He said, for example, that he would have to stop creating locally-produced programming so that he could redirect that money to hiring a small sales
staff. He also observed that if there was another equipment failure, WLOO likely would not have the money to purchase new equipment, thus jeopardizing the station’s survival.
On the other hand, Mr. Parker spoke with excitement of his future plans if the station’s JSA were to continue. He could hire more employees, start a local news magazine program, and produce content for the regional Soul of the South network.
As the Commission considers proposals to restrict the use of JSAs, I hope that we will look past the rhetoric and base our decision on the facts. Tougaloo College, for example, is no shell corporation.
And Mr. Parker is no rubber-stamp for WDBD. Tougaloo and Mr. Parker are independent innovators whose JSA gives them the breathing space to create something where nothing would exist otherwise.
Moreover, the record before the Commission clearly establishes that JSAs like this one facilitate new entry into the broadcast industry, enhance ownership diversity, and allow stations to serve the local community better.
At the end of our meeting, Mr. Parker invited me to come down to Mississippi and visit WLOO.
I look forward to accepting that kind invitation and heading to the Magnolia State in the future. I just hope that the Commission will make the right decision on JSAs so that WLOO will still be in business when I make it.”
RBR-TVBR observation: We also still think JSAs and SSAs are critical to maintaining the solvency of hundreds of stations across the country—especially in smaller markets—no matter who the ownership happens to be. It’s about money, and without a leg up from JSAs and SSAs, the programming suffers. If the programming suffers, ratings suffer…and you know what happens next. Let Mr. Pai’s example here be an example for Commissioner Wheeler as well: Don’t try and fix what isn’t broken—and what is working.
If viewers are to be served by broadcasters, the revenue model needs to be maintained that allows them to do so. These agreements have kept the television broadcasting business vibrant and full of investment/M&A activity. Taking them away or drastically changing the rules could devastate the industry. The FCC needs to see as many studies and examples as possible on how JSAs and SSAs work before any final vote is made—and there isn’t much time left.