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Financial woes hit area TV stations

February 01, 2002

Financial woes hit area TV stations



By JULIE E. GREENE
julieg@herald-mail.com


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Economic concerns have led to cutbacks at two Tri-State area television stations.

Workers at WWPX-TV60 in Martinsburg learned Wednesday that four of the station's six employees would be laid off, effective today, Station Manager Al McGilvray said.

In October, WJAL Family TV in Chambersburg, Pa., suspended its local news effort because of economic concerns, Station Manager Ralph Tobias said.

Like many television networks in recent months, WWPX's owner, Paxson Communications, is tightening the belt by cutting back on personnel following national economic troubles, McGilvray said.

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The only thing TV stations can sell is airtime, and when they aren't selling enough of that, they need to cut back on expenses, McGilvray said.

Technological advances with automated equipment also contributed to the layoffs, he said.

The change will not affect programming, McGilvray said.

Instead of receiving PAX-TV programming via its three satellite dishes near the station on Lost Road, the station will pick up the signal from a sister station, McGilvray said.

The signal will go from Florida to Fairfax, Va., to the Martinsburg station, which means the local station will no longer require five master control operators, he said.

Two full-time and two part-time operators will be laid off, while one operator and McGilvray remain at the station, he said. The Federal Communications Commission requires an on-air station to have at least two employees to monitor the station's transmitter.

The satellites will remain for backup use, McGilvray said.

Something viewers may notice this spring is a new channel with the same programming, McGilvray said.

WWPX has applied to the FCC for a digital channel, using what is Channel 12 for customers without cable, he said. If the application is successful, only viewers with digital television capabilities will notice the improved picture.

Part of the PAX Net network, WWPX airs family programming such as reruns of "Touched by an Angel," "Diagnosis Murder" and "The Weakest Link." It airs first-run episodes of "Mysterious Ways" and will start airing reruns of NBC's "Crossing Jordan" this spring, Tobias said. PAX Net is partially owned by NBC.

When WJAL suspended its local news operation, four newspeople were laid off and two were reassigned, Tobias said. One of those reassigned stayed in the Chambersburg office, he said.

Since then the station has aired national news and local weather.

Tobias expects to bring back a revamped local news program in the fall of 2003, he said.

Tobias said there are no plans to change the station's programming to a Spanish-language network. Last August the station was bought by Entravision Communications, which owns mostly Spanish-language television stations.

The station will air more Baltimore Orioles games this year, securing 67 home and away games, Tobias said.

A syndicated station, WJAL airs family programming, including reruns of "7th Heaven" and "Home Improvement." It also airs first-run shows such as "Access Hollywood" and "The People's Court."

Hagerstown-based NBC25 is doing well, and hired six people in its sales and marketing departments last fall, General Manager Hugh Breslin said.

NBC's national layoffs last year did not affect the local station, he said.

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