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Local TV station sold to Nexstar

October 15, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WHAG-TV, also known as NBC25, has been sold to a Dallas-area broadcasting group that wants to be the leading operator of medium and small television markets.

The sale of WHAG's parent company, Quorum Broadcasting, to Nexstar Broadcasting Group will be final once approved by the Federal Communications Commission, Nexstar President and Chief Executive Officer Perry Sook said. That approval is expected by the end of the year, he said.

With the purchase of Quorum Broadcasting, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar will increase the number of television stations it owns from 25 to 40, Sook said. Nexstar specializes in traditional network affiliates serving medium and small markets. The company's portfolio includes stations in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southwest.

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Nexstar will invest in the station, most likely with new equipment in the beginning to enhance the station's on-air look, Sook said.

Over time, viewers may notice improved signal and picture quality, as well as improved graphics for local news programs and commercials, said Sook and WHAG-TV Vice President and General Manager Hugh J. Breslin III.

The station has a fair amount of old equipment that needs to be updated, including cameras and digital equipment, Sook said.

Nexstar officials also want to relocate WHAG into a better building in Hagerstown, Sook said. WHAG-TV leases space at 13 E. Washington St. in the Alexander House.

As the station has grown, it has leased more space, Breslin said. Station officials have considered moving in the long term because advancing technology might require it, but nothing is imminent, Breslin said.

Sook said there won't be any major changes on air or behind the scenes.

However, Breslin said the sale led to a restructuring and the reduction of four positions.

Two vacant positions were not filled, one person was laid off and one employee, director of programming Chuck Noland, took early retirement at the end of September, Breslin said.

The program director position will not be refilled, Breslin said. With many programs coming with long-term contracts and programs being bought for groups of stations, fewer program decisions are made locally, Breslin said.

Breslin signed a new five-year employment agreement, Sook said.

WHAG-TV employs approximately 65 full-time employees and 10 to 15 part-timers, Breslin said.

Sook would not say how much Nexstar paid for Quorum Broadcasting. The deal includes assuming Quorum's debt and issuing shares to Quorum shareholders once Nexstar has an initial public offering of stock, Sook said.

Nexstar is expected to become a publicly-traded company by the end of the year, probably in November, Sook said. Quorum is a private company.

Quorum Broadcasting, based in Franklin, Tenn., bought WHAG and two other television stations from Great Trails Broadcasting Corp. in 1998 for $65.6 million, according to public filings.

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