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WJAL-TV wants to move license from Hagerstown to Silver Spring

October 18, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — The owner of WJAL has been trying for several years to move the TV station’s license location from Hagerstown to Silver Spring, Md., and show Spanish programming.

A bureau of the Federal Communications Commission denied a petition in 2003 and a follow-up request in 2004.

But Entravision Holdings LLC, which owns WJAL, has a pending application for the whole commission to consider its request.

The station has gotten support from a few members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.

Entravision, based in Santa Monica, Calif., describes itself as “a diversified Spanish-language media company.”

The company’s website says it owns or operates TV stations in 20 of the top 50 U.S. Hispanic markets and radio stations in 47 of those 50 markets.

WJAL — which has a Chambersburg, Pa.-area office but is licensed for Hagerstown — says on its website it’s an “English-language independent television station under the Entravision umbrella.”

In a May 24 letter of support, Cardin wrote, “The move would accomplish laudable objectives: Silver Spring would have its first broadcast television station and the Washington metropolitan area, including the Maryland suburbs, would have a second full-service Spanish-language broadcast service.”

The letter says Entravision operates another TV station, WMDO-CA, in the Washington area, with Telefutura Spanish-language network programming.

WMDO-CA, a low-power facility, was “forced off its channel” by a full-power station switching to digital broadcasting, the letter says. WMDO-CA relocated to another channel, but lost nearly 45 percent of its potential viewers because the signal is limited, the letter says.

“The proposed relocation will not leave Hagerstown unserved or underserved, since there are other TV stations licensed to and serving Hagerstown,” Cardin’s letter says.

An FCC bureau, in denying earlier petitions, wrote that WJAL’s relocation would raise “interference issues.”

A memo says FCC rules require digital television stations to be at least 110 miles from an adjacent operation.  Under its proposal, WJAL would fall more than 96 percent short of that distance.

The memo says FCC staff decided that waiving the minimum distance spacing rule would “likely cause significant disruption to existing public safety and emergency operations in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.”

The bureau also disagreed with Cardin’s contention that TV service in Hagerstown wouldn’t suffer.

A message left last week for an attorney representing Entravision wasn’t returned, but a New York City public relations firm representing the company emailed a message on Saturday: “All matters relating to WJAL are a matter of public record, and we don’t have any further comment at this time.”

In an Aug. 15 letter to the FCC, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., wrote that the move “will benefit the growing Latino population in the Washington Metropolitan Area by providing them with access to a second full-service, over-the-air broadcast Spanish-language station.”

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