Act III Broadcasting

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Act III Broadcasting was a company that owned several television stations that started as independents, and later became Fox affiliates. The stations were located in medium-sized markets, and the company existed from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, eventually to be sold to Abry in 1994. Legendary TV producer Norman Lear had owned a stake in Act III.

History[edit]

Actually the company sort of formed as WNJU Incorporated in 1979 when Jerry Perenchio, Bud Yorkin, and Norman Lear purchased WNJU Channel 47 in Linden, New Jersey, which serves the New York City area from Screen Gems. That station offered religious English speaking programming in the mornings and Spanish programming weekday afternoons and evenings. On weekend afternoons, the station offered a variety of ethnic brokered programming. Under their ownership, the station phased out the ethnic shows in favor of more Spanish entertainment programming.

This ownership formed a separate company called Act III Broadcasting in 1982, when WVAH-TV, channel 23 in Charleston, West Virginia; signed on as the first independent station in the state. Prior to that, Huntington-Charleston was the largest market without an independent station. WVAH's sign-on was possible because the West Virginia legislature forced the state educational broadcasting authority to withdraw its application for the channel, which had tied up its assignment for over a decade.

Act III then signed on channel 45 in Dayton, Ohio in the fall of 1984 as WRGT-TV. Before WRGT came, WTJC, a religious-based independent station that had been on the air for a few years had some entertainment programs, the only real source of non-network programming in Dayton. Act III bought most of these shows for WRGT. This made WRGT virtually the only general-entertainment independent station in Dayton.

While WNJU 47 in New York City was co-owned with the other two stations, it was not considered a full Act III station. In 1984, WNJU formed an alliance with Weigel Broadcasting's WCIU 26 in Chicago and locally owned KSTS in San Jose to acquire Spanish programming to air on all three stations under a network called Net Span. Blair Broadcasting, which newly acquired WSCV in Miami and KVEA in Los Angeles and converted these into full-time Spanish independent outlets, joined the alliance in 1985. WNJU and KSTS would be sold in 1986 to Blair Broadcasting, which in turn sold four of these stations to a newly formed company called Telemundo later that year. Net Span would be renamed Telemundo which is now owned by NBC/Universal. WCIU would be in that alliance for another year but retained by Wiegel Broadcasting. Telemundo would eventually acquire Univision affiliate WSNS 44 in Chicago causing Univision to affiliate part-time with WCIU once again until they could buy WGBO in early 1996.

The next year, with funds from the sale of WNJU, WTAT-TV in Charleston, South Carolina signed on with a similar format to WVAH and WRGT. In 1986, when Fox launched, Act III signed an affiliation deal with the network.

The next year, Act III acquired Fox affiliate WNRW (now WXLV-TV) in the Piedmont Triad from the TVX Broadcast Group, whom which Fox had signed an affiliation deal as well. However, there was a catch to this deal: if TVX sold one of its under performing stations, Fox could disaffiliate from that station. This was not the case in the Piedmont Triad, because WNRW's rival station WGGT (now WMYV) was in bankruptcy, but it still ran a low budget schedule. This is where Act III began the practice of acquiring stations in medium markets.

That same year, Act III acquired WVRN in Richmond from Sundbrink Broadcasting, which had also filed for bankruptcy. Both this station and Gillett-owned Fox affiliate WRLH-TV struggled in the ratings.

In 1988, Act III bought Fox affiliate WNYB channel 49 in Buffalo, New York. Later that year Act III decided that Richmond was not large enough to support two independent stations. It offered to buy WRLH's programming and move it over to WVRN. However, Gillett wanted to sell WRLH outright. Act III agreed to the deal, moved WVRN's programming to WRLH, and took channel 63 off the air. Act III then went on a buying spree, acquiring WZTV in Nashville, and WUHF channel 31 in Rochester, New York.

In 1989, Act III petitioned the FCC to allow its flagship station, WVAH, to move to channel 11, the last VHF frequency left in the Huntington-Charleston market. WVAH's signal on channel 23 was not strong enough to reach the entire market—a 61-county behemoth occupying rugged terrain in three states. The FCC granted the request, and WVAH moved to channel 11 later in 1989.

It did not stop there, as in 1990, Act III made several deals which made its stations the only general entertainment stations in their markets. In Nashville, WXMT (originally WCAY, now WUXP-TV), then the Fox affiliate, had been sold by TVX to Michael Thompson in 1988. Fox, was considering executing its policy of pulling the affiliation from WXMT and moving it to WZTV. In January 1990, Act III cut a deal in which WZTV would take all of WXMT's shows, leaving WXMT with only religious and home shopping shows. However, Thompson backed out of the deal last minute. Then Fox announced it was indeed moving its affiliation to WZTV as of February. At the end of January, MT Communications and Act III made a revised deal which allowed WXMT to keep barter cartoons and several low budget syndicated shows, giving WZTV all the cash programming, which included the better and more expensive shows, along with Fox programming. WXMT's daily schedule now looked like this: home shopping for 15 hours, religion 3 hours, cartoons 3 hours, and low budget shows 3 hours. While WXMT was not eliminated from the draw, it was left with a much weaker schedule. In June, Act III bought WUTV channel 29 in Buffalo from Citadel Broadcasting and sold WNYB to Tri-State Christian Television. WNYB's programming and Fox affiliation then moved to WUTV, whereas WNYB became an all-religious station. A year before, WVAH was permitted to move to channel 11.

Act III's next task was to ensure they had a monopoly in the Piedmont Triad: in 1991 it bought WGGT's programming and merged it onto WNRW's schedule. WGGT's owners then cut a deal with Act III allowing it to simulcast WNRW, creating a strong combined signal with over 60% overlap known as the "Piedmont Superstation." For all intents and purposes, Act III's stations were now the only general-entertainment stations in their markets, except for Nashville.

In the 1990s, a new concept developed: the local marketing agreement, or LMA for short. Under an LMA, one station would buy all or most of another station's broadcast day and take over its operations, but the other station would technically remain under separate ownership. The senior partner in the LMA would then program the other station with shows that it didn't have time to air. Act III, however, was not interested in this concept.

This became a moot point in 1994, as Act III Broadcasting would be sold to Abry, which had LMA's in some of their markets. The Sinclair Broadcast Group then bought Abry later that year; Sinclair of course had started the LMA concept back in 1991.

Here is what would happen in the former Act III markets over the years:

  • Rochester: WUHF is still one of only four full power stations because of the lack of available licenses.
  • Buffalo: Grant Broadcasting System II acquired the channel 26 license in Jamestown, New York in 1995. Grant then swapped channel 26 to TCT, who would move WNYB over there, and in return, Grant got channel 49, which became WNYO-TV, a WB affiliate. WNYO was sold to Sinclair in 2001.
  • Dayton: WRGT was not sold to Sinclair directly, but rather to Sullivan Broadcasters (because Sinclair owned more stations than the FCC allowed at the time), although Sinclair would manage WRGT. Sinclair attempted to buy it outright in 2001 along with the other Sullivan-owned stations, but could not do so because by this time it also owned then-NBC affiliate WKEF. In the end, it was sold to Cunningham Broadcasting instead. However, Sinclair effectively owns WRGT and the other Cunningham-owned stations because the Smith family, the founders of Sinclair, controls most of Cunningham's stock. As for the religious station, it is now WBDT channel 26, a CW affiliate owned by Vaughan Media, LLC and managed by LIN Media as part of a de facto duopoly with that market's current NBC affiliate WDTN.
  • Huntington/Charleston: WVAH was sold to Glencairn, Ltd. in 1997 after Sinclair acquired ABC affiliate WCHS-TV. The Smith family, owners of Sinclair, though, owned most of Glencairn's (now Cunningham Broadcasting) stock, making Sinclair the de facto owner of WVAH.
  • Piedmont Triad: In 1995, Fox bought what was then the ABC affiliate, WGHP. ABC then went to channels 45/48. Sinclair bought WNRW outright and changed its calls to WXLV-TV. It then had Glencairn buy WGGT. Glencairn ended the simulcast and transformed WGGT into WUPN-TV, a UPN affiliate. WNRW also changed its calls to WXLV-TV. Sinclair bought WUPN outright in 2001, and later changed its callsign to WMYV, in anticipation of its My Network TV affiliation.
  • Nashville: Abry began LMA'ing WXMT in 1995, giving that station a UPN affiliation, and more entertainment shows as WZTV decided to focus on news and first-run syndicated shows. WXMT eventually changed calls to WUXP-TV. Sinclair bought WUXP outright in 2001.
  • Charleston, SC: WTAT, like WRGT above, was not sold to Sinclair directly, but rather to Sullivan Broadcasters, although Sinclair would manage WTAT and the other Sullivan-owned stations through an outsourcing agreement. Sinclair attempted to buy it outright in 2001 along with the other Sullivan-owned stations, but could not do so because by this time it also owned then-UPN affiliate WMMP. In the end, it was sold to Cunningham instead.
  • Richmond: While channel 63 never returned, a religious station on channel 65 signed on in 1990. That station eventually went to general entertainment, and became a WB affiliate in 1995, switching to UPN three years later. That station is currently WUPV, a CW affiliate owned by American Spirit Media and managed by Raycom Media.

Television stations formerly owned by Act III[edit]

City of License / Market Station Channel
TV (RF)
Years Owned Current Ownership Status
Buffalo WUTV 29 (14) 1990-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
WNYB 49 (49) 1988-1990 MyNetworkTV affiliate, WNYO-TV, owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
New York City WNJU 47 (36) 1979-1986 Telemundo owned and operated (O&O)
Rochester WUHF 31 (28) 1989-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
High Point - Greensboro -
Winston-Salem, NC
WNRW 45 (29) 1987-1994 ABC affiliate, WXLV-TV, owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
Dayton WRGT-TV 45 (30) 1985-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Cunningham Broadcasting
(Operated through a LMA by Sinclair Broadcast Group)
Charleston, South Carolina WTAT-TV 24 (24) 1985-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Cunningham Broadcasting
(Operated through a LMA by Sinclair Broadcast Group)
Nashville WZTV 17 (15) 1988-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
Richmond WVRN 63 1986-1988 defunct off-air - FCC deleted license
WRLH-TV 35 (26) 1988-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
Charleston/Huntington, West Virginia WVAH-TV 11 (19) 1982-1994 Fox affiliate owned by Cunningham Broadcasting
(Operated through a LMA by Sinclair Broadcast Group)