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WILX-TV Announces Sports Team Changes

L-R) Fred Heumann and Tim Staudt

Gray Television’s WILX-TV (Lansing) has announced that longtime Lansing sports reporter Fred Heumann will take on the role of co-Sports Director with the WILX Sports Team on August 1, 2021. Heumann will play a pivotal role in the day-to-day operations of the sports department.

“We are fortunate to have Fred and Tim Staudt’s decades of sports reporting experience as we head into a busy fall sports season,” said WILX-TV Vice President and General Manager Debbie Petersmark.

On Monday, August 9, following the Summer Olympics broadcast on WILX, News 10 will re-launch a nightly sportscast in its 11 p.m. newscasts. Heumann will anchor the 11 p.m. sportscasts Tuesday through Friday. Kellan Buddy will anchor the 11 p.m. sportscasts Saturday through Monday. Heumann and Buddy will co-anchor the Friday night Sports Blitz. Natalie Kerwin will be dedicated to covering sports stories, supporting all WILX on-air and digital sports platforms. The WILX Sports team has almost 100 years in combined experience.

“I am honored to have this exciting opportunity to play a larger role at News 10,” said Heumann. “My first seven months at WILX have reinvigorated me. I look forward to teaming with Tim, Kellan and Natalie to reshape our sports brand in this terrific community. It will be a blast being back on the 11 p.m. news and I look forward to working with Ann (Emmerich), David (Andrews) and Andy (Provenzano), three broadcasting icons. I thank management at WILX for entrusting me with this challenge.”

“WILX’s commitment to covering sports is a commitment to covering our local communities, highlighting local athletes with amazing stories,” said WILX-TV News Director Mike Schram.

Fred Heumann has 39 years of broadcast experience in television and radio – all in Michigan.  He started at WJIM-TV (now WLNS-TV) in Lansing as a sports reporter in 1981.

Tim Staudt is in his 51st year in broadcasting, the longest in Michigan history. Tim joined WILX in July of 1980 and is celebrating the 25th year of Staudt on Sports.

WCSX-FM Morning Personality Big Jim O’Brien Signs Multiyear Renewal Deal with Beasley

(L-R) Beasley Media Detroit VP/MM Mac Edwards and WCSX Morning Host Jim O’Brien

Beasley Media Group has renewed a multiyear deal with WCSX-FM (Detroit) morning personality Big Jim O’Brien. The veteran Motor City on-air personality, who has been officially serving as the morning host for the past six years, has worked at the station for a total of 18 years.

“It’s been an honor to create Big Jim’s House Morning Show on 94.7 WCSX with the support of everyone at Beasley Media Group,” said O’Brien. “Thank you to Caroline Beasley, Brian Beasley, Justin Chase, Scott Jameson and Mac Edwards. I’m very proud to be associated with such amazing professionals and can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

“Jim has ALL the key qualities of an engaging on-air talent – he’s prepared, generates fresh ideas, and always puts the listener first,” said Beasley Media Group Vice President of National Content and Director of Detroit Programming, Scott Jameson. “We’re thankful to have Jim with WCSX & Beasley Detroit.”

“The picture says it all,” said Beasley Media Detroit Vice President and Market Manager, Mac Edwards. “Pardon the pun, but Jim is a GEM! He cares about Detroit, has a passion for Classic Rock, the artists who created this amazing music, and his fellow human beings, especially our beloved Veterans. We couldn’t be happier having Jim representing WCSX and our team!”

Could a Supreme Court Decision Affect Disclosure Obligations on Political Advertising?

David Oxenford - Color

David Oxenford

By: David Oxenford,
Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP

Last week, we wrote about two dissenting opinions in a Supreme Court decision that highlight the debate that is underway on the principles that govern defamation liability in the United States.  While we are reviewing Supreme Court decisions that could have an impact on broadcasters, including on political advertising, we thought that we should highlight another decision of the Supreme Court, a case called Americans For Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, Attorney General of California, that could have an even more direct effect on the political advertising disclosure obligations of broadcasters.  In that case, the Court struck down a California requirement that charities operating in California reveal to the state their major donors.  Even though the state was supposed to keep this information confidential, the Court felt that the potential for disclosure of the contributors to groups dealing with controversial issues could chill their willingness to donate to the charitable groups, due to fears of repercussions should their donations become public (thus, in effect, creating a restraint on their First Amendment right to free association).  But could this decision have a wider impact on First Amendment rights and potentially affect disclosure obligations about contributions used for political advertising?

At least one commentator, George Will, seemed to think so.  In a column that he wrote last week, he suggests that supporters of the DISCLOSE Act (we wrote about a similar bill introduced 5 years ago here) should be worried about its constitutionality in light of this Supreme Court decision.  If creating fears about the repercussions of donations to charitable organizations is seen as constitutionally suspect, a court could draw a similar conclusion about donations to political speech organizations.  The Supreme Court’s decision does acknowledge that the government could justify narrowly tailored disclosure obligations that advanced an important government interest, and the Court has, in the past, upheld disclosure obligations for contributors to political campaigns.  But would today’s Court see things the same way?  Would it make distinctions between disclosures of donations directly to campaigns (which have been upheld in the past where they could be seen as being linked to an attempt to buy influence with a candidate) versus  donations to third-party organizations that may engage in political speech, including support or opposition to candidates, which the Court might view  as the donors exercise of its free speech rights (as were the political expenditures by corporations in the Citizen’s United case – see our articles here and here)?  Time will tell how the ramifications of the Court’s decision will play out.

Were this protection of anonymous donations extended to political speech, we could see difficulties in passing and defending the Disclose Act as well as issues with state political disclosure rules.  As we wrote here and here, many states have been adopting laws that regulate political advertising.  In many states, regulations include requirements that the top donors to any non-candidate group buying political and issue advertising be disclosed – even on broadcast ads.  An expansive reading of the Court’s recent decision could spell problems for these rules similar to those that have faced other attempts by states to impose more transparency on political speech (see, for instance, our article on the demise of certain Maryland’s political regulations requiring that media outlets maintain public records of the purchase of pollical advertising accepted by such outlets).  This is one more line of cases that broadcasters need to watch as the ramifications of the Court’s decision unfold in future decisions.

David Oxenford is MAB’s Washington Legal Counsel and provides members with answers to their legal questions with the MAB Legal Hotline. Access information here. (Members only access).

There are no additional costs for the call; the advice is free as part of your MAB membership. 

Longtime Michigan Broadcaster Don Backus Retires

Don Backus

Veteran Michigan Broadcaster and broadcast equipment marketing professional Don Backus has announced his retirement.  Backus spent two decades on the station side, in ownership, management, sales, on-air and news.  He is also known for this work representing companies like Rohde & Schwarz, ENCO, BE and Audio Broadcast Group.

Backus attended Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he worked at the carrier current radio station. His early career included programming, production and on-air positions at WVIC in East Lansing, doing mornings and middays; WITL in Lansing doing afternoons; and WSJM in St. Joseph doing middays and FM programming.

“From early on, I saw engineering as the ‘how’ part of getting the message out there, and that always had interest for me. The technology and the people who make it work are just as interesting as the on-air talent, so I never found myself stuck in one camp or the other. At WVIC-FM for instance, I hung out with morning guy Dan Caruso as well as with engineer John Hanley. I tried to learn from everyone I worked with, and most of the time, the lessons were positive,” Backus told MAB’s Dan Kelley. “Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I watched Joe Buys manage at WVIC-FM and saw both his light touch and firm hand as he managed a group of individuals with their own ideas of how to get things done into a single, cohesive force. Telling people what to do is easy, getting them to follow your lead is hard but it’s worth the effort, and I took that from Joe as I went into station ownership after leaving WVIC-FM.”

For ten years, 1983 to 1993, he was co-owner, president and general manager of WDBI-FM (Tawas City), where he also worked on-air and as chief engineer. His final station role was as general sales manager of the Williams Communications stations in Longview and Tyler, Texas.

“I will say that there’s nothing more fun than owning and running your own radio station at 28…unless it’s doing so with someone who’s been a friend since grade school in Lansing – and that’s what I did,” said Don. “With Marty Pennoni, a friend since our days at Elmhurst Elementary School in Lansing, we bought WDBI-FM. It was on Lake Huron about an hour north of Saginaw in a part of the state that neither of us had really been before, but we quickly fell in love with the area, the people and the idea that we could make a difference doing great radio. We had big ideas and we executed them along with a talented team of on-air and sales people. I don’t think we ever said, ‘you can’t do that…,’ but instead our mantra was ‘I wonder if you could…” We were very ‘hands on’ because, frankly, that’s where a lot of the fun in business is, and you don’t buy a toy store if you don’t want to play!”

His career in technology sales started at Audio Broadcast Group, a Grand Rapids-based firm, which he joined in 1994 and where he was a sales engineer and digital systems manager.

Don Backus at WVIC/East Lansing in 1979.

He’s a past director of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Foundation and he served two terms as associate director of the MAB itself. For 25 years he has helped plan the engineering content of the MAB’s annual Great Lakes Broadcast Conference.

“Ironically, as a station owner, I wasn’t involved in the MAB at all. That didn’t come until I’d moved over to the technology provider arena, and by then I better understood the value that the MAB and the MAB Foundation had to offer. I think in retrospect, I’d have gotten more involved with MAB ‘back in the day’ had I better understood the benefits to broadcasters in all size markets,” said Backus.  Having served on the MAB board for three terms and then the MAB Foundation board for two, I’ve seen how competitive instincts are set aside to advocate and work for what would be best for our industry as a whole, and I was honored to be on these boards with some extraordinary broadcasters.”

“Even after moving to the technology supplier end of the business, I’ve never forgotten that the single most important thing remains the relationship between the broadcaster and the listener. All of the tech in the world can’t replace that link. Tech can improve the signal, make it easier to get out there, even make it cheaper to deliver, but content is king – and engaging the listener matters. One can argue that broadcasting is just another kind of business, but I disagree. Broadcasting is a calling, a mission, almost a holy thing. Sure, it’s a business, and one that we were very successful at, but when I hired on-air people I used to tell them that theirs was a job that could save lives…and not just one at a time. When you read that tornado warning, people will react by taking cover, and lives will be spared because you calmly and professionally did your job. How many other jobs are there that have that kind of potential impact on people, that will also allow you to play the hits and have fun doing it. What can I say? I’m a believer in the power of broadcasting in general and radio in particular…always have been!”

He and his wife of 48 years, Nancy, live in Grand Rapids. They plan to travel and spend time with their five grandchildren.  Thank you Don Backus!

More Michigan Congressmen Sign LRFA

The MAB is pleased to announce another cosponsor has signed on to H.Con.Res.33, the House Local Radio Freedom Act. Congressman John Moolenaar (R-4) has joined fellow Representatives Jack Bergman (R-1), Debbie Dingell (D-12), Fred Upton (R-6) and Tim Walberg (R-7) in support of the resolution.

The NAB reports that they are up to 159 cosponsors in the House and 18 in the Senate. State-by-state breakdowns for the House resolution here.

Please do not forget to thank these Members of Congress for agreeing to be a cosponsor. Go to: https://www.nab.org/performancetax/champions.asp or send an email directly to the member office.

If your Congressman has not yet signed. Call or write his aid today and ask them to support local broadcasters, not foreign record labels. Talking points here.

On the Senate side, there have been no Michigan cosponsors for companion bill S.Con.Res.9.  Senate state-by-state breakdowns here.

DASDEC Releases Required Update

Following last week’s advisory from Sage regarding the availability and required installation of an update due to the expiring IPAWS digital certificate,
DASDEC has announced their firmware update to meet the August 21, 2021 deadline.

As with Sage, there is no charge from DASDEC for this update.  Digital Alert System’s Ed Czarnecki says you must upload this certificate by or before August 21, 2021, otherwise CAP alerts from FEMA will not properly validate (and will be rejected).  The update may be downloaded here.

He advises to follow the same instructions from last year with the new file it will work. Read here.  The company will publish updated 2021 guidance shortly, but it will be basically the same.

Note: This certificate bundle may be applied to Version 3 or Version 4 software.

If you are still running version 3 software, the NPT test will be properly processed, however we still recommend you consider upgrading to v4 software (version 3.0 was issued in 2016). V4 includes a completely upgraded operating system, plus numerous security, functional and regulatory updates.

Allen Media Buys Gray Television’s WJRT-TV

Gray Television, Inc. has reached an agreement to divest WJRT-TV, its ABC affiliate for the Flint-Saginaw, Michigan television market, to Byron Allen’s Allen Media Broadcasting, LLC for $70 million dollars in cash.

Gray’s sale of WJRT-TV facilitates regulatory approvals for its pending acquisition of the Local Media Group division of Meredith Corporation by removing the only market overlap between the respective television station portfolios of Gray and Meredith, Gray noted in announcing the deal.  Gray is acquiring WNEM-TV, also in the Flint-Saginaw market from Meredith.

The closing for the sale of WJRT-TV is expected to occur in the third or fourth quarter of 2021 prior to the closing of the Gray/Meredith transaction.

WJRT-TV General Manager Pete Veto will remain with Gray after the closing of this sale in a new position that Gray will announce at a later date. The deal is part of Allen Media’s efforts to expand its TV station holdings.

“Over the past year-and-a-half, we’ve invested close to $1 billion to acquire best-in-class, top-tier, broadcast network affiliates and we plan to invest approximately ten billion dollars to acquire more ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX television stations over the next two years with the goal of being the largest broadcast television group in America,” Byron Allen, founder, chairman, and CEO of Allen Media Group. “All of our media assets will work in concert to amplify our free-streaming service, Local Now.”

Upon closing, Allen Media will own and operate twenty-four local television stations in twenty markets, as well as twelve television networks including The Weather Channel and the free-streaming service Local Now.

On April 29, 2021, Gray and Allen Media Group announced that Allen Media Group would acquire ten television stations currently owned by Quincy Media, Inc. for $380 million upon Gray’s anticipated acquisition of Quincy in the third quarter.

“Having to divest WJRT-TV, which we have proudly owned for the past seven years, in order to facilitate our purchase of Meredith’s television stations is bittersweet,” said Gray’s executive chairman and CEO Hilton H. Howell. “The wonderful WJRT-TV staff has done an exemplary job serving the Flint-Saginaw community, and we are disappointed to lose them. Nevertheless, we are excited that Byron Allen and his team will follow us as the next dedicated stewards of this fine television station.”

Upon the closing of its acquisitions of Quincy Media, Inc. and the television stations of Meredith Corporation, Gray will become the nation’s second largest television broadcaster, with television stations serving 113 markets that reach approximately 36 percent of US television households. The pro forma portfolio includes 79 markets with the top-rated television station and 101 markets with the first and/or second highest rated television station according to Comscore’s audience measurement data.

It’s Time for Radio to Rethink Contesting

Seth Resler

By: Seth Resler
Jacobs Media Strategies

Perhaps no other medium still relies on contests as much as the radio industry. When I was a Program Director many years ago, I held a weekly staff meeting that revolved around the question, “What are we giving away on the air this week?” For many radio stations, not much has changed since then. Contests are still a big part of what radio stations do.

The rationale for hosting contests is to drive listenership. Unfortunately, contests are not particularly effective at this. For starters, few listeners tune into radio stations primarily for contests. In Techsurvey 2021, we surveyed listeners about why they listen to their favorite station. Once again, contests ranked at the bottom of the list:

Even if radio listeners were tuning in for contests, Nielsen’s ratings system isn’t refined enough to capture and attribute this listening to those contests. And on the rare occasion when a ratings bump is the result of a station’s contest, the effects are temporary. Stop contesting, and the ratings drop again.

In short, “Ratings” is not a good answer to the question, “Why contests?”

There are, however, some better answers to that question. Rather than abandon contesting, radio ought to rethink the goals of their contests and retool them accordingly. Here are three better ways to use contests:

1. Use contests to capture listener data.
These days, advertisers aren’t just trying to reach the most people; they’re also trying to reach the right people. If I’m the owner of a car dealership located in the South Bay, it does me little good to reach listeners in the North Bay. While radio stations can’t use their airwaves to target consumers that precisely, they can use digital tools to target consumers — if they’ve built a robust database. Contests can help build that database.

Contest entry forms can be used to capture listener data, including names, ages, genders, zip codes and — most importantly — email addresses. To do this, you’ll want to capture this information from everyone who enters the contest, not just the people who win the contest. This may require rethinking your entry method. Asking for “Caller #9” isn’t going to build the email database, but using your station’s mobile app or a text message keyword can.

2. Use contests to generate content.
As a Program Director, I had a rule for every contest we aired: It had to have a Play-Along-At-Home factor. In other words, the contest had to be compelling for people who heard it even if they did not participate. In this sense, I thought of my station’s contests in the same way that I think of Wheel of Fortune: Most people will never play the game themselves, but they’ll still tune in to watch.

For radio, the Play-Along-At-Home Factor used to require that the contests generate interesting phone calls. Trivia questions, embarrassing confessions and riddles were all ways to elicit amusing on-air content from the audience.

Today, the internet adds a new dimension to the Play-Along-At-Home Factor. While contests can be used to generate on-air content, they can also be used to generate online content. For example, in order to win tickets to a local sporting event, a radio station can ask listeners to post seflies in which they’re wearing the team jerseys. These photos can then be shared on the station’s website and social media accounts.

While the Play-Along-At-Home Factor isn’t a new justification for contests, don’t think about it only in terms of generating on-air content. Also look for ways that your contests can generate digital content.

3. Use contests to generate revenue.
Let’s face it, radio stations aren’t airing “Traffic and Weather Together” because the audiences are clamoring for it (see the chart above); they’re airing these reports because they have sponsors who are willing to pay for them. And if that works within your station’s framework, it’s a perfectly legitimate reason.

The same justification can be applied to your station’s contests: You should host contests if you can find a way to generate revenue from them. In the digital era, we can use the two goals above — data capture and content creation — as incentives to lure sponsors. For example, share the email addresses of entrants with the contest sponsor* or require entrants to wear gear from the sponsor in the contest photo entries. You can use these new methods to provide more value to your station’s clients.

(*Check with your legal team to ensure that you’re securing the necessary permission before doing this.)

Radio contests aren’t what they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they need to fall by the wayside. Instead, it’s time for radio stations to rethink the reasons they’re holding contests and to redesign them with one or more of these goals in mind.

For more assistance on digital or social media, contact MAB Member Services at [email protected] or 1-800-968-7622.

Editor’s Note: The views and opinions of this article do not necessarily reflect those of the MAB. Contact the MAB for information on the MAB’s official editorial policy.

WADL To Become Detroit’s MyNetworkTV Affiliate

Adell Broadcasting’s WADL-TV (Detroit) has announced that it has secured the market’s MyNetworkTV affiliation, and will make the switch September 20.  Scripps-owned WMYD-TV is the current affiliate of the network in the city.

WADL is currently an independent station, airing primarily first-run syndication and off-network programming. In a press release, owner Kevin Adell says “he has not been this excited since his bar mitzvah.”

Kevin Adell built WADL from a construction permit 31 years ago, signing on the air for the first time on May 20, 1989.