Sunday, November 30, 2008

WKRP? Well, Sort Of

A small Cincinnati TV station is getting nationwide attention for a name change - sort of.

Though we first picked up on this thanks to an item on the Cincinnati-area based Tri-State Media Watch blog last Monday, the name change of Cincinnati low-power Class A station WBQC-CA/38 to "WKRP" - inspired by the popular TV show about a fictional Cincinnati radio station - made the national news Saturday, via this Associated Press story.

That story was presumably inspired by Cincinnati Enquirer TV/radio guru John Kiesewetter's story about the name change Friday.

And now...the REST of the story. (No, ABC News Radio commentator Paul Harvey is not airing on "WKRP".)

As it turns out, so far, station owner Elliott Block has basically only changed the on-air branding of the station which once acted as Cincinnati's UPN affiliate.

The "WKRP" calls exist, for now, at least, solely on a low-power station in the Nashville TN market - WKRP-LP. If Block is making any effort to actually change the WBQC-CA calls, or if he's working out some sort of deal with the Tennessee station, we can't find it in the FCC records online.

But on a slow holiday weekend, newscasters tired of "Black Friday" stories ate up the "WKRP on the air in Cincinnati" story. We heard it all day Saturday on a number of national radio newscasts, including on both ABC News Radio and FOX News Radio.

Score one for Mr. Block.

The second score for the one-man LPTV kingpin of Cincinnati is a new digital signal.

Block has debuted the low-power digital companion channel to his other (OTHer?) station, WOTH-LP/25. WOTH-LD is lighting up digital tuners in Cincinnati, and it airs at least three subchannels...one, 25.2, is the rebranded WBQC, which does indeed show up on those digital tuners as "WKRP-TV".

We're pretty sure that the FCC has no regulations on the PSIP/tuner branding of non-primary subchannels, so Block could call 25.2 "Burnt Toast" in the digital tuner information, if he desired to do so.

For Block, it's not just the ability to join the new digital OTA universe with his new signal. Since he's not broadcasting any HDTV streams on WOTH-LD, he can pack it with SD subchannels...with a shopping channel apparently in the mix, and perhaps a third general entertainment channel possible as well.

Instead of running two or more separate LPTV transmitters, Block effectively can have four or five programming streams that appear to digital TV viewers as whole new channels. (We'll call this the "TBN Effect", as religious broadcaster Trinity pumps out five different program feeds on its stations, including Canton-licensed WDLI-DT up here.)

Block appears to be the most aggressive LPTV owner in Ohio when it comes to digital TV.

We have no word out of Lima that LPTV king Gregg Phipps - who owns the LPTV FOX, CBS and ABC affiliates in that market - is planning to go digital (or if he's even in a financial position to do so).

Here in our Northeast Ohio base, we wonder at times if Media-Com's WAOH-LP 29 Akron/W35AX 35 Cleveland "The CAT" doesn't broadcast in black and white.

And so far, Image Video's Canton-based LPTV operations (WIVM-LP 52 Canton/WIVN-LP 29 Newcomerstown) are not planning digital feeds, though one of their recently acquired stations to the west may light up as a digital station if the FCC paperwork means anything.

It's a tough road for these stations, usually run on a shoestring budget, with digital equipment adding more costs - in a time where the advertising market is depressed, and all stations are making less money.

Back to Mr. Block's use of the "WKRP-TV" name for one of his LPTV stations, even as just on-air branding. Doesn't FOX Entertainment, which bought the old MTM Productions ("WKRP in Cincinnati"'s producer), retain the trademark?

Block tells the Enquirer that he's actually registered trademarks "for 'WKRP' and 'WKRP Cincinnati.'" That's a claim repeated at the bottom of the new WBQC/"WKRP" website:

WKRP and WKRP Cincinnati are registered trademarks and owned by Block Broadcasting.

The observant viewer - we're not the first to notice this - will note that Block doesn't claim the trademark to the full name of the show that inspired him to change the station's name - "WKRP in Cincinnati". (Note that pesky "in" that's missing from Mr. Block's statements.)

And the "WKRP" calls, in some form, have bounced around small radio and TV stations over the years - even not that far from Cincinnati.

A small AM station in North Vernon IN, which is about 75 miles west of the Queen City, once took those call letters. And the "WKRP in Cincinnati" Wikipedia page claims that WCVG/1320 Covington KY took the WKRP calls and an "AM rock" format at about the time the show ended, though we have no real world confirmation of same.

Whether that's enough to stave off the FOX lawyers remains to be seen. Or, for that matter, lawyers for Clear Channel and Newport TV, which own talk WKRC/550 and CBS affiliate WKRC-TV 12 in the market, respectively.

But what won't be seen - on "WKRP-TV" or anywhere in the Block LPTV Empire - is the show itself. "WKRP in Cincinnati", the TV show, airs Sunday nights on Tribune superstation WGN America, and also airs Monday nights on the digital cable network "American Life".

The show reenters American TV lore every Thanksgiving, thanks to the infamous and wildly popular "Turkeys Away" episode - which aired on WGN America last Sunday night.

Block tells Kiese that he'd love to run the show on his new "WKRP-TV", but over-air broadcast syndication rights aren't available for the Original WKRP...

4 comments:

dtr2377 said...

So the guy is calling his LPTV station something other than its real call letters. And this is a story? Kinda stupid.

Tri-State Media Watch said...

From what I understand, even IF Fox wanted to fight the Cincy station, they can't really do it, because they would then a) likely wind up challenging WKRP-LP also and b) show cause that it's a trademark violation, when IN FACT, they've allowed the letters to be used on radio. So why would the rules be any different for TV? Also, I was told that they CAN use the same set of call letters, as it's a case of -LP vs. -CA vs. -TV. Still, they HAVE to have an application for the change on file with the FCC, but as you yourself have noted in the past, the FCC is slow to get that stuff online.

lptvguy said...

BREAKING NEWS. PHIPPS SELLS LIMA LPTV GROUP TO WLIO OWNER FOR 2.3 MILLION.

Neil said...

San Francisco Chronicle:

http://tinyurl.com/59rkwa

(quote)

A low-power TV station has changed its call letters to WKRP, the same as the fictional radio station in the 1970s hit TV series "WKRP in Cincinnati."

The station changed its call letters to promote its new digital TV signal. It formerly went by WBQC-TV.

(End quote)

Newsday (New York):

http://tinyurl.com/5rurzs

(quote)

CINCINNATI (AP) _ In a Nov. 29 story about a television station promoting its new digital signal, The Associated Press erroneously reported that station WBQC changed its call letters to WKRP. The station refers to itself as WKRP, reminiscent of the 1970s hit television show "WKRP in Cincinnati," and changed its trademark to WKRP Cincinnati but did not change its call letters, said Elliott Block, general manager.

(End quote)

Take your pick!