Eddie Edwards, owner of television station in Pittsburgh, buys WNUV

August 21, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

WNUV (Channel 54) has a new owner.

Eddie Edwards, owner of Pittsburgh's WPTT and one of the few African-American owners of a TV station in the country, has signed an agreement to buy WNUV from ABRY Communications of Boston and has obtained the option on a Milwaukee station from Gaylord Broadcasting of Oklahoma City.

ABRY, which manages the Milwaukee station for Gaylord, said in a news release that the purchase price for the two stations exceeds $100 million.

"I'm just happy that this has happened," Edwards told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "This is a big thing for me and for African-Americans in broadcasting. And I just want to relish it."

Edwards did not return phone calls from The Sun yesterday.

Nor did officials from ABRY Communications, which also owns TV stations in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Birmingham, Ala., and Cincinnati.

ABRY bought the Baltimore station four years ago for a price estimated at $20 million to $25 million.

Bruce Binenfeld, program director at WNUV, yesterday said he did not expect immediate changes at the station since such sales usually take at least six months to be finalized and approved by the Federal Communications Commission. Binenfeld said he and General Manager Joe Koff intend to stay at WNUV for the immediate future.

WNUV, which had primarily been known for letting viewers decide what programs the station would air, has achieved a much higher visibility in the local TV industry during recent months.

The station has been a key player in negotiations to broadcast Baltimore Orioles' games next year. And, starting Aug. 30, it will be the Baltimore home of David Letterman's new show on CBS for at least a year. CBS made the one-year Letterman deal with WNUV after WBAL (Channel 11), its local affiliate, refused to carry Letterman live at 11:35 weeknights instead of Arsenio Hall's syndicated show.

WNUV is one of only two independent TV stations in Baltimore. The other is WBFF (Channel 45), which is affiliated with the Fox Broadcasting network. WBFF is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group of Baltimore. Like Edwards, Sinclair also owns a TV station in Pittsburgh.

The greatest effects of the sale could be felt in the relationship between WNUV and WBFF.

While the two stations have been rivals in Baltimore, media watchers say that could change once Edwards arrives. Edwards and Sinclair have worked together before.

Edwards was formerly community affairs director at Sinclair's WPGH station in Pittsburgh. And WPGH currently has a business relationship with Edwards' WPTT, which allows it to sublet blocks of time from WPTT and then program and sell ads for that time.

One result of such a leasing agreement is that it makes Sinclair much more dominant in the market, since it is essentially programming two stations during certain times of the day. With only two independent stations in Baltimore, Sinclair would be even more powerful than it is in Pittsburgh if such an agreement is worked out between WBFF and WNUV.

Steve Marks, general manager of Sinclair's WBFF, said such a situation in Baltimore was possible, but said official comment on whether it will happen would have to come from David Smith, one of the brothers who run Sinclair. None of the Smith brothers was available for comment yesterday.

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