Plan to sell WNUV dies

April 27, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The curious and controversial sale of WNUV (Channel 54) to a Pittsburgh businessman and the 69-year-old mother of the four brothers who own WBFF (Channel 45) has taken another turn. The sale has been called off.

An application filed in August with the Federal Communications Commission sought transfer of WNUV's license from ABRY Communications of Boston to a local company headed by Carolyn C. Smith and Edwin L. Edwards Sr. The application has been withdrawn, said Andrew Banks, co-director of ABRY.

"It's business as usual [at WNUV]," Mr. Banks said yesterday.

While ABRY retains ownership, Mr. Banks said his company is now engaged in discussions with Sinclair Broadcasting Group -- a company owned by Mrs. Smith's sons -- about selling WNUV to them.

Mr. Banks declined to discuss specifics. And it is not clear how it would be possible for Sinclair to hold licenses for both WNUV and WBFF under FCC regulations. Ownership of more than one TV station in a single market would be a violation of the FCC's "duopoly" rule.

The original deal looked like a good one for ABRY.

At the time, ABRY said it was selling WNUV to Mr. Edwards, the owner of WPTT-TV, an independent station in Pittsburgh. ABRY reportedly paid about $25 million for WNUV in 1989. Mr. Edwards would pay $100 million for WNUV and the right to buy WVTV-TV, a station run by ABRY in Milwaukee, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

But, according documents filed with the FCC and Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Edwards was not going to be the majority owner of WNUV if the sale went through. Mrs. Smith would own 70 percent; he would own 30 percent.

Based on those facts and others, which were published in October by The Sun, Scripps Howard Broadcasting Company, owners of WMAR (Channel 2), asked the FCC to block the sale.

Scripps Howard said Mr. Edwards was a front for a plan by the Smith brothers to take control of Baltimore's only other independent TV station through their mother.

After The Sun's report, Mr. Edwards called a press conference in Baltimore to say, "I am not a front." He said "Scripps Howard should be ashamed of themselves" for attempting to block him from becoming "the largest African-American TV group owner in America."

Calls to Edwin Edwards were not returned yesterday. His attorney, Mel Edwards, declined to comment. Calls to David D. Smith, chairman and CEO of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, also were not returned. The other officers of Sinclair, which owns WBFF, are: J. Duncan Smith, Frederick G. Smith and Robert E. Smith.

Mr. Banks declined to discuss specifics of ABRY's talks with the Smith brothers.

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