Local broadcasters suffering

Advertising sales have dropped dramatically in recent weeks

One of the largest owners of television stations in the United States, Sinclair Broadcasting, is in a predicament similar to that of Media General, LIN TV and Young Broadcasting, which are saddled with debt and declining businesses.

Advertising sales have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. The Obama administration indicates there will be no loosening of local ownership rules anytime soon, and extensive debt means acquisitions by private equity groups will be difficult to achieve.

Adversity is striking many broadcasters — large and small — as the recession worsens.

Equity Media Holdings, based in Little Rock, AR, faces the possibility of liquidation after its creditors filed to change the company’s petition for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy to involuntary Chapter 7 or dismiss Equity’s bankruptcy case entirely. The bankruptcy filing only covers the holding corporation and does not protect the 48 properties — including 31 television stations — listed in the original suit. A hearing on the case is scheduled for this week.

The company has a focus on Hispanic and Asian American communities in 41 U.S. cities. It sought bankruptcy protection after defaulting on a $41.5 million loan.

Raycom Broadcasting has cut jobs at several of its television stations. These include seven at WIS-TV in Columbia, SC; four in the news department at WCSC-TV in Charleston, SC; 15 at WALB-TV in Albany, GA; 15 at WMC-TV in Memphis; and five at WTVM-TV in Columbus, GA. Also cut were nine employees at WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, WLOX-TV in Biloxi, and an unknown number at WLBT-TV in Jackson, all in Mississippi.

Media General laid off seven employees last week at WKRG-TV in Mobile, AL, and Hubbard Broadcasting (based in St. Paul, MN) laid off 17 employees at WNYT-TV in Albany, NY, and 18 newsroom employees at KSTP-TV in St. Paul.

Finally, National Public Radio said last week it will cut back its programming and lay off 64 people —7 percent of its workforce. The layoffs — NPR’s first in 25 years — are designed to close a $23 million shortfall in the operation’s current fiscal year.