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Statehouse beat: 10 years to come sooner than later

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After much hewing and crying about possible damage to the Capitol dome from the sesquicentennial fireworks shows in June, looks like the Tomblin administration is going to go ahead with an independent inspection.

Turns out that the architectural firm hired in 2002 to oversee the most recent restoration of the dome, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects of New York, included in its recommendations that once the restoration was completed, the dome should get a thorough inspection every 10 years.

The current restoration was completed in 2005, meaning the inspection would be due in 2015.

However, given concerns raised by Joe Mullins, David Riccio and others over whether direct pyrotechnic strikes during the June 20, 21 and 22 shows may have damaged the dome or its gilding, the administration has decided to move that inspection up a couple of years.

Administration spokeswoman Diane Holley Brown said a request for bids for an architectural and engineering study of the dome is being readied.

(I've been told that, despite official statements to the contrary, General Services workers who've been up on the dome say it's dinged up pretty good -- they just have no way to know if the damage was caused by the fireworks or eight years' exposure to the elements.)

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Meanwhile, the previous gilder of the dome, Emmanuel Tsitsilianos was in town last week to plead his case to the state Court of Claims for some $108,000 he contends the state owes him from that 1988-90 project.

(Tsitsilianos is a colorful storyteller, sometimes to the point where it's difficult to discern story from fact.)

I asked him if he'd heard about the controversy over the fireworks displays over the dome. His reaction: He covered his face with his hands, and went, "Ohhhh ..."

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Speaking of court, in its latest attempt to get an injunction blocking West Virginia University's broadcast rights contract with IMG Sports, West Virginia Radio Corp. attorneys correctly note that the loss of its affiliation with WVU sports "will damage WVRC's reputation."

However, considering that WVRC had the opportunity to bid on the third-tier contract, and failing that, to enter into agreements to carry WVU sports on its stations as IMG affiliates, that sounds like the proverbial man who shoots his parents, and then begs the court for mercy since he's an orphan.

Meanwhile, little WZST-FM becomes the Morgantown "flagship" for Mountaineer sports because WVRC has entered into an option-to-purchase agreement with the only major non-WVRC station in Morgantown, WCLG, and that agreement prevents Bowers Broadcasting from entering into any contracts during the option period.

(The longtime owner-operator of WCLG, Gary Bowers, died in December 2011 and his widow has been running the station.)

Radio insiders tell me WVRC should have filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission for either a Transfer of Control or a Local Marketing Agreement, but neither shows up in FCC filing reports. (Calls Friday to the FCC's media relations office reached an answering machine. Sequestration furloughs, perhaps?)

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While I couldn't find a Transfer of Control application for WVRC, I did find an interesting FCC public comment filing from Fletcher, Heald &  Hildreth of Arlington, Va., on behalf of WVRC/The Dominion Post, and companies in Nebraska and Illinois that also own daily newspapers and radio stations in the same market, calling on the FCC to relax restrictions on such cross ownership.

The letter suggests that, not only is newspaper-radio cross ownership not adversely affecting competitors, but may be necessary for the survival of the client newspapers.

It states that one of its client newspapers (unnamed) has lost 20 percent of its subscribers in the past five years, while classified ad billings have dropped 35 percent and print ads are down 15 percent in the past two years -- and says the declines have been steeper at the two other newspapers.

"The synergies between a local newspaper and a local broadcaster are obvious, particularly in smaller markets. While a newspaper or broadcast station by itself might not have sufficient resources to maintain a robust local news operation, in the (clients') experience, combined radio and newspaper operations can produce sufficient revenues to support robust local news operations by both media," the letter states.

The commentary seems to suggest that the survival of the client newspapers will depend on having the news operations work even more closely together. (Sounds like the West Virginia Media model, which has not worked out that great.)

"As both newspapers and broadcast stations face ever-growing competition in today's multi-media environment, it is imperative that they be allowed to band together to preserve and enhance the delivery of local content," the letter states.

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Finally, I'm pleased to pass along word that the damaged concrete section on the Charleston station platform has finally been repaired, thanks to the efforts of station manager Matt Crouch and Amtrak's Safety Committee.

Not only does that enhance passenger safety and convenience, but provides a much better first impression of Charleston for arriving passengers. Now, we need to work on getting a station sign, so that of the 500-plus destinations served by Amtrak, Charleston won't be the only one without an identifying sign.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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