CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With a preponderance of evidence showing that AJG Corp. is at best a branch operation of John Raese's West Virginia Radio Corp., and at worst, a front, one would think the Federal Communications Commission would be reluctant to approve the transfer of ownership of locally owned stations WCLG AM and FM to ALG.
AJG's ties to West Virginia Radio are indisputable, including sharing offices, studios, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and personnel. (Not to mention the fact the stations licensed to AJG are assets in a trust for the children of John and David Raese.)
Assuming the FCC concludes that AJG is a branch operation, the acquisition of the two additional stations would put West Virginia Radio way over market ownership limits.
Industry insiders suggest that, regardless of how the FCC rules, Raese and company have already accomplished their goal: blocking the IMG-WVU Sports network from landing the WCLG stations as affiliates. Instead, IMG had to settle for low-power FM outlet WZST as its Morgantown "flagship."
They also lament that West Virginia Radio's dominance of the Morgantown-Clarksburg market -- with its six stations drawing more than 43 percent of the market share -- has all but killed competing stations. That's a market dominance built, in no small part, on West Virginia Radio's long-term affiliation with WVU sports.
When I was in school in the late '70s to mid-'80s, WCLG was the Animal House to West Virginia Radio's Omega house, staffed primarily with students and recent grads of WVU, but able to go head-to-head with West Virginia Radio stations in terms of ratings and quality of programming.
Now, WCLG is to the point where owner Linda Bowers is being forced to sell the stations her husband, the late Gary Bowers, spent his entire adult life building and operating.
(According to the filing with the FCC Thursday, the pending sale price is $1.8 million, with an immediate LMA -- which means AJG takes over control of all programming.)
Likewise, the once-proud Fantasia Broadcasting Co., owned by longtime Delegate Nick Fantasia and family, had to sell its four stations, including Fairmont heritage station WMMN, to an ownership group out of Washington, D.C.
That deal probably would not have been viable without the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust buying a 19 percent interest in the new broadcast group.
"[Raese's] illegal control of the number of stations have driven all of the other stations in the market to the brink," an insider said. Some stations licensed in the market, including WPDX-AM and WOBG, have "gone dark" because they cannot compete on the uneven playing field.
From a public policy perspective, it cannot be a good thing when a single media corporation, be it West Virginia Radio, Sinclair Broadcasting, West Virginia Media or Clear Channel, dominates a media market.