Radio station drops TV channel

A Front Royal radio station pulled its content from a Comcast channel after the communications firms failed to reach a new deal.

Station owner and President Andrew Shearer said Thursday he’s still negotiating with Comcast over a new agreement that would let WFTR continue to use Comcast channel 15. Comcast’s demands so far are too high, Shearer said.

“The community is going to miss it sorely if we’re not able to come up with a deal,” Shearer said.

The station has used the channel since 1985 through an agreement reached with the cable TV provider at the time. The agreement remained in place with subsequent cable providers.

The radio station voluntarily ceased broadcasting its content on channel 15 just before the end of June, Shearer said. The owner said Comcast alerted him June 5 or 6 that it was giving him 30 days notice that it planned to end the longstanding agreement effective July 1.

Comcast proposed a new agreement that would require the station to pay $20,000 per year to use the cable channel, Shearer said. The station would need to make monthly payments in advance, Shearer explained. The station is not in the financial position to afford these payments, he said.

“So there are really two equations here: One, Comcast is … potentially removing a community service,” Shearer said. “The other side of it is the business arrangement between the radio station and Comcast that at this point in time has not been finalized, if it will be.”

Comcast representatives wouldn’t comment on the company’s proposal for a new agreement. Comcast noted in a statement issued Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission regulates leased, commercial access rules and rates.

“As discussed with Mr. Shearer and explained in the notification he received, Comcast is willing to work with Royal Broadcasting to comply with these FCC regulations,” the statement read. “We continue to be available to assist in this process to return Royal Broadcasting programming to the Front Royal channel lineup.”

Shearer said he presented a counter proposal that Comcast subsequently “shot down.”

“Like I said, we’re trying to make nice but we’re pretty far apart,” Shearer said.

The longstanding agreement between the station and the cable company survived several changes in ownership over the years, Shearer explained. The agreement remained in place when Shearer bought the radio station in 2000. The station has run the news, information and background music on the cable channel.

The original agreement calls for the station to share advertising revenue generated by the channel with the cable company.

“Apparently Comcast has finally discovered there is an agreement and they canceled it, which they have a right to do,” Shearer said, noting that the contract allows the cable company to provide at least 30 days notice to end the deal.

Comcast notified Shearer on June 6 that they were exercising their right to cancel the agreement and that they proposed a new arrangement, he recalled.

“That new agreement is an excessive amount of money that they are asking for operation of this system,” Shearer said.

Shearer is now in negotiations with a Comcast representative, he said. However, Shearer noted that several weeks passed before he could get Comcast to provide the name of a contact with whom he would begin the contract negotiations. Shearer said he and the company representative have exchanged emails and talked about the matter.

“We’re not close,” Shearer said. “In the meantime, they have taken the channel and started airing their own programming.”

“The alternative, one, is for Comcast and myself to continue to negotiate and try and come up with something that’s fair an equitable,” Shearer said. “The other side of it is that the community can certainly put public pressure on Comcast to at least go back to the original agreement.”

The cable channel has never served as a major moneymaker for the station, Shearer said. To require the station to pay up front to use the channel before it can generate any revenue would pose a hardship to his company, Shearer said.

“Comcast is a pretty large company,” Shearer added. “I am not a large company and so, as I stated early, the amount of money that they are requesting is excessive for what the service is.”

The radio station used the cable channel as an extension of its services. The station also has expanded its social media presence and is in the process of revamping its website. Shearer said this effort might help fill a gap should negotiations with Comcast fall through and the station can no longer use the cable channel.

WZRV and WFTR operate on FM and AM frequencies, respectively. Royal Broadcasting Inc. owns both stations. WZRV has been broadcasting under different call letters since 1980. WFTR has broadcast sports since 1948.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com