Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tribune Company Seeks FCC Action

By Phil Rosenthal
Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co. today filed a series of applications with the Federal Communications Commission necessary to emerge from bankruptcy protection with its broadcast portfolio intact.

Tribune Co., which owns radio station WGN-AM 720 and 23 television stations in 19 markets, including Chicago's WGN-Ch. 9, seeks to maintain the status quo with regard to operating its broadcast assets.

This will require the FCC to sign off on assignment of their broadcast licenses to the reorganized, post-bankruptcy iteration of Tribune Co., along with continued cross-ownership waivers."Very simply," Tribune Co. Chief Executive Randy Michaels and Chief Operating Officer Gerry Spector wrote in a note to the company's employees, "this is a necessary step to ensure the orderly transition of our licenses to the new ownership structure that will be in place once we emerge."

The company is at least temporarily exempt from restrictions on newspaper-broadcast combinations in Chicago, Los Angeles, South Florida, and Hartford, Conn. New York also is considered a cross-ownership market for Tribune Co. because, in addition to WPIX-TV, it retained a small percentage of Newsday when it sold that newspaper to Cablevision in 2008.

Tribune Co.has operated under Chapter 11 protection since December 2008. It can get its reorganization plan approved by the Delaware bankruptcy court while the FCC applications are still pending. But the matter must be resolved before the company can exit Chapter 11.Similar FCC approvals were required before real estate investor Sam Zell took Tribune Co. private in December 2007.

Technically, the FCC denied Tribune Co.'s request for indefinite waivers of rules against newspaper and broadcast combinations at that time. But the FCC granted a permanent exemption in Chicago, citing the "the uniquely long-term symbiotic relationship between the broadcast stations and the newspaper" in that city.

For Tribune Co.'s other affected markets at that time, the commission decided that a challenge of the denial would trigger an extension of temporary waivers for at least two years and as long as six months beyond the end of all litigation concerning the exemptions.

Tribune Co. this time is asking for exemptions of at least 18 months beyond the conclusion of any potential litigation in the matter, if it is unable to get permanent waivers.

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