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Clock is ticking for FCC to approve WADL sale to Mission, Adell says

The deal faces an outside termination date of March 31, an attorney for Adell Broadcasting told the FCC this month; the agency says Adell and Mission should consider extending the deadline.

The deal faces an outside termination date of March 31, an attorney for Adell Broadcasting told the FCC this month; the agency says Adell and Mission should consider extending the deadline.

Kevin Adell, the owner of Adell Broadcasting and WADL in Detroit. (Photo courtesy Adell Media)
Kevin Adell, the owner of Adell Broadcasting and WADL in Detroit. (Photo courtesy Adell Media)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been urged to approve the sale of a Detroit-area television station to a Nexstar Media Group-controlled company by this week.

In a letter filed with the FCC last Friday, an attorney representing WADL (Channel 38) owner Adell Broadcasting said time is running out for the station to be sold to Mission Broadcasting, whose assets are entirely operated by Nexstar, with the deal facing a March 31 deadline to be consummated in full.

During a meeting earlier this month, the office of FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel told Adell that the agency was weighing at least one other outstanding matter before it could hand down a decision on the sale, the letter obtained by The Desk said.

The sale of WADL to Mission was first announced last May, as Nexstar was in the process of moving its CW Network to other stations across the country. Nexstar is unable to acquire the station on its own due to federal ownership rules that limit how many licensed broadcast stations one company may directly own. To sidestep this restriction, Mission is acquiring the license and related assets of WADL using funds provided by Nexstar.

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The deal was immediately opposed by groups representing pay television platforms, who say Nexstar intends to raise the price cable and satellite companies must pay to carry WADL as a CW Network affiliate once the sale is completed.

Adell has tried to assuage their concerns by affirming WADL’s status as a “must-carry” station, telling the FCC that the broadcaster will forego carriage fees for several years once the deal is finalized.

The corporate headquarters of Adell Broadcasting and its religious TV network, The Word Network, which is next door to Scripps-owned WMYD in Detroit. (Photo courtesy Kevin Adell)
The corporate headquarters of Adell Broadcasting and its religious TV network, The Word Network, which is next door to Scripps-owned WMYD in Detroit. (Photo courtesy Kevin Adell)

Under federal law, the FCC must approve the transfer of WADL’s broadcast license to another person or company. Despite having support from numerous community groups — including the local chapter of the NAACP and the leader of the Rainbow Push Coalition, Rev. Jesse Jackson — the FCC has dragged its feet on approving or denying the deal.

The deal must be approved by March 31, or it faces the likelihood of being terminated, the company said. When this was communicated to Rosenworcel, she suggested Adell and Mission extend the termination date “to allow the Commission more time to act” on a separate but somewhat related matter, the letter said.

It wasn’t clear what other matter was being considered by the FCC, but in news interviews with The Desk over the past several months, station owner Kevin Adell said the agency was acting on numerous retransmission-related complaints filed against Mission and Nexstar, which needed to be settled until the FCC could decide on his application to transfer WADL’s license to mission.

During our last phone conversation, Adell said he remained optimistic that the FCC would approve the deal, but wasn’t sure when it would happen. Meanwhile, he is working with his attorneys to prepare a potential lawsuit against the E. W. Scripps Company, whose Detroit-area television station became the CW Network affiliate late last year.

The affiliation agreement between Scripps and Nexstar came together two weeks after Adell ended a temporary agreement to air CW Network shows on WADL in anticipation of the Mission deal closing.

An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)
An aerial photograph shows the television studios of Adell-owned WADL-TV in Detroit. (Courtesy photo)

With the Mission sale dragging on longer than expected, Adell went to his counterparts at Nexstar and demanded a fee for distributing CW Network shows, he said in a phone interview. When Nexstar turned him down, he stopped airing CW Network programming; Nexstar signed a temporary affiliation agreement with Scripps two weeks later.

Adell has threatened to sue Scripps for tortious interference, saying their decision to step in and offer CW Network shows was an attempt by the broadcaster to sabotage the pending sale of his station to Mission. As of Monday morning, no such lawsuit has been filed.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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