Bill Binnie’s Carlisle Media has owned the former MNT affiliate serving the Boston market from Manchester, N.H., for only four weeks. But he’s wasting no time: “We are completely rebuilding this station physically in 10 weeks. I don’t know of another station in a major market like ours where we have seen it overhauled so quickly. We’ll have a newscast by September. We’re going to HD in 60 days or 90 days. We are completely overhauling our programming grid and will have that done by the end of the year.”
WZMY, the Manchester (Derry), N.H., My Network TV affiliate that Diane Sutter and Shooting Star acquired for $28 million to 2004 — with high (and ultimately dashed) hopes to make it an especially local station — was officially sold to Bill Binnie’s Carlisle Media last month for just $9.25 million. And he wants to try that local angle again.
Binnie, a self-made man (self-made in several industries in fact) and 2010 candidate in the Republican Senatorial primary, has big plans to remake the station into a regional independent serving not only Manchester and Boston — part of the same market — but a wider swath of of New England He says he’s in the process of acquiring a low-power station in Nashua, N.H., and a couple of radio stations in other parts of the state.
His first two pieces of business at his new station were to relinquish the MNT affiliation and rename it WBIN. He spoke to TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor P.J. Bednarski about his plans.
An edited transcript:
This is not the time most people seem interested in jumping into the broadcasting business. What gives?
It’s an investment opportunity. I believe we understand that there is an opporunity to provide a locally owned, locally managed program outlet for the Boston DMA.
The prior owner thought so, too.
Diane (Sutter) lived in California. I would say she is a very different person than me. I grew up in New England here. We have a commitment now and we’re going to be successful here.
You’ve announced a Republican Presidential candidate debate October 11, partnering with the Washington Post, Bloomberg News and Dartmouth College. And you’ve hired Gerry McGavick from Manchester’s WMUR as general manager and other executives from Boston. You seem to be ramping up pretty quickly.
WBIN is the cornerstone of the media company that we are building. We have a terrific, energized team. We’re completely renovating our Manchester office. We are completely rebuilding studios A and B. We are going completely to HD. We’re going to the latest cellular and satellite tech. We’re committed to spending millions on that renovation.
If you said to any station executive: I’ll give you state-of-the-art tech; No. 2, I’ll give you a balance sheet with no debt on it — and in this economy that matters — and, No. 3, every penny we make, every single penny we make, will get plowed back into the station. Well, any television executive would say, ‘That works.’ ”
Every penny? You don’t expect to make a profit?
We’ll make a profit, but we’re building a business. There’s WBIN — that’s 2.5 million homes, 5.5 million people in the Boston DMA. But we also have Nashua TV station ch. 13 we hope to close on by the end of the year and we‘re are in extensive conversations now to acquire some radio properties here in New Hampshire. So we are committed to being the provider of hyperlocal programming.
How can you do that so fast?
We’re going to do it in 30-minute segments at a time. I’ve been in a lot of of different businesses. I was a Wall Street CEO in a company I founded before I was 30. I have done millions of dollars in transactions my career. I’m a turnaround guy. And I build businesses from scratch. There is a secret sauce to business. And the secret sauce is time. We will get it right. Eventually.
Will WBIN have more of a New Hampshire focus or be more Boston-centered? I mean, the market is Boston, but you could probably have a unique voice talking to New Hampshire. Boston’s got some major stations — WBZ, WCVB. Not exactly slouches.
Respectfully, we have been punching above weight our whole lives. I’m not really worried about that. They’re terrific stations in Boston and they do what they do and they do it well. But I think there’s an opportunity to do meaningful programs for both markets and do it well and that what’ s what we hope to do.
Is it hard to fill the gaps from when you lost MyNetworkTV?
We didn’t lose it. We gave it up. They’re great people at Fox; they really are. But we thought with our commitment to quality programming, to local programming, we thought we could do it better.
Well, if this were a store and you’re stocking the shelves, when’s the grand opening?
We have only owned this station for four weeks. We are completely rebuilding this station physically in 10 weeks. I don’t know of another station in a major market like ours where we have seen it overhauled so quickly. We’ll have a newscast by September. We’re going to HD in 60 days or 90 days. We are completely overhauling our programming grid and will have that done by the end of the year.
You ran for office, so you came across TV journalists covering you. How’d you get along? Did they report issues you thought were important or frustrate you with insignificant things?
I know a lot of the TV journalists in this area, of course, and I think very highly of them. And I’m saying that to a person, my experience with TV media was very positive.
The bottom line is I hope what we can do is get an opportunity to provide political talk shows or other things. One of my kids was on the debate team and the thing about it is, to debate successfully, you have to describe the other side’s argument accurately. That happens so infrequently, the Socratic method of explaining the other side….
For example, health care. I’d like to talk about that. I think there are several straightforward ways to deliver health care that doesn’t involve the government doing it. I think most of the time the private sector does a very good job of providing goods and services. Who wants to eat in a government restaurant? I don’t think anyone does.
I think what we are talking about is that we want to present news programs and entertainment as we go forward that speaks to issues of the moment. Some may be quite small and silly — Rep. Anthony Weiner is an example.
You thnk that was a story that was overreported?
I think he’s a creep and not worth our time.
You had no background in TV. Why get into this?
I’ve been in a half dozen businesses — real estate to manufacturing to biomedical to computers to race car driving. So, for me, it started with my seeing an opportunity. It’s very unusual to see a station in a big market like WBIN that’s been underperforming and mismanaged for years and can be acquired. We don’t want WBIN to look like some community television station. I want to be clear about that. I grew up in New York where we had WOR and WPIX and great independent stations as well as Ted Turner’s station in Atlanta in the ’70s. These were great independent stations in their communities and they were relevant. That’s what I think we can do.
Did it surprise you that in the television business there are so many factions that seemingly should be on the same page, but actually end up fighting each other?
No. Every industry has it. If you’re in the plastics business, they don’t like the chemical guys. In the tech business, they don’t like the marketing guys.
Do you think your days as a candidate are over?
Never say never.
But from what I read about you, you were too moderate for hard-core, right-wing Republicans.
Well, I like to think of myself as fiercely rational.