The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday lifted a lower court injunction that had blocked Gray from assuming full control of its newly acquired WAGT Augusta, Ga. Media General had won the injunction saying it could continue operating the station under joint sales and shared services agreement with Schurz, the station's previous owner. John Ray, GM of Gray's other station in the market, WRDW, says Gray and Media General are "cooperating to facilitate the smooth return of WAGT to Gray's operation and control," according to a local report.
Gray Cleared To Take Control Of WAGT
The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday lifted a lower court injunction that had allowed Media General to continue operating WAGT Augusta, Ga., through joint sales and shared services agreements over the objections of station owner Gray Television and the FCC.
In its terse ruling, the court also denied a motion for expedited appeal.
It was a clear win for Gray in its tug of war over control of the NBC affiliate, which Media General has been operating in tandem with its ABC affiliate, WJBF.
“We are grateful to the Supreme Court of Georgia for its very quick decision on our emergency motion staying the injunction on Gray’s ability to operate WAGT,” said Gray’s Kevin Latek.
“We look forward to operating WAGT in the manner required by the FCC and in service to the greater Augusta community.”
In a note to station employees, John Ray, general manager of WRDW, Gray’s CBS affiliate in the market, said hat Gray and Media General were “cooperating to facilitate the smooth return of WAGT to Gray’s operation and control.”
“The logistics are complicated, and it may take a few days to accomplish the transition,” he said. “The litigation will continue, but for now, Gray will be the owner as well as the operator of WAGT.”
Gray has told the FCC that it intends to sell WAGT in the upcoming spectrum auction. If that fails, it will sell to another party, it said.
However, Gray has built a low-power station in the market, dubbed WAGT-CA, to pick up where full-power leaves off. “While the Class A license requires a somewhat smaller contour than the full-power license, the loss areas occur mostly outside of the DMA,” Latek said. “Moreover, we will simulcast NBC on a sub-channel of our WRDW/CBS station, and that simulcast will eliminate the loss areas completely.”
Media General has been operating WAGT for several years under a JSA and SSA it struck with the station’s previous owner, Schurz Communications.
Last fall, Schurz agreed to sell WAGT along with all its other stations to Gray.
The FCC approved the deal, but with a number of conditions, among them that Gray end the WAGT JSA. FCC would not allow Gray to own WAGT because it already owns WRDW and FCC rules prohibit ownership of two top-rated stations in a single market.
The FCC has been cracking down on JSAs, which it sees as gaping loopholes in its local ownership limits. Since April 2014, it has refused to approve the transfer of JSAs.
Gray tried to comply with the FCC condition. But, for reasons that are still not clear, Media General refused to turn over the station to Gray. Instead, it went to state court and won an injunction against Gray’s “interfering with Media General’s continued performance of the joint sales agreement” or its selling WAGT in the spectrum auction.
The FCC weighed in on behalf of Gray and its anti-JSA policy, threatening to revoke all of Media General’s broadcast licenses if its didn’t relinquish full control of WAGT to Gray.
Media General had no comment.