If the Bahakels sell, it must not be to Sinclair

(cross-posted at DKos)

As I mentioned on Sunday, Charlotte's Fox station, WCCB, may be up for sale. Its longtime owner, Cy Bahakel, wasn't interested (at least in public) in selling to anyone, but his kids have given it some serious thought. Although nothing has formally happened yet, should WCCB go on the block, a very likely suitor will be our good friends at Sinclair Broadcast Group. As we all know, Sinclair would be the absolute worst pick as an owner--not in the least because it's been flouting FCC ownership rules for more than a decade by way of a shell corporation, Cunningham Broadcasting. Although Cunningham holds itself out as separate, nearly all of its stock is controlled by the Smith family, owners of Sinclair.

Here's a little background--Cunningham, originally known as Glencairn, was first used by Sinclair to acquire duopolies in a time when the FCC didn't allow them at all. One of those was in the Triangle--WLFL (owned by Sinclair) and WRDC ("owned" by Glencairn). It got a slap-on-the-wrist fine in 2001, but was still allowed to buy four stations from Glencairn later in the year--including WRDC. However, the other six stations could not be bought from Glencairn/Cunningham for various reasons:

WNUV-TV in Baltimore (WB affiliate, LMA with WBFF-TV, Fox affiliate): Balitmore has only seven stations, and the FCC requires eight unique owners in a market once a duopoly is formed.
WTTE-TV in Columbus, OH (Fox affiliate, LMA with WSYX-TV, ABC affiliate): WSYX is the #3 station in Columbus while WTTE is #4. The FCC doesn't allow common ownership of two of the top four stations in a market. Plus, Columbus doesn't have enough stations to permit duopolies.
WMYA-TV in Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville (WB affiliate, LMA with WLOS-TV, ABC affiliate): There's already one duopoly here--WSPA-TV and WYCW-TV, with Media General--and a Sinclair purchase of WMYA would leave only seven unique owners in the market.
WRGT-TV in Dayton (Fox affiliate, LMA with WKEF-TV, ABC affiliate): Dayton doesn't have enough stations to permit duopolies. Plus, WKEF is the #3 station while WRGT is #4.
WVAH-TV in Charleston-Huntington, WV (Fox affiliate, LMA with WCHS-TV, ABC affiliate): WCHS is the #2 station in this giant market while WVAH is #4.
WTAT-TV in Charleston, SC (Fox affiliate, LMA with WMMP-TV, UPN affiliate): Charleston has only six full-power stations.

If the Bahakels do decide to put WCCB on the market, they would do very well to be very selective about a buyer. WCCB is the only locally owned station in Charlotte with decent over-the-air coverage of the entire market. I"m willing to concede that WCCB will likely become just another cog in a media giant if it's ever sold. But at least it should go to someone who doesn't demonstrate such a flagrant disregard for FCC rules.

We need a two-way strategy on this:

1. Let the Bahakels know that should WCCB be sold, they will expect a license challenge if they even think about selling to Sinclair. The only source I've been able to find for a contact is at WCCB's feedback page.
2. Sign this petition demanding an investigation of Sinclair and Cunningham. Even in this climate, I can't see the FCC ignoring something this blatantly illegal. And even if the FCC doesn't tank them, Sinclair's in such shaky financial shape that Wall Street will.