In this week’s issue… WLNE launches new TV group – LI brand returns – Morning shift in NYC – New Mass. FM cancelled

By SCOTT FYBUSH

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*Every few years, we lead off this column with news that a certain RHODE ISLAND TV station has been sold to a new owner who promises to lead it out of the ratings basement – and it’s time again.

WLNE (Channel 6) is technically a New Bedford, Mass. station, which may help to explain why it’s always been something of an afterthought for most of the viewers on the Rhode Island side of the Providence TV market. Until the advent of digital TV, it suffered from a challenging transmitter site, more distant from the core of the Providence market than the two long-dominant signals, NBC affiliate WJAR (Channel 10) and CBS affiliate WPRI (Channel 12).

Even after achieving signal parity more than a decade ago, WLNE bounced around from owner to owner as longtime operator Freedom handed it off to a new entrant called Global Broadcasting. Global lasted barely four years before going bankrupt; in 2011, WLNE went to Phil Lombardo’s Citadel Communications, becoming an odd New England outpost for a company that was primarily a small- and medium-market TV operator in the Midwest.

Citadel sold most of its TV stations to Nexstar a couple of years ago, but with Nexstar already in control of WPRI and its Fox shared-services sister, WNAC (Channel 64), WLNE had to stay put with Citadel until another buyer emerged.

And last week, one did – a new company called Standard Media, which announced Thursday it will pay $83 million for WLNE and its remaining Citadel ABC sister, KLKN (Channel 8) in Lincoln, Nebraska. Standard is led by Deb McDermott, who brings an extensive resume as an executive at Media General (which owned WJAR) and Young Broadcasting.

“We look at this acquisition as the first of many as we work to create a new competitive player in the consolidating broadcast TV industry,” McDermott said in the announcement of the new Standard group. (Who else is out there to be acquired in the now heavily-consolidated local TV marketplace? In New England, the only network affiliates rumored to be for sale right now are Meredith’s WGGB/WSHM in Springfield and WFSB in Hartford, whose parent company is seeking a buyer for its entire TV group.)

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