WUPW not airing on Buckeye CableWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Buckeye CableSystem customers were greeted with a message when they tuned into WUPW at 5 p.m. Dec. 12.
“WUPW has ordered Buckeye CableSystem to remove WUPW’s signal from our system. To be clear, this is not Buckeye’s decision, but WUPW’s decision to withhold its station from our viewers. We regret that you cannot receive this station. Buckeye will continue to try to negotiate for the return of WUPW.”
But Tom Henson, CEO of American Spirit Media, which has owned WUPW since March, said the decision was ultimately, “Buckeye’s call. I know they’ve put a screen shot that pulls me through the mud, saying I’m the reason that viewers can’t see [WUPW]. They are the reason [viewers] can’t see [WUPW]. I have been and continue to be prepared to live by terms of our contract.”
However, that contract has been in dispute since May when Buckeye took American Spirit and Raycom Media, owner of WTOL, to court.
This spring, WTOL and WUPW (Fox Toledo) entered into a shared services agreement and merged their coverage, with WTOL taking over news programming.
According to court documents, Raycom and American Spirit believe that Buckeye owes them for the rebroadcast of WUPW based on a retransmission consent agreement between Raycom and Buckeye.
In the records, Buckeye asks for a declaratory judgment that a Buckeye/Raycom retransmission consent agreement does not include WUPW and that the American Spirit engage in “good faith” negotiations with Buckeye for its own retransmission consent agreement for WUPW.
Henson said that Buckeye has paid “not one dollar” to American Spirit.
“It started when I originally bought Fox Toledo. [Buckeye] immediately refused to pay the amount that they had agreed to pay,” Henson said. “Buckeye is the only [provider] who wouldn’t pay.”
“I would hope that Buckeye subscribers would all contact Buckeye and say, ‘Get me everything I’m entitled to. It’s not fair for me,’” Henson said.
Buckeye also ran a full-page ad in The Blade, which like Buckeye is owned by Block Communications, stating that Raycom and American Spirit took 63 jobs away from Toledo.
“The two companies also eliminated the independent news operation of WUPW,” the ad reads
The ad calls for American Spirit and Raycom to restore the 63 jobs, return the news operation of WUPW and allow WUPW to be on Buckeye while the court proceedings go on.
In response to the ad, Henson did acknowledge there had been some job consolidation, but said, “I believe our newscast is dramatically better than it has ever been before.”
He added the way for WUPW to come back on Buckeye was for the company to comply with the terms of the contract.
Henson said he has been in the cable business since 2003. His company is run out of Charlotte, N.C.
“It’s just so frustrating. This has never happened to me. I’ve never had a station go off cable,” he said.
Brad Mefferd, president of Buckeye, and Buckeye’s attorney Keith Wilkowski had not returned calls by press time.
Raycom released a statement that said, “Raycom Media is proud of our role producing some of the most watched news in northwest Ohio for FOX Toledo. Since April, Buckeye Cable has been violating our copyright on that news programming by refusing to honor its contractual obligations. That is a disservice not only to our company but to the broader community Buckeye serves. Our hope is that we can resolve this matter so that Buckeye Cable can resume lawfully providing its customers with the programming they deserve and are paying for each month.”