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Changes under way at WNEG-TV

POSTED: October 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

If you tuned in to WNEG-TV, Channel 32 out of Toccoa, on Sunday afternoon expecting to see a football game between the Steelers and the Bengals, you may have been surprised to see the Roughriders take on the Tiger-Cats instead.

On Wednesday, the University of Georgia Research Foundation became the owner of WNEG-TV, and plans call for the studio to be relocated to Athens in 2009. Meanwhile, the station continues to operate from a studio in Toccoa, the city of license for WNEG-TV.

With the change of ownership, the station lost its affiliation with the CBS television network. Replacing it is the America One network, which carries a variety of programming.

The station still is producing morning and evening newscasts featuring news from Northeast Georgia and is continuing to provide coverage of high school football.

However, the loss of the CBS affiliation has had a noticeable effect on programming. A week ago, the station was carrying a high-profile National Football League game between Jacksonville and Denver. On its first Sunday under UGA ownership, the station featured a Canadian Football League game between Hamilton and Saskatchewan.

Culpepper Clark, dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the university, has big plans for the station.

"We’re not acquiring a television station to run a television station," Clark said during a recent visit to Gainesville. "We’re acquiring a license to do something the University of Georgia has never been able to do, and that is work with media, through media, to develop local content that succeeds."

The college also is working with the Gainesville-based North Georgia Community Foundation in seeking a grant from the Knight Foundation. The grant is to "build the journalism assets of the community," Clark said.

He said the model for the television station is based on the same model used years ago for the university’s agricultural experiment stations.

"We’ll build a network, but it is a network grounded in the local," he said. "It is an opportunity to work with and through all our media partners in this area."

Clark downplays the loss of CBS.

"We’re gaining a UGA affiliation," he said. The station, which will be owned by the college foundation, will be supported, in part, by the sale of advertising. It will not be a noncommercial, public television station.

The America One programing also has been supplemented by infomercials in the wee hours of the morning and some paid religious programming, including Pat Robertson’s "700 Club" and "Shepherd’s Chapel," a nationally televised Bible study from Arkansas.

Clark said the station has acquired a package of movies from MGM studios that will begin airing in November.

WNEG went on the air in 1984 as an independent station owned by veteran Toccoa broadcaster Roy Gaines. It was affiliated with WNEG-AM 630, which is now under separate ownership.

In 1991, the TV station was acquired by Spartan Radiocasting Co., owner of CBS affiliate WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C. When WAGA-TV in Atlanta became a Fox affiliate in 1994, it opened the door for WNEG to become a CBS affiliate for Northeast Georgia in 1995.

Spartan was acquired by Media General, a communications company based in Virginia. A year ago, Media General announced it was exploring the sale of WNEG and other stations. In June, the sale to UGA was announced and the deal closed this week.

Among the earliest programs on WNEG-TV was "The Billy Dilworth Show," hosted by Dilworth, a veteran radio personality and newspaper columnist in Northeast Georgia. The show remains on the air on Saturday nights, and Clark said it will stay as long as Dilworth wants.

The Grady College currently produces a newscast on cable in the Athens area when classes are in session. Clark envisions WNEG as being an laboratory for student journalists when the move is completed to Athens in 2009.



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