I was reading Shoptalk (the TV industry newsletter) the other day and found a story that caught my eye.
Disney is selling two of its TV stations, WTVG in Toledo, Ohio and WJRT in Flint, Michigan to SJL Broadcasting. I thought, why does that name sound familiar. Then I just realized. This was the same company that owned my old TV station, WSTM in Syracuse, New York back in the late 1980’s.
Many longtime staffers at my old TV station told me many horror stories about the company’s president, George Lilly. They had just purchased WSTM from Times Mirror in 1986. NABET-CWA was looking to make the station unionized. When the vote failed, the company came in and alerted staff individually, one by one. The people they decided to fire were notified that Monday…no advanced notice.
George Lilly, who was General Manager at the time, managed to gut the station of all its important resources, such as not investing in new technology. Wages were cut by 20% percent. Ratings fell to the point where the NBC affiliate dropped to third in the market.
After a year, workers decided they had enough of Lilly’s harmful cost cutting and demoralizing business practices. NABET-CWA was given a second chance for a certification vote. This time, they were successful. Ironically, the station was flipped in 1992 to Federal Broadcasting.
If I were working at one of the two ABC O&O’s, I would be very concerned of the track record of their future owner. Just what does George Lilly have in mind once they come in? Will they gut it and flip it like they did my old TV station 20 years ago? Or will they actually make it a viable market leader. My money is on the “gut it and flip it” approach.
Like the old saying goes, ‘a leopard never changes it’s spots.”