The local broadcast landscape underwent a major shift Monday when Gray Television announced it was buying legacy station NBC29 for $12 million—and unloading the stations it started here as the Newsplex 15 years ago.
Gray, the third largest broadcast group in the country, has had its eye on NBC29 “forever,” says Gray VP Kevin Latek.
And because of federal regulations, Gray is selling CBS19, ABC station WVAW, Fox WAHU and MeTV to Lockwood Broadcasting for $25 million, says Lockwood president Dave Hanna.
NBC29 was Charlottesville’s first TV station, founded by Harold Wright, who’s still general manager, Bob Stroh and attorney Lloyd Smith. It went on the air as WVIR in 1973, and was acquired by Florida-based Waterman Broadcasting in 1986.
Its founder, Bernard Waterman, passed away in 2017 and his widow, Edith Waterman, decided to sell the privately owned station. Gray president and CEO Hilton Howell went to UVA, and he told Mrs. Waterman, “Gray’s the right station to buy NBC29,” says Latek.
Gray started the Newsplex in 2004. “When you start a station, you have to be more scrappy,” says Latek. “We own a lot more stations like WVIR than start-up stations. It took 15 years to get up to speed.”
WVIR has the ninth-highest all-day ratings of NBC affiliates in the country, and once the sale closes, Gray will own nine of the top 10 NBC affiliates in the country, according to a Gray release.
Lockwood has acquired other stations Gray had to divest when it bought Raycon Media for $3.6 billion in 2018. “When we had to divest, we thought [Lockwood] would do better for our employees,” says Latek.
“We’ve always coveted Charlottesville as a market,” says Lockwood president Dave Hanna. The owner, James Lockwood, is also a UVA grad. “There are few opportunities you get to come into a market insulated from the economy” with a university, he says. He expects “the political season will be strong,” and Charlottesville is near Lockwood’s Richmond operations headquarters, he says.
“We started conversations with Gray six or seven years ago,” says Hanna. “We always told ‘em if the stations didn’t fit their model, we’d be interested.”
CBS19 will be Lockwood’s ninth station, and Hanna says viewers won’t see any changes, nor will employees see any layoffs. “None,” says Hanna. “It’s not our tendency to trim stations.”
NBC29 uses reporters and camera men to cover stories, while Gray reporters do their own camera work. Latek says there will be no layoffs “at this time.” But “there will be some changes.”
Because of its size, Gray has economies of scale that Waterman couldn’t afford, says Latek, and the station will see better technologies and graphics.
“What they’re doing right now is what we wanted,” he says.
The sale is expected to close in the second or third quarter of this year.