Frustrated by reductions in WHYY TV12's Delaware presence, Wilmington officials said yesterday that they would file an objection with the FCC over the public station's application for a license renewal.
WHYY committed itself to serve Wilmington in 1963 when the FCC awarded it the right to broadcast on VHF channel 12, the only broadcast channel available in Delaware. Wilmington is listed as the "community of license."
"Generally speaking, there are a lot of people in Delaware who are disappointed in Channel 12," said John Rago, director of communications and policy development for Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker. "This all comes down to their commitment to the community."
Art Ellis, a WHYY spokesman, said the station was intent on serving the viewers of Delaware, but that it was changing with the times.
WHYY's renewal application has been pending since 2007. An FCC spokesperson said it was the agency's policy not to comment on individual cases.
Under the terms of its license, WHYY must serve the needs of viewers in Wilmington and the rest of Delaware, said Nick Miller, the Washington lawyer handling Wilmington's objection.
"It's very important that the station continue to be organized and programmed in a way that's responsive to the needs of the city of Wilmington," Miller said.
Recent WHYY decisions about its Delaware operations have left some in the Diamond State fuming.
In May, citing budget constraints and new technology, WHYY announced it will close its production studio in Wilmington. Officials have put the studio space up for sale, although the station says it is looking for a smaller and cheaper location in the city with the help of Wilmington officials. .
In July, the station ended the 46-year-run of Delaware Tonight, which had been the only nightly news program in the state.
When the show was canceled, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said, "WHYY's decision to leave the daily airwaves leaves a critical hole for viewers and raises significant questions about their commitment to Delaware, which is where their FCC license is granted."
WHYY chief executive officer William J. Marrazzo said in a statement released at the time, "This change will enable us to allocate resources to provide much more news online and to enhance the WHYY-FM news service with additional reports from Delaware."
In place of Delaware Tonight, WHYY began showing a weekly 30-minute newsmagazine, First, and expanded its Delaware news coverage over the radio and online, WHYY's Ellis said.
"We're committed to serving the news and information needs of Delaware," he said yesterday. WHYY's change of direction in Delaware does produce some savings, Ellis said. "But it's really about a different approach to how we distribute news and information."
The challenge to the license renewal is not meant to be adversarial, Rago said. Wilmington officials understand that WHYY is having financial troubles. But they want leverage to get the station to live up to its licensing requirements.
Since Delaware Tonight ended, there has been vague talk of establishing a Delaware-centric station, though nothing has come of it. Nor is it likely that WHYY would be able to change its community of license to Philadelphia, where available TV channels are a rarity.
Ralph Begleiter, director of the Center for Political Communication at the University of Delaware and a former CNN world affairs correspondent, said he would like to see another television station that is truly willing to serve the needs of his state.
"I think WHYY is, in effect, trying to get away with serving its state of license in the least expensive and least effective way possible just so it can keep the license it has," he said. "As a Delawarean, I resent that."