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Small-market Southern affils switch netlets

Just one day after Viacom exercised its option to buy half of UPN, two TV stations are switching their primary affiliation from the WB Television Network to UPN. The stations in Charleston, S.C., and Roanoke, Va., are the first to do so since the two fledgling netlets premiered.

WDRG in market No. 67 (Roanoke) and WBNU in market No. 108 (Charleston) will become UPN affiliates in January, increasing UPN’s primary coverage by under 1% to more than 75% of the nation and hiking its total coverage to more than 92% of all U.S. television viewing households. UPN did not have primary affils in either market.

The deal was made by R. Kevin Tannehill, who on Thursday was also upped to executive vice president of network distribution, from senior VP. In less than two years, Tannehill has increased UPN’s total coverage by more than 12% and primary coverage by more than 11%.

Sources at the WB tried to put the best spin on the switch by contending that they had planned not to renew the stations’ affiliation when they expired next year anyway.

“These are doormat stations,” said a source at the WB. “Charleston is a 100-plus market that’s underperforming, and we’re going to WeB (local cable distribution) strategy there. We informed the Roanoke affiliate we would not renew their affiliation. We have a plan afoot to substantially upgrade our coverage and rating there by September 1997.”

The WB source added the Roanoke station has weak coverage and doesn’t receive even a 1 rating. The source even implied that the timing of the announcement was planned to make up for press speculation about UPN president and CEO Lucie Salhany’s future at the network.

Tannehill said those allegations are preposterous, and the Roanoke station is making improvements in its signal. “I would die if I lost an affiliate, and I don’t care if it’s the No. 1 station or the worst,” Tannehill said. “I’m stunned by their comments.”

John Trinder, president of Max Media Properties LLC, which has run WBNU as an LMA and whose purchase of the station is expected to close in January, said he planned to make the station a UPN affiliate all along. That’s because Max Media also runs two other UPN affiliates in Syracuse, N.Y., and Paducah, Ill. The call letters of WBNU will soon change to WMMP.

Mel Eleazer, GM of WDRG, called the WB’s comments sour grapes.”I chose this because ratings for UPN were higher,” he said. “The only show on the WB that sold was ‘Savannah.’ And cartoons.”

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