Mar 27, 2007

Liberty buys WDRL TV station

by Erin Fitch, News Reporter
Students may be able to soon flip to Channel 24 and watch a live broadcast of Liberty’s events on its very own full-powered television station.

Liberty University has offered to purchase WDRL-TV, a former UPN affiliate based in Roanoke, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. The station will help promote Liberty in the region.

Its programming will include Liberty convocation services, theater productions and sporting events, as well as Sunday services from Thomas Road Baptist Church. Additional religious programs may also be broadcast, including those by Dr. Adrian Rogers and Dr. Charles Stanley.

The pending offer of $6 million must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court before it can be finalized.

However, WDRL owner and general manager Melvin Eleazer said he is happy about the offer, according to his statements in the Roanoke Times. Vice-Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. said his father and Eleazer became friends after their first meeting regarding the deal last summer.
“Mel has agreed to work with us for a few years after Liberty has purchased the station,” he said in an interview.

Liberty officials say they plan to work with the staff of WDRL but will broadcast only original programming from the university.

WDRL currently broadcasts reruns of television shows such as “Bonanza,” “Mad About You” and “The Nanny,” as well as Baltimore Orioles and Charlotte Bobcats sporting events.

Though the agreement to purchase the station was announced just this past March 5, the maneuver has been one of Dr. Jerry Falwell’s long-term goals for the university’s advancement.

“Dad has always thought that Liberty should have a television station in the Lynchburg/ Roanoke market,” said Falwell, Jr.

In the 1980s, Dr. Falwell put in a bid at auction for Roanoke’s channels 21 and 27, which eventually were purchased by Fox. However, the failed bid successfully led to the creation of low-powered WTLU now operated by Liberty.

Falwell, Jr. said the recent bid for WDRL (whose call letters stand for “Danville, Roanoke, Lynchburg”) came after a search performed on behalf of the university by a Florida media broker.
The broker called several television stations to investigate whether or not they were for sale, and with a call to WDRL, Eleazer mentioned he was interested in selling.

“We knew nothing of the bankruptcy when we had the broker call,” said Falwell, Jr.

While WTLU’s Liberty Channel is broadcast nationwide through the satellite Sky Angel network, Liberty will be able to reach over 445,000 homes in the western region of Virginia with a full-powered signal, according to news sources.

Falwell, Jr. also said the station will help advance Liberty as a recruiting tool.

“As a full-powered station, all cable systems in the Roanoke, Lynchburg and Danville markets must carry WDRL’s signal. The station will also make Liberty athletic events, dramas and chapel services available to all households within a 100-mile radius,” he said.

“We wanted to give the university a higher profile in central Virginia and beyond,” said Dr. Falwell in an Associated Press news report.

While WDRL may take the lead in Liberty’s event programming, communications students can look forward to what Falwell, Jr. described as “an excellent learning opportunity” in working more closely with WTLU.

“After the purchase of WDRL, Liberty may convert WTLU to a student-run station,” he said.

Senior Amy Brucker agreed the opportunity would be valuable for students. “It would be a great way for students to have a hands-on learning experience where they can help run a station and learn in a classroom environment,” she said.

Students such as Brucker already enjoy listening to Liberty’s student-run radio station, WWMC “The Light.” A more student-oriented WTLU would provide an additional media format that young people could enjoy.

Contact Erin Fitch at eefitch@liberty.edu.


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