The year 1990 brought hard times to WCCL-TV. The independent New Orleans TV station profiled in Inc. last year ("Broadcast News," January 1990 [Article link]) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection shortly before our issue hit the stands. The station stayed on the air another five months, but last May it closed down and most of its staff of 38 was eventually let go.
The problems, maintains founder, majority owner, and CEO Barbara Lamont, have not had to do with financing, advertising, programming, or viewership; she has numbers that show each of those areas doing fairly well when the station ceased broadcasting. WCCL's headaches and shutdown -- a temporary one, she avows -- resulted from what she's calling "a hostile takeover attempt."
The story is complicated, involving leases that Lamont took out on space on a transmitting tower and equipment. She had had a good relationship with the leasing company, but a few months into the contract, the company had a change in management. According to Lamont, equipment wasn't delivered. Although she says she prepaid seven months' worth of the rental fee, the leasing company made her put 51% of WCCL's stock in escrow as a condition of delivery.
Says Lamont, "I was bleeding to death, with millions in the station and no shot at getting on the air." Eventually the lessor came through with the equipment but tried to evict the station from the tower; Lamont then filed for Chapter 11 protection.
The result: WCCL stayed on the air but only for a while, because the lessor eventually came and took the equipment away. WCCL probably has the dubious distinction, says Lamont wryly, of being the first on-air station physically dismantled.
With claims now filed by both parties against each other, Lamont is pursuing the station's resurrection. She says that in addition to her pumping another $750,000 of her own into the station (she already had spent $1 million), a new investor will come in with about $1.5 million for working capital. New equipment has been ordered. But the station faces a restart-up with a big strike against it: bad will in the local advertising community. "Our reputation is shot to hell," she concedes.
Still, she's convinced there's room for another TV station in New Orleans. "The month we went down, we had our best sales," says Lamont. "The station was six months from being in the black." Another business she and her husband run is doing well and keeping her afloat, but the station takes most of her energy. "You can't imagine the stress," she says. "Everything else goes on hold. It's utterly exhausting." -- Leslie Brokaw
Crescent City Communications Co., operator of an independent TV station, WCCL-TV ("Broadcast News," January 1990, [Article link])
Sales: Will the station get onto the local cable systems -- making it available to customers:
Revenues: Can WCCL-TV generate enough viewers of its bargain-basement programming to attract advertisers?
RESULTS TO DATE
Fiscal year 1990 Projected Actual
Ad sales $1.7 million $1.2 million
Net Income (loss) ($1.9 million) ($2.2 million)
Months on the air 12 11