By Marty Russell
Cable subscribers in many areas of Northeast Mississippi who watch the ABC television network have had to pay close attention for the last six months.
Otherwise they might bundle up unnecessarily for the 14-below weather with 3 feet of snow outside or head out to get a deal on a new car at John Elway’s Chevrolet and Jeep.
That’s because, since October, the only ABC affiliate available to them has been from a Colorado affiliate in Denver, where Elway, a Denver Broncos quarterback, hawks cars and the local weather is decidedly different than Northeast Mississippi’s.
Viewers have also had to contend with the time difference, waiting an hour later than many of their neighbors to catch “Lois and Clark” and other ABC favorites.
Fulton Cable and TCI of North Mississippi have had to beam in ABC programming from the Rocky Mountain state for their customers throughout Northeast Mississippi since the local ABC affiliate, WLOV in Tupelo, switched to Fox network programming in October.
By the end of the month, however, some customers could start receiving an ABC affiliate closer to home, WPTY in Memphis.
“They got it on today,” Dwight Magee said Friday of the Memphis ABC service. Magee is manager of the Fulton Cable Co., which serves about 3,400 cable TV subscribers in the Fulton area.
“But we have to give Denver 30 days notice so it will probably be the last part of April before the customers get it,” Magee said of the switch to the Memphis affiliate.
The problem for Magee’s customers and TCI’s customers in the Booneville, Saltillo, Nettleton, Amory and Aberdeen areas has been caused by a combination of location and timing.
“We planned to add Memphis when (W)LOV switched to Fox in October, but then the Memphis ABC affiliate was acquired by Fox,” said David Lusby, TCI’s Northeast Mississippi manager. “Then in January the (Memphis) Fox affiliate switched to ABC so it’s been fruit basket turnover.”
So their customers would not have to do without ABC programming, both companies signed contracts with the Denver affiliate because that was the only one available on the satellites they were using.
Even when a new ABC affiliate went on the air in Memphis, Lusby’s and Magee’s locations in rural Northeast Mississippi made it impossible to pull in the Memphis broadcast signal.
“We just couldn’t pick it up off the antenna,” Magee said.
So both cable companies contacted Microwave Services Inc., a signal relay service in Tupelo owned by Frank Spain who also owns WTVA, the local NBC affiliate.
The microwave service could pick up the Memphis signal and relay it to the cable companies, but it had to have federal permission to do so and the request was made at a bad time.
“With the government shutdown, the licensing got backed up,” Lusby said of the lengthy federal shutdown in January. “The application has been approved and now we’re just trying to get the contracts worked out.”
While Fulton customers could have Memphis ABC service by the end of next month, Lusby was unwilling to commit to any target date for the switch for TCI customers.
“We hope it will be real soon,” he said.