Binnie sets sights on TV network

Last modified: Thursday, February 03, 2011
Former GOP Senate candidate Bill Binnie appears to be quietly building a Concord-based television network with the ability to broadcast to most of southern and central New Hampshire and as far north as Lake Winnipesaukee and the Upper Valley.

Details about the new station remain scarce. Binnie's office declined to discuss his plans yesterday, describing it as a 'private business dealing.' A few hours after the Monitor's inquiry, Binnie's company issued a brief news release saying 'an investment' was being considered.

But Binnie, 53, of Rye, is listed in documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission as president of New Hampshire 1 Network Inc., which was created in November.

That company is spending more than a half million dollars to buy low-power TV stations and transmitters in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The FCC on Jan. 3 okayed transferring the station licenses to the new company, but the Monitor wasn't able to determine if the sales have closed.

Those transmitters can broadcast TV signals to viewers in Concord, Franklin, Keene, Laconia, Lebanon, Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth, as well as much of southern Vermont, a slice of southern Maine and part of northern Massachusetts, according to FCC coverage maps.

And New Hampshire 1 Network has posted job openings for a 'new television network' in Concord. The postings describe the network as operating a 'multi-channel broadcast facility' and including news coverage.

Assembling pieces

Binnie, a wealthy businessman who made a fortune in plastics and now runs Carlisle Capital Corp. in Portsmouth, unsuccessfully ran in September's Republican primary for U.S. Senate, losing to now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

It's not clear what Binnie's plans are for New Hampshire 1 Network. Paperwork incorporating the company was filed Nov. 8, and Binnie controls all of the private corporation's 100 shares.

Christopher McKenna is a Carlisle executive who is listed as New Hampshire 1 Network's vice president, secretary and treasurer. He declined to comment yesterday on the network, saying plans were 'in a process.'

'At this time, I'm not prepared to comment on that,' McKenna said. 'It's a private business dealing right now.'

A few hours after McKenna spoke to the Monitor, Carlisle Capital put out a two-sentence news release saying the company was 'considering an investment in Center Broadcasting Corporation and Vision 3 Broadcasting,' the companies that own the stations Binnie is purchasing.

'New Hampshire is a great place to do business and I am looking forward to working with these organizations to expand their operations and the quality of their programming,' Binnie said in the statement.

Binnie declined to comment further when reached by phone yesterday afternoon.

'I think the press release covers it at this time,' Binnie said.

But Binnie's plans may be more sweeping than a simple investment.

Two job postings for New Hampshire 1 Network appeared last month on various job sites, describing a new Concord-based TV network. One posting was for a president and CEO, whose duties would include managing a 'news team.' The other was for a sales manager.

Public records, including applications filed with the FCC, show Binnie has moved in recent months to acquire low-power stations and transmitters across New Hampshire and Vermont.

He agreed in November to pay $500,000 to buy WVBK-CA, a low-power TV station broadcasting as Channel 2 in Manchester, Vt., along with WVBQ-LP, a low-power translator in Charlestown that relays and boosts that station's signal to Brattleboro, Vt., as well as Hanover, Lebanon, Keene, Bristol and Hillsboro.

He agreed to pay $10,000, and to assume up to $50,000 in debt, to buy WYCN-LP, a low-power station that broadcasts Channel 13 in Nashua from studios at Rivier College.

Binnie also agreed to buy the station's other assets for $90,000.

With that station also came three low-power translators: W28CM in Manchester, W33AK in Nashua and W39AR in Concord.

According to the FCC, the signals relayed and boosted by those transmitters can reach Concord, Laconia, Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth, as well as Lowell, Mass., and a slice of southern Maine.

A message was left yesterday for Daniel Carbonara, president of Vision 3 Broadcasting, which owns WVBK-CA and WVBQ-LP.

Center Broadcasting, which owns WYCN-LP and the other transmitters, released a brief statement yesterday confirming it was 'considering a business relationship' with Binnie's Carlisle Capital.

'We believe this relationship has the potential to offer a wide variety of options to our organization that we are excited about,' said Gordon Jackson, president of Center Broadcasting, in the release.

Carlisle Capital's McKenna signed purchase agreements with both companies in November to acquire the broadcasters' FCC licenses and other property. Carlisle then assigned its rights to the newly created New Hampshire 1 Network. (Copies of the contracts were included in the FCC file.)

The FCC on Jan. 3 granted permission to reassign the licenses for the two stations and four translators to New Hampshire 1 Network. It's not clear if those purchases have since closed.

'Specialized purpose'

New Hampshire has just one network-affiliated commercial TV station, ABC's WMUR in Manchester. New Hampshire Public Television, a PBS station, is based in Durham, and several communities, including Concord, have public-access cable stations.

A network of low-power broadcast stations and transmitters doesn't sound like an arrangement that would be used by a major network affiliate, said Dick Osborne, a longtime Concord broadcaster and former owner of WKXL radio.

It sounds more, he speculated, like a network broadcasting 'for some specialized purpose,' such as religious programming.

And whether the network would be carried by cable providers is a key question, Osborne said. (According to the purchase agreements with Center Broadcasting and Vision 3, the stations would continue to have the same cable carriage as under the current ownership.)

If Binnie is, in fact, trying to launch a new television station, it wouldn't be Concord's first.

From 1984 to 1989, WNHT-TV broadcast from Concord as Channel 21, for the final year as a CBS affiliate, according to the Concord Historical Society and its upcoming history of the city in the 20th century, Crosscurrents of Change, a section of which was provided by Osborne.

Bill Boynton, now the spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, worked for WNHT and later for WGOT-TV Channel 60, a station in Manchester in the early 1990s.

'The landscape in New Hampshire is somewhat littered with futile attempts at television news,' Boynton said, with much of the state firmly in the Boston media market. 'You're sort of judged by the same standards as people see with the Boston stations, so that makes it hard to carve a niche.'

And thanks in part to coverage of the state's first in the nation presidential primary, Boynton said, WMUR 'has really grown to become a major powerhouse.'

Messages seeking comment were left yesterday with officials at WMUR and NHPTV.

Jordan Walton, executive director of the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters, couldn't be reached yesterday.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.)