There are no municipalities of any size in Baltimore County, Maryland; it’s not obvious where one census-designated place ends and the next one begins. (Baltimore city is not located in Baltimore County.) One day I was wandering around Cockeysville, mostly to acquire familiarity with the place in a foolish attempt to impress New Jersey residents who weren’t aware of its existence, and then suddenly I wasn’t: I’d stepped over some hazy line and into Hunt Valley, which doesn’t even enjoy the luxury of being a census-designated place. Which may explain the vast number of corporate campuses in the Valley, one of the vastest being that of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest single television group operator, and a target of this week’s left-wing talking points for having had the temerity to have all its news operations reading off the same editorial. Anyone who had been paying attention knew that Sinclair tended to lean toward the right; there was, for instance, an episode of ABC’s Nightline in 2004 in which Ted Koppel read off the names of Americans killed in the Iraq war, and none of Sinclair’s seven ABC affiliates at the time carried the episode, by order of Hunt Valley.
Will Truman has some insights on how the Sinclair broadcast model could actually work in these days of consolidation:
There is a reason that there is a vacuum here for Sinclair to enter. Consolidation is occurring in good part due to an iffy financial picture. Local news organizations are expensive, and if people aren’t watching, there are a lot of cheaper things they can run in their stead. There is also a strong possibility that they will do it wrong. If they go full Fox Jr, people who aren’t in the choir will just change the channel. And the temptation to go that route will be strong. And lastly, there is a lot of competition, so for conservatives in general to succeed there, they would want Cox and others to join Sinclair the way that a lot of AM stations joined the bandwagon once that model was discovered. If they don’t, then despite the concerns Sinclair’s influence will be limited.
From what I gather, though, Sinclair stations are considered dangerous by some precisely because going full Fox Jr is not what they are doing. If they pepper their point-of-view in between reports on the cat show at the convention center and the carjackings on the southeast side of town, people will come for those stories, and also get a good dose of sermon about the Deep State. That’s how you do it, both commercially and politically. Further, although the market may be tough going forward, if they are committed to this, Sinclair will keep going while others fold. It’s not clear that several competing news organizations can thrive, but there is a strong likelihood at least one or two might with limited competition.
If nothing else, Sinclair management is known for its innovative methods of adhering to the letter of FCC rules. The company bought into the Oklahoma City market in 1996 by acquiring KOCB, then a UPN affiliate, and then signed a local marketing agreement with the then-owner of Fox affiliate KOKH-TV. (Not long after, Sinclair signed a deal with The WB to switch its UPN stations to the Frog.) Local marketing agreements had existed in radio before that, and still do — Champlin Broadcasting is the licensee of KQOB-FM, aka “Fun 96.9,” though the station is run by the local Cumulus group — but they were largely unheard of in television, which the FCC allegedly ran more strictly. (Champlin also owns KNAH-FM, which they operate themselves.) By 1999, the FCC had decided to allow TV duopolies, and Sinclair bought KOKH-TV outright.
The proposed acquisition of Tribune Media stations by Sinclair has caused some alarm, about which Truman says:
In response to this story, a lot of Sinclair’s critics keep pointing ominously to the fact that Sinclair stations reach 40% of homes, and if the FCC goes forward with some deregulation, that number could jump to 70%. Whether the deregulation is a good idea or not, that’s less scary than one might think. How many homes does CBS News have access to? Far more than 70%. Sinclair could have access to 100% and it still wouldn’t bother me. That’s the wrong thing to be thinking about. The right thing to be concerned about is how much of the various markets they control where they exist. It’s better that they be one of eight options in six cities than six of eight options in one city.
Speculation in OKC is that Sinclair will give up KOKH-TV and KOCB in favor of keeping Tribune’s KFOR-TV, a major NBC affiliate, and its independent sister KAUT-TV. We shall see.