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New WLNE Owner: Improving News, Adding HD Key to Turnaround

New WLNE Providence owner Phil Lombardo and his crew will trek up to Rhode Island next week to give his latest acquisition a careful examination, then will formulate a gameplan for turning the ailing ABC affiliate around. "We're going to crawl all over the place," he says. "We'll tell them our philosophy and compare it to what their philosophy is, and hopefully get a gameplan together that works for everybody."

Lombardo's Citadel Communications starts a local marketing agreement with WLNE May 1 as it awaits FCC approval on the acquisition. Speaking from Florida, the Citadel chief shared some aspects of that gameplan, which includes equipping the station for a local HD launch this summer. "Nobody is HD in the market," he says. "All my stations are HD."

Formerly owned by Global Broadcasting, WLNE entered receivership, a local version of bankruptcy, last summer. Citadel had the winning bid for the station, of $4 million plus another $1.8 million in receivables and other assets. Outgoing owner Kevin O'Brien filed an objection to the deal, saying WLNE was worth more, but his objection was overruled. Lombardo says he feels for O'Brien, who he considers a friend and a top-notch broadcaster. "I can understand that Kevin is pretty hurt by all this," says Lombardo, who adds that the bidding process was "abundantly fair."

Lombardo says he's working on another acquisition, but won't offer hints about the deal. Citadel's stations include multiple ABC affiliates, including WOI Des Moines and KLNK Lincoln. He's also in the process of launching a low power station in Sarasota, Florida.
WLNE was in the news for all the wrong reasons last week when it aired an infomercial touting the Genie Bra at 7 p.m., a slot that often airs local news. Lombardo says the attention was "unfortunate", though he understands the financial situation the station was in. "We would never do that," he adds.

Lombardo is shopping for syndicated fare to boost WLNE's access slots, though he concedes it's slim pickings. He'll meet with general manager Steve Doerr and evaluate Doerr's leadership, and will set about making improvements in the station's news product. "We'll try to make the news better and more viewer-friendly," he says, "so we can become better citizens in the community."

Providence's economic ills have been relentless in recent years, and WLNE is up against major competition in Media General's monster WJAR and strong entries from LIN in surging WPRI and WNAC. But Lombardo, who is chairman of the Broadcasters Foundation, says he's up for the challenge DMA No. 53 presents. "Providence is a terrific market that's gone through tough times, and the station has gone through tough times too," he says. "It's the kind of situation that gets the juices flowing. If you do it right, there's a lot of upside potential."