Our Opinion: Return of WWLP is a great first step

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The pending return of WWLP, Channel 22 of Springfield, to the local cable TV lineup constitutes a victory in one battle in the war to make the Berkshire cable lineup reflect the reality that the Berkshires are in Massachusetts, not New York. But it is a victory worth celebrating.

Sen. Ed Markey, who has been working to restore lost Massachusetts channels to Berkshire cable, announced last week that he had successfully brokered an agreement between Charter/Spectrum Communications and Nextar Media Group, which owns WWLP, to return the channel. WWLP, which is regarded as the TV news leader in Western Massachusetts, was dropped from the Berkshire lineup nearly three years ago. The station will be restored within two months at no additional charge to subscribers. ("Tune on, tune in: WWLP will return," Eagle, Feb. 29.)

WWLP is an NBC affiliate, and in an apparent compromise to avoid protests from WNYT, Channel 13 out of Albany, which has the rights to the Berkshire market, the latter will continue to have exclusive rights to NBC programming. WWLP will rerun its live newscasts for Berkshire viewers, making the station a 24-hour news channel for Western Mass. and state news. This will be valuable for Berkshire residents, particularly in an election year. If the station was available now, Berkshire viewers could get scores and see highlights of Berkshire County high school sports teams participating in Western Mass. tournaments, as they did up to 2017, instead of having to settle for highlights of Schoharie and Averill Park on news programs out of Albany.

Another battle that Sen. Markey and Rep. Richard Neal, who has also been trying to restore Massachusetts channels to the Berkshires, is the return of WCVB-TV, Channel 5, out of Boston, to the local lineup. WCVB is a statewide news leader and Berkshire readers should have a TV connection to the state capital. (Under a separate contract, Northern Berkshire viewers receive WBZ-TV, Channel 4, out of Boston.)

The great white whale in this scenario is the extraction of Berkshire County from its official designation as part of the Albany television area. This designation goes back to the "Captain Kangaroo"-"Howdy Doody" TV area and is as dated as a rotary telephone — but the Federal Communications Commission won't budge. It is obviously in the best interests of the Albany TV stations to keep the Berkshires in their region but the needs of Berkshire viewers should supersede the wants of the Albany stations before the FCC.

In this cable TV era there should be room for everybody. Anyone who has explored the stations in the 100 or 200 tier of the local Spectrum lineup knows that some channels, like TNT, USA and FX, show up twice. Rather than have redundant channels it makes more sense to devote space to a variety of different local channels.

Berkshire viewers can look forward to the return of WWLP. But there are more battles to be fought and won before it can be said that logic has finally come to the Berkshire cable TV lineup.



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