'Smackdown' fans peeved over WBLU

ssloan@herald-leader.comOctober 10, 2008 

  • Viewing WWE Friday Night SmackDown

    The professional wrestling program is to be aired in Lexington on WBLU-62, an over-the-air station operated by an out-of-state company. However, numerous residents report they can't view it. The station's owner has not returned calls. To watch some of SmackDown's matches, visit www.wwe.com.

A low-power, low-profile television station in Lexington has one of television's most vocal audiences — professional wrestling fans — feeling powerless.

World Wrestling Entertainment's Friday Night SmackDown program moved last Friday from The CW network to the smaller MyNetworkTV.

In Lexington, the MyNetworkTV affiliate, in theory, is WBLU-62. The only problem: people can't view the station. With its low power, WBLU cannot be picked up by many television households around Central Kentucky, and it's not part of a cable system.

One distressed wrestling fan purchased a classified advertisement in the Herald-Leader urging fellow fans to call WBLU's out-of-state owner, Equity Broadcasting Corporation.

Equity Broadcasting officials have not returned multiple messages left by the Herald-Leader this week. Claudia Russo, a spokeswoman for MyNetworkTV, said the network is aware of the technical issues and is looking into it.

In August 2007, Equity Broadcasting executive James Hearnsberger told the Herald-Leader that the Arkansas-based company, which bought WBLU in 2006, planned to upgrade its signal. At that time, the station's only presence in Lexington was a contract engineer. Hearnsberger said Equity intended to hire staff once its signal was increased; however, it appears that has not happened — much to the disappointment of SmackDown fans.

"That's my son's thing on Friday nights," said Herbie West of Lexington. Kyle Verdi, 10, of Lexington said he watched some of the wrestling matches on WWE's Web site, www.wwe.com, but "you get all the details on TV."

WWE spokesman Kevin Hennessy said the company shows only some matches and not the entire show on its Web site. Hennessy said fans have complained of similar experiences in different parts of the country.

MyNetworkTV is the least-watched of the broadcast TV networks. The network's low-profile came about because it was formed mostly by affiliates that lost either the WB or UPN when the two merged to form The CW. The network is owned by Fox.

SmackDown was the CW's highest-rated program, but network officials said they were never successful in getting its viewers to tune into other CW shows, and decided to drop it.

On its first showing on MyNetworkTV, SmackDown attracted 3.2 million viewers, down from 4.4 million viewers on Sept. 26, SmackDown's last appearance on the CW, according to a Nielsen report in USA Today. Still, more than 70 percent of WWE fans found the new program.

Lexington fans aren't ready to give up. "I'm a big wrestling fan. I watch it on Monday night, Tuesday night and I watch the fights on Wednesday, watch wrestling on Thursday night and used to watch it on Friday nights," said John Veatch of Lexington. "I guess it's not going to kill me to not watch it one night, but I would really like to watch it."

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