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WHKP pulls out of Channel 11 agreement

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Monday accepted WHKP’s withdrawal from its partnership to provide background audio for the county-operated cable channel, ending a 16-year agreement.

The commissioners agreed to the request from WHKP owner Art Cooley to withdraw from the agreement that started in 1999 and was last renewed in 2008.

The action came after pressure from community activist Eva Ritchey, who had urged the elected commissioners to end the agreement she called “a sweetheart deal” unfair to local other stations.
In a July 20 letter to the Board of Commissioners, WHKP President and General Manager Cooley mentioned nothing about Ritchey's objections. Cooley and county officials have said that aside from music, local news, weather reports and Friday night football, WHKP provided valuable emergency information through the cable channel. Before a 2006 renewal of the audio streaming agreement, the county invited other media to apply and got no applicants besides WHKP, said County Attorney Russ Burrell.
“With the sign-on of WHKP 107.7 FM it is apparent that our signal will cover all of the Henderson County cable population during both day and nighttime hours to the point that our service to cable customers will no longer be needed,” Cooley said in the letter. Furthermore, “Morris Broadband now as the electronic capability to warn county residents of imminent danger through the federal Emergency Broadcast System.

"WHKP recommends that no radio station — local or area, commercial or noncommercial — be featured on Channel 11," he added, "but rather a noncommercial background music service be engaged for times when there is no television programs being broadcast by the county.”

Cooley said for the reasons he spelled out in his letter and because the county can provide its own content, "it seemed like a good time to say goodbye" to the partnership. "It is a government channel and they're covering it now with stuff of their own. They have a lot of programming. If you watch the cable channel we're really not on it much."
Ritchey said Monday that Tommy Thompson, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, had assured her weeks ago that the board would act on her complaint about the exclusive agreement.
“To my credit I went up there (to a meeting of the Board of Commissioners) and he came right over and said they were going to look at it and had gotten my email,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s fine, Tommy, I don’t need a television moment. I just need to know y’all are going to move forward on it.”

Commissioners directed staff to look at the options for replacing the WHKP audio stream.

In April, Larry Rostetter, a Flat Rock retiree, appeared before the commissioners and volunteered to help schools and nonprofits make videos for the public-access channel. Rostetter said Monday that Veritas School students have finished a 30-minute video on the baby goats at the Carl Sandburg home.
“It’s the first one out of the chute and they are amateurs,” he said. “What we had to sort out is you have to have clearances. The students are minors so they had to sign off and their parents had to sign off and the park ranger had to sign off and the county has those forms now. The next target is probably going to be the parks district. I talked to (parks director) Tim Hopkin and he’s excited about a bunch of five-minute segments he’d like to do.”
While she did not object to WHKP’s content, Ritchey argued that the exclusive arrangement was unfair to competitors such as WTZQ, which is also locally operated and airs local content.
“I could say I appreciate the service that WHKP has given in the past and I’m hopeful for a fair and just policy that doesn’t give any one radio station a monopoly,” she said.
The resolution slated for adoption says that the Board of Commissioners “recognizes and appreciates WHKP for their performance and dedicated years of service in providing HCTV-11 with audio background.”

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Disclosure: The Hendersonville Lightning has a partnership with WTZQ-AM 1600. The newspaper’s editor appears weekly on the radio station’s “Lightning Thursday” program. The station broadcasts the Lightning’s editorials three times a week.