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July 27. 2013 3:24PM

Comcast's plan to drop TV 13 Nashua draws ire


Carolyn Choate of TV 13 interviews U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen about the future of Nashua's air traffic control center. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)

Scott McCullough, center, host of Nashua's cable access televison show "Special Talk," which covers issues of interest to the city's disabled community, interviews Carolyn Choate and Gordon Jackson about their work at TV 13. COURTESY 

NASHUA - Community leaders, elected officials and television viewers in the Greater Nashua area are rallying behind TV 13 Nashua in the hope of convincing Comcast to reconsider its decision to drop the local station from its cable lineup.

"We're guardedly optimistic," said TV 13 Programming Manager Carolyn Choate, who added that about 500 people have signed online and old-fashioned paper petitions asking Comcast to continue carrying the local station.

And letters of support from Gov. Maggie Hassan, U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen and a slew of other political and business leaders are piling up.

"We are dismayed to learn that Comcast has made plans to drop WYCN TV 13," said state Sen. Peggy Gilmour in a letter to Trevor Arp, Comcast's vice president of programming in the Northeast division. "I ask you, in the strongest way I can, to reconsider that decision. TV 13 is not just a TV station ... it is a community asset. . They make a difference with their hard work and commitment in the communication they offer our region."

Comcast decided to discontinue carrying Channel 13 last May, just days after the Fairfax, Va.-based media company Over the Air Broadcasting, OTA, bought the station from former owner Binnie Media.

According to Carol Lefever, chief operating officer for OTA, Comcast felt that TV 13 was no longer providing local coverage to the Nashua area, and the bandwidth used to carry the station could be used for other services.

Choate acknowledges that local programming had slipped over the past 18 months under Binnie Media, but adds that OTA had just put her and her husband, Gordon Jackson, back in charge of covering news and events for Nashua and the surrounding communities.

And the couple hit the ground running. Over the past month, they have produced hour after hour of local news and community features. OTA was also beginning the process of updating TV 13 to a digital broadcast station, a multimillion-dollar investment for the new owners.

Choate believes that Comcast officials were unaware of the recent changes and the new emphasis on local programming when they decided to cut TV 13.

Residents who have signed the petition urging Comcast to keep TV 13 in its lineup have said the station provides news and information that no other media outlets cover. Seniors have stressed that the station lets them stay on top of community issues, and civic groups and organizations have said it allows them to reach a wide audience with announcements and events.

If Comcast moves forward with its decision to drop the channel, the low-power station would only be available to homes within roughly a mile of its studio on Industrial Park Drive, Nashua.

Lefever, who works with Comcast operators in different parts of the country, said the cable giant is typically sensitive to the needs and interests of its viewers. And that track record of responsiveness to consumers has left her, like Choate, cautiously optimistic that Comcast will reverse the decision to turn off Channel 13 if company officials understand how much local viewers value the station and what it provides.

As Nashua Chamber of Commerce President J. Christopher Williams said in his letter to Comcast, TV 13 is a small station with big benefits for Nashua.

"Without Comcast's continued broadcast of (TV 13's) signal, our community will suffer due to the fact that there really is no alternative source for capturing the vibrancy and energy of our community and sharing it with people in their homes," he said.