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Radio station ownership in legal dispute

December 10, 2011
By DAVE GOSSETT , For The Weirton Daily Times

STEUBENVILLE - Terry Keller never planned to own a radio station antennae.

And she never thought she would be involved in a long-running legal dispute with Key Market of Ohio, the corporation that owns WSTV-AM radio.

But Keller remains the owner of a 13.37-acre lot south of the city corporation limits where the local radio antennae is located.

And the radio station that has broadcast from downtown Steubenville since 1940 has been off the air since Sunday.

Local radio station management declined comment and referred inquiries to the corporate offices in Pittsburgh.

Several messages left on the Keymarket chief executive officer's telephone voicemail were not returned.

"This is one of the most interesting cases I have ever been involved with because it is a case of a radio station losing its property for not paying its property taxes," explained Larry Piergallini of Piergallini Law Offices in Tiltonsville.

The attorney representing Keller said the radio station owner had two tracts of property in Steubenville.

"One was the radio station and the other tract was a field. But there were separate tax bills. When a property owner changes their mailing address, they are required to notify the county treasurer's office. And that didn't happen," Piergallini said.

According to court documents, Keymarket bought the radio station in March 2000 and recorded the deed in June 2000.

A ruling by the 7th District Court of Appeals in 2008 noted Keymarket made only one tax payment in 2001, and the property was certified delinquent in 2003.

The Jefferson County treasurer filed a complaint seeking foreclosure on Sept. 22, 2005. After receiving no response from Keymarket, the treasurer filed a motion for default judgment on Jan. 25, 2006. The trial court granted the motion and ordered the sale of the property. The sale was held on Feb. 24, 2006, and Terry Keller purchased the property," stated the appeals court ruling.

"Terry had worked part time in the courthouse doing microfilm work. She had become interested in buying rural property for a future home and had decided to bid on three different properties. She didn't get the first two, but was successful in buying the third property for less than $2,000. She drove out to look at the property near the WTOV-TV station and saw a large antennae that she learned was on her property," Piergallini related.

"I called Keymarket and told them we have a problem and need to work this out. Terry doesn't want to own a tower but does want to keep her property. We had a meeting with three attorneys representing the radio station ownership. We went back and forth and the attorneys ended up suing Terry and the county. They lost in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. They lost their appeal in the 7th District Court, and the Ohio Supreme Court has declined to hear the case," said Piergallini.

"Their current attorney has since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit which is now in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. That case is still pending. But in my opinion, Terry owns the property," continued Piergallini.

"We have never told the radio station to leave. We have never denied them access to the antennae tower. We have never filed an eviction notice. I believe they had other reasons for shutting down their station. We have offered to sell the radio station 1 acre of land surrounding the antennae for $25,000, which is a fair market price for that land. They offered Terry $1,300 for the entire 10-acre property," Piergallini said.

"We could have been collecting rent since 2006. But we have never asked for money and never sought eviction. We have offered them a long-term lease at a minimal cost for the parcel of land where the antennae is located," Piergallini stated.

"We did not do anything to cause the radio station to shut down. At this point Terry owns the land. The ball has been and remains in their court," said Piergallini.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, a station is allowed to go off the air for up to 10 days without notifying the commission. After the 10 days, the commission must be notified. If the station remains off the air, a special temporary authorization is needed from the FCC.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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