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In what might be one of the opening salvos in a hard-fought war between the Arkansas press and the most powerful group in the state when it comes to high school sports, the Fort Smith Times-Record announced last Sunday that it wouldn't be covering the state volleyball tournament photographically because of rules recently put in place by the Arkansas Activities Association. Based in North Little Rock, the AAA is the governing body that conducts and oversees most statewide post-season high school sports tournaments, with individual high schools putting in “bids” to host those tournaments in their facilities. Earlier this month, the AAA changed its rules to assert copyright ownership on all video and photographs taken at AAA-sponsored post-season high school sporting events in the state.

Scott Faldon, sports editor for the Times-Record, calls his paper's decision not to send photographers to the state volleyball tourney less of a protest than a practical matter. He said that with the question of who would legally own photographs taken at the tournament still up in the air at game time, the Times-Record chose not to send a photographer to the event rather than have the ownership of any resulting photos questioned.

“It was something we had been talking about and we weren't sure what we were going to do,” he said. “But once it was revised and they inserted the language of owning the copyright to all still images… we just decided that we should back off. We didn't want to send a photographer and have that be a de facto acceptance of the policy.”

Volleyball is volleyball, you might be thinking, but high school football is another matter. Not so in this case. Faldon reports that the paper will be sticking to its guns when it comes to this year's state football playoffs as well. He said the Times-Record has no plans to send staff photographers to any of the nine high school football playoff games in the state involving Arkansas teams (he said the paper will shoot some playoff games being held over the border in Oklahoma, where AAA rules don't apply).

Faldon foresees a slippery slope for the Arkansas press if the AAA rules on photographs are allowed to pass unchallenged. Last week, he points out, the Illinois Press Association sued the AAA's Illinois counterpart over a similar situation. It would be the same thing, he said, if the city of Fort Smith suddenly started demanding money for the rights to pictures of wildlife photographed in the city park.

“You've got public schools, with coaches who are paid with taxpayer money, playing on a field paid for with taxpayer money,” Faldon said. “And then you've got this private organization that comes in and says: ‘No, you can't do certain things here.' That kind of grates on me a little bit.”

John Signaigo, COO of Searcy-based Crain Media, LLC, said he doesn't foresee any format changes at the three Little Rock radio stations Crain Media purchased from Archway Broadcasting in October. Crain Media owner Larry Crain, who owns a number of successful Little Rock car dealerships as well as radio stations in Conway and Searcy, purchased the three Little Rock stations — rap and R&B station KHTE 96.5, Christian station KKSP 93.3 and Oldies station KOLL 106.3 — for a rumored $4 million. The full price, Signaigo said, won't be officially reported until the stations' local marketing agreement has been approved by the FCC, which he said should take place in “90 to 120 days.”

Signaigo said that while Crain Media may “tweak” the stations, it will largely stay the course in terms of play list. “They are going to remain what they are,” he said. “Of course we're in the business to improve where we can or where we think we want to respond to the listener in a better way. As far as the formats, they're rock solid, we love them as they are, and we intend to keep them.”

Signaigo called Crain Media's forays into the Conway and Searcy radio markets “very successful,” and said that the success there led the company to jump into the Little Rock market. He said that the Little Rock media market is currently undergoing changes that offer opportunity for investors and that it only made sense that Crain would get involved. As for further radio purchases by Crain, Signaigo is keeping his cards close to his vest.

“There's a lot of rumors out there, but we know there are a couple of clusters here that have to divest themselves of some radio stations in order to comply with FCC ownership rules,” he said. “When those things become available, there will be a lot of people that are going to step up. Whether or not Mr. Crain is going to step up, I don't know.”

n Details are a bit sketchy at this point, but Paul R. Smith, vice president of WEHCO Media, confirmed that the company will soon begin publication of a new glossy monthly magazine in Hot Springs called “Hot Springs on the Go.” Nat Lea, general manager of the Hot Springs Sentinel Record, will serve as publisher. WEHCO, owned by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman, runs a string of newspapers in three states, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the El Dorado News-Times and the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record. Lea didn't return several messages left for him at the Sentinel-Record offices.

Win, lose or draw.

david@arktimes.com

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