Church groups fail in attempts to buy Calif., Florida PBS stations

Religious broadcasters’ plans to buy PBS stations in California and Florida have been blocked, one at an auction and the other by the seller cancelling the transaction.

KCSM-TV, a PBS station serving the San Francisco Bay Area, is in financial difficulty and was put up for auction in February, and last week the top two bidders were announced. Neither is a church group.

Instead, the two finalists to buy KCSM-TV are local subsidiaries of two Colorado groups that invest in public stations, Independent Public Media and Public Radio Capital, according to an article in the student newspaper of the College of San Mateo, which owns the station. (A similar report was published by a journalists’ organization.)

Two bidders were eliminated – another local area broadcaster, KAXT, and Locus Point Networks because they were judged to be commercial enterprises.

“We questioned whether they were nonprofit organizations,” Marilyn Lawrence, KCSM General Manager, told the San Mateo newspaper. Commercial companies cannot own noncommercial stations.

Daystar, a Texas-based religious broadcaster, was also interested in bidding on the station, according to an article in Current, and it would have converted the station from PBS broadcasts to church programming. But Daystar is not among the finalists.

Daystar last year agreed to buy another PBS station, WMFE-TV in Orlando, Florida. In anticipation of the sale, WMFE canceled PBS programming, and PBS announced its programs would now be seen on another station, WUCF-TV.

But Daystar ultimately lost the station when WMFE-TV canceled the sale. The cancellation followed protests from local viewers that delayed FCC approval, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel.

But WMFE-TV’s president and CEO, Jose Fajardo, gave another reason for cancelling the sale – the station is now worth more than the $3 million offered by Daystar.

“Due to the long approval process, we have had some time to recognize the market has improved,” said Fajardo, according to the Sentinel.

One reason WFME-TV and other public TV stations are now worth more is last week’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals permitting public TV and radio to carry paid political commercials. In this year’s presidential campaign, Florida and other battleground states will harvest most of the more than $3 billion in national political advertising on TV.

The station that filed the lawsuit that resulted in last week’s court ruling was KMTP-TV in San Francisco, (disclosure: I helped launch KMTP-TV two decades ago) and KMTP-TV was also one of the bidders in the KCSM auction. Lawrence told the San Mateo newspaper that KMTP-TV was rejected because it did not offer as much cash up front as either of the Colorado groups.