May 8, 2012

Independent Public Media makes offer on WMFE-TV in Orlando

Independent Public Media has made a bid for WMFE-TV in Orlando, the former PBS member station that has been on the market for more than a year.

Ken Devine, IPM’s chief operating officer and former v.p. of media operations of WNET in New York, confirmed to Current that an offer has been made but declined to provide the figure or other details. WMFE-TV President Jose Fajardo could not be reached for comment.

In March, WMFE withdrew from an initial $3 million sale agreement with Daystar Television after the FCC questioned whether the religious broadcaster met noncommercial criteria for localism and educational programming.

Devine said that as soon as IPM heard of the deal’s collapse, “from that point on, we have been trying to acquire the station.” He said IPM has “developed very strong ties” within the Orlando community for a local governing board. “There’s a lot of interest in keeping the station as a community licensee,” Devine said.

IPM is headed by John Schwartz, a pubmedia activist and co-founder of WYBE in Philadelphia, KBDI in Denver and WYEP-FM in Pittsburgh. The group hopes to buy struggling pubTV stations to preserve their spectrum for noncom use. Funding comes through EBS Companies, five nonprofits Schwartz founded in 1983 that hold licenses for 11 educational microwave systems using Educational Broadband Service channels (formerly called Instructional Television Fixed Service or ITFS). An August 2006 wireless broadband lease deal for $40 million between EBS and telecom company Clearwire is providing IPM with funding for station acquisitions.

IPM is also one of two finalists, along with Boulder, Colo.-based Public Media Company (affiliated with Public Radio Capital), for the purchase of KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif.

UPDATE: Fajardo responded to Current in an email on Wednesday (May 9): "As always, we appreciate the public's interest and support for WMFE. However, it is not our practice to discuss current or potential negotiations that occur as a normal part of our business operations."

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