BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
A Santa Rosa PBS station is the winning bidder for the San Mateo County Community College District’s KCSM-TV, offering $12 million for the non- commercial station, officials said last night (Sept. 6).
The $12 million is a far cry from the $114 million the college district could have received had its employees not botched the sale of the station’s spectrum in an FCC auction last November.
Ironically, the Santa Rosa station, KRCB, obtained $72 million in that auction for selling some of its spectrum college district will get space and will use the proceeds from the sale to buy KCSM-TV.
For viewers, it likely means that KCSM Channel 60 will remain on the air, albeit with new management and different call letters, and once again have a PBS affiliation. KCSM dropped PBS a few years ago because the station, which has been losing $800,000 a year, couldn’t afford the affiliation fees.
As part of the sale, KRCB will get KCSM’s transmitter located on Sutro Tower in San Francisco. That will enable KRCB to go head-to-head against KQED, giving Bay Area viewers more choices when it comes to PBS programming.
The college district board voted 3-0 to direct Chancellor Ron Galatolo negotiate a sale contract with the Santa Rosa nonprofit that operates KRCB. Once the board approves the contract, it will go to the FCC for final approval.
The college district has been looking to sell the station since 2011 when it first put the station up for bids. At the time, the board decided to keep the station on the air so that it could participate in the FCC spectrum auction. To fund the station, the district entered into an agreement with LocusPoint Networks, a subsidiary of the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group. LocusPoint would pay to keep Channel 60 on the air and in return would get 35.6% of the proceeds of the sale.
A $114 million mistake
But during the FCC auction, when stations across the nation sold unused spectrum space, college vice president Jan Roecks failed to enter a bid on the FCC website at the appropriate time. As a result, KCSM was dropped from the auction and lost out on an opportunity to make $114 million, according to a lawsuit LocusPoint filed.
Roecks told her boss, Galatolo, about the blunder, but for months Galatolo apparently kept the news from the college district’s elected board and LocusPoint, which was expecting 35.6% of the proceeds to the sale.
LocusPoint has sued the district over the botched sale and the district has countersued LocusPoint.
Board President Tom Mohr said last night the district put out a request for bids for KCSM-TV, and that KRCB’s proposal was “by far the most advantageous offer to the district.”
College district Chief of Staff Mitch Bailey turned down a request from the Post to release the other bids for the station, saying they would be kept confidential until the sale closes. That move will make it impossible to know if KRCB indeed made the best offer.
Board breaks silence
Last night’s meeting took about five minutes. It was the first time the board publicly discussed its TV station since the Post broke the news in April about the botched FCC sale. However, the board has had numerous closed meetings, including one yesterday, to discuss the lawsuits over the sale.
There was no mention at yesterday’s meeting as to how the sale would affect the lawsuits, or whether LocusPoint would try to claim the $12 million.
KRCB operates on about a $3 million budget, and most of the $72 million the station got will be used to create an endowment that will allow for the station to go forward.
Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of San Francisco-based Media Alliance, a media and social justice advocacy group, called the purchase “clever” on KRCB’s part, and said “it could be worse” in regards to KCSM.
In negotiations for the sale, KCSM will ask KRCB to consider providing three student internships over the next three years. The college district would also like to produce 30 minutes of programming on Channel 60 once a month for five years.
KCSM-FM, the other station owned by the college district, will not be affected by the sale of its television sibling.