Public TV, for sale

Pub date January 24, 2012

OPINION The San Mateo Community College District Board of Trustees has announced the upcoming sale of its independent public television station, KCSM-TV. Some potential new owners are cause for alarm.

A January 10th walk-though for potential bidders was attended by the Christian broadcasting giant Daystar Television. The fastest-growing faith-based network in the country, Daystar’s mission is to reach souls with the good news of Jesus Christ as one of a “new breed of televangelists.”

While the prospect of San Mateo Community College bringing Daystar to the Peninsula is the most dramatic possible outcome of the district’s decision to sell, some of the other bidders present challenges as well.

Public Media Company, controlled by radio brokers Public Radio Capital and much in the news for its role in the still-contested sale of KUSF’s radio license to the formerly commercial station KDFC, also toured the station on Jan. 10.

Public Media Company/Public Radio Capital is based in Boulder, Colorado. The intertwined family of limited liability companies has been buying up college radio stations at fire-sale prices all over the country and folding them into tight National Public Radio classical or jazz-only formats. Independent musicians have expressed alarm at the loss of accessible college radio outlets, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors denounced the loss of KUSF to San Francisco’s cultural fabric in a 2011 resolution.

Other possible bidders included the mysterious Locust Point Networks, a website without a definition beyond “an early stage telecommunications company,” and Cheifet Productions, which produced programming on Silicon Valley for the PBS Nightly Business Report. Also in the potential market are Independent Public Media, a satellite TV service created by one of the founders of Free Speech TV, and KAXT, a South-Bay based family of foreign-language stations founded by a former KGO reporter.

In the Bay Area, public broadcasting is dominated by the vast KQED, which owns television and radio stations from Sacramento to Salinas to San Jose. KQED has long been criticized for a paucity of local programming and news, and a fondness for cooking shows.

The absorption of independent outlets into the KQED structure promises more standardization and less variety for peninsula residents.

The district claims the sale of the educational, noncommercial TV license is a necessity because operating an independent public television station is not compatible with the core mission of educating students. But the district will continue to operate the radio station Jazz 91 radio station.

District officials also said that the TV station was losing money. But a financial statement posted with bid materials seemed to include many shared radio/TV expenses.

The district trustees meet Jan. 25 at 6:00 p.m. at the College of San Mateo, 3401 College of San Mateo Drive. They should be told in no uncertain terms that a sale to a Christian broadcaster is unacceptable — and that that any sale must protect the public interest in localism, independence, and a diversity of points of view. 

Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, a Bay Area nonprofit that advocates for democratic communications.