WMFE rebuffs Independent Public Media bid for Orlando channel

By Dru Sefton

Leaders of Orlando’s WMFE rebuffed a bid from Independent Public Media to purchase its TV station, which had been slated for sale to religious broadcasters until the $3 million deal was withdrawn from the FCC.

Ken Devine, IPM’s chief operating officer and former v.p. of media operations of WNET in New York, confirmed to Current that IPM had made an offer, but he declined to share details.

WMFE President José Fajardo told Current: “There is no deal between WMFE and Independent Public Media.” Discussions between the parties have ended, he wrote in an email.

The sale that Fajardo pursued last year — with Texas-based religious broadcaster Daystar Television — fell apart after the FCC questioned whether the buyer met noncommercial criteria for localism and educational programming (Current, March 26).

IPM prepared its bid for WMFE as soon as the Daystar deal collapsed, Devine said, and”developed very strong ties” with Orlando community leaders to establish a local governing board.

IPM is headed by John Schwartz, a pubmedia activist and co-founder of WYBE-TV in Philadelphia, KBDI-TV in Denver and WYEP-FM in Pittsburgh. The group is trying to preserve noncommercial spectrum by buying struggling pubTV stations (Current, Oct. 17, 2011). It’s backed financially by Schwartz’s EBS Companies, which hold licenses for 11 educational microwave systems.

IPM is one of two finalists bidding for KCSM in San Mateo, Calif. Colorado-based Public Media Company, an affiliate of Public Radio Capital, also is pursuing a deal to buy the station.

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Local bidder arises in Orlando

Dick Batchelor, a former Florida state representative (D), has incorporated Orlando Community Television Corp. to partner with Independent Public Media in the purchase of WMFE-TV, according to the Orlando Sentinel, May 9, 2012.

Batchelor declined to name other individuals involved because a deal has yet to be finalized. He owns the Dick Batchelor Management Group business development and public affairs consulting firm, is a political analyst on local television and describes himself as “a very big fan of PBS.”

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