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Church school takes station off market, disappointing St. Paul

Originally published in Current, Sept. 24, 2007
By Mike Janssen

A small Seventh-day Adventist college just outside Washington, D.C., has decided not to sell its noncommercial FM station, denying Minnesota’s American Public Media Group a channel for an envisioned news station in the D.C. market.

APMG, the St. Paul-based parent of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media, entered into negotiations July 8 with Columbia Union College to buy the 23,500-watt WGTS [earlier story]. But the college’s board of trustees decided Sept. 20 to end negotiations and scuttle the sale plans.

The turnabout came in response to hundreds of e-mails supporting the station, says Scott Steward, executive director of marketing and communications at the school. The school in Takoma Park, Md., also received offers from Educational Media Foundation, operators of the evangelical K-Love radio chain, and the station’s board of directors. Several Adventists inquired about buying the license, Steward said.

"The Lord performed a miracle today, and we give him all the praise and thanks for what happened,” General Manager John Konrad told listeners.

Columbia Union will study other ways to reduce its debt and increase its endowment of $4 million, Steward said. The college and APMG were discussing a sale price in the mid- to upper-$20 million range, according to the school.

An APMG statement expressed “disappointment” with the decision and said the group now plans to develop new public affairs programming for distribution through APM.

If college sells, MPR would run a station in D.C.

Originally published in Current, July 23, 2007
By Steve Behrens

American Public Media Group is the sole bidder under consideration to buy a noncommercial FM station in the Washington market, according to the small church-owned college that holds the license.

APMG, parent of Minnesota Public Radio, is negotiating with Columbia Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Takoma Park, Md., about buying its 50-year-old station, WGTS. The college’s board wants to consider the sale at its September meeting, says college spokesman Scott Steward.

The station’s signal, at 91.9 MHz, covers D.C. and reaches into its outer suburbs. It airs a 23.5 kW signal at 610 feet from the Arlington, Va., tower shared with WETA-FM.

The college hopes APMG will pay $20 million to $25 million, according to the denomination’s online Adventist News Network, which cited “sources close to the station.”

The station would switch from Christian contemporary music to some variety of news and public affairs.

WGTS stalwarts (www.savewgts.net) are urging the college to keep the Christian format it adopted in a switch from classical music a decade ago. When the college quietly sought bids last fall, the station’s board offered a larger bid than APMG, but it pledged less cash upfront and was not accepted, said Sharon Kuykendall, a longtime WGTS volunteer.

“Administration is faced with the possibility of the school going down,” said 40-year WGTS board member Gerald T. Fuller, quoted by the Adventist News Network. Selling the station “would only keep it from doing so during their watch.”

Steward said the college stipulated an interest in keeping the Christian format on the air after the sale by using a digital HD Radio multicast channel carried on 91.9. APMG President Bill Kling told Current that was under discussion. Commenting later on HD Radio, he observed that the economic viability of a station transmitted only in digital is “a ways off.”

Kling revealed the offer for WGTS in a memo to his staff July 18. “APMG has the experience and track record of success to help the station realize its full potential,” he said, referring not only to the group’s success with Minnesota Public Radio but also to progress by its subsidiary Southern California Public Radio, which has built KPCC-FM into the most-listened-to pubradio outlet in Los Angeles.

The Minnesota group won a contract to manage KPCC seven years ago, but in the last four years, Kling told Current, its board planning committee has decided to concentrate on growing through new media and not buying distant stations, unless a purchase “could make an exceptional difference” in strengthening public radio’s service. Starting a new service “in the global governmental capital is one of those exceptions,” he said.

He wants to air “perspectives that aren’t now being heard,” reports based on online outreach through APM’s public insight journalism, and material from partnerships with print media as well as nationally distributed pubradio shows.
“In the best of all worlds,” Kling said, “public radio could demonstrate that it can be additive to the debate in Washington.”

Web page posted Sept. 20, 2007, updated Oct. 13, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current LLC

EARLIER ARTICLES

APMG took charge of a major station outside its home state nearly a decade ago. In 1998, MPR proposed a contract to operate KPCC, a Los Angeles-area station owned by a struggling college. The deal went through almost a year later.

A roundup: Economic forces are moving schools to sell or even give away their stations, 2004.

Washington-area college says APMG will be only bidder considered for WGTS, July 2007.

LATER ARTICLE

APMG agrees to buy a station in Miami to bring back classical music in the market.

LINKS

Faculty members at the college blamed university leaders for making a poor case that the college needed money from the station sale for its core academic operations, they told the local Gazette newspaper.

The station's blog.

Defenders of the Christian music station rejoiced at the college's decision not to sell. They had warned: "Imagine waking up in the morning without Christian music that nurtures you and provides hope and encouragement during the day." 

Columbia Union College, a small Adventist school in Takoma Park, Md., adjacent to D.C., is the licensee. In a FAQ explaining the need to sell WGTS, the college says it has a balanced budget but several years ago was losing $700,000 to $1 million a year. Its budget is about $21 million a year.

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