Orlando’s overlapped WMFE exits the public TV business, sells Channel 24

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WMFE, the public TV and radio station in Orlando, Fla., said today (April 1) it’s getting out of the TV business and sticking with public radio. It has agreed to sell its TV operation and filed with the FCC to transfer its channel to a buyer, not yet identified, according to Lorri Shaban, a spokesperson.

For WMFE-TV, underwriting revenues are down 68 percent since 2007, and individual giving is down 40 percent, according to the news release, but WMFE-FM reached its pledge goal ahead of schedule, and has had strong audience growth since going all-news in 2009.

The decision was different from the choice made at KCET in Los Angeles, which dropped PBS programs, but had one of the same causes: WMFE divides the PBS audience with overlapping public TV stations — in WMFE’s case, WDSC in Daytona and WBCC in Cocoa. While WMFE pays $1 million a year to PBS, according to its news release, the other stations pay less than a quarter as much, though they can air fewer PBS programs.

“There are simply too many things negatively impacting public TV today,” said WMFE President José A. Fajardo. Given the declining donations to the TV station and expected increases in PBS program fees, “at least in our market, we think the model is no longer viable.”

Proceeds from sale of Channel 24 will go into an endowment, Fajardo told the Orlando Sentinel. Five staffers have lost their jobs and more will follow, the newspaper reported.