Blue Ridge PBS will use $5.8M auction take to upgrade equipment, expand local programming

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Blue Ridge PBS in Roanoke, Va., will earn $5.8 million from the sale of two stations in the FCC spectrum auction.

Located where several states converge, WMSY and WSBN are located in a market already served by PBS affiliates in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina, said Blue Ridge PBS President James Baum.

“With all of those state networks and stations coming in, it was clear we could shut those stations down and not affect viewers at all,” Baum said.

Until a few years ago, Blue Ridge PBS programmed the stations with a mix of PBS programming and educational classes. But it scaled back the stations to minimal operations after the state of Virginia cut funding for the educational programming. Blue Ridge PBS couldn’t continue the stations as PBS affiliates because it PBS dues too high, Baum said, and instead kept them on air “with an eye towards the auction.”

The $5.8 million take is relatively small compared to what other public broadcasters are receiving from auction sales. But Baum said it’s a “fairly large sum of money” for a station the size of Blue Ridge PBS, which had total revenue of $2.6 million in fiscal year 2015, according to IRS documents.

The network will spend some of the windfall on capital improvements, for which it has lacked funds since the cut in state support, Baum said. It will also put $4.5 million into an endowment to support the expansion of local programming and greater community involvement. Stations are expected to receive their money by July.

“Our board of directors is very pleased, because this helps us maintain a position to be able to serve communities,” Baum said.

In other auction news, WYBE in Philadelphia confirmed in a press release Monday that it will cease broadcasting over the air and on cable and satellite as a result of its $131.5 million sale of spectrum. Its parent nonprofit, Independence Media, will continue operations, however, and will develop a strategic plan to guide future activities, according to the release.

  • With family in Roanoke, I have been down a moody drive right up to the main front door. As my father would have said, “dead as a doornail”. Maybe this decision will let them become a vibrant Blue Ridge broadcaster that the great mountain city deserves.