KRCB to acquire KCSM in Bay Area public TV deal

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KRCB North Bay Public Media in Windsor, Calif., will purchase KCSM-TV in San Mateo in a $12 million deal that could double KRCB’s potential viewership in the San Francisco Bay Area.

KRCB began considering the acquisition after the FCC’s spectrum auction closed, said station president Nancy Dobbs. The station earned $72 million by switching its signal from UHF to VHF. KCSM participated in early rounds of auction bidding and came out empty-handed. Its auction deal with spectrum speculator LocusPoint is now in litigation.

Once the FCC lifted the silent period for the auction, “we checked with our colleagues in the Bay Area out of curiosity about the future of public media here,” Dobbs said. “We were surprised to learn that KCSM hadn’t prevailed” in the auction and would likely be put back on the market, she said.

KCSM’s licensee, San Mateo Community College District, initially offered the financially struggling station for sale in December 2011. The college still owns and operates jazz station KCSM-FM.

Purchasing KCSM secures KRCB’s coverage “of the whole Bay Area for all three of our channels,” Dobbs said. Once the sale is approved by the FCC, KRCB’s potential viewership will rise from 3 million to 6 million. Its signal will be available from north of Sonoma County to south of San Jose, a distance of more than 125 miles. The signal of KQED in San Francisco totally overlaps KCSM’s; KRCB’s extends north.

Dobbs noted that the Bay Area is slowly losing public stations: KTEH in San Jose merged with San Francisco’s KQED in 2006, and KQED relinquished a channel in the FCC auction. “To lose KCSM in the South Bay to a religious broadcaster or some other outlet just didn’t seem acceptable, if we could prevent that,” she said.

“It’s fantastic that we earned that $72 million,” Dobbs added, “but we’re also very mindful of our responsibilities to try to help maintain a strong public broadcasting system.”

The two stations also have a history of cooperation. KRCB has carried KCSM’s primary signal as a multicast for several years — an “unusual but nice partnership,” Dobbs said.

She said programming decisions have not yet been made. The station is surveying viewers, and Dobbs hopes to work closely with KQED to optimize the schedule.

As part of the deal, KRCB also agreed to broadcast public announcements promoting college district programs and to provide student internships for five years, according to a San Mateo Community College District statement.

The statement said the $12 million figure “is substantially above all previous offers to purchase the station.”

“This transaction is in the best interest of the college district and its students,” said Thomas Mohr, board president.  “And we are pleased that the station will be operated by a Bay Area public broadcasting company and it can continue to be a resource for the local community.”

Meanwhile, KCSM’s licensee and LocusPoint have not yet reached a settlement. Dobbs said the sale agreement ensures that KRCB is not legally liable in any outcome.