Licensee of Illinois’ WSIU to acquire Springfield TV network

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The merger of WSIU in Carbondale and Network Knowledge in Springfield will allow the unified organization to reach 5 million residents across 67 counties, the Illinois broadcasters announced Friday.

“We think of this as a partnership, because we’re combining our resources,” WSIU Executive Director Greg Petrowich said. “But in the end, all licenses will be held by Southern Illinois University,” WSIU’s licensee.

Petrowich will lead the combined organization, according to an announcement. Jerold Gruebel, president of Network Knowledge, will retire next month.

Petrowich said in the announcement that the deal aims “to offer more programming and service options, while also creating new opportunities for public media fans to access and engage with content they love.”

WSIU, based at Southern Illinois University, operates TV and radio stations in Carbondale and Olney and a radio station in Mount Vernon. Network Knowledge, a community licensee, includes TV stations WSEC in Springfield, WMEC in Macomb and WQEC in Quincy.

The organizations have been discussing a partnership for nearly three years, Petrowich said. “We were thrown a curveball by the spectrum auction,” he said, when stations couldn’t discuss pending deals during a quiet period leading up to bids.

Another challenge was joining community and university licensees. “Universities tend to move more methodically,” Petrowich said. “Community licensees have the luxury of moving more rapidly.”

CPB and Public Media Co. provided “immeasurable” consulting assistance, Petrowich said.

A master control facility in Carbondale will handle programming, according to an FAQ on WSIU’s website. Most staff positions will remain, the FAQ said, “although some people may retrain and migrate to different activities as the needs and priorities of the partnership evolve.”

The organizations don’t anticipate any schedule changes. Gruebel said Network Knowledge will add the 24/7 PBS Kids multicast channel.

“Uniting our stations will open the door to greater long-term sustainability, boost local programming and educational services, and enhance the positive impact of public media for years to come,” Gruebel said in the announcement.

Network Knowledge reported on a FY2017 tax filing that it owed $3.77 million on secured notes and mortgages. Gruebel told the Springfield State Journal-Register that the debt resulted from the cost of converting to digital broadcasting.

Plans to “more fully integrate the stations and to create a unified brand identity are in development,” the FAQ said, with additional details finalized in the coming months.

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