WQEX deal wins at FCC, loses in the end

Seventeen million dollars slipped through WQED’s fingers last week when a partner in its long-delayed deal to sell sister channel WQEX abruptly backed out, even though they had won a go-ahead at the FCC a month earlier. George Miles, president of the Pittsburgh station, paraphrased a newspaper report on the turnabout: “We have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.” Important issues about pubcasting’s reserved channels were at stake in both WQED’s victory and its defeat, but they got little attention as all eyes turned to a couple waves of explosive controversy surrounding the FCC decision:

First, in mid-December [1999], reporters swarmed over the news that Presidential candidate and FCC overseer Sen. John McCain had intervened to hurry up the FCC decision on behalf of Paxson Communications, a campaign contributor that was part of the three-way WQEX deal. Then, at the end of the month, religious broadcasters recoiled and conservative politicians raged when the FCC spelled out its thinking behind its WQEX decision. This week, Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) and 42 or more co-sponsors will introduce a bill to undo the FCC’s new guidelines for religious broadcasters on reserved educational channels.