Rick Bentley

FCC releases opening bids to buy bandwidth, outcome could mean loss of local TV stations

Laurie West with her father, Dave Biswell.
Laurie West with her father, Dave Biswell. Special to The Bee

The Federal Communications Commission is only months away from taking action that could result in the loss of local TV channels.

The FCC wants to open up the bandwidth between Channels 31 and 51 to be sold to cell phone providers. The extra bandwidth is needed because of the increasing number of smartphones. To make room, the FCC will hold a reverse auction where stations will be able to sell their place on the television spectrum. Three bids are being offered: One will have a TV station moving to a lower channel; another is for a move to a higher channel; and the third is for the station to go off the air completely.

There is a real incentive for the 16 local TV stations that qualify for the auction to sell. The opening bid for a station like ABC30 is more than $166 million to go off the air, more than $124 million to move to a lower VHF channel or more than $66 million to go to a higher channel.

Once the FCC buys back the space, it will be auctioned off to cell phone providers.

Remember, this is a reverse auction. That means the numbers posted are the highest bid. The price would come down depending on how many TV stations want to participate in the auction and how much additional space is needed in a market. There may not be any need and nothing would change.

The auction process is scheduled to begin at the end of March. Any station that wants to participate in the auction must file by Dec. 1.

Gary Cocola, owner of Cocola Broadcasting, has two TV stations that qualify for the auction: KGMC and KFAZ. The high bids for them to move off air are in the $172 million and $110 million range.

Cocola will participate in the auction, but he doesn’t know if he will sell the space completely or move the stations to other channels.

Sinclar broadcasting – owners of KMPH (Channel 26.1) and KFRE (Channel 59.1) – could sell one of the station’s band widths and put both stations on the same channel, such as 26.1 and 26.2. There’s an opening bid of more than $163 million for KFRE.

It’s impossible to predict exactly what this means to local TV viewers. Those who watch TV over the air would have to rescan their TV sets for any stations that move up or down the dial. Cable subscribers would see no difference unless a local TV station opts to go off the air.

These changes could also impact the lower power stations in the market. That will unfold as the particulars of the auction are revealed next year.

Format change

It’s not too early to start celebrating Christmas for Momentum Broadcasting. The company that owns radio stations in the Tulare/Visalia market has been playing holiday music on its My95.7fm station since the start of November. The Christmas music will continue around the clock until the beginning of 2016 when the station will get a new music form.

My95.7 came into being when the call letters for KJUG AM were switched to KVMI. The signal airing on My95.7 is the rebroadcast of what’s on 1270 KVMI AM.

Momentum’s station lineup also includes 106.7 KJUG Country, Classic Rock 99.7, and Hitz 104.9.

Celebrating life

A private service was held Nov. 2 for Laurie West, the Fresno radio icon who died in her sleep the last week of October. The event – held at Fresno’s Verdi Club – was attended by almost 200 family members, close friends and people with whom she had worked.

West, 52, had been living on the Central Coast, where she moved after working in the Fresno radio market for approximately 20 years.

Her father, Dave Biswell, called the services “a celebration of life” that his daughter would have liked.

“Several people got up and spoke including some of her former co-hosts and even me. Laurie would have loved it and it was a very upbeat event,” Biswell says. “I was very proud and enjoy sharing her life.”

Pappas empire

Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Maryland-based company that owns KMPH and KFRE, has added six more TV stations previously owned by Pappas Telecasting. Six stations in Nebraska were picked up for just a little more than $31 million.

Pappas Telecasting filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

Sinclair picked up Lincoln’s FOX affiliate, plus ABC affiliates in Kearney, O’Neill, Hayes Center, North Platte and McCook.

Approval has been granted by the Delaware Bankruptcy Court and an application for the stations’ transfer filed at the FCC.

Holiday shopping

The Hoover High School orchestra is holding its “22nd Annual Salute to Hollywood & Sports.” The event will take place from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at the high school cafeteria, 5550 N. First St.

There will be a silent auction of memorabilia including items signed by TV stars. For additional information, call 559-451-4040.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1