Defunct Champaign TV station may go to new owners

Defunct Champaign TV station may go to new owners

CHAMPAIGN – A defunct Champaign TV station may be getting new owners.

The operator of Trinity Broadcasting Network hopes to transfer its low-power station in Champaign to a Washington-based group that works to expand opportunities for minorities and women.

Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, Calif., filed an application last month with the Federal Communications Commission to transfer the station, Channel 34, to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council.

The station, known as W34DL, was one of 155 low-power stations Trinity Broadcasting offered to give the council in August.

Since the council doesn't have the resources to operate the stations itself, it hopes to assign them to experienced broadcast partners, many of which are minority-controlled, according to the FCC application.

Channel 34, which went on the air in 1990, aired Trinity Broadcasting Network programming until it shut down on May 11 of this year, said Trinity spokeswoman Cheryl Gilroy.

Since then, the only way for Champaign-Urbana area viewers to see TBN programming has been over cable or satellite systems, she said.

Trinity has been phasing out its low-power stations on a case-by-case basis, Gilroy said. Some were shut down when leases or licenses expired, and some stopped operating after equipment problems cropped up.

The conversion from analog to digital TV was one factor that influenced the phase-out, Gilroy said. Conversion costs for the low-power stations often run in the $75,000 to $100,000 range, she said.

In most cases, the low-power stations send out signals a maximum of 25 miles, she added.

In August, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council announced the 155-station donation. The council said while it "may not be able to accept all 155 stations," it would work to establish partnerships with companies that would extend opportunities to minorities and women in broadcasting.

In the FCC application, the council said it would "partner with experienced broadcasters wishing to become owners and, in some cases, to help other entrepreneurs become owners."

Specifically, the council plans to assign the stations to eight partners immediately, while a ninth partner would operate stations through a local marketing agreement with an option to buy later. Six of the nine partners are minority-controlled.

The council said with a staff of eight, it doesn't have the infrastructure or access to capital to build out the stations, program them, convert them to digital and operate them on its own.

Low-power stations were created in 1982 with the hope of advancing minority ownership. The council said it believes about 13 percent of all low-power stations in the United States are minority-owned.

The council wants to advance that.

"The current state of broadcast television ownership for minorities and women is abysmal, leading in turn to diminished service to minority audiences and the general public," the council said in the application.

Low-power stations face certain hardships beyond limited power. There's no rule that cable systems must carry them, and some types of converter boxes can't pick up analog stations.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council has proposed several avenues for advancing minority and women broadcasters, including:

– An entrepreneurship incubator to provide the experience and leverage needed to gain access to capital, as well as the skills to become successful owners.

– A mentoring program to be operated by former Clear Channel executive Diane Warren.

– A program through which minorities and women can establish their own local broadcast sales agencies in small and medium-sized markets where low-power stations are located.

All sales of stations to the partners will be at discounts of at least 50 percent of fair market value, the council said. The discounts will help the partners secure access to capital, it said.

Calls were placed to the council and its president and executive director, David Honig, seeking comment on his plans, but the calls were not immediately returned.

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