Should KOCE-TV, Orange County's public television station -- the only local television media voice for its 3 million residents -- be sold?
By any measure of sound judgment and long-range consideration, the answer should be a resounding no.
Here's what the Coast Community College District stands to gain from the sale: It would eliminate the $1.8 million it contributes each year toward the $7.8-million operating budget of KOCE. (The other $6 million in funds to operate comes from memberships, program underwriting, grants, the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, studio rentals and education contracts.)
The district would also get a windfall of $10 million to $25 million if it sold to a religious broadcaster. It's true that this could be an attractive sum for divesting itself of the KOCE license to some buyer. But just one capital improvement project for the district could absorb this sum. Local KOCE and its community-oriented broadcasts would then be gone forever.
Lost would be KOCE as a fully functioning local broadcast station, Orange County's only community TV medium, on the air 24 hours a day -- with both analog and digital broadcast capabilities for 4 million viewers.
Lost would be the daily broadcast of college-level, credit telecourses for up to 3,000 students each semester, and the K-12 classroom programs that reach more than 1 million schoolchildren.
Lost would be the nightly news, public affairs and cultural spotlights on "Real Orange" and a number of other local programs about Orange County. KOCE's local programs have won 24 Emmys for excellence.
There can be little doubt that an economic recovery and better funding are on the way to offset current money problems of the district. KOCE should not be used for a quick fix for funding.
When KOCE was founded in the early 1970s, hardly anyone owned a VCR, let alone a DVD player, so the only way someone could watch a course was to have it broadcast. Today a series of video lectures can easily be put on a DVD, purchased in a bookstore, viewed and reviewed on a student's own time. Today's technology makes broadcast educational TV stodgy and outdated.
In the 1970s, the entire Coast Community College board of trustees was recalled, not only because of the terrible waste of district money going into KOCE instead of classrooms, but also because of faculty disgust over the caliber of instruction offered, including a writing course that the University of California condemned and disallowed for transfer. Even today, for every decent course produced, there are several, such as KOCE's "critical thinking," that are unintentional "Saturday Night Live" parodies of "adult education classes."
It sounds glamorous to say, "We own a television station," but there are realities behind that expression that undermine it. Ideally, KOCE should be owned by a group that can afford to program it with cutting-edge cultural events without depending on one dollar earmarked for classroom education.
Professor of English
Orange Coast College
Re "KOCE Watchers Debate: Sell High, or High Road?," Sept. 28:
P. Kevin Parker's letter urging the sale of KOCE to the highest bidder reveals a very narrow view of education. If other colleges shared his view, how could Santa Monica City College and Pasadena City College operate public radio stations and the San Bernardino Community College District operate a public television station? Or how would Mr. Parker's own college, Orange Coast College, justify operating community services programs with public lecture series, or a boat house with non-credit sailing classes, or an auditorium that offers theater, music and other art presentations? Higher education occurs in places other than the classroom, and the coast district has, up to now, been visionary in using public television to bring both formal and informal education to Orange County. It would be a shame to sell the station because of short-term budget problems when the new digital capacity will give it even greater capacity to provide educational services.
Parker also errs in saying that without KOCE, Coastline's telecourse students could watch the courses on cable. Cable reaches only the homes of students who can afford cable connections. Telecourse students living outside the district boundaries cannot watch telecourses on cable, yet the district receives state reimbursement for their enrollment, income that would be lost if the KOCE broadcast capability were lost.