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Top-Dollar Sale Urged for KOCE

Orange Coast faculty advises station owners to take the highest price, even if it's from televangelists. Staff hopes the money will help restore classes.

September 03, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

The academic senate of Orange Coast College voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to urge the sale of KOCE-TV Channel 50 to the highest bidder, in this case a religious broadcaster, in order to reap the most money possible for educational needs.

Kevin Parker, president of the academic senate, said the faculty hopes money from KOCE's sale would restore some of the 500 classes lost because of budget cuts at the Costa Mesa community college.

"We are that desperate for classes," Parker said, "that desperate to have more money infused into the budget."

Orange Coast has cut 21% of its classes because of budget cuts. As a result, enrollment is down 11.7% compared to last year.

The top bidders for Orange County's only public TV station, which is owned by the Coast Community College District, are four televangelist organizations that have offered as much as $25 million each. The lowest bid was presented by a partnership between KCET-TV Channel 28, the PBS station in Los Angeles, and the KOCE-TV Foundation, which raises money for the station. The Foundation/KCET offer is the only one in which the station would remain a PBS outlet. The group offered $10 million, with $1 million down.

The Orange Coast senate voted 12 in favor of the sale with three abstentions. The vote is advisory only. Coast Community College District trustees might decide on a buyer next month.

Parker said the faculty senate vote might have been different if KCET didn't also serve Orange County and if the sale would leave the area without a PBS station.

According to KOCE's web site, 59% of its viewers live in Los Angeles County and its "target audience is upscale, affluent and educated opinion leaders and decision makers."

"We felt that didn't even serve our students," Parker said.

The heads of the three big universities in the county -- Ralph Cicerone of UC Irvine, Milton Gordon of Cal State Fullerton and James L. Doti of Chapman University -- support selling to the Foundation/KCET.

Orange Coast is the largest of the three schools in the Coast Community College District.

The faculty at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley have not scheduled votes on the sale.

Parker said Coastline probably would not support the sale because it is the campus that produces the telecourses broadcast on KOCE.

Parker said that selling to televangelists bothered some Orange Coast instructors, but the faculty representatives decided that opposing a sale to those groups could expose them to charges of prejudice.

He also said since the KOCE Foundation had worked closely with the station over the years, backing a sale to that group for far less money "would give the appearance of an inside deal."

The highest bid has come from LeSEA Broadcasting Corp. of Indiana, which has offered $10 million down, $15 million over time and 20% of the station's earnings.

Trinity Broadcasting of Costa Mesa and Daystar Television of Dallas, the nation's two largest Christian broadcasters, each have offered $25 million in cash.

The remaining bidder is Almavision Hispanic Network, a Spanish-language Christian broadcaster, which set its bid at $15 million to $25 million.

A TBN lawyer told Coast district trustees at a recent public meeting that the Foundation/KCET bid was the best one and offered to work with the group.

TBN, however, appears not to have withdrawn from the bidding.

Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET, said the Foundation/KCET group has met with TBN representatives. He said the meeting was inconclusive, and he didn't know if there would be another.

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