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Orange County

KOCE's Bid Partnership Breaks Up

KCET pulls out two weeks before the decision on who will buy O.C.'s PBS affiliate.

September 30, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Two weeks before the winning bidder is expected to be named, KCET Channel 28 announced Monday that it had pulled out of a partnership trying to preserve O.C.'s public broadcasting station.

The withdrawal of the Los Angeles-based PBS affiliate leaves the other partner in the bid, the KOCE-TV Foundation, alone in raising money for its $10-million offer, the lowest of five offers for KOCE Channel 50.

The other bidders are Christian televangelists who have offered about $25 million each. What is now the KOCE-TV Foundation bid is the only one that would keep the station a PBS affiliate.

Representatives of the foundation, which for years has been the station's fund-raising arm, and KCET insisted that the withdrawal was not a setback for public TV in Orange County. They stressed that the split was amicable and that the two sides could work together if the foundation is awarded the license.

"I'd be surprised if we don't end up working together on some programming, on some expense reduction, some very logical things so we could better serve Southern California in general," said Joel Slutzky, a foundation board member.

Many on the foundation's 23-member board are prominent in Orange County and would have little problem raising the $5 million that KCET was going to contribute to the bid. Slutzky is co-chairman of the Anaheim technology and communications company Odetics; John Crean founded Fleetwood Enterprises; Dwight Decker is chairman of Conexant Systems; Jack Lindquist is a former president of Disneyland; and Bob Brown is a former president of Toshiba America.

The affiliate is owned by the Coast Community College District in Costa Mesa. Several trustees have said that the district can't continue to subsidize the station's losses, although other people have said the station at least breaks even. Money from the sale will help the district weather state budget cuts.

The sale has become an emotional issue, and some supporters who have donated money to KOCE have threatened to sue or to challenge the license transfer if televangelists buy it.

At the Aug. 20 trustees meeting at which bids were announced, speaker after speaker expressed support for keeping the station a PBS affiliate, including aides for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and O.C. Sheriff Michael S. Carona.

Al Jerome, KCET president and CEO, said his station pulled out of the partnership because it could not complete its analysis of the station's business details by Oct. 8. He said the partnership received KOCE's documents last week, which did not give officials enough time to work with them.

Jerome said the main holdup was the complexity of dealing with his board of directors of more than 50, together with the KOCE Foundation board, and figuring out how the station would be governed.

Slutzky said the KCET board needed to learn more about his foundation.

Jerome blamed a change in the bidding process for the difficulty. He said that when the partnership was formed, the community college district was going to pick a bidder, who would then have 45 days to negotiate the contract and become familiar with KOCE's business operations, assets and liabilities.

But at the Aug. 20 meeting, trustees told Elliott Evers, whom they hired to broker the sale, to negotiate deals with all five bidders. The board is expected to choose a winner Oct. 15.

"We're still very supportive of the KOCE Foundation, but in mutual discussions, we really felt the process would be better served if they went forward alone," Jerome said.

Those behind the foundation/KCET bid have said the two entities would save money by consolidating business and fund-raising and by promoting each other's programs.

KCET already is available throughout Orange County, and Jerome had said that if the partnership acquired the station, local programming on KOCE would increase, which was an important selling point for a bid that falls well short of its competitors.

The most prominent bidders are the nation's two largest Christian broadcasters, Trinity Broadcasting Network of Costa Mesa and Daystar Television Network of Dallas, which have both offered $25 million cash.

Other bidders are LeSEA Corp. of Indiana, which has offered $10 million down, $15 million on terms plus 20% of the station's annual earnings; and Almavision Hispanic Network, a Spanish-language Christian broadcaster, which set its bid at $15 million to $25 million.

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