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KOCE Sale Closer With Tentative Nod From FCC

Foundation buying the PBS affiliate would have a new deadline for the down payment.

September 10, 2004|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

The sale of Orange County's PBS station jumped a key hurdle Thursday when the Federal Communications Commission tentatively approved the transfer of the broadcast license to a foundation controlled by wealthy business and civic leaders.

If the transfer goes through, the KOCE-TV Foundation has until Oct. 24 to come up with the $7.9-million down payment for its purchase of KOCE, a deadline that has been pushed back several times.

"If they're even a penny below that, it's too bad," said George Brown, president of the Coast Community College District, which owns the station.

The FCC also turned down a challenge to the license transfer by the Daystar Television Network, the second-largest Christian broadcaster.

Bob Brown, chairman of the foundation and retired president of Toshiba America, called it "a great day. This brings us another step closer to the end."

The decision triggers a 30-day public comment period, beginning Tuesday, said Erin Cohn Curtis, a college district spokeswoman. After that, the FCC has 10 days to evaluate comments and issue a final decision.

The remaining roadblocks are the down payment and another challenge in court by Daystar.

The Texas-based televangelist firm sued this year to stop the sale, saying it was the highest responsible bidder, as the law required. A Superior Court judge ruled against Daystar, and an appeal is pending.

Daystar had offered $40 million cash for the station, which the college board turned down because it came a day after the deadline. Daystar previously had offered $25.1 million.

The foundation's winning offer was $28 million, with $8 million down, and the remainder to be paid over 30 years with no interest. The foundation would make no payments for the first five years. It has already paid a $100,000 deposit. Experts have valued the offer at $12 million to $19 million.

The KOCE sale has implications beyond Orange County. Because of FCC rules, cable systems throughout Southern California must continue to carry the station.

Daystar attorney Richard Sherman said that the FCC decision surprised him but that he is still "very confident the court of appeals will do justice."

The college district -- which covers Orange Coast, Golden West and Coastline colleges -- has already extended the down payment deadline from the original June 30 date. The district last gave the foundation until Dec. 1 or until the FCC made its decision.

So far, the foundation has failed to raise the $7.9 million needed. But both sides said it doesn't matter because the foundation can't take over the station until the FCC makes its final ruling.

Despite support from many of the county's rich and famous -- including Conexant Chairman Dwight Decker, Allergan CEO David Pyatt, Broadcom Chairman Henry Samueli, and Peter Ueberroth, former baseball commissioner and Los Angeles Olympics chief -- the foundation has struggled to raise funds.

The foundation has been trying to raise enough pledges to guarantee a loan from National Cooperative Bank. American Sterling Bank has offered to loan $2 million.

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