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WPCB filing says Channel 16 would offer instructional programs

Thursday, April 01, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

As WQED, WPCB and Pax TV continue to wait for the Federal Communications Commission to rule on the sale of WQEX, the owners of religious station WPCB, Cornerstone TeleVision, have filed a supplemental showing with the FCC.

The document, filed yesterday in Washington, D.C., is an effort to prove to the federal agency that WPCB's proposed programming for Channel 16 meets the FCC's instructional or general educational criteria. The filing also includes an amendment to the previous agreement of all three parties, which reiterates the original deal.

One notable addition is an immediate advance of $1 million to public television station WQED from Pax TV. Unless WQED pulls out of the agreement, the station will not have to repay the advance, regardless of whether the FCC approves the sale of WQEX, WQED's sister station. If the sale goes through, the $1 million will come out of WQED's share of the profits from the sale of WQEX.

If the FCC allows WQED to sell WQEX, Cornerstone TeleVision's WPCB would move from Channel 40 to Channel 16 and Pax TV would take over Channel 40. Under the plan WQED and WPCB will roughly split the $35 million that Pax TV is paying. The FCC has had a filing on the proposed swaps since June 1997.

Pax TV, a fledgling network that touts itself as family-friendly, launched last August. Pittsburgh, the 19th largest broadcast market in the country, is considered essential to the network's nationwide plans.

B.J. Leber, WQED's executive director of communications, said the station had received the $1 million from Pax TV, but she did not know how it would be used. She said the deal was negotiated by WQED President George Miles. He could not be reached for comment.

"It's just an effort to move it along and make sure it was clear that over 60 percent of their programming is educational," Leber said of the filing.

Representatives for WPCB and Pax TV could not be reached for comment.

The supplemental showing claims "almost two-thirds of Cornerstone's planned programming for Channel 16 qualifies as 'general educational' or 'instructional.' "

Cornerstone provided the FCC with a videotape of snippets illustrating what it contends are 103.5 hours per week of educational programming, as well as descriptive summaries of programs that include "Gardening in America" and "Strip Quilting with Kay Wood."

Many of the programs in the filing still have overt religious themes ("The Baptist Hour," "Biblical Portrait of Marriage"), but the filing reminds the FCC of its prior ruling that the commission "will not disqualify any program simply because the subject matter ... is religious in nature."

Jerry Starr, one of the leaders of the Save Pittsburgh Public TV campaign, and other opponents of WQED's sale plan could not be reached for comment.

The supplemental showing concludes with a request that the FCC "expedite processing of its application. ... The extremely long processing delay is working a hardship on all the parties, including two existing Pittsburgh broadcasters that must plan for digital TV conversion."

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