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WQED toots its own horn

Friday, December 17, 1999

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

George Bailey, meet George Miles.

In "It's a Wonderful Life," Jimmy Stewart's character lists the three most exciting sounds in the world: "Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles." Yesterday, the president of WQED Pittsburgh passed out train whistles to his staff to signal that "the train is starting to leave the station."

Miles was in a car headed for the Newark, N.J., airport Wednesday afternoon when word came that the Federal Communications Commission had approved a complex deal that will bring WQED Pittsburgh $18 million. It had been nearly four years since Miles first publicly floated the idea of somehow selling or swapping WQEX, and now it appears that will happen -- barring further challenges to the FCC or federal court.

After notifying employees by e-mail late Wednesday night, Miles walked into the meeting yesterday to a standing ovation. "It was a very emotional moment for me and the staff. ... It was really quite moving," said Miles, who talked about what the news meant for the organization that includes WQED-TV, WQED-FM and Pittsburgh magazine. WQED will use the money to pay off almost $7 million in debt, fund local programming and finance the station's conversion to digital technology.

"We're quite excited. The good news is this is a big day for us at WQED. We really feel we are in a position to move forward. The turnaround is complete. This is the last piece of the puzzle," said Miles, as a board member and her granddaughter walked into his office bearing a bouquet of balloons.

Without seeing the actual order from the FCC and knowing if any appeals will be made, Miles could not predict when the deal might close. It will eliminate WQEX, allow WPCB to move from Channel 40 to Channel 16 and permit Paxson Communications Corp. to establish a foothold in Pittsburgh.

Paxson will pay $35 million for Channel 40, with that money to be split evenly between WQED Pittsburgh and Cornerstone TeleVision, parent company of WPCB.

Yesterday, Pax TV spokeswoman Nancy David Udell said the family-friendly network is eager to be on the air here. "We're thrilled to death and delighted with the decision," she said. "But since we haven't seen the [FCC] order, we can't comment further."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen contributed to this report.

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