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FCC won't allow WQEX to switch from educational to commercial

Friday, October 12, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

WQED Pittsburgh got good news and bad news yesterday about its bid to sell Channel 16 to a commercial broadcaster.

The Federal Communications Commission denied WQED's request for an expedited change in Channel 16's license, but kept the issue alive by seeking further comment on whether such a switch would serve the public interest.

More than five years have passed since WQED started the clock on changing WQEX's license from its noncommercial, educational status to allow commercial operation.

In 1996, when WQED first floated a sale, it appeared an amended license could fetch $50 million. Now, WQED has an offer of $20 million from ShootingStar Inc., owned by former Pittsburgher Diane Sutter of Sherman Oaks, Calif.

WQED President George Miles lauded the FCC move. "It looks like they're moving in the direction they want this thing to move, to get Channel 16 de-reserved," he said.

Jerry Starr, executive director of Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, which is working with the Alliance for Progressive Action to block the sale, said: "We want Channel 16 to be used for its intended purpose: to provide noncommercial, alternative programming to the people of Pittsburgh." He said the FCC decision "agrees with us."

The FCC notice was accompanied by a joint statement from commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin that appeared to sympathize with WQED.

"QED already has suffered greatly due to this agency's initial delay, prior misguided decisions and subsequent reversals," they wrote, referring to rules the FCC imposed in approving WQED's "Plan B" in 1999. Those restrictions, which they called "ill-conceived, stringent 'guidelines,' " essentially sunk a deal with Cornerstone TeleVision.

Those wishing to comment on the matter may do so by sending four copies of their statement by Dec. 18 to: Magalie Roman Salas, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th St., TW-A325, Washington, DC 20554. Also forward a copy to WQED's attorney: Steven Lerman, Leventhal, Senter & Lerman PLLC, 2000 K St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006.

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