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Michigan State Noncom Mulls Giving Up TV Spectrum

Noncommercial WKAR-TV, licensed to Michigan State University, is among those noncoms mulling a potential multi-million-dollar payout for putting spectrum in the FCC broadcast incentive auction.

It held its first public forum this week, and has another scheduled for Jan. 11, the day before the deadline for applying to the auction. That application does not obligate participation, but only those who have applied will have the chance to do so.

The university, ironically the alma mater of one of the FCC's fiercest defenders of broadcast TV, the late chairman James Quello, is hosting the forums to give members, viewers and the wider community a chance to provide feedback.

On its website, WKAR says that if the university puts spectrum in the auction, "the station will lose the ability to broadcast over the air as it does now."

In addition, the Lansing State Journal reported that community members and station personnel were concerned that giving up spectrum in the auction meant going off the air. But that is only one of the options in the auction.

As the FCC has been pointing out to broadcasters as it pitches the auction opportunities, participation could include sharing channels and moving to a new channel, the first for the same payout as giving up the spectrum and exiting the business, the second for a smaller, yet still potentially hefty payout. In both cases the station would still be on the air.

But the journal reported that the station's director of broadcasting said neither of those options was feasible.

On Dec. 18, the board of trustees gave university president Lou Anna Simon the authority to put the station's spectrum into the auction.

WKAR's opening bid price in the auction is $206 million, though there is no guarantee that it won't drop or that the station will be the winning bidder in any event.