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WXEL sale in the air after four years and a failed attempt

August 17, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, WXEL sale in the air after four years and a failed attempt, by Patty Pensa.

frontline_logo The networks have effectively abandoned long-form journalism. The newsmagazine format created content to fit between the commercials, and over time that content has become essentially entertainment. The cable networks are populated with shouting heads, with very little careful, edited analysis. The only place left for thoughtful and smart documentary programming is public broadcasting. FRONTLINE is proud to represent a tradition of literate, fair journalism about the stories that affect our lives and the life of the country. ... quote from David Fanning, producer of PBS Frontline.

Barry University took over public broadcasting in Palm Beach County 11 years ago and has spent the past four trying to unload it.

Much of that time was on a failed deal to transfer WXEL-Ch. 42 television and WXEL-FM 90.7 to a public broadcasting station in New York. The $5 million deal languished as the community debated losing control of the taxpayer-supported stations. Now, about three months later, WXEL is being courted by another round of suitors.

Membership at WXEL, which comes with as little as a $40 donation, is growing although the protracted sale period has crimped big donations, said Jerry Carr, president and chief executive officer of the Boynton Beach-based station. The hallmark of public broadcasting is to inform rather than simply entertain viewers and listeners. State funding tops $11 million since 1997, when the Miami Shores college claimed ownership.

Carr described the uncertainty of the sale as an "absolute terrible feeling. Selling a public station is not normal. There are no stockholders, no return on investment, no bottom line."

Barry bought WXEL for almost $4 million and has invested $9 million more in the station, said university spokesman Michael Laderman. Its intent in the late 1990s was to rescue the station from desperate finances. At the time, some wondered if a private, Catholic university should lead a publicly-funded station.

The university, though, wanted WXEL for the benefit of its broadcasting students. Only a few students in the late '90s traveled from Miami-Dade County for internships, Laderman said. With the sale, Barry hopes to recoup the money it initially invested in the station, with any excess going toward its educational programs.

"A really big part for us is we weren't using the station for our students," Laderman said.

There is no timeline for when a new agreement will be announced but proposals can be submitted through Sept. 12.

James Roth, of West Palm Beach, wants more local programming, which he said only can be accomplished through local control. Roth submitted to the FCC the only informal objection to the proposed sale to Educational Broadcasting, which owns WNET-Ch. 13 of New York.

"I would be against anybody who's not located in Palm Beach County," said Roth, who has worked at WPEC-Ch. 12. "I view public broadcasting as the last great opportunity for free speech in this country."

The Community Broadcast Foundation of Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast is one of the contenders. The foundation was created four years ago to buy WXEL and was set to partner with the New York station if that sale had succeeded. Also interested is WPBT-Ch. 2 of Miami, a public broadcasting station that airs from Miami to the Treasure Coast.

Patty Pensa can be reached at or 561-243-6609 .

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,6071182.story

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