University to sell Flint broadcast station for $14 million

Abbie Robinson | Staff Photographer

Following a year of silence, Central Michigan University officials have announced its Flint public broadcasting station will be sold for $14 million.

The sale is part of the Federal Communication Commission’s spectrum auction. The auction is the first of its kind and was designed to clear broadcast bandwidth for broadband providers.

The university’s Board of Trustees opted to participate in the auction in December 2015.

A mandated quiet period went into effect Jan. 12, 2016, which stopped university officials from commenting on the status of the auction. News of the sale came Feb. 7, 2017, one day after the quiet period was lifted for participating broadcasters.

The sale will not impact CMU’s four other television stations or eight radio stations. The Flint station, WCMZ-TV, is operated remotely and staff will not be impacted. The sale won’t affect students, said Ken Kolbe, the general manager of CMU Public Broadcasting.

CMU purchased the station for $1 million in 2009. The FCC originally estimated the value of WCMZ-TV at $420 million, Kolbe said.

Those figures were exaggerated to entice broadcasters to participate in the auction and the university didn’t expect to make the $420 million, said Director of University Communications Heather Smith.

“We knew that those figures were inflated and we knew going into this how much (money) we expected to get,” Smith said.

The auction was initially supposed to end in fall 2016 and raise $31 billion in bids from broadcast providers, Kolbe said. The auction ends March 30 after raising more than $19.5 billion.

“A lot of people think the auction didn’t go as well as (the FCC) hoped,” Kolbe said. “It still isn’t done yet, but they aren’t going to make much more.”

The station will continue to air for three months following the close of the auction.

A university press release stated that 99 percent of WCMZ-TV viewers can be serviced by other PBS broadcasters. The Board of Trustees will decide how to allocate the $14 million to the university.

“This was a difficult decision,” said University President George Ross. “Two facts, however, greatly influenced our conversation. First, nearly all viewers will continue to have access to PBS through other sources. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have participated in the auction.

“Second, our students are our core mission. Our mandate. We must focus our resources on their success. This decision was made to benefit Michigan families, including those in Flint.”