Battle heats to keep station from altering format

The KOCE Foundation said Wednesday that it has substantially increased its bid to purchase KOCE TV with the intention of keeping the Orange County-based station a PBS affiliate.

Foundation is the only bidder among five that has pledged to keep KOCE a public broadcasting channel. The other four competitive bidders, including televangelical groups Daystar and Trinity, wish to convert the station to religious programming.

“KOCE is an irreplaceable community asset that has provided decades of public service broadcasting and locally based educational programming,” said Joel Slutzky, a member of the board of the KOCE Foundation and a local businessman. “We intend to do everything possible to preserve KOCE’s public broadcasting heritage.”

Foundation could not reveal the exact dollar figure, or details of its bid, but did say that its revised offer is “extremely competitive” with other bids being submitted.

Back in August the foundation offered $10 million jointly with L.A.-based pubcaster KCET, but the latter has pulled back from the joint offer, saying it will gladly collaborate on cost savings with the O.C. station if the foundation is successful on its own. (The religious broadcast bidders are purportedly willing to stump up bids in the $25 million range.)

Bidding rules established by the Coast Community College District, which owns the KOCE license, require that all bids remain confidential until they are disclosed at a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, when the district’s board of trustees is expected to award the station license.

Awarding the license to a religious broadcaster could entail costs on the part of the district. It would, for example, have to deduct from the purchase price money that would be owed to groups that have already made grants to KOCE in anticipation of a continuation of public broadcasting, not to mention subscribers and patrons of the foundation.

Slutsky estimates that these and other costs could reduce the value of the four other competitive bids by as much as $10 million-$12 million.

The license has been in the hands of the district for 30 years, but the station has been running a deficit recently made worse by a costly digital upgrade.

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