July 29, 1996
Re: WQED Petition to Delete Non-Commercial Reservation
My vote today to deny WQED's Petition is largely based upon my concern about the effect such a dereservation would have on the non-commercial broadcasting system in the United States, a service about which I deeply care. The WQED request would affect not just Pittsburgh, but would have implications for stations in several cities across the country.
The owner of WQED and WQEX has asked for the change in WQEX's non-commercial status in order to sell WQEX to a commercial broadcaster. Such a sale would eliminate an important non-commercial voice in the greater Pittsburgh area. Since 1952, the Commission has never granted a change to commercial status without adding another non-commercial station to a market.
I decline to disturb long-standing Commission precedent, especially with a decision that could ripple through the country, putting undue pressure on other public television stations to sell what essentially is their birthright. The strength of our non-commercial system flows from the combination of quality programming for underserved audiences and distribution over a system of reserved television stations that blanket the country.
When "swaps" between VHF non-commercial and UHF commercial broadcasters became an issue several years ago, the prospect of immediate financial gains nearly obliterated concern about undermining the long term health of the public broadcasting system.
Although I am sympathetic to the desire of WQED management to solve its financial problems, the sale of its sister station to a commercial broadcaster is not the only possible solution. During the course of this debate, other less draconian measures were suggested which would allow two public televisions stations to continue to serve the greater Pittsburgh community.
Despite my vote to deny WQED's Petition, I am concerned about the long term viability of WQED and WQEX if their current financial problems are not solved. However, I remain confident that station management and the Pittsburgh community can work together to fashion a solution that will return both stations to financial health.