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Saturday, Oct 20, 2018
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St. Petersburg wants to sell its TV license

ST. PETERSBURG - Interested in running your own television station? If so, you might want to contact the city of St. Petersburg. The city is trying to sell its sliver of the broadcast spectrum licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. The license gives the city access to the airwaves, which it now uses to broadcast its television programs, including city council meetings. At its July 14 meeting, the city council is expected to be asked whether it should allow a Celebration company to try and sell WSPF-CA Channel 35.
According to the council agenda, Hadden & Associates Media Brokers would receive a 5 percent commission of a sale up to $3 million. Beyond that price, the commission would drop to 2 percent. But there's some question how much the frequency would fetch on the open market. "The hard part is, we really don't know the value of the asset," said Beth Herendeen, the city's director of marketing and communications, whose department runs the station. It's not as if the buyer will take over the city TV station. The city would continue to offer its programs on cable, and online, as it does now. The only viewers who would lose are those declining few who still rely on TV antennas – often referred to as rabbit ears – to watch the government station on broadcast television. The signal is transmitted through a low-power system, meaning it can only be picked up by those living in or very near St. Petersburg. "We are not on any type of rating system, so we don't know how many people are watching us via rabbit ears," Herendeen said. Still, the city has a pretty good notion that "it's a small number" compared to those watching the city's programming on cable. In addition to the frequency, the city has a permit for sale, which would allow the buyer to upgrade their equipment so a show can be put into a digital format before it's transmitted over the airwaves, Herendeen said. The city could do that itself, but the number of people watching the broadcast shows is so small it isn't really worth the $200,000 to $300,000 investment, she said. If the license is sold, anyone who still wants to tune in to city shows will have to pay for basic cable, plus $1 a month for a digital box courtesy of Brighthouse Networks. The other option would be to watch the various city council meetings and workshops, among other things, on the city's website. Hadden & Associates was the only qualified company to express interest in marketing the frequency. St. Petersburg appears to be one of only a couple of Tampa Bay area governmental or educational entities with a low-power broadcast license. Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa don't currently have such a license.

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