Sonoma County’s public broadcasting station, KRCB, announced Monday it will receive a $72 million windfall under an agreement to change its channel as part of a national effort to free up the airwaves for the burgeoning wireless telecom industry.
The one-time cash infusion, which comes as the Trump administration talks of cutting funding for public broadcasting, will be used for technical upgrades and to create an endowment that will allow the 33-year-old station to continue operating in the years ahead.
“It’s very significant for the future and security of public media in the North Bay area,” said Nancy Dobbs, the station’s president and CEO. “The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
The money comes from a 10-month auction organized by the Federal Communications Commission in which participating commercial and public stations agreed to relinquish their spots on the broadcast spectrum to wireless providers such as AT&T and Verizon.
The companies are seeking more bandwidth to improve coverage and accommodate increasing numbers of customers.
All told, nearly $20 billion was raised by the end of the auction in mid-January.
The FCC will pay about half of that to broadcasters and devote another $6 billion to the federal deficit.
Among the biggest recipients is 21st Century Fox television, which is getting $350 million, and Tribune Media, which will be paid $190 million.
KRCB, one of only two remaining PBS-affiliated broadcast television stations in the Bay Area, is prized for its proximity between two metropolitan markets — San Francisco and Sacramento.
“Our frequency provided us with beachfront property on two oceans,” Dobbs said.
Its Channel 22 draws roughly 825,000 weekly viewers by way of cable subscriptions, satellite and over the airwaves. Most of the programming is rebroadcast material from other PBS and noncommercial stations.
When the agreement takes effect sometime next year, the station will continue to use Channel 22 but it will cease to do so by UHF transmission.
Instead, it will use a less-powerful VHF band that will limit its over-the-air reach to Sonoma County only, Dobbs said.
Viewers across a larger swath of the North Coast will continue to be able to watch the channel with cable and satellite subscriptions. KRCB’s radio station, 91 FM, will not be affected.
“It’s a new day for the station,” said Eric McHenry, chairman of the station’s governing board. “We’re really quite excited about it.”
The FCC payment will be by far the biggest chunk of money ever received by the station, which operates on a $2.8 million annual budget supported by donations, sponsorships and about $500,000 from the federal government.
Part of the money could be used to build a new transmission site on Sonoma Mountain. It could also fuel more locally produced programming, both on the TV and radio side.
The station’s leadership will meet over the coming months to figure it out.
“It’s such a huge amount of money for a station our size,” Dobbs said.
“We’re having a hard time kind of wrapping our heads around it.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.
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