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MSU considers $200 million sale of WKAR

Posted: 8:09 AM, Jan 05, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-05 08:09:06-05

The forum is packed.

Person after person stands up to passionately explain why Michigan State's President Lou Anna Simon shouldn't do what she is considering doing.

"I understand that money talks and that's part of their decision, and I'm afraid that perhaps that will have made the decision even before this forum," Kenneth Howe, and avid WKAR watcher, said.

The decision before Simon - whether to sell the portion of the broadcast spectrum that MSU uses to broadcast its PBS station, WKAR. If she decides to, WKAR probably won't be available to anyone on TV, and people who use an antenna will not even be able to access another PBS station.

"That's a lot of children. That's a lot of children that will never see Sesame Street, that's a lot of people that will be eliminated from the good educational programming of WKAR," said Doug DeLind, who's children grew up on Sesame Street.

But, out of the deal the university would get as much as $206 million. That money would likely go into an endowment that could make Michigan State $10 million a year.

"The board of trustees as they do with all of these kinds of opportunities really had a due diligence, a duty of care to think about what it would mean for the institution to have that possible resource but what it would cost the institution to lose the asset of WKAR," University Provost June Youatt said. She and Dean of the College of Communication, Arts, and Sciences Prabu David fielded questions from the public at a forum on MSU's campus Monday night.

The Board of Trustees has already considered many of the issues that people at the forum brought up, like public access if WKAR's programming is only available online, educational programming access, and university student training. "These are the conversations they're having, and tonight's comments just really helped in some ways to kind of flesh out those conversations and those arguments," Youatt said.

MSU's administration stressed that it has not made a decision yet, and President Simon only has to decide if it would like to have the option of auctioning off its spectrum by January 12. Then by March 29 she must decide whether to enter the auction. She can at any point during the auction decide not to sell as well.

17 percent of WKAR's audience watches via an antenna. At the forum, at least half of the people in attendance raised his or her hand when asked if that's how they get their TV.

"I think the numbers are really scary when we talk about losing WKAR," DeLind said.

MSU welcomes comments through its March 29 decision - you can email those to spectrum@wkar.org

It will host another forum on Monday, January 11 at 7 p.m. at 404 Wilson Road Room 147, Communication Arts and Sciences Building on the Michigan State University campus.